Allergies, Anxiety and Acupuncture: Harmonizing with the World
As a healer, I’ve always been interested in consciousness. Many spiritual traditions teach that our thoughts create our reality. There have been studies to validate this. It has been shown that physical disease within schizophrenics (persons with multiple personalities) can change based on which personality they are exhibiting. Within one personality the schizophrenic shows signs of a physical disease – both in blood tests and symptomology, while in another personality all signs of the disease disappear. I find this extremely fascinating. What can we attribute this to?
Chinese Medicine is quite sophisticated in understanding physiology of the mind and emotions. There are physical-chemical components to consciousness (blood and its link to brain chemistry). Chinese Medicine, being a system that incorporates spirituality into its medicine also discusses the influence of “Heaven” (our astrology or spiritual path) and “Earth” (our inherited ancestral DNA) – that which has been been given at birth. Heavenly and Earthly influences direct our life, create our personality and facilitate life lessons. Our inherited constitution also influences the way we see the world.
Beyond constitutional factors, we all know social factors also highly influence our conscious experience of the world.
The first necessity to life is survival. This includes the ability to breathe, eat and sleep. It also relates to our capacity for survival within society. We need to be accepted, we must harmonize with our environment. Sometimes this requires altering who we really are (our nature) to stay safe and sane. We take on the beliefs of our parents, and we follow the rules and values of our social group. We adopt perspectives of our partners.
As babies and children, it is especially important to harmonize with our parents. This is a time in our lives when we are totally dependent on others for survival. As we grow older, we begin to question what we were taught. Some of us become rebellious as we grapple with influences of “nature verses nurture.” The manifestation of this adolescent struggle is obviously very different based on culture. Traditional Asian societies, which are highly Confucian have much more pressure to practice filiopiety by honoring their parents wishes. Many will choose careers and partners based on their parents wishes. Whereas in Western culture, especially the United States, it’s common for adolescents to go through a period of rebellion, dishonoring their parents, distancing themselves from the family, often re-harmonizing after the “rebellious stage” has been completed.
Chinese Medicine explains all psychological and physiological processes through the body’s 12 basic organ systems. For example, the Kidneys, in addition to influencing water metabolism, also govern the hormonal system, physical growth and willpower. The Lungs govern respiration, but also blood circulation (including the menstrual cycle) and the ability to remain mentally present and morally sound.
Each organ provides the ability to experience the emotions. The power of the Kidneys allow us to experience fear, while the Lungs allow the experience of grief. All emotions are normal; our natural capacity to feel these emotions is based on the physiological power of the organs.
Chinese Medicine has put a lot of study into personality typing. Each of us, based on our constitutional make-up (influences of “Heaven and Earth”) is born a particular “type” of person. These “types” are classified by the organ systems. A “Kidney” personality, for example commonly possesses physical characteristics such as a round face and a low pitched gravelly voice. They are often strong-willed, in-control, sometimes quiet and introspective people who enjoy their alone time. Whereas a “Lung” person has long, angular features, likes order, can tend to focus on issues of justice and fairness. Kidney and Lung people by nature see the world differently. They have a different focus in life. A Lung person thrives within an ordered, well-regulated lifestyle, while a Kidney person is okay with a certain amount of mystery. A Lung person can tend to feel rather vulnerable when it comes to the external world. A Kidney person will most likely be focused inward, not worrying so much about the external world. They are both “Yin” personality types. Therefore, the Lung and Kidney are more similar than they would be to “Yang” types like “Heart” or Liver” people, who are often more expansive and expressive. “Yin” types tend to get along relatively well, while having a natural state of conflict with “Yang” types. “Heart” personalities can often agitate the “Yin” personality types.
