Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Formal Invitation

Hello, dear readers. It's been quite some time, I know.
It occurred to me, however, that because this forum did have a number of followers and subscribers, perhaps, I shall invite you, if you care to join me, in a new direction. You are formally invited, and welcomed over at my new home for writing, of a rather different kind, at:

I hope to see you there!

sincerely and with only the best wishes,
your friend and scribe,

Friday, March 9, 2012


Words are the symbols we use to talk about higher truths that cannot be seen, cannot fit into the world of form. It is written in the Tao Te Ching, "The Tao that can be explained with words is not the Tao," but words are not the only symbols we use. There is always a gap between the "ideal" and the "real," which is to say, that which is manifest in the world of form, but we always have the symbols, the ideal images in our minds and we create eexpectations for reality based on those images. We are bound to be disappointed, then.

But, it is a lesson that must be learned over and over, as living with "no expectations" as the Zen Buddhists preach, is really quite difficult. And so, when I was on the plane from Kunming to Delhi, and the train from Delhi to Dehradun, I was getting more and more excited about my stay at VANDANA SHIVA'S BIODIVERSITY FARM AND SEED SAVING CENTRE. I had expectations that did not recognize the fact that Vandana Shiva is a human being, and that managers are managers, not super heroes, and Indian farm workeres are probably not educated extensively about Vandana Shiva's activisim, and so there will most likely be a gap between the "ideal" and the "real."

And despite the initial honeymoon phase, and despite how good it feels to be in India, this place that I have come to really love, I am tired. My expectations sat way high up in the clouds looking down at me as I try desperately to explain my interdisciplinary interests and project idea. My questions about eco-feminism elicited only puzzled looks, and fingers pointed to the library. Interns are frustrated by the lack of coordination and communication, and my mind, my spirit just wanted to rest. My body got sick, and as I lay in bed, I came to realize that I'm ready to come back to a place where I don't live out of a backpack.

My time traveling has taught me so many lessons, and more I'm sure that I haven't become aware of yet. I've learned so much about the healing traditions I came to study, and I've gained immeasurable insight into my own life through the meditative and self-reflective practices of TaiChi and yogasana. This time has given me the tools and perspective I needed to make a decision about my continued learning path, and what I need to do to get there. I have spent these past 6 months in process, continually allowing myself to flow, and resisting the temptation to be goal-oriented. My tunnel vision expaned into fishbowl view, and I've attempted a more holistic framework for seeing the world, for seeing myself and other people. This holistic perspective is the most important thing I've begun building, and I will continue to engage and practice with it, but it's become clear to me now that in this world of form, there are times when goals are good things, when focus is necessary, and if I want to commit to a particular idea or path, then it's time for me to pack my bag.

I will head back to the US next week to begin a slew of prerequisite courses in psychology for grad program applications. My emphasis will continue to be in holistic healing, with an eventual focus on Eating Disorders. I'm excited to come back into the Oly community, and I am wide-eyed on this new path in my journey.

This is a big thank you to all those who have been reading my musings, to my family for their amazing unconditional support, to my sister for her strength and understanding, and to my friends for their love. A HUGE thank you to my Professor for her support, her questions, advice, and compassion.

See y'all on the other side!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A Caminante's Home

Context: I am at Navdanya Farm, outside of Dehradun, Uttaranchal, India. I have been here 6 days. I feel quite "at home," which is to say comfortable.
A young lady from Ecuador arrived on the farm yesterday, only to visit for a few days, and as we were peeling potatoes together in the kitchen, speaking in English, I asked her if we could speak in Spanish. She was delighted. There is this flame that burns very dimly, and under certain circumstances, it explodes into brightness, and in this moment, where I just wanted only to speak with this lovely woman from Ecuador in her own language, my mind was so "confundado" (which is what I said, when the word I was looking for was "confundida") between the floating Chinense, floating Hindi, and limited Spanish. In talking with her, I wanted nothing other than to travel to central and south America, improving my Spanish, and studying with curandera/os. It seems that my sense of "home," is so easily transported from place to place on these momentary whims of meeting interesting people from other places.

