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Perception as Cause of Disease, Conflict & Suffering: Opening the Senses with Acupuncture

Perception as Cause of Disease, Conflict & Suffering: Opening the Senses with Acupuncture

When we assess our lives: our relationships, health, abundance and goals do we feel we get in our own way? Are we the ones causing conflict, stagnation and inhibition to achieving what we desire?

A major principle in healing is self-responsibility. We must discover and acknowledge the external things that are standing in our way. But we must also, maybe most importantly discover what we are doing to create our own difficulties.

In Chinese medicine cultivating self-responsibly is achieved by working with the system of the kidneys. This organ system is seen within Chinese medicine in a much more expansive way than in Western medicine. The system of the kidneys “rule” the region of the lower back and the bones; they “house” the willpower and ambition, and maintain the original code of the body: the destiny and capacity for growth. The kidney system also resonates with the endocrine system, immunity and empowers overall physical strength.

Therapeutically, supporting willpower, ambition and strength by working with the kidneys is often not enough to incite a necessary change in a person’s life experience. Especially if we are trying to “get out of our own way” in terms of success. We must work with our personalities, our nature and perception.

In acupuncture the internal organs possess “channels” where energy, blood and fluids circulate. These channels irrigate, nourish and maintain body function. The two most important organs within the body are the kidneys and the heart. These organs possess their own individual channels, along with “bowel” assistant channels: the heart is assisted by the small intestine and the kidneys by the bladder. The heart and kidneys as viscera both store the precious “spiritual” resources of the body: the kidneys store the willpower while the heart stores the Shen, which is seen as consciousness or spirit Illumination: the basis of animation. The bowels that assist the viscera help in the process of elimination and circulation of fluids.

The heart and kidneys share two additional acupuncture channels: the Pericardium and San Jiao. No other organ system has this luxury, only the heart and kidneys. The Pericardium and San Jiao are two acupuncture channels described as having function without form, making them difficult to liken to western biological organs.

The Pericardium In Western Medicine is seen as the protective membrane that surrounds the heart. In Chinese medicine it’s expanded to include all of the blood vessels of the body- every part of the circulatory system except the actual heart muscle.

The San Jiao is more complicated to understand. There’s not a clear western equivalent. The name San Jiao has many translations, none of which are completely satisfying: “triple heater,” “three heater,” the three burning spaces or cauldrons of the body. San Jiao is described as the system that governs metabolism, digestion and endocrine fluid metabolism. Yet it is also described as being “the pathway of the original Qi.” It is the way in which the body creates our personality based on our genetics, astrology and spirit. It lacks a visible organ because it is present within the entirety of the body. San Jiao has acupuncture channel pathways on both the front and the back of the body; it is the only primary acupuncture channel with this distinction. San Jiao is perhaps the least understood of all the acupuncture channels, and possibly the least used. Yet it can be amongst the most powerful.

Aside from the many physical functions and healing actions of the Pericardium and San Jiao channels, they are the most powerful for working with personality and perception.

San Jiao is what molds the personality while the Pericardium maintains it. One of the most common uses of Pericardium is for the effects of shock and trauma that has altered or disrupted the personality creating mental illness or personality disorders. The Pericardium also creates rigidity and stubbornness within our perception and personality, usually due to trauma and difficulty life experience.

San Jiao is more subtle in its effects. It is the channel to work with when our difficulties don’t involve something external that has damaged or traumatized our personality. San Jiao helps us work with our personality as it is and the innate difficulties and limitations it can cause us.

One of the most illuminating acupuncture point names on the San Jiao channel is called the “Celestial Hole in the Bone.” It is located on the scapular region on the back. The image of this point is communication with “heaven” or whatever mysterious force that creates our personalities and life circumstances, influencing our thinking and perceiving. To work with this point is to face the mystery of what we’ve been destined to be and to in a way negotiate with it. Holes in the bone are mysterious acupuncture points that often relate to hidden unconscious material that is hampering our full vitality as it influences our constitution.

