January 20, 2008 at 10:03 am #27126
Promoting Health and Relaxation During the Four Seasons & Cultivating the Flow
The following is a presentation of four famous seasonal tableaux by Gao Lian, a 16th century poet and medical scholar who was an ardent proponent of the art of nourishing life. They originally appeared in Gao’s book, Zunsheng bajian (Eight Pieces on Observing the Fundamental Principles of Life), which Chinese physicians used to regard as a comprehensive source of lifestyle related information. Recommencing one of the main themes of the Neijing, these seasonal portraits can be read as a typical attempt to translate the densely crafted teachings of the classic into more contemporary language.
Gao Lian exemplifies the classical type of Chinese literatus who saw the cultivation of art, music, and poetry as a gateway to the mysteries of the body and the mind. While recognizing the medicine of poetry, he was also intrigued by the poetry of medicine. His delight in the rich cultural aspects of Chinese medicine and his efforts to collect medicinal recipes, herbal prescriptions, and therapeutic exercises put him in the company of other famous poets devoted to the pursuit of medical studies, such as the Song Dynasty master lyricist Su Dongbo. For both of these distinguished literati, medicine represented the realization of the artistic quest in the realm of the physical, namely humankind’s age-old search to reconnect and resonate with its cosmic origins. Gao’s writings thus reflect the conviction of the poet-philosopher class of dynastic China that one cannot successfully play music, create art, rule a country, or treat a patient without cultivating this vital connection to the macrocosm. More specifically, the following four pieces are intended to remind the technique oriented physician that in the Neijing, medicine was primarily introduced as the art of celebrating the healthy body and preventing any detachment from the vitality imbuing cycles of the universal flow.
The three months of spring are the time of renewal: the old and stale dissipates, heaven and earth come to life, and everything blossoms. Rest at night and get up early, stride freely through the courtyard, let your hair down and indulge in the leisurely feeling of a morning stroll; this is how you should raise your spirits in spring. Foster all life and do not kill, be generous and agreeable, give freely and do not punish. This is the way of honoring the qi of spring and nourishing life during this season. Going against these characteristics of the seasonal flow will have harmful affects on the liver network.
The flavor of liver wood is sour. Wood can overcome earth which is the dynamic element governing the spleen, which in turn is influenced by sweet flavors. In spring, therefore, one should eat less sour foods and increase one’s intake of mildly sweet foods to nourish spleen qi.
The warming rays of the new sun of spring kindle everything into sprouting growth, including certain diseases that have been hiding beneath the body’s surface. The weather is quite erratic during the first and second lunar month (February to April), cold at one moment and hot, the next, and since most of the elderly suffer from some kind of chronic ailment, the advancing qi of spring may cause those people to feel tired and weak. Chronic ailments flare up easily under these conditions. Also, during the winter months people tend to hover near the smoky stove and eat processed food, and these detrimental influences gradually accumulate in the body until they finally come out in spring. They will make the body feel hot and the head dizzy, the diaphragm will plug up and the mouth turn sticky, the arms will lose strength and the legs and lower back will become weak. All of these are ailments which have accumulated during the winter season. When the body exhibits signs of change and one senses that a disease may be coming on, it would be wrong to simply use moving herbs to straighten out apparent stagnation, because remedies of this nature may actually harm the organ networks at this time and cause other diseases to crop up. The appropriate way is to use remedies that extinguish wind and harmonize qi, cool the diaphragm and transform smoldering disease. If one chooses to employ dietary measures one should select foods that are energetically neither too hot nor too cold, possibly slightly cooling in nature, and which prevent stagnation by benefiting the smooth transformation of food and drink. In this manner, all of the body processes will flow naturally. If there are no signs of disease, there is no need to take any medicine.
Spring is the season of harmony. This is the time to roam through gardens and forests, to sit leisurely in scenic kiosks and take in the tranquil sights of nature. Open up your heart, get rid of all stagnant energy, and thus encourage the budding qi of birth, life, and renewal to flow. At this time, it would be against the dynamics of nature to sit around dwelling on things and grow stagnant and depressed. Avoid drinking a lot of alcohol, and show some restraint with those commonly eaten flour products that have a tendency to harm the spleen and stomach networks. They are truly hard to digest.
