Resurrection and (Re)volution

-Resurrection and (Re)volution-

Content warning: religious theory, radical politics, death

In our previous article, Pandemic Panic and Apocalyptic Dread, about the prevailing emotions of the time and the organs affected, we concluded with the following: 

“I do not have an answer to offer that dread. I have nothing to soothe the source of that panic. All I can do is to focus on helping my patients breathe a little easier, feel a little more space inside, and try to make life a little more bearable. 

What we might do with that space will be the topic of an upcoming article” 

Well, we are here to deliver. 

The grand-sweeping impact of the Corona Virus is unparalleled in our time. One cannot help but compare it to other far reaching plagues like the Spanish Flu and the Black Death. In these moments, death seems to be lurking all around. There is power in naming that. But it is difficult to know how to live in a world so dominated by death.  

This is especially true in the context of Western culture. The taboo of death in the West has been a source of philosophical and psychological study, notably by Otto Rank, Psychology and the Soul and Ernest Becker, author of The Denial of Death. How this value system serves us in a situation like the one in which we find ourselves could be an opus in and of itself, but for the purpose of this article is used merely for illustrative purposes. 

“Society has created mechanisms, forces of cultural adaptation, that are meant to keep people from being conscious of their creaturely (animal) nature- and therefore, their mortality.” 

From “The Taboo of Death” by Marc Whittman Ph.D in Psychology Today

Though it may seem horrific, death as an abstract process is generative. Death and life are inextricably linked. One begets the other. By repressing, rejecting, and denying death we deny ourselves so much of what life is really about. From the psychic death of Carl Jung to the spiritual death of Richard Rohr, the death process begets living fully with all of ourselves. 

Rohr writes in Near Occasions of Grace: 

“Until we walk with personal issues of despair, we will never uncover the Real Hope on the other side of that despair. Until we allow the crash and crush of our images, we will never discover the Real Life beyond what only seems like death. Remember, death is an imaginary loss of an imaginary self, that is going to pass anyway. This very journey is probably the heart of what Jesus came to reveal.”

Since it’s no accident that I publish this on Easter, let’s discuss resurrection. It is a commonly held understanding that resurrection symbolizes triumph over death. As if, by accepting God, we too can cheat death. That might be true. But it is missing the power of resurrection, which does not deny death its power but is made anew by death precisely because it is so powerful. Like pruning a tree or cutting decayed flesh from a wound, the death process is essential for life. By refusing to face those diseased branches or festering flesh, we sabotage the life that could thrive from succumbing to the death process. 

Instead we do all that we can to avoid, reject, and repress the death process. What, then, do we do with the decay? We project those unseemly feelings, thoughts, images, onto each other. And, to get political, especially onto lower caste systems which is so starkly obvious in these times: immigrants, prisoners, addicts, homeless, communities of color, the working class. Interestingly, many of these people are the ones who will die. Disproportionately. In droves. 

There are some that are calling the pandemic a purge, though it may be couched in prettier words about the earth healing or overpopulation. 

Never say this needed to happen, that those who die were sacrifices to a bloodthirsty god for our deliverance.  

Does the pandemic have a “purpose”? Who knows. But that’s the point. We don’t have to create something “good” out of this as if it were all “worth it”. IT’S NOT. Nothing can make this okay. 

What is true is that it is here, and every trauma has a teaching. Whether it is “for the best” or highest good” is irrelevant, and conjecture in that direction smacks of eugenics and survival of the fittest. 

How, then, can we use this death process to generate life? Well, with Knotted Root it all comes down to the body. I cannot control what happens in the world. Building political and social systems is not my bag, though obviously there is much work to be done and I applaud those doing it. But, as I will go on to explain, social and political systems are reflections of our Selves.

Confucianism, in a gross oversimplification, is the idea that internal harmony begets societal harmony and visa versa. Choi Young-jin and Lee Haeng-hoon of the University of Hawaii describe Confucianism in their paper, “The Confucian Vision of an Ideal Society Arising Out of Moral Emotions”, 

“It is […] a kind of ‘life community’ in which not only humans but every creature between heaven and earth is able to give full expression to its nature and can strive to reach the cosmic harmony.” 

