Coursing the Wind Part 3: Opening our Minds with Acupuncture
What can we do when we feel the world around us has gone crazy? It is easy to feel powerless, afraid and angry. Eastern spiritual philosophies warn us not to place so much attention outside of ourselves. When we look around and say – “them! They are the problem,” painting ourselves as innocent victims with no attachment or responsibility for the chaos around us we are both disempowering ourselves and living in delusion. This is true both for an individual struggling in the world as well as for a community facing collective conflict and strife.
The Dalai Lama famously says we must always start with ourselves. Without taking responsibility for our lives and our world, we become powerless and doomed. There is no way to change that which we feel no responsibility. This is what leads to apathy and collusion. It allows us to turn our heads when injustice and violence occurs around us. It makes us victims. From a personal health perspective, it makes us sick, depressing both our immune systems and our mental-emotional faculties.
In two prior articles (links below) I discussed an ancient Taoist acupuncture strategy for stabilization and transformation. It comes from the Taoist Alchemical tradition: using chaotic energy to open our minds and change our lives.
A state of internal chaos is metaphorically called “wind” in Chinese medicine. “Wind” can refer to any process within the body that is unstable, volatile and disruptive to normal physiological and psychological function.
This particular Taoist strategy for working with chaotic energy (“wind”) utilizes the Gallbladder’s acupuncture channel. The Gallbladder channel is especially potent in working with consciousness, change and chaos as shown by its trajectory. The Gallbladder channel travels into the uterus, genitals and brain, as well as into the organs of the Gallbladder and Liver. There are strong philosophical and practical implications for the visitation of the Gallbladder channel into these organs. The Liver and Gallbladder are said to have a strong effect on cycles of time within a person’s life. The Liver through its storage of blood maintains memory. Through its relationship with the Spleen, the Liver is what maintains our sense of reality within time and space, giving us our sense of what’s real and normal. The Gallbladder is the channel that allows us to retrieve material from our brain, as well as work out that which is contained within our ancestral memory. By visiting the uterus and genitals, the Gallbladder channel can access that which has been programmed into us by our parents and ancestral family line. The Brain, being a depository of impressions and experiences is that which solidifies our consciousness. If we wish to examine, transform or alter our way of perceiving the world: habitual patterns of seeing, thinking, feeling we must work with the Brain.
Chinese medicine divides all aspects of life into five primordial elemental forces: Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood. The Wood element, of which the Liver and Gallbladder are the governing organs is associated with change, time and “wind” (chaotic movement creating evolution). Taoist philosophy says one of the natural laws of life is change. The art of living well is learning to harmonize with change. The ancient Chinese medical classics say this perhaps the most important element to achieving longevity and health: being able to adjust to change. We must learn to become supple and strong enough to evolve and grow in spite of the world’s demands on us.
The Taoist strategy I’ve been exploring is divided into three parts, or stages. Each stage utilizes three acupuncture points from the Gallbladder’s acupuncture channel. Each stage works to “open the portals” (sense organs) so we can begin to see and hear differently.
The purpose of “alchemical” spiritual practices is to transform something “heavy” into something “light and subtle.” The common material representation of this principle is turning lead into gold: a heavy, dense mineral substance into something lighter and more precious. Spiritually however we take our rigid, fixated, limited ability to perceive, bound up by our personalities, social training and histories as the heavy material we want to work with. Through working with spiritual practices like meditation, or in this case acupuncture, we soften our rigidity by unlocking a more expansive capacity to perceive the world. This is why the Gallbladder points chosen for this practice focuses so much on “opening” the sense organs, particularly the eyes and ears.
For most of us, our perception is limited by the idea of who we think we are. We each have a way we think the world is. We perceive based on our personalities and what we’ve been taught. When we are so fixated on what we think is true, this creates natural conflict. Spiritual practice, especially of the mystical type aims to brings us beyond the limitations of socialization into a more expansive, global way of perceiving. We retain awareness of our personalities, social norms and cultural beliefs, yet also loosen up their blinding hold on us. We begin to have more capacity to see the world through the eyes of others. And ideally, as we progress in our practice, see things in a more mystical, non-personal, harmonious way.
The major virtue associated with the Wood element of the Gallbladder and Liver is benevolence: the ability to see things from the point of view of another. Benevolence is a deep understanding that everybody has their own way of seeing the world. It is also the gateway to grace: the understanding that there is a natural order to the universe that we may or may not understand, yet which guides us all. Grace requires a sense of awe: accepting the world as it is, even when we don’t understand it.
Part three of this process involves three Gallbladder points: GB-1 “Tong Zi Liao,” GB-22 “Yuan Ye” and GB-30 “Huan Tiao”: located near the eyes, on the chest and at the level of the hips. After the first two stages which were detoxification-focused, stage three is about stabilization.