Especially old people should not give in to the temptation of transient oral pleasure and overeat on an empty stomach, otherwise their health will almost certainly suffer. Also, since the weather switches from cold to warm and from warm to cold, it would be a mistake for them to put their padded winter clothing away. Old people typically have weak qi, brittle bones, and a frail body that is highly susceptible to wind cold. Since their surface is invaded easily, they should always have an extra set of clothing ready which can be laid aside when the sun comes out. Decrease layer by layer, don’t get rid of everything all at once!
The three months of summer are governed by the energy of fire, and are thus in charge of the process of growing and ripening. The heart’s qi is abundant with fire energy, and its associated flavor is bitter. According to the controlling cycle of relationships between the five energetic phases, fire can distress metal; metal energy governs the lung, and the flavor associated with the lung network is pungent. During the summertime, therefore, one should decrease bitter foods and increase pungent flavors to nourish the lung. At the same time, one should use the sound “haaaaa” to course stagnant heart qi, and “shhhhh” to harmonize its flow.
During the “three dog days” when the hot summer temperatures are at their peak, the abdomen actually has a tendency to get cold. During this period it would be especially unhealthy to succumb to diarrhea, for this disorder drains out precious yin qi. If this should happen, do not use the energetically draining methods of acupuncture or moxibustion, but use diaphoretic herbs instead. It would be best to look ahead and prevent this and other disorders by ingesting some warming substances during the summer solstice, when the wintry forces of yin energy start making their erstwhile hidden comeback at the midnight hour. Also, a decoction that is tonic to the kidney network should be taken at this time. The heart is exuberant during the summer months, but the kidney is in its weakest state. Despite the heat, therefore, it would be unsuitable to fill up one’s belly with frosted snacks, sweetened cold drinks, cold noodles, or cold cereals. These dietary habits easily lead to abdominal cold, which in turn will cause cholera or other forms of infectious summer diarrhea. By the same token, don’t eat any summer squash, eggplant, uncooked vegetables, or other excessively yin foods, because at this time there is already plenty of yin qi present in the abdomen, and the ingestion of coagulating foods like this may promote the formation of abdominal masses. Old people, in particular, and people with a tendency for heat phlegm disorders that are really due to their cold constitution should abide by these principles and avoid those foods.
For the same reason, don’t seek relief from the heat of summer in drafty and busy places. Although you may find temporary coolness under the awning, in the corridor, in the busy outer courtyard, or near a broken window, it is in places like this that noxious winds can most easily invade the body. Seek out the tranquility of a clean and spacious room, or the pure yin energy of an open water kiosk to achieve a natural state of coolness.
Even more important, regulate your breath and put your heart at ease. Keep in mind that holding icy crystals in your heart and stomach will cause heat to flare rather than to diminish. Don’t just assume that hot things are heating and therefore will fuel an already abundant heat. Rather make it a habit to regularly take warming tonics in pill or powder form during the summer months, in order to assure a smooth functioning of the body’s qi flow. Drink warm liquids and eat warm food; never fill yourself up to the brim, but eat smaller portions in shorter intervals. Drink cinnamon tea, cook with amomum, use boiled rather than fresh water, and avoid the intake of greasy dishes and fatty animal food.
Also, do not sleep under the light of the stars and the moon, because if you camp out in the open you will be prone to wind invasion. Although you may feel an initial rush of exhilaration, the wind will most certainly make its way through your pores. This particular kind of wind invasion is truly the kind that will cause the most distressing symptoms. Somebody, for instance, who ingests cold food and then retires his or her sweaty body for the night in a drafty place will easily contract wind block syndrome resulting in numbness of the hands and feet, inhibited speech, and paralysis of the limbs. Admittedly, not everybody will contract this disorder; one could say that there are people who will become afflicted right away, while others seem hardly affected at all. This is because if a young and strong person does this during a full moon, s/he is supported by nature’s cosmic forces and will most probably remain symptom free. If, however, an old and weak person does this during a new moon when the time related forces of nature are not only unable to compensate for unhealthful behavior, but are putting additional stress on the system, then s/he will most certainly have to suffer the consequences.