This is an interesting concept, especially now when we are seeing what impact an amoral society has on our citizens and our bodies. What do we do with that idea? 

To get abstract, in the same way that we can create a moral society as an extension of moral actions we can create a vibrant reality by participating in our own internal death process. 

This is not unheard of. The Quebec elders of the Whapmagoostui describe something similar in their recently published “Message to the World” about the Covid-19 pandemic: 

“all beings in Nature […] even those in their own natural habitat, they suffer because of what man has done to Mother Earth. They lose their food, medicines, and other essentials they need to bring up their offspring. Their suffering does not allow their energy to flow freely with the rhythm of the Cosmos. As such, their restricted energy propagates sickness in the world. Their energy must be allowed to resonate freely through the Universe as it should for healing to come to the world.”  

We are also beings in nature. I would argue that our denying the dark parts of ourselves, reflected in repressive structures, acted out in discordance from our souls, has the same impact on what the elders call the Universe as the suffering of living things that the Wapmagoostui speak of. It restricts our energy and propagates sickness in the world. 

A very practical example of this discordance is that of a prevalent cause of anxiety, “pretense”. Leon Hammer MD ranks it one of the most common next to “terror of the unknown” and “separation anxiety”.  Anxiety related to pretense simply arises when “one pretends to be something or someone other than one’s real self”. How many of us do this? If that is not a succinct description for modern civilization, I don’t know what is.

Largely unconscious, pretense “begins early in life […] as an attempt to adapt to the pressure of circumstances unfavorable for the person to be [their] “true self” […] The “self” suffers its repression poorly and drives always for expression. This is an endless source of anxiety, along with the fear generated by the deep subconscious knowledge that one is not oneself, and that one ‘cannot fool all the people all of the time’” Dragon Rises Red Bird Flies: Psychology and Chinese Medicine

If we, just as our fathers before us and their fathers before them, resist, reject, and repress the death process, we are living a life built on pretense because we turn away from the ugly, the difficult, the chaotic. Living like this cannot but restrict our energy and propagate sickness in the world.

The discord that is created when we act in a way not in keeping with our true nature does not stay neatly within the borders of our own human system. It has an impact on a macro level, creating systems not in keeping with our needs or nature as humans, that in turn erodes our will and perverts our hearts.

There is then an exchange between the microcosm and macrocosm: our inner landscape is reflected in the world we create, and the world creates our inner landscape. 

In Chasing the Dragon’s Tail: The Theory and Practice of Acupuncture in the Work of Yoshio Manaka, Kazuka Itaya and Stephen Birch argue that the reductionist paradigm of a world divisible into separate, independent parts has been proven false by mathematical models of chaotic and thermodynamic systems. That is another opus, but it has fascinating implications for what we are discussing here:

“The world is non-reducible, non-dualist, and acausal; theoretical physics has experimentally confirmed this. We cannot separate the human subject from the world. We are the participator in an indivisible whole, both affected by and affecting all things.” 

In the same vein, the physicist David Bohm describes in his Hologram theory: “…that the universe is a hologram wherein all parts of the whole contain images of the whole.” Chasing the Dragon’s Tail

The model of a co-created reality is very familiar to Daoism. One interpretation of this arises from a commentary on chapter eight in the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic or Huangdi Neijing Lingshu

“Heaven invites, and Earth responds by receiving his Virtue. Earth’s purpose is to form Breathes out of this Virtue from Heaven. Because of this community of Heaven/Earth life we can say: the Virtue of Earth is simply the transmitted Virtue of Heaven. We say the Breaths of Heaven because the Breaths produced must refer back to Heaven, to the origin of creative power. If we make a too-rigorous distinction between the Virtue of Heaven and the Breaths of Earth, we will ignore the work they accomplish together.” Rooted in Spirit: The Heart of Chinese Medicine: A Sinological Interpretation of Chapter Eight of Huangdi Neijing Lingshu

In sum, the earth, and we as a part of it, receive the virtue of heaven and reflect it back through the virtue of earth. Humans are between heaven and earth, we co-create reality with the earth to manifest the will of heaven. 