Many of us feel no need to work with our personalities. In fact, the popular modern mode is to celebrate our personalities and amplify our traits, even if they are problematic. For those of us for whom this is our focus the San Jiao might not hold much interest. We may be more interested in working with Pericardium to free up more of our personalities rather than change or soften them.

Some of us however are interested in being mystics. We are curious about perception beyond that of our personalities. We understand that the world we see is limited by our personalities. We see only what our nature and orientation of the world allows us. We perceive just a piece of reality, biased by our personalities.

Chinese medicine is rich with exploration of personality typing. Each of us is born with Jing: our essence or original DNA destiny. We are also born with Shen: our spiritual mission. The interaction between Jing and Shen creates within us Xing: personality, disposition and nature. The Shen is associated with the Heart, the Jing with the Kidneys, and the Xing with San Jiao. It is San Jiao that negotiates the interaction between our genetics, our spirit-path and our personalities.

Chinese medicine likes to distill body function to its basic elements. It also likes to classify. Every aspect of body function is classified under the 12 major internal organs and six organ systems. Similarly, five major personality types were created based on the primordial Five Elements within nature: Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood. Our personality develops based on the distribution of Jing Qi (essence carried by San Jiao) into the organs. The original design of our personality is contained within our Jing, essence, DNA. If the greatest amount of Jing Qi moves into the Liver we become a Wood personality as this organ is part of the Elemental Wood kingdom: it expresses the natural element of Wood within us. A Wood personality will therefore see and experience the world through this perceptive filter. They will be attracted to and repelled by certain things and interpret the world according to their personality. Of course we are all born with many variations. No one is a simple personality. We all contain all the elements within us, however the strength of their influence is different for each of us.

A Wood personality will see the world differently than a Metal person. They may even feel natural conflict with such a contrary elemental type. Or if a Wood person finds themselves born into a Metal type community, family or society they may have many problems and discomfort. They may even become sick from this elemental conflict between themselves and their environment. To become well they may need to relocate to a more hospitable place or learn to soften their own Wood nature through harmonization or developing their other elemental aspects. Or they may alter their own original personality so as to survive more easily which can also cause problems internally.

Some elemental personality types get along well with one another, acting as mutually nurturing forces. Others have natural conflict and control mechanisms. Wood and Metal possess natural conflict and control of one another, Wood and Fire are mutually supportive and nurturing. This is not to say that the controlling aspect of Metal is always negative for a Wood person. It can help soften the strong dynamic and sometimes aggressive Wood tendencies. Just as a Fire nurturing influence can be problematic, emphasizing and enhancing Wood qualities that might already be hyperactive.

Discovering the elemental types of ourselves and those around us is important. It is often necessary to understand who we are currently and what our lives are like before we can try to change them. We can come to understand that we are a Wood personality type for example, with a Metal partner that causes us moments of conflict but also provides a helpful controlling influence, yet we are living in a Fire-type society surrounded by Fire-type friends that often amplify our Wood personalty traits like aggressiveness, planning, movement and leadership. Once we see ourselves and our lives we can begin to question them, asking ourselves how much of my experience of the world is based on my Wood personality? How much of my conflict is also based on this? And how much are the actions, reactions and values of those around me also based on their own personality types?

The realization that our experience of the world is influence heavily by our personalities can be revolutionary. It can also be destabilizing. If we don’t have our fixed view of the world to lean on how are we to know what is true and real? This is when we enter the consciousness of the mystic. As I’ve said, this is not of interest to everyone. It takes strong Kidneys to be able to go into the place of self-responsibility. For some it can feel like chaos. For others it can feel very liberating.