Since the head is the meeting point of all yang channels, special care should be taken to protect it from the noxious influence of wind. All of the little cracks in your bedroom wall should therefore be mended at this time, so as to prevent injury to the head. Also, comb your head daily 100-200 times during the summer months, taking care not to injure the scalp and selecting a place that is free of draft. This is a natural method to expel wind and brighten the eyes.
The three months of autumn are in charge of withering and of decelerating the momentum of growth. The organ network associated with this season is the lung; this organ is abundant with qi, and it has a particular affinity to pungent flavors. When viewing the lung in the context of the other organ networks, it is important to note that metal can have an overbearing action on wood. Since the organ system associated with wood is the liver, and since this system is particularly affected by sour flavors, one should decrease the intake of pungent flavors in the fall while increasing sour ones, since this will nourish and protect liver qi.
If the lung network is in a state of pathological excess, one should use the sound “ssssssss” to drain this excess from the system. During the three month following the beginning of autumn, it is important to keep body and mind in a state of quiet harmony and to not drain one’s energy. Both spring and autumn are seasons of change, and it is particularly then that diseases will surface. Therefore, one should take special care to attend to the tranquil practices of nourishing life during those times, and to conduct both one’s daily life and the treatment of patients in accordance with the predominant energy of the respective season. In autumn, for instance, it would be inappropriate to use dispersing therapies such as emetics or strong diaphoretics, since measures like these cause people to feel drained and create restlessness in the organ networks. In case of diarrhea, for example, one should only use acupuncture/moxibustion and some herbal decoctions or powders which assist the patient’s yang qi.
People, moreover, who suffer from taxation fatigue or hemorrhoids or wasting thirst syndrome [diabetes], etc., should avoid eating fried rice, (deep) fried foods, and beef from cows that died without being slaughtered, as well as raw fish, chicken, pork, wine, fermented foods, salty foods, vinegar, and all other things that are sticky and hard to digest. People with those conditions should also avoid raw vegetables, seeds, and fermented soy bean products. The same is true for people suffering from cold syndrome due to wind qi, or people with masses below the ribcage.
It is also advisable to engage in the following exercise right after waking up in the morning: close your eyes, click your teeth twenty-one times, swallow your saliva, rub your hands together and let the heat from your palms penetrate into your eyeballs. Rub your hands and cup your eyeballs repeatedly. If one practices this exercise regularly during the three months of autumn, the eyes will become bright and illuminated.
The Neijing states: In autumn, “go to bed early and get up with the chickens [at dawn]. This will cause all mental faculties to become calm and peaceful, and moderate the downward blow of fall. Astringe your mental energy to be in harmony with the condensing quality of autumn qi. Do not disperse your energies, and the lung qi will be clear. This is the way of nourishing life in accordance with the nourishing and constricting qi of the autumnal harvest season. Going against these principles will harm the lung network, eventually causing diarrhea in winter when things should really be in a state of storage rather than leakage. The qi of autumn is dry, and so it is advisable to consume some moistening sesame to counteract the dryness. Avoid cold drinks, and do not wear damp and cold clothing close to your skin.”
During the three months of winter, heaven and earth shut down and go into a state of storage. Water turns to ice and earth splits open, and the yang qi of nature stays unperturbed. Go to bed early, therefore, and get up only after the warming rays of the sun have appeared in the morning. Avoid cold and seek out warmth, and be careful not to purge the body’s skin layer [with extreme diaphoretic measures]. Otherwise harm to the kidney network will occur, and consequently the germinating forces of spring will be impaired. During the following season of spring, then, offenders may suffer from diseases like muscular atrophy, paralysis, or stroke.