All of this is to say that we have more power than we realize. The systems we create are a product of the systems we have inside. We create systems of oppression and repression not only but partly because those systems are at work inside of us. There is much to be done for revolution of external structures. My belief is that it needs to be accompanied by that within. 

Revolution of self, revolution of state, certainly. But the revolution in the title of the piece refers to neither. Rather it is the movement inherent in resurrection. Imagine life and death form the same wheel, the turning of the wheel creates reality through the generation of life through death and the generation of death through life. The wheel must turn. When we stop the wheel from turning we disrupt the movement of creation in the same way that a suffering animal cannot nourish the earth.  

Our bodies know how to let the wheel turn. They are always conspiring to be themselves. Express themselves. Heal themselves. Can we let them? And, what’s more, dare we assist? 

Pandemic Panic and Apocalyptic Dread

Pandemic Panic and Apocalyptic Dread

All quotes are taken from Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies: Psychology & Chinese Medicine by Leon Hammar, M.D.

“‘fight’ or ‘flight’ […] each can be characterized in physiological terms, the former, fight, as a sympathetic autonomic response and the latter, as a parasympathetic reaction [described] respectively as “stiff” and “limp”. 282

Overstimulated or collapsed: in a world characterized by pandemic panic and apocalyptic dread, some of us tend towards one or the other, some of us are caught in a cycle of both extremes. That is a normal, logical consequence in the face of overwhelming odds. 

Let us then try something radical and not seek to circumvent or change our outlook – if you are seeking the cult of positivity you can find it from myriad other sources and it has done plenty of people plenty of good. But this is not that: knotted root is about dealing with what is here. 

Within a Chinese Medical framework, there are a number of organs that will be struggling to function under the strain of these overwhelming odds. But the good news is we can take steps to alleviate that burden and in so doing help ourselves breathe a little easier, feel a little more space inside, and make life a little more bearable. 

If you read Grief and the Body part II you will already be familiar with the concept of Chinese medical organs performing metaphysical and emotional labor. I will not seek to demonstrate it again here, we proceed with this as a given. 

So, what organs are at work in pandemic panic and apocalyptic dread? Of course the heart is a big player. An excess of any emotion injuries the heart. The lung, certainly- if you read Grief and the Body part II you know all about that. What may not seem obvious but is a crucial player is the kidney. 

We will address the treatment of each in the accompanying video. For now let’s look at how these organs are involved.

First, the heart:

“Anxiety has a physiological side (disturbed breathing, increased heart activity, vasomotor changes, musculoskeletal disturbances such as trembling or paralysis, increased sweating) and of a psychological side (perception of specific unpleasurable feelings and sensations, apprehension) Fear, the Chinese say, is an emotion that descends to the Kidney, and anxiety is an emotion that ascends to the Heart. 281

As we said, any excess of emotion affects the heart. Anxiety is the current focus in the case of pandemic panic. Anxiety has a kind of agitating effect on the heart, which can lead to an almost manic presentation. Take note of how connected or “grounded” you feel in your body. If pandemic panic is affecting your heart, once you tune in you may feel a sensation of “headiness” or a frenzied sensation rising upward. This is a sign the heart is agitated and you need to find silence and calm to come back into your body. 

Also, please try the self treatment in the video! We treat the pericardium and heart channels but you could argue for treating small intestine and triple warmer as well so I will include those point locations on the knotted root facebook page. 

Next, the lung and kidney which are really addressed together because they are so closely linked, especially when dealing with the relationship between fear and dread. 

The fear housed in the lung is that of moment to moment vigilance and assessment: am I safe? Can I breathe? Is this environment one in which I can let down my guard? In pandemic panic, the answer seems to be alternately yes and no, without really knowing when is which is what. This profound disorientation makes the job of the lungs very difficult and therefore extremely taxing.

The kidney and lung are interdependent, “kidney qi assists the lung in the ‘reception of qi’. This involves the inhalation of air and qi from the atmosphere for the entire body […] a breakdown in this contribution to respiration may result in asthma.” 111 

Their interdependence is not isolated to the qi dynamic, however, but extends into their metaphysical and emotional duties. It is my belief and observation that the lungs, or the Po, the spirit of the lung which is what we are actually discussing (see previous article the Po of Grief), can become exhausted by the constant vigilance described above. If we ask ourselves, am I safe? without knowing the answer enough times it communicates a sense of dread that seems to settle deep in our bones. This is the domain of the kidneys: the sinking feeling, it’s hard to articulate but looming at the back of our minds,  something ominous. In our current state I label that apocalyptic dread: we have no idea what the world will look like, we only know that we do not recognize what it looks like now. 