To realize that our perceptions are influenced by our personalities doesn’t mean we abandon our personalities altogether. This is done at times during meditation, and certainly within metal illness. We need our personalities to be able to function in life and society. But like in meditation we begin to develop a greater awareness of a part of ourselves that is not influenced by personality – a consciousness that is neutral. This is what we are aiming to awaken ourselves to – the neutral consciousness within us. Our personality will remain – it is nearly impossible to get rid of that. But with this newfound awareness of the neutral part of our perception capacity, the controlling influence of our personalities becomes less. And so do our conflicts and prejudices, neurosis and fixations.

One of the most dramatic expressions of the San Jiao occurs in its channel divergence. Each acupuncture channel possesses a divergence which is used to maintain overwhelming stressors to the body, in the form of diseases or traumas that have not been fully resolved. It is said when issues move into the channel divergences they become latent, unconscious and able to alter the personality. They can also alter a person’s posture, affecting the spine, joints and bony cavities of the body. A person’s demeanor as well as their disposition becomes altered due to unresolved physical or mental.

The channel divergence of San Jiao begins at the crown of the head, travels through the neck into the chest and abdomen. The San Jiao point named “Celestial Orbit” is the central axis of this channel. It is a special “window to the sky” point (named by European acupuncturists) which have a particular strong impact on the sense organs of the head. The trajectory of the channel divergence of San Jiao describes its role: to keep a person in his body – to maintain life and protect against desertion or death. It begins at the acupuncture point which is said to be the area where the spirit departs the physical body at death. It ends at the center of the abdomen at a point that represents the body’s ability to continually renew itself via digestion and respiration. The point “Celestial Orbit” located in between these two poles pushes a person to acknowledge that their way of perceiving the world, their choices and behavior has become incompatible with sustaining life. Within the progression of the channel divergences the stage of San Jiao is the pivot between sustaining life and regaining health or moving into organ failure and death. It is the stage where a person decides if they want to recover from an illness and convalesce or go into hospice and prepare for death.

However we needn’t wait until a moment of crisis between life and death to utilize the power of “Celestial Orbit.” This point empowers us to awaken to the fact that the way we perceive the world and the choices our perceptions create are most likely that which is creating our experiences, including our disease, disorders, conflicts and suffering. This is the acupuncture point in which all of the other “Window to the Sky” points orbit around. There is a special perception point given to each of the five elements. By working with “Celestial Orbit” we can begin to choose if there is perhaps another elemental filter that would be better suited to our own survival and thriving than the one we are currently stuck in. Maybe being such a strong Wood personality, so highly driven that we go after our goals at any cost, even at the expense of our own health, has caused our illness or suffering? We’ve been stuck in the point “Celestial Countenance,” the “Window to the Sky” for the Wood personality. Maybe if we could be more Metal with stronger limits, an easier capacity to let go of things and maintain order in our life we would regain our health. By opening “Support the Chimney,” the perception point for Metal we could start to see the value in these Metal-associated qualities which would control our problematic Wood nature.

Another notable acupuncture point on the San Jiao channel are “Central Islet,” a point with the image of the sense organs acting as islands in an archipelago. Like “Celestial Orbit,” this point gives the image of a central island that helps orient all of the other islands around it. San Jiao thus becomes the neutral perceptive capacity we find during meditation. Through San Jiao and its neutrality we have capacity to be all things as well as nothing at all. It is the place from which we can transform into anything, as well as let go of any way of perceiving that may be causing us problems. 

We cannot fully eradicate our personalities, but we can manage and control them so they diminish their capacity to block our growth and ability the thrive.

Nicholas Sieben, MS, L.Ac.

Nicholas is a healer who uses acupuncture and reiki to help awaken and heal. His mission is to promote greater freedom of body, mind and spirit through compassionate self-awareness. Through the use of ancient medical practices and the spiritual philosophies of Taoism and Buddhism, Nicholas helps illuminate the path to healing. He is a student of the renown Taoist priest and Chinese Medical Master Jeffrey Yuen. He completed his acupuncture studies under Mr. Yuen at the Swedish Institute College of Health Sciences, and received a B.A. from Brandeis University in Sociology and Philosophy. He has a practice in New York City.

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