In winter, the yang is submerged within. If somebody suffers from an ailment, therefore, it is advisable to dispel existing pathogens from the body with emetic methods. Diaphoretics should not be used excessively during this time, since they easily drain out precious yang qi; the heart and diaphragm region, moreover, tend to easily accumulate heat in winter. This is the season to take a combination of tonic materials steeped in wine, or to drink 1-2 small cups of shanyao (dioscorea) wine every day to foster yang qi. At night, do not immediately collapse into bed, but settle down with leisure. Wear padded winter clothes during the coldest time, but add them gradually and not all at once; stop increasing the layers just when you have added enough to not feel cold anymore. Do not warm yourself in front of a roaring fire, since this winter habit may bring about particularly harmful consequences. The hands and feet, namely, have an affinity to the heart network, and should therefore never be toasted over a fire. The fire may otherwise be enticed into the heart and create symptoms of restlessness. For the same reasons, avoid grilling food over an open fire. Keep in mind that just as cooling medicines are not effective against extremely hot disorders, warming medicines do not work for extremely cold diseases–the nature of water is damp, while fire is dry.
One should nourish heart qi by decreasing salty foods and increasing bitter ones. This is because the winter months are associated with kidney water which in turn is affected by salty flavors. To prevent water from developing an overbearing influence on fire and thereby plunging the heart into a state of disharmony, it is best to nourish heart qi in a preventative manner. Also, it is best to withdraw to a tightly sealed dwelling in winter, and to make sure that one’s food intake is regulated and the clothing adjusted to the changes in temperature. Do not try to be daring and expose yourself to cold wind, especially if you are old, because winter poses an increased risk of catching wind cold, which will result in symptoms such as coughing, numbness of the extremities, dizziness, etc.
In winter, the earth’s yang qi resides within, while the yin qi is at the surface. Old people who often tend to exhibit heat symptoms above and cold symptoms below should therefore not take hot baths during this time. At a time when the yang smolders inside, extreme sweating may occur when one is exposed to scorching heat. At an advanced age the bones are brittle and the flesh is frail, and the body is thus easily influenced by stimuli of this sort.
Since winter is the time when external disorders are easily contracted, do not go outside at an early hour, or you will be in danger of being assaulted by frost. Drink a small cup of wine in the morning to expel the cold; in the evening take some herbs that eliminate internal heat. In this fashion, you will harmonize your heart qi and prevent pathological heat qi from flushing up. In winter, avoid the following: sex, excessive consumption of baked foods, meat, flour products, won-ton dumplings, etc.
1 From Gao Lian, Zunsheng bajian (Eight Pieces On Observing the Fundamental Principles of Life), fl. 1575
Metal is generated by Earth; if there is too much earth, Metal will be buried. Earth is generated by Fire; if there is too much Fire, Earth will be charred. Fire is generated by Wood; if there is too much Wood, Fire will flare. Wood is generated by Water; if there is too much Water, Wood will be washed away. Water is generated by Metal; if there is too much Metal, Water will be grimy.
Metal can generate Water; if there is too much Water, Metal will drown. Water can generate Wood; if Wood is in abundance, Water will be in short supply. Wood can generate Fire; if there is too much Fire, Wood will be incinerated. Fire can generate Earth; if there is too much Earth, Fire will be obscured. Earth can generate Metal; if there is too much Metal, Earth will spoil.
Metal can control Wood; if Wood is flinty, Metal will be marred. Wood can control Earth; if Earth is thick, Wood will break. Earth can control Water; if Water is too much, Earth will erode. Water can control Fire; if Fire is ablaze, Water will sizzle. Fire can control Metal; if Metal is too much, Fire will become smothered.
If exhausted Metal comes upon Fire, it will melt. If weak Fire encounters Water, it will become quenched. If weak Water encounters Earth, it will be filled in and become stuck. If weak Earth comes upon Wood, it will cave in. If weak Wood encounters Metal, it will be axed.
If excess Metal receives Water, it will in turn have its edge blunted. If excess Water receives Wood, it will in turn have its momentum drained. If excess Wood receives Fire, it will in turn have its denseness transformed. If excess Fire receives Earth, it will in turn have its blazing quality checked. If excess Earth receives Metal, it will in turn have its calamitous potential restricted.