I do not have an answer to offer that dread. I have nothing to soothe the source of that panic. All I can do is to focus on helping my patients breathe a little easier, feel a little more space inside, and try to make life a little more bearable. 

What we might do with that space will be the topic of an upcoming article 

Resurrection and the (Re) Evolution of Being

Yours ever,

R.M Brown LAc

Let’s Generalize About Phlegm

Let’s Generalize About Phlegm

For those of you who have not seen Crazy Ex Girlfriend: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oa_QtMf6alU

For those of you who have, let’s move on from phlegm puns into why this is relevant to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Phlegm is a very important aspect of this disease. First off, it is one important factor that separates a severe case from a mild case. Why is that? Because phlegm obstructs breathing. As we have seen in prior material, there’s lots we can do to support the lungs and keep breathing. But if the phlegm is severe, these efforts are futile.

An excerpt from “Report from the Front Line in Wuhan” by Liu Lihong describes the importance of phlegm’s role in covid cases:

“Typical symptomology includes either a dry cough or no cough. Because on one hand the normal way of phlegm expulsion by coughing is missing and on the other turbid damp pathogens are obstructing the middle burner, the resultant blockage of normal transformative pathways causes turbid phlegm to congeal into a rubbery and glue-like material that severely interferes with proper airway function and has no way out.”

A resident Shan Han Lun school expert described it this way:

“Strong invasion means it not only attack taiyang (fever) but straight into yin (lungs, causing cough and shortness of breath – building up fluids quickly to block oxygen exchange with blood vessels).

In order to fight this invasion, one must restore normal functioning of 3 yin (taiyin, shaoyin, jueyin), harmonize ying wei, transform fluids/phlegm and descend lung qi.”

Before you despair or get totally lost in Chinese medical terminology, there is a point: there is much we can do to preemptively treat phlegm before we get sick or in the early stages of the disease.

In a germ theory mentality, disease is like an invading army. In a Chinese medical model, the symptoms of the disease are created by the interaction between the external pernicious influence (ie germ) and the internal landscape of the body. Therefore, if we have done everything we can about the former (social distancing, sanitizing, don’t touch your face, etc) we can turn to the latter. Namely, our internal landscape. To do that, we need to look at how we might influence the production of phlegm in our bodies.

All this is to say that thus far in our covid material we have been focused on lung function. That is well and good, but there is more that we can do. And that is to look at the role of the digestive system in supporting healthy lung function.

In Chinese medicine, phlegm is produced by the Spleen as a kind of by product of inefficient digestion. Think of your digestion as a fire. If you feed wet wood into the fire it may burn but it will steam and water will bubble out the end. If that byproduct overwhelms the lungs capacity to disseminate fluids (it’s other job in the Chinese system) that steam and water congeals into phlegm. So to review, phlegm is created in the digestive system and stored in the lung.

So how can we reduce phlegm? Herbs are very effective and you can contact me for herbal consultations. Diet is one way to treat yourself and your family.

You can either prevent phlegm by supporting digestive function and avoiding phlegm-producing foods or actually break up phlegm once it’s already there. All methods are listed below, information is sourced from Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford. 

Avoid: cold food, greasy food, and dairy products.

Support digestive function: 

“The dietary treatment involves foods that are warming in termal nature. Foods with cooling properties weaken the digestion. Likewise, food that is cold in temperature extinguishes the “digestive fire”; in fact, just the process of warming up cold foods absorbs a fair amount of the body’s digestive energy. 

Carbohydrate rich vegetables: winter squash, carrot, rutabaga, parsnip, turnip, garbanzo beans, black beans, peas, sweet potato, yam, pumpkin

Pungent vegetables and spices: onion, leek, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, fennel, garlic, nutmeg”

Treat phlegm: 

Seaweeds: “Cooling thermal nature; salty flavor, softens hardened areas and masses in the body; detoxify; moisten dryness; transform phlegm; build the yin fluids and improve water metabolism; act as lymphatic cleansers.