GB-1 is called “Tong Zi Liao,” translated as “the virgin child.” It is located on the outer border of the eye. It is a point that dispels “wind,” clearing away obstructions to seeing, allowing perception that is like a child: open, curious and untainted.
GB-22 has a unique function: to “normalize the qi.” This means GB-22 is able to restore a sense of normal movement and function within the body and mind. “Qi” is the term given to the vital energy within the body that allows physical function to occur. However “Qi” is also associated with relationships. It is the energy amongst different organs, but also amongst ourselves and the world. To normalize the qi when GB-22 is combined with GB-1 means to make our changed way of perceiving the new normal: the view of a “virgin child.” It is taking our new awareness which we have cultivated through our mystical practice and placing it solidly into our hearts so we can interact with the world from a new place of openness that is also stable.
The third acupuncture point in this combination is GB-30 “Huan Tiao” translated as “continuous jumping.” GB-30 brings our new perceptive capacity even deeper into our bodies, engaging our willpower. This point re-activates our will to want to go into the world, interact, learn and exchange. This point has a strong impact on loosening stiffness in the hip joint, a symptom which is often associated with aging. It also has a strengthening effect on the loins, low back and legs. It drains turbidity from the lower basin of the body which when it accumulates causes a decline in libido and overall physical strength. The hips are the strongest stabilizing area of the body. It is the place which supports strength and suppleness of our low back and legs. When it becomes stiff, we lose capacity to move freely. Our vitality also declines, causing us to lose our will to interact with the world. We become more fixated, and more fearful. Turbidity in the lower basin can also be the cause of many uro-genital issues including impotence, infertility, obesity as well as prostate and gynecological issues. Like GB-1, GB-30 is a point that keeps us youthful. These two points keep us excited about life, open: like a child. They do this on both a mental as well as physical level.
If we think about the process of these three steps psychologically, it is like recovery from addiction. The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous for example talk about the need to first recognize something is not working in our lives. There can be a lot of conflict and suffering, maybe depression, fear, anxiety. After admitting things are not working the way we are currently living/thinking, we go through a process by which we look at our behavior, thinking and relationships. We work to rectify that which we have done and what we feel has been done to us. Through all of this we are committed to connecting to a force greater than ourselves: to some spiritual wisdom and guidance. Once we have sifted through all of our “character defects,” traumas and conflict-creating beliefs, we can come to place of restored sanity. That which was unmanageable begins to seem more stable. We make a commitment to make sanity a way of life. The 12 Steps are a very popular modern spiritual path for many people, rooted in ancient traditions such as Taoism.
The most important aspect to transforming ourselves is responsibility. By admitting that our lives are not working; that the way we are thinking and acting is creating conflict or has proven inadequate in its ability to successfully deal with the challenges of the world, we are taking responsibility. We admit that we need to change. This is one of the major philosophical statements associated with the Gallbladder acupuncture channel and the Wood element. The Gallbladder grapples with the question: how do I restore my sense of willpower, courage and strength in the face of the turbid heaviness of my confusion, traumatic experiences and fixated social conditioning. The Gallbladder is also the major acupuncture channel that deals with the difficulties of aging. It is a channel used to deal with decline and degeneration of the sense organs, joints, muscles and bones: all issues related to aging. Both the practice of alchemy and the Gallbladder focus on maintaining longevity: the ability to remain young and strong, both in body and mind.
The ancient Taoists who for thousands of years created acupuncture as a medical system believed it is impossible to keep the body young and strong to achieve longevity if the mind is fixated. The process of degeneration that comes from aging is due primarily to “psycho-sclerosis” say the ancient doctors. The hardening of our attitudes are reflected in the hardening of our arteries and joints. The acupuncture points GB-1, GB-22 and GB-30 are perfect representations of what it takes to remain young: we must unblock our eyes/perception, unbind our chests to become more normalized in our relationships, and finally loosen our hips to get in the habit and condition to jump rather than sit in place.
The head, chest and pelvic areas are common places where we solidify as we age. Low back and hip pain are some of the most common ailments when we age. Heart disease is the leading killer in the United States. And the root of all this say the ancient Taoists is our fixated sclerotic way of perceiving: that which has been stagnated in our eyes, ears and brains.
It is always most powerful to utilize these acupuncture point treatments with an acupuncturist. However, we can also treat ourselves via Essential Oil application. For this stage I’d suggest using Sandalwood Essential oil on GB-1, GB-22 and GB-30. Sandalwood is an oil that makes the connection between the upper and lower parts of the body. It is very calming, but also clears turbidity and dampness from the lower basin. It is an oil that reduces the tarnish of socialization and old impressions. By the fact that it is a wood oil, it connects to our sense of aspiration and evolution. It raises our energy, and also stabilizes our willpower, connecting us firmly to the Earth while also opening us up to the inspiration of “heaven.”