Six Confirmation Diagnostics in Context:
The Six Cosmic Qi (liu qi) and the Six Stages of Qi Transformation (liu jing)
by Heiner Fruehauf
The earliest definition of the six cosmic qi (liu qi) appeared in Daoist texts from the pre-Neijing period, and lists them as follows: Yin, Yang, Wind, Rain, Darkness, and Brightness. Around the second century B.C.E., these terms evolved into the now standard Neijing definition of the six cosmic qi, which later became the template for the six stages of qi transformation utilized in the revolutionary diagnostic mode of the Shanghan lun, namely Wind (feng), Heat (re), Damp (shi), Fire (huo), Dryness (zao), and Cold (han).
These six qi can be understood as the earthly reverberations of cyclically changing cosmic forces. These forces, although originally being One (the Source Qi of the Universe), change in quality according to the different constellations that are formed by constantly moving heavenly bodies. They are the fundamental physiological influences which initiate the totality of patterned movements that we call life. They are, in traditional terminology, the righteous qi of the sky. (See Neijing Suwen, chapter 67, The Great Treatise on the Evolutive Movements of the Five Phases):
Yellow Emperor: ‘Is the Earth underneath the Sky?’
Qibo: ‘The Earth is underneath humans, but is suspended in space.’
Yellow Emperor: ‘How come it does not fall down?’
Qibo: ‘The Great Qi of the Universe holds it suspended in space. The dry qi dries it, the heat qi steams it to maturity, the wind qi makes it move, the damp qi moistens it, the cold qi makes it firm, and the fire qi warms it. Wind and cold, therefore, are below, dry and heat are on top, damp is at the center, and fire roams in between. Thus the six qi penetrate the earth, and transformation of matter is initiated out of emptiness.'”
It is thus the movements of the sun, the moon, and the stars that are at the root (ben) of the transformative processes of life on earth. The six qi, therefore, are the result of different positions and relationships between the celestial bodies. These celestial situations were measured and analyzed with traditional astronomical instruments such as a measuring pole (biao), and the results were then classified on a yin/yang scale. According to the quantity of yin qi or yang qi involved, they were further differentiated into lesser yang (shaoyang), major yang (taiyang), and yang brightness (yangming), and respectively, lesser yin (shaoyin), major yin (taiyin), and exhausted yin (jueyin). (See Neijing Suwen, (chapter 66, The Great Treatise on the Original Patterns of Universal Movement):
“Yellow Emperor: ‘What does it mean when it is said that there is more or less qi, and consequently a prospering or decay of material form?’
Gui Yu Qu: ‘Both yin qi and yang qi come in different quantities, and therefore we talk about the three yin and the three yang.'”
At the source of heavenly influences, therefore, is the invisible root qi of heaven that broke up into “six source qi” (liu qi, liu yuan), and at the surface there is the celestial dial that was divided into six segments in which take place the six successive stages of transformation (liu jing). As a result, the following associations between invisible root (ben) and observable surface (biao) were established:
* Jueyin Wind
* Shaoyin Heat
* Taiyin Damp
* Shaoyang Fire
* Yangming Dryness
* Taiyang Cold
Since the six qi and their associated stages of energetic transformation are in turn generated by the five heavenly movements (wu yun), that is the totality of celestial movements which are classified in terms of the Big Dipper vicinity of the five planets (the wood star Jupiter, the fire star Mars, the earth star Saturn, the metal star Venus, and the water star Mercury), the five phase/six qi associations are as follows:
* Jueyin Wind Wood
* Shaoyin Imperial Fire
* Taiyin Damp Earth
* Shaoyang Ministerial Fire
* Yangming Dry Metal
* Taiyang Cold Water
Zhang Zhongjing (2nd century A.D.) utilized this ancient method of diagnosing the universe to create the classic approach to the body that is known as “six stage (or layer, or pathway) differentiation” (liu jing bianzheng). In what is perhaps the main act of individual creation in the history of Chinese medicine, Zhang synopsized his clinical experiences in the original six stage classic that later became divided into two parts, namely the Shanghan Lun (Treatise On Diseases Caused By Cold) and the Jingui Yaolüe (Essentials From the Golden Cabinet). Like all fundamental principles of Chinese medicine, Zhang’s approach was guided by the Daoist conviction that the various processes within “human beings follow the earth which follows the sky.”
