The Roots of Mastery, Part One: Gauging Our Own Development
By Peter Fairfield, LAc
I assume that many readers of this article are like me; that is, that the ideas and views of Chinese medicine and acupuncture have become or are becoming a home and a place of refuge where we can use our craft as both a platform and a filter to meet and understand the world in which we find ourselves.
In the beginning, when we are students, the lens of our system is more obvious because of the awkwardness of bringing into ourselves the broad dimension of new ideas and their implications, both for our lives and for the future patients who we hope to help and heal. As time and the process of assimilation naturally make headway and we gradually find our personal style and acceptance of this system deepening, it becomes an operating program working in the background, creating a foundation for both perception and action.
In practice, we rely on this impregnation of theories and facts. It is the summation of all of our learning and clinical experience. For those of us who allow it to fully function, it begins to offer insights and avenues for inspection as soon as we see a new patient or even hear his or her voice. As we become more personally and energetically developed, it can work even when we hear someone's name. Clinically, it is a wonderful filing and retrieval system that can sort the tens of thousands of minutia concerning the details of specific points, herbs, formulas, syndromes, research and so many of the other things that are required for a successful practice.
About 10 years ago, I took a year off to travel and "rethink" myself. When I returned to my clinic, I found that so many of my everyday informational tools were just beyond the reach of memory, requiring me to look up things that had been right at my fingertips before. At that point, I had been familiar with Oriental medicine and healing for well over 20 years, yet it took me more than a year to reacquire the ease of connection to my internal data bank, and probably a few bits were lost forever.
All good doctors I have met have this faculty highly developed, and each has a unique style of using it. Generally, these styles arrange themselves in a structure that first mirrors an individual's neurological integration. Later, if the individual allows or pursues personal healing and spiritually transforming experiences, the arrangement follows the physiological patterns that move in increasing levels of subtlety, past the neurological level to the heart and meridian/san jiao energetic system; to the chakras and energetic fields that surround the body; and finally to the level of pure conscious universal connection.
The directly logical and fact-based data is patterned in reference to the higher cortical functions and is arrayed symbolically as lists and subcategories, much like a computer's files and directories are organized. Most traditional educational systems aim to develop this intellectually based "box" of reference information. This is the academic model, and produces objective and linear thinking. The result is a format that is solid and dependable, but perhaps limited in creativity, originality and precision.
It is, of course, the limbic system that allows our "feeling self" a voice. The language of the "upper part" of our felt senses conveys possibilities to us as feelings and hunches: wordless messages that offer shadings of perception and illogical, out-of-the-box conclusions that would be unlikely for our cortical brain. This mode of recognition, perception and retrieval can be more precise than that of the cortex, because it doesn't depend on the pre-existing symbols of language and ideas and can lock in on an exact reality. The downside is that the flow of felt impressions can become oceanic and formless if not adequately grounded in time awareness, form and symbol. This kind of integration allows comparative referencing and objective communication to occur, which is handy when you want to mix the information from the pulse, tongue, voice, history, and physical diagnosis with what your inner feeling wants to tell you - the cortex and the limbic system together.
The third, or lower (and oldest) part of the brain, referred to as the "reptilian brain" in the literature of neurobiology, is an important link in the perceptual balance that we are hopefully seeking. This part of the brain was the first to form and is responsible for the automatic life-sustaining functions such as breathing, metabolism and coronary functions. It also forms the essential impetus for territorial awareness, mating and other primary survival issues. It acts and assesses without the resources of feeling and cognitive awareness. This, at least, is the standard textbook view.
My research has brought me to several additional points in understanding the functions of our "first brain." With regard to the primary influences that qigong and most types of meditation have on the energetic and physical systems of the body, it is clear that relaxation and the eventual resulting stillness are both the benefit and the place where transformational development occurs. As the body relaxes and shifts from sympathetic to parasympathetic dominance, a certain physiologic cohesion happens. Since the brainstem acts as a filter to limit our awareness of most of our organ functions, it can also play a big part in the disconnection and bodily dissociations that result from physical and emotional trauma, bonding deficits, system overload and perceptual error. Through the process of personal cultivation, we soften the egocentric functioning not only of our personality but also of the organs and systems that define the makeup of that personality. Over time, through this process, we can shift into a unified and interactive whole. The primary factor that precipitates this coherence is stillness, the stillness of being in the "present" or the "now." This is the functional reality of our oldest brain. It regulates with a matter-of-factness, without fuss or personal imputation.
When we anchor our cognitive and feeling abilities within the foundation of stillness, it allows for a unification of our neurological ability. As practitioners, it is often helpful for us to remember that we are a vehicle of healing, rather than the source. If, during our day, and particularly in our work, we let ourselves rest in the place of beingness and openness, it allows several useful things to occur. First, it helps us to step out of our habitual patterns of thinking so that the sum of our experience and diagnostic ability can "see" the most fundamental issues involved. Second, our open coherence will divert any judgment we may have about a patient or situation and allow for a greater expression of our compassion and humanity. Third, as "self" becomes less important than "being," our energy field and consciousness are opened to the place of "direct knowing." In that awareness, we can know and understand without the need for an intermediary source of information or shared experience. As healers and physicians, it is our duty to train and grow in all the ways we can; our crazy world needs us.
The opening and integration of the heart is the next stage of development and will be discussed in part two.