A discussion between people of how to interpret the Bible had me thinking about the issues of interpreting Chinese medicine. Like the Bible, the classics of Chinese medicine are from a time far past and from a culture different from ours. The way we think, the way we see the world, and the way we interpret words are all different from when the writers of the classics lived.
Acupuncture theory is filled with images. We are made up of water, earth, fire, metal and wood. Our bodies are threatened not by bacteria and viruses, but by dampness, wind, heat and cold. I read a book awhile ago about how early man thought much more in images than in words. Consider that children have to be taught language. Prior to that, they are beings who live in a world of imagery and feeling.
The need to communicate ideas in words is relatively new to the modern world. Culturally, the United States is very verbal in terms of using words to express an idea. Words are considered the only way to communicate.
How much more difficult is it then, to really understand the images of an ancient culture. Can pictures be translated into words? Can images, drawn with words thousands of years ago really make as much sense today as they did then? Images do stand the test of time when there is an emotional pull. As practitioners learn acupuncture, it is interesting how much “translating” goes on when holding the images learned. Many translate into words and others translate that qi is this or that, that the spleen is the pancreas or think of the liver as a symbol for the real liver.
As the Lutherans believe in communion, there is the real presence and the invisible presence. This describes the way I think of the organ system from West to East. There is the liver, the physical organ which can be touched and cut up and removed (though the patient will die). Then there is the liver from the paradigm of Chinese medicine. It has the same name, it has some of the same functions but it does so much more. The imbalances that may exist can’t be seen, although as time goes on and they go uncorrected, may lead to physical changes, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
Deepening the understanding of the medicine, I think, requires less thought and more experience of the medicine. It is like looking at fine art. One can never quite dissect it with words. One can only experience it. Take the images of the organs and seasons and experience them. How do they interact and grow together. How does one bind another? What happens to the others if one of the elements is not available. Imagine the medicine rather than think about it.