Later, as I lay in bed in the dorm-style room, one of my roommates, from the US, asks me how long ago I left "home?" and if I miss it? I tell her, I've never left my home... because I live in my body, and though I've tried escaping it, I haven't ever really left home.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Self-Evaluation and Mental Bridge

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote "the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." As I began my journey in China, studying Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and the capacity for integrating a Western-scientific medical paradigm, I felt a keen sense of contradiction. While much of traditional healing practices make intuitive sense to me, my trained logical response is based largely on the Western analytic medical culture in which I was raised. I noticed also a mirror of this contradiction in many of the patients, as well as doctors, who I observed throughout the practical application of my studies; because although the two systems of curing and healing complement each other in many ways and various circumstances, the theoretical basis of both are inherently contradictory. I struggled particularly with the question of whether we can, and how to integrate the tools that have grown out of these opposing theoretical understandings of the body, health, and ultimately, the universe.

The way a society handles illness is a reflection of how they understand their world; in the same way that our identities are the stories we tell about ourselves, the way we heal ourselves is an application of a larger story our community tells. By making use of a certain medical approach, we implicitly accept the story behind the practice, and hope that it will work in our circumstance. Physician and author, Louis Mehl-Madrona writes, "Within any healing art, whatever else we do, we treat by telling a story," he goes on to discuss the "impossibility of separating treatment from the stories told about the treatment, the audience hearing the stories, and the context in which the stories are told." However, as has been pointed out by psychologists, Buddhists, and scholars in the field of consciousness, our identities are comprised of a multitude of stories, some of which are contradictory, that we employ at different times and under various circumstances. Both story-telling and "the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time" are inherent in being members of human culture.

In my attempt to understand TCM and my struggle to reconcile Eastern and Western healing and curative practices, I was forced to look critically at these two broad stories. In my reading and class lectures, as well as clinical observation and private discussions with TCM doctors and my Tai-chi master, I continually relied on my meditative practices to reflect on my skepticism and alternatively, my blind-faith. There were moments of which I gradually became more aware and appreciative, where I noticed a shift in my mind; a swapping of stories, when one became less applicable, less useful, and another rose to prominence. These are the moments, so frequently unrecognized, where so much potential lies. Rather than urging two stories into compromise, as seems to be the prevailing method of "integration" both in Western and Chinese institutions, perhaps we can encourage a fluidity between the stories, a mutual respect both for the strengths of the other, and the shortcomings.

By relentlessly engaging with the borders and points of contention between Western medicine and Chinese healing, I was able to settle into a space not of overlap, but of allowance. My language study gave me various insights into the culture that tells the TCM story and challenged me to confront my own mental blocks in connecting to the community in Kunming. I was more able in this quarter than in the Fall to connect to other people working in the areas of radical healing, and narrative and transformative medicine with the help of the LinkedIn online professional network, and a few friends. With the knowledge and experience I've gained here, I will continue, in India, my work of integration through embodiment and will begin an exchange between community and land, and the telling of a larger story of holistic health of mind-body, community and environment that can emerge through that interaction

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Chicken in a Box

There is an exercise done in many art classes with a live model who will change poses about every 45 seconds, and the students complete what are called "impression drawings" or "gesture drawings" from these very quick moments. The idea is to capture the "essence" of the model, the energy of the posture. By moving in such quick succession of 45-second intervals, the analytic mind doesn't really have time to kick in and judge, criticize, or even question; you only have enough time for acceptance. 
This can be a useful exercise in traveling, too. And while I've done my fair share and maybe more of analyzing and comparing, questioning and perhaps more judging than I would have liked, I've also truly enjoyed and reveled in the wonderful strangeness and fleeting moments of simple being. So for this post, I'm drawing a few impressions from my time in China.
On the flight from Guangzhou to Kunming, I am reading China's newspaper written in English, when the flight attendant rolls by and asks me, "Chicken or pork?" and I am glad that I let go of my exclusively vegetarian ways a few months back because I am getting the feeling that that would not fly here.
zai jensuo (at the Clinic)
I am sitting behind Dr. Huang Pu's desk in an office that is about 4ft x 6ft; there is a patient sitting in a chair adjacent to me, with her wrists exposed on a pillow on his desk. The girl's boyfriend and mother are standing behind her, and behind them are about 10 other people waiting to be seen by the doctor. They are sitting, leaning against the wall, on their phones, and walking in and out of the office. They are peering over the current patient's shoulder, and looking somewhat curiously at Andreas, Liu Jin (our teacher/translator) and I. Patients wander in and out of the offices, interrupting with questions, and dropping their history books as a form of waiting their turn. As it becomes clear that these people are not part of the patient's family, but other patients waiting to be treated, we are perplexed for a moment or two, and then chuckle to ourselves at the thought of the closed doors of doctors' offices in the West. There isn't even a door to close in any of the herbal doctors' offices at the clinic in Kunming.
In another doctor's office, a mother brings in her 5 month old daughter looking for an herbal prescription after returning from the hospital where the baby received intravenous antibiotics (I cringe at how often this happens). When the baby gets anxious enough to begin crying, mom flips open her Smartphone and plays a cartoon on the screen which captures the baby's attention so completely and quickly that I swear the tear stopped mid-roll down her cheek. It's a strange juxtaposition of this old traditional medicine and this new-fangled technology. And then the next patient walks in.
I get caught in a little language trip at the clinic when I realize that the doctor is speaking in Chinese, Liu Jin translates into English and Andreas is taking notes in German.
We take a quick tour around the pharmacy at the clinic. But this is not at all reminiscent of Walgreens. Yes, there is a counter where patients bring their prescriptions, and there are pharmacists who go behind the counter and bring out the medicine requested, but the similarities end there. The prescriptions are a hand written recipe, specifically for the individual patient- a list of herbs and their amounts in grams to be measured and combined by the pharmacist, wrapped up in brown paper and given to the patient with instructions on how to boil the remedy, for how long, and how much and how often to drink it. There are three walls of drawers behind the pharmacy counter inside of which contain everything from chrysanthemum to donkey skin, turtle shell, scorpion, sandalwood and almond. I tasted the donkey skin. It tasted like donkey skin.
-> I am reminded of a passage in Ballentine's Radical Healing, in which he gives a homeopathic remedy to a woman with breathing problems and control issues. When she is pleased at how well it works, she asks him if she can give the remedy to her son, who also has asthma. He responds by saying, "The remedy isn't for asthma... it's for YOU."
When the doctor asks the patient how their appetite is, they measure in bowls of rice. Andreas, who is from Italy, turns to me and says, "In Italy, they would be measuring in pizzas." I think... how do we measure appetite in the U.S.? In Big-Macs, or calories, in grams of fat or carbs or protein? Is that even a measure of appetite, or is it a measure of self control, or self worth?
A woman walks into Dr. Yang's office, sits down, and even though it's not her turn, she says she doesn't want to wait. He asks her what her symptoms are. She pulls up her sleeve, places her wrist on the pillow on his desk, and says, "Feel my pulse, and you tell me what's wrong."
Sitting in the waiting area of the clinic, there is a man across the hallway with a 2ft x 2ft x 1ft box at his feet. There are small squares cut out of the sides. And a rooster's beak pokes out.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Camel Through the Eye of a Needle

When I was a sophomore at Pitzer College, before I transferred to Evergreen, I was in a course called, "Analysis of Human Motor Skills," in which we looked through a neuroscientific and biochemical lens and used some very elementary principles of physics to deconstruct and understand human movement. At the end of the semester, we were assigned a group research and experimental project. In our research on the effect of intention on physical ability, we came across a researcher in California doing quantitative experiments in measuring Qi. The methods of his research indicated that this group was measuring Qi through correlates of blood flow, nerve conduction and very specific and sensitive measurements of temperature. Qi was being redefined in terms of the measurable, physical reality in which Western science excels.
Last week, I received a monthly email newsletter from Kripalu (the "mothership" for yoga and traditional healing therapies on the East coast of the US). In this edition of the newsletter, Kripalu was promoting a new program on "Evidence-Based TaiChi." Intrigued, I read the detailed description of the program which states, "in scientific trials, Dr. Yang and his colleagues have shown that the program improves strength, balance, immune function, and cognition." While the Kripalu website has no link or further information on Dr. Yang's studies or published papers, with some effort, I uncovered his research: five controlled, longitudinal studies, two of which were fully randomized control trials. The Randomized Controlled Trial (RTC) is the pinnacle of modern scientific experimental design- the gold standard.
In my last post, I wrote about Western scientists "and their little atoms." I received two different responses: one was a prompt to investigate why so many people and organizations are so keen to "put East and West into conversation," or why there is this trend to use one's standard to measure the other; the other response was a defense from the Western scientific perspective. Let me first address the language I used in the last post, quoted above. My intention was not to disrespect science or scientists, though I realize now that my word choice was a bit uncivil, and for that I apologize. My intention was instead to call into question the dogmatic belief in the primacy of matter, in the denial of other paradigms of thinking and knowing in favor of the singular Absolute, the analytical-- at the expense of holistic systems thinking, and the ability to hold two or more ideas at once, recognizing the validity of both. To quote my father, "It is the experimental method that defines western science, not atoms or Newton. Science is neither the worship of given wisdom nor even a body of knowledge. Science is a virtue. At least when it is at its best. It is a humble and self critical exploration on the edge of uncertainty. Science is common sense with publication of interesting results."
Science as a virtue, that is as an abstract quality of thinking, is something I admire very much. It amazes me daily how much we have come to know and understand about our world, the brain and the human body, but what frightens me- what leaves me skeptical and perhaps a bit cynical, is what I see in the application of this virtue. As I said, I aim to challenge the dogma that has grown around the current (and not so current) knowledge in science. A detailed discussion on this is beyond the scope of what I will write here, but let me give an example of what I am referring to. Half a century ago, the prevailing view of the brain was of neural circuits that were, for all intents and purposes, "hard-wired" and inalterable. This left thousands suffering with various forms of dementia and Alzheimer's with no hope, and implied that adults simply couldn't learn anything of significance. Ultimately, this neuroscience paradigm held that people cannot change their minds, and since the prevailing belief is that every behavior has a neural correlate, people cannot change, period. In the last fifty years, a huge mass of research has proven this perspective incomplete; it is now a widely accepted notion in the field of neuroscience and psychology that the brain is, in fact, highly plastic, flexible and continually renewing. This is where the BUT comes in. BUT, as neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran states in his book, The Tell-Tale Brain, "generations of medical students were told that the brain's trillions of neural connections are laid down in the fetus and during early infancy and that adult brains lose their ability to make new neural connections." Many neuroscience and medical textbooks still make this claim, despite heaps of evidence to the contrary. Other scientists like Bruce Lipton (The Biology of Belief), Dr. Candace Pert (The Molecules of Emotion), Lynn McTaggart (The Field) and others who have challenged prevailing and persistent theories with new (and decades-old) research leading to radically different understandings of our world have been tacitly ignored or outright denied by the scientific and medical community at large while their research has been, for the most part withheld from public knowledge or general education.
Additionally, I see a denial of humanity in science that is not only offensive, but dangerous. On the one hand, the attempt to "control" for certain biases or influences is admirable in the light of seeking Truth. However, we must also recognize that scientists (as human beings) have biases; humans are story-tellers- it is how we create our identities and our perception of the world, but the Truth-seeking scientific method has no room for the multiple stories that are True for different individuals. The notion of one ultimate Truth (perhaps related to the West's preference for monotheism?), denies the possibility of coinciding, opposing/complementary and equally valid stories/truths/hypotheses. we have such a hard time accepting, understanding, and applying the knowledge that atoms behave both as particles and as waves because we have this illusion that there is One Absolute Truth (or God?). Perhaps this is the same reason that Dr. Huang claims the impossibility of integrating Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Western medicine.
It is typically encouraged before designing and conducting scientific experiments to make a list of assumptions or biases. The list is meant to make a scientists aware of his or her blind spots, but the problem comes when the scientist or peer reviewers have the same blind spots and thus, as the term implies, cannot SEE them, cannot become aware of them. In designing experiments to prove or disprove or measure Qi, there are enormous blind spots in the Western scientist's field of vision and so these experiments end up collapsing things they cannot see into things they can: Qi turns into blood-flow and heat, TaiChi turns into physical movement, and the Ayurvedic doshas are collapsed into elements of constitution or causes of disease.
Truth-seeking is a natural human drive, and an important and a good one at that, but we  have narrowed our vision (perhaps Dr. Huang has as well), and it is understandable that we attempt to make sense of things using the tools most readily available to us: current and comfortable definitions that map our reality. 

**This next bit may seem like an irrelevant tangent, but bear with  me**
There is a story of a rich man asking Jesus what he needed to do in order to secure his place in the kingdom of God. When Jesus told him to give up his worldly possessions and aid the poor, the man was frustrated and a bit ambivalent about following these instructions. Jesus then turned towards his disciples and proclaimed, "it is easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into the kingdom of God.
Michael Mervosh writes, "Stories have been told as far back as the 15th century about a gate used to enter into the walled city of ancient Jerusalem, after the main gate was closed for the day.  This gate was very narrow. Thus, a fully loaded camel had to have its baggage removed so it could pass through the gate and proceed to its desired destination." (source, Thus, the image of a camel passing through the eye of a needle can be interpreted as the seemingly impossible journey to a desired destination, or perhaps more abstractly, to Truth. Just as the camel at the gate to Jerusalem, we must shed our "baggage," our preconceived notions, or ego in order to pass through the eye of the needle and attain a more holistic understanding, a more complete Truth. 
When we approach Truth with genuine science, we find immense value, as Jacob Brownowski put it, "By the worldly standards of public life, all scholars in their work are of course oddly virtuous. They do not make wild claims, they do not cheat, they do not try to persuade at any cost, they appeal neither to prejudice nor to authority, they are often frank about their ignorance, their disputes are fairly decorous, they do not confuse what is being argued with race, politics, sex or age, they listen patiently to the young and to the old who both know everything. These are the general virtues of scholarship, and they are peculiarly the virtues of science.

However, we must also realize that for as objective as we may attempt to be, subjectivity is inescapable to the human mind, whether scientist or psychoanalyst. From the book, "Biology Under The Influence: Dialectical Essays on Ecology, Agriculture and Health" by Richard Lewontins and Richard Levins:
"One the one hand, science is the generic development of human knowledge over the millennia, but on the other it is the increasingly commodified specific product of a capitalist knowledge industry. The result is a peculiarly uneven development, with increasing sophistication at the level of the laboratory and research project, along with a growing irrationality of the scientific enterprise as a whole. This gives us a pattern of insight and blindness, of knowledge and ignorance, that is not dictated by nature, leaving us helpless in the big problems facing our species. This dual nature gives us a science impelled both by its internal development and the very mixed outcomes of its applications to understand complexity as the central intellectual problem of out time. But it is held back by the philosophical traditions of reductionism, the institutional fragmentation of research, and the political economy of knowledge as commodity."
Science, like Truth, is a virtue to strive for. Scientists are human, doctors make mistakes, and brains rewire. We must not hold too tightly to the maps science has drawn for us for they are not the territory. In order for the camel to pass through the eye of the needle, it must be stripped of all it wishes to carry in with it. What would happen if we were to approach every scientific inquiry with what is termed in Zen Buddhism as "the beginners mind?" Perhaps we would find that "pure science" described by Brownowski.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Resonance and Dr. Huang

(FYI, the first section of this post was written two weeks ago and I apologize for not submitting it sooner! The second half of the post was written after spending a couple of weeks at the clinic, therefore the first section is much more theory based and includes more references, while the second half is more subjective and reflects my experience in the application of the theory.)
I have drawn dots all over my body in pen. They all seem fairly understandable when I draw them during class when learning the Meridians with my teacher, but when class is over, the spots only mock my efforts to connect the dots. Slowly, as I keep trying to put the points in order, it begins to seem like any random spot on my body could be the next point and I start to look to myself like a painting of the pointillist school (or if you're unfamiliar with the art term, think of the body as made up of tiny pixels) and I open the text book to keep from getting more confused.
Acupuncture points lie on the Meridians, the pathways of Qi in the body. Acupuncture works by stimulating or calming the Qi at a particular point on a Meridian or, through a particular point, exerting some effect on the Qi of the whole Meridian. The Meridians flow through different layers of the body and through different organ regions and thus can have an affect on a part of the body not being needled. By using distal points on my feet, ankles, and lower legs, I can influence my digestion, headaches, or breathing because the point that I stimulate connects, via Qi flowing in the Meridian to another part of the body. In fact, in many cases, acupuncturists consider the distal points (from the elbow down and from the knee down) to be most effective.
So, let's backtrack for a moment; let's talk about Qi.
Qi is often translated as energy or life-force, but it is much more comprehensive than what those words communicate. Qi is the raw material of the universe with the properties of energy and resonance. The ancient Taoist philosophers had a grasp on the idea of resonance long before Western scientists were surprised to find it in their little atoms, and they elucidated how the resonating quality of things influence healing. In his famous book, "The Web That Has No Weaver," Ted Kaptchuck writes,
"The Qi of the sun, rain, and soil resonate with the Qi of the seed to bring forth a plant that already contains the germ of the plant and qualities that the sun, rain, and soil touch. The Qi of an illness can be transformed into healthy Qi by a medicine that resonates between the two particular states. Illness contains the seed of health. Resonance is the process "by which a thing, when stimulated, spontaneously responds according to the natural guidelines of the particular phases of vital energy engendered in itself and active in the situation." The Qi does not "cause" change; the Qi is present before, during, and after the transformation. One Qi elicits the propensity of another Qi that shares a similar kind of "frequency..." Through resonance, one Qi evokes another."
This concept is not unfamiliar to me, and is quite similar to the "prana" in the yogic tradition, but using the concepts of Qi or prana in diagnosis is fundamentally different from the mainstream western process of diagnosis. In fact, the word "diagnosis," can be split into the prefix dia, meaning "through" and the root gnosis, meaning "knowing, or knowledge," (and more accurately, referring to esoteric knowledge of a spiritual truth held my the Greek Gnostics). However, in Eastern traditions, there are a number of different kinds of knowing; one kind of knowledge is epitomized in labeling; naming and thereby creating and externalizing a separate entity, the other type of knowledge is outlined in Raja yoga (the "Royal Path" to wisdom and enlightenment). This second kind of knowing achieves a direct, empathic and subjective connection with or experience of something; it is the union of self and object achieved in meditation. However, the protocol of western knowledge and diagnosis is focused on labels and names and thus "is a refusal to know (in the sense of being one with); in fact, it is a way of not knowing by putting the cause outside of ourselves. Maybe instead of diagnosis, "through knowing," it should be called diaschizis, "through splitting"... For in this case we deal with out suffering by splitting off the cause- projecting it outside, making it something separate and distinct that we are not responsible for and cannot control" (Ballentine, 134.)
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and acupuncture practice, the understanding is fundamentally different. Yes, external pernicious influences can and do invade the body, but only when the body's defensive Qi (Wei Qi) is weak. Yes, germs can be harmful and may create a diseased state of the body and so we protect against them by sanitizing acupuncture needles and taking precautions in preparing herbs, but not all germs are harmful and their effect will be different depending on the body they enter, and so no absolute statements can be made. 
Kaptchuck writes, "learning a [symptom,] A, for instance, is not worth much until the full circle of Chinese medicine has been traveled, at which time A will show itself to be rich and useful. The part can only be known when the whole is apparent...a pattern or a diagnosis is mainly an emblematic category that allow for an exchange of words. It is not meant as a label for people. It has no existence as an abstract "truth" that exists independent of the patient... [they] "function as allegorical resources for clinical thinking." The pattern descriptions... are a limited attempt to capture what is necessarily intangible" (176).

The first time I went to Huang Laoshi's house for what is usually just a one-time, one-hour Q+A session, I asked about the relationship of Qi to the physical body and how acupuncture affects mental illness, depression, compulsions, etc. Dr. Huang paused, and then (it was translated to me) he discussed how the stimulation of the physical human body stimulates the Qi in a particular direction. He used the nervous system as the groundwork for his response and stated that imbalance or disharmony of the nervous system (i.e. mental illness) can be corrected by stimulating the Qi properly because Qi regulates the system. He continued, saying that mental disorder is less physical, less external, and more akin to "a knot in your heart." Acupuncture can loosen the knot by creating more open and smoother flow of Qi. Central to his response is the notion that the mind and the emotions live in the physical, in the Organs and in the Blood. It is written in some of the first books outlining TCM that the Shen, (mind-spirit, translations vary) lives in the Blood, and if a person is deficient in Body Fluids, Yin, or Blood, the Shen will not have a home, will be ungrounded and will float, causing a restless mind, difficulty sleeping or dream-disturbed sleep.
On my second visit to Dr. Huang's home, I asked him if he believes it is possible to integrate TCM and Western medicine. I asked him what he thought of the western-scientific studies attempting to measure and "prove" (or disprove) the existence of Qi. He leaned back on the couch, sighed lightly, and responded, "zhe shi yi ge hen da wenti," "This is a very big question."
Many acupuncturists, herbal and homeopathic doctors in the States also take advantage of Western medicine to a certain degree, even if only to use the western-scientific terminology to explain a remedy (as Dr. Huang did in discussing the nervous system- though he could have also been referring to an idea that is absent in the English language, like Qi or Shen, and the term, "nervous system" may have only been used in translation for my benefit. I shall never know.) Nearly every time I ask this question about the possibility of integrating western-analytic medicine with holistic approaches, my questionee responds at least somewhat optimistic, if only out of wishfulness. Dr. Huang, however, told me about the Chinese government's attempts in recent years (I suspect as a part of the ruthless desire for a "modern China"- See "This American Life's podcast on "Mr. Daisy and the Apple Factory") to combine TCM and Western medicine. There is a new department at the Yunnan University of Traditional Chinese Medicine (in Kunming) where students spend 2 years studying each medical approach, but in the end, the students must choose a field of medicine. Dr. Huang believes the government's attempt at integration has been a failure, he says they are two completely different paths, different ways of perceiving and understanding the body and the universe; they are incompatible. Regarding the many studies on Qi and the possible therapeutic affects of Taichi (and attempting to explain them), Dr. Huang replied, "you can't use an analytical standard to measure or validate a holistic framework and thought; you will destroy the center, or the soul of it."

Sitting in the corner of the small office of Yang Laoshi, nearly a week and a half after I started coming to the herbal clinic, it dawns on me: all the patients bring their own charts. I am reminded of my work shadowing a homeopathic doctor in Olympia, Wa. I spent much of my time there organizing patient files and preparing the charts for the doctor. This was the first time I really recognized the huge gap of knowledge between patient and doctor; these charts are nearly impossible to make sense of unless you know exactly what you are looking for (or are an M.D.). The information about the patient's own health might as well be in a foreign language (usually latin..); the patients are effectively illiterate about their health, about their bodies, about whatever a doctor may deem significant to determining their quality of life or quantity of years. This stands in stark contrast to what I see at the Acu/Herbal clinic. Patients carry their own little booklets in which the doctor will scribble the date, symptoms, pattern descriptions, and recommendations, and main acupuncture points used if applicable (the herbal prescription is separate). The patient takes this home with them; keeps his/her own records. The patient is the primary subject, the owner of their own story, literally written in a small book. As I just learned that my grandmother, in New Jersey, was recently admitted into the hospital, I am reminded of the frustration of having to deal with hospital record-keeping, paperwork and bureaucracy. What if we truly were recognized as being the owners of our own stories, respected for our unique subjective experience and validated for our own truths? 
However, I couldn't ignore the contrast of this system of medical literacy and individual access to health records and respect of an individual's story or experience of health or illness, juxtaposed to the denial of access to social/political information, disrespect of individual human rights, subjective story-telling and lack of social media literacy as evidenced by the "Great Firewall of China," (i.e. the reason I haven't been on facebook in nearly two months). 
As a side-note, there have been fireworks nearly every night (beginning in the late afternoon and ending around 2am) for the past two weeks in anticipation for Chunjie, aka Chinese New Year (but literally translates to "Spring Festival"). I was awoken a week and a half ago on a Thursday night by a particularly loud and nearby barrage of fireworks that sounded loud and explosive enough to frighten me out of bed and to the window, shaking in fear for my life because I thought Kunming was under bomb attack. Yep, Happy Dragon Year!

as another FYI, here's an overview of my new schedule!
Mon, Fri:
9:30-12:30: Acupuncture clinic with Dr. Huang (the director of the acupuncture clinic, but also a wonderful herbal doctor)
12:30-2ish: lunch break
2:30-5:30ish: Herbal clinic; rounds with a gynecology specialist, a Stomach specialist, a Liver specialist, and a pediatric specialist (note the capital letters!)
Tue, Thurs:
9:30-12: Taichi
12-2ish: lunch break
2:30-5:30ish: Herbal clinic - same rounds
9:30-12:30: Acupuncture clinic with Dr. Huang
12:30-2ish: lunch break
2:30-4:30ish: Chinese language class.