Symbols, Seasons, and Healing
Note: This blog post is based on episode 21 of the Heavenly Qi Podcast, which was an interview with Dr. Jimi Wollumbin. Dr. Wollumbin practices Chinese Medicine at Holistic Family Healthcare in NSW, Australia. He is also the founder of One Health Organization, which focuses on treating chronic diseases in vulnerable communities within Australia and internationally. The following is my summary of the main points discussed during the interview.
Ancient humans paid very close attention to what was happening in the natural world around them, both in the heavens and on the earth. The particular phenomena occurring in the four directions, as well as during the four seasons, greatly influenced how they lived their lives with regards to everything from their belief systems to their medicine. The four cardinal directions and the four seasons were assigned representative animals, colors, and more that have evolved over time. These symbols, while maintaining their original poetic and abstract feel, have concrete applications in the diagnosis, treatment, and comprehension of illness.
This is a vast topic, and what follows is a brief introduction to an organizational system known in Chinese Medicine as the Five Phases or Five Elements. We can use this ancient wisdom in order to aid our understanding of the psychological perspective a person has towards their disease, and in order to know where along the cycle of disease development the person is stuck. In the same way that the seasons come and go, waxing and waning, so too does one's state of health and symptom picture, physical and mental.
The western direction is associated with the white tiger, and the season of autumn. The white tiger is a predator and killer. The sun sets in the west, which represents the dying of the day in the same way that autumn represents the ending of the fullness and warmth of summer -- the transition into winter. This is a deep, dark, often subconscious place where we let go of our old situation and move towards the discovery of something new and precious.
In the north we find the black turtle, and correspondences with the season of winter. Turtles represents longevity and preservation, as they move about very slowly and always withdraw their heads and limbs into their shells whenever a threat arises. The northern days are shorter and nights are longer; it is cold and there is less food available to eat. During winter you're required to go inside in order to survive, which provides time for introspection. This darkness and fear of the unknown is what fuels our will to live.
Looking to the east we find the blue-green dragon, and the season of spring. The blue-green dragon is a mythological being flying through the air, guiding us, and encouraging us to follow our dreams. Sunrises evoke feelings of hope and inspiration for the new day, just as the returning of the light out of winter encourages new buds to grow on the trees and plants.
Finally, in the south we see the vermillion bird, as well as the summer season. This bird, perhaps a phoenix, represents transformation -- rising forth from the ashes of winter and flying high in the sky. As you move south, or as the summer season grows, there is more warmth, more joy, and longer days. There is a happiness and freedom that comes from the realization that we don't have to chase external things, and that we should trust the process and development of life. Summertime teaches us to appreciate the dark and cold conditions of winter, and to respect the role this plays.
All of this change revolves around a still point, the yellow dragon of the center. The yellow dragon is often used to refer to the emperor, the stability on which the empire runs, changes, and develops, and yet remains unchanged himself. Transitioning from season to season, day to day, illness to health, etc., requires a grounded, mountain-like surface on which we can stand and do the work that needs to be done in order to take care of ourselves. This is the originally healthy, stress-free, and pain-free part of all of us that we have lost touch with, but it is always present.
This page is intended to serve as a source for links to blogs and articles about acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine that both new and returning patients may find informative and/or entertaining. It is also where I will share information about the history, principles, and benefits of this awesome medicine.