There is a personality disorder that has been discussed within Chinese medical literature for centuries. Its Chinese name is “Zang Zao,” loosely translated as “Visceral Agitation.” Zang Zao is a phenomenon where a person dramatically changes their personality. It is said to be the result of a trauma, state of melancholy or deep disappointment. It can also occur as a survival mechanism when a particular personality type exists within a community (family or society) that is highly critical or disapproving of their personality type. For example, a free-spirited “Heart” personality with very strong domineering “Lung” personality parents living within a “Kidney” or “Lung” environment (emphasizing order and filiopiety – compulsory devotion to wishes of the parents) may not be understood or supported. They may be pressured to change and adopt more “Yin” qualities, at the expense of their natural expansiveness. Extreme situations can demand compliance, otherwise facing severe punishment.
There can be other situations where a person feels disappointed about how they are being treated in society, or displeased with who they naturally are. Disappointment can cause a person to “become” someone else. For example, living in the United States which is obsessed with flashy, expansive “Fire” personalities, a “Lung” or “Kidney” person may feel invisible or ignored. If they crave a certain type of attention, they may adopt “Fire” personality traits, while remaining a “Yin” person within. This struggle can manifest physically at its extreme as an autoimmune condition: the body attacking itself.
At the mild end of the scale, conflict within personality (social vs. natural) can manifest as anxiety or allergies. Philosophically, anxiety is unconscious uncertainty about how we should respond to our internal or external environments. We feel a lack of control, inability to make decisions, “disharmonious.”
Allergies are due to an over-active immune response to something we are breathing or eating. We lack capacity to fully metabolize aspects of the environment in which we are interacting. We may also lack capacity to metabolize our emotions: what we are sensing, seeing, hearing, feeling. Our bodies don’t know what to utilize as fuel and what to discard as waste. Toxins accumulate, transforming into inflammation or yeast, further weakening metabolic function, potentially causing physical degeneration.
Our culture is a conflict-driven society. We are hyper-sensitive to “germs” that can attack us and make us sick. We are afraid of rebels invading our space and causing havoc. Throughout history, there have been time periods where this was the focus; however there have also been periods where it was understood that we as human beings are born to be strong and vital: we only get sick when we have a disharmonious relationship with our environment (internal or external). For example, it is widely known that our bodies are covered with staph bacteria. It is all over our skin, as well as throughout our digestive tracts. Bacteria is helpful to us: it is one of the main aids in digestion. It’s only when we fall out of balance with the bacteria that we become sick: when it is allowed to over-grow. Allergens are often non-threatening agents, causing symptoms in our bodies only when we cannot metabolize them. They are often non-toxic, only causing us problems when we don’t know how to live “with” them. Too much internal inflammation or “dampness” (yeast or candida) often predisposes a person to being allergic to seasonal factors or foods. Environmental factors which are “energetically” hot or damp will arouse the heat or dampness within our bodies, causing symptoms. It’s almost like we have a cup of water that is full, and some rain falls into it: it will overflow and make a mess. The same thing happens in the body. If we didn’t already have excess heat or dampness within, our bodies would be able to accommodate the environment without a problem.
Our bodies work similarly in relation to our emotions. We are only triggered emotionally by something external to ourselves if that trigger also lives inside of us. We’ve all heard that the things we most judge in others are really aspects of ourselves that we are uncomfortable with. If it didn’t live inside of us, it wouldn’t bother us.
Within this mode of thinking, healing is always about changing ourselves, never about changing the world. It is about physically eliminating the inflammation or dampness living inside of us; emotionally coming to terms with who we are. We must harmonize with ourselves and our environments to remain healthy. There is a quotation from an ancient Chinese military doctor: “a healthy liver (one of the major organs that deals with the external environment) can disagree and still remain harmonious.” Our bodies and minds, when they are healthy and balanced, can deal with anything. We can harmoniously live in the world, with all of its germs, crude people, violence, conflict, injustice and ugliness when we ourselves are clean, at peace, calm and alkaline. It is only when we feel the need to fight with the world (or ourselves) that disease appears.
The Dalai Lama is famously quoted as saying “if you want to change the world, change yourself.” This doesn’t mean change into someone who is perfect and accepted by all. This is missing the point. If we want to live in peaceful world, we need to cultivate peace within. If we want a calm environment, we need to find that calmness inside ourselves first. If we want to be surrounded by stable, clear-headed, kind people, we need to find this in our own hearts and minds.