Bitter foods: “help drain various damp-associated conditions [including] mucus. The kidney and lungs are said to be tonified and vitalized by bitter flavors. Bitter is superb for removing mucus from the lungs.” 

Examples of bitter foods include: 

“Alfalfa, bitter melon, romaine lettuce, rye, radish leaf, scallion, turnip, white pepper, amaranth, asparagus, celery, lettuce, papaya, quinao, vinegar.”

Grief and the Body II

Grief and the Body II

Grief and the Body Part II

There is something so tragic and fascinating about a global outpouring of grief. Even more so when you see it through a Chinese medical lense. This pandemic is a respiratory disease, the rate and scale of its spread a testament to how connected we all are. It has caused us to isolate from each other and even yearn for connection. All of these are the domain of the Lung in Chinese Medicine. 

There are 5 spirits pertaining to the 5 yin organs, a consciousness that presides over the metaphysical duties of each organ just as the physical organ is in charge of certain tasks. Each of the Heart, Lung, Spleen, Liver, and Kidneys has a spirit but for purposes our focus is the Po. The Po, or animal soul, is the spirit of the Lung and has to do with connection or lack thereof. The emotion that is processed by or, if not processed, has the ability to injure the Lung is grief. Grief is caused by a loss of connection. You love someone, feel connected to them, how could you love them if not?. If they die or leave or even can’t be reached, that connection is severed, lost, suspended. And you feel it.

How can that do physical injury to the Lung? Leon Hammer, M.D. has written extensively on the meeting of Psychology and Chinese Medicine. In his book Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies he describes the physical impact of grief: 

“The posture of the sad person is common knowledge: head down, eyes focused on the ground, the back bent forward and the chest depressed: this bearing gradually “kills” the circulation of Qi in the chest. Since the Lung makes the Qi, which is the driving force of the energy and Blood circulation throughout the body, it has to work harder and is slowly weakened.” 77 DRRF

The transformation of physical disease to emotional manifestation and back again is not outlandish in a Chinese medical model. Emotion is one of the preeminent internal causes of disease. What can we do about the external causes of this global pandemic? Many true, solid practices that have already been covered at length elsewhere. The point is that there is much we can do on an internal level. Much that, with this global outpouring of grief, we are being called to do.

Forced into stillness and isolation we are immersed in our inner world. The question is, can we use it? To look inward, to ask of our Lungs, what is there to grieve? The world, certainly. Lives lost, struggle, pain, etc etc. Absolutely. But even aside from that and below it may be a voice that has tried to get through before. A feeling or sensation in the body that we dread or avoid. What has it come to teach us? About the world and about ourselves.

Grief and the Body

Grief and the Body

Referencing and expounding on “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief” by Scott Berinato.

Recently, the Harvard Business Review published an article about the Covid pandemic and the grief it elicits on a global scale, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief”. In it, Berinato interviewes David Kessler, coauthor of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s book On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss, and author of Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief

There is much of value in the interview, two excerpts of which I’d like to highlight here. Kessler states:

“We tell ourselves things like, I feel sad, but I shouldn’t feel that; other people have it worse. We can — we should — stop at the first feeling. I feel sad. Let me go for five minutes to feel sad. Your work is to feel your sadness and fear and anger whether or not someone else is feeling something. Fighting it doesn’t help because your body is producing the feeling.”

 Yes! Sit with your feelings. And what’s more, go deeper. As Kessler says, your body is producing the feeling. Often, the body also knows what it needs to help deal with it. Feeling the emotion is a great start, but there’s so much we can do to relieve the pressure of these emotions in our bodies. See the accompanying video for a few ideas. 

One of the interview questions, which had a great answer but I want to focus on the question itself: 

“When we’re feeling grief there’s that physical pain. And the racing mind. Are there techniques to deal with that to make it less intense?”

Kessler goes on to discuss how to help calm the mind and disrupt what for many of us can be a harmful cycle of anxiety and anticipatory fear. But there’s something there in the question. That physical pain. That is a great place to go. Our bodies are not dumping grounds, in spite of how we use them. If there is physical pain because of an emotion, certainly listen to the emotion but listen to the pain, as well. Often it is your body trying to process that feeling and it may need help from your mind. Again, there are techniques we can use to heed this call. The first step is to hear it and recognize it for what it is. 

Four Horses

Huge disclaimer: this is not meant to say do not seek medical attention if you or your loved ones experienced covid symptoms. It is intended for mild cases in which someone feels they cannot breathe but with interventions such as these can be made comfortable and weather the symptoms with relatively more ease. On a different note, this pandemic is giving us a greater awareness of our lungs and everything they do for us. Let us take the cue and focus on what they might need or have to teach us. The body has infinite wisdom and now is the perfect time to heed it. 

Four horses: Master Tung points for the Lung

Indicated (used) for: pleurisy, asthma, pneumonia, colds and influenza. 

When stimulated, these points cause a rush of oxygen to the lungs. This means if you are treating yourself you ought to sit down! When I was trying these out with acupressure I got a big rush of air in my lungs and experienced greater lung capacity right away. Focus on breathing deeply to get the bottom of your lungs cleared out. Anyone with anxiety (which is many more of us as of late) tends to breathe in a much more shallow pattern. See the video on bodywork for lung capacity to release the physical obstructions to deep breathing and be sure to check out our upcoming video on self treatment for anxiety to release emotional obstructions to deep breathing. Also check out @knottedroot on facebook for breathing exercises and qi gong to benefit the lungs.

Bodywork for Lung Capacity

A breath is just a breath, no? Wrong! So much goes into breathing; in this video we look at a few of the structures involved. 

Rib cage: what you thought was mere skin and bone is really a 3 dimensional, malleable network engaging with different parts of the body simultaneously.

Some anatomy: intercostals, the muscles in between the ribs. These can be contracted (shortened, stuck) but can be coaxed back into plasticity. How, you ask? 

Nicely. Gently. With persuasion. Notice in the accompanying video I am not breaking my patient’s ribcage open but rather asking it with persistent but easy movement to relax and open. Just from this alone the patient will notice greater ease with breathing. 

But wait, there’s more! 

Underneath the ribcage is the diaphragm which is not that easy to access manually but can be treated indirectly by mobilizing the fascia (connective tissue) under the flare of the anterior (front) of the ribs and the fascia of the abdomen (including the linea alba which I reference in the video). Again, nice and easy. Don’t pulverize the thing.

So that’s underneath. Then there is above and below. Above we have the scalenes on the side of the neck, accessory muscles of respiration. Meaning, they help us breathe by pulling up on the top ribs as we inhale, thus expanding the rib cage. Who doesn’t have tight scalenes, I ask you. A lot of emotion can get stuck in these muscles so treat with care, more on that in an upcoming video on the Po.

So, to release the scalenes we coax open the supraclavicular fossa, or the large depression just above each collar bone. This technique is shown in the video, also note that part of this procedure includes gently rocking against the head of the humerus, or top of the upper arm bone, to open the chest cavity even more. This area is often tender and protected so check in.

Last but certainly not least is the quadratus lumborum, a set of muscles on either side of the lumbar (lower spine) in the low back. It orchestrates the movement of the pelvis and rib cage. Big job, often a key problem area. So using the same techniques of gentle persuasion you pull up on the muscle (towards you) and then push down on the abdomen, rocking this part of the body back and forth until you create space between the rib cage and hip bones. Push up and down and then alternate pulling the muscle away from the spine and back again. 

After each muscle, structure, or fascial plane is treated, observe the patient’s color, breathing, and general state of tension in their nervous system. You ought to see a large impact after each structure is released and a world of difference from the beginning of treatment. 

When in doubt, contact me for questions or tips if you need help with the techniques or want to know about some of the facets of treatment to which I alluded (treatment of anxiety, the po, wisdom of the body, emotion held in the body etc) It is my favorite thing to talk about. Really. 

I also offer ½ hour self treatment consultations which are sliding scale for all covid patients or those experiencing pandemic related anxiety. 

Take care of each other. R.M Brown LAc