Based on the Neijing theory that a) the five celestial movements and the six qi are the invisible root of all material transformation that can be observed, measured, and classified through the observation of surface phenomena, and that b) the interrelated movements of the five organ networks are at the root of all physiological and pathological processes that can be observed and classified through inspection of the body’s surface, Zhang created a clinically highly effective system of diagnostics and therapeutics.
The Shanghan Lun is organized into six sections. Each section covers the diagnosis and treatment of various imbalances in the respective stage of physiological qi transformation. The Taiyang Section, for instance, describes the various manifestations of Taiyang Syndrome, that is a blockage of the body’s physiological processes that are of taiyang quality (like the rising sun; outwardly dispersing, pore opening, surface warming), take place in the taiyang layer (surface), and are closely associated with the taiyang (bladder and small intestine) channels which run along the outermost boundaries of the physical body; both the small intestine and bladder channels are located on the most lateral (outward, yang) of the external (yang) surfaces.
The defining symptoms of Taiyang Syndrome are therefore directly deducted from the physiology and location of the taiyang process of qi transformation: Floating pulse, indicates that the body’s energy is most active in the body’s surface layer where the damage has occurred. The standard symptoms of stiff neck and headache indicate that the energy flow in the taiyang channels is obstructed. The selection of neck and head, that is the place where both channels converge, reflects the symbolic communication style of a time when the technicalities of writing were tedious and only the most representative information was written down; back pain (in the bladder channel) and shoulder pain (in the small intestine channel), for instance, are also typical taiyang symptoms, but are not mentioned in the basic syndrome definition. Chills, referring to a) the original meaning of taiyang transformation between heaven and earth which defines a binding relationship between cold root qi and taiyang phenomena at the surface, and consequently b) the fact that Taiyang Syndrome is basically caused by an overexposure to external cold, or by an insufficiency of internal taiyang (surface warming) activity, or by a combination thereof.
The designation of a disease as a Taiyang Syndrome, therefore, yields a host of useful information: 1) which one of the body’s physiological processes is disturbed (the one that is like the rising sun in nature, moving up and out, warming the surface of the body, and regulating the opening of the pores); 2) what is the basic quality of the energetic influences that originally caused the disease (cold), either internally (not enough outwardly radiating warmth) or externally (overexposure to cold influences); 3) how does the disease most typically manifest itself in physical symptoms (acute chills); 4) what is the depth of the disease (surface layer); 5) in what channels or organ systems do most of the symptoms occur (bladder and small intestine); 6) which acupuncture points that are located on or at least closely related to the respective channel network (BL1, GB 20, BL10–BL28, SI 3, SI 11) and/or herbs that primarily enter these channels (cinnamon twig, ephedra) should be chosen for treatment.
The body’s physiological taiyang transformation manifests on the body surface where its end product (wei qi) circulates. External cold generally stimulates this transformative process (root/cause relationship), and the healthy body feels as if warmed by “sunlight” (taiyang). However, if the body’s defense layer gets overwhelmed by an onslaught of cold yin forces, then the taiyang process of transformation gets interrupted, the circulation of wei qi gets obstructed, and chills and other taiyang symptoms appear.
Taiyang, according to the open–close–pivot theory of transformation presented in the Neijing Suwen, chapter six (Treatise On the Separation and Union of Yin and Yang), is describing a physiological opening process. “Opening” means opening a door, means that all qi transformation is starting here. In other words, the transformation from one layer of the body to another occurs from outside to inside, and all physical processes start from taiyang. Taiyang, by the definition encoded in its name, is at the very surface of the body’s three yang systems. It is the external gate of zheng qi, and it is also the gate through which pathological qi first enters the body. If pathological qi overpowers taiyang, then the body’s “opening” momentum is disturbed, the circulation of surface yang is stagnating, and disease occurs.
Cultivating the Flow
A Concept of Evolutive Well-Being
Integrating the Classic Traditions and Quantum Science
Approaching the end of the 20th century, we are confronted with a number of fundamental issues regarding the quality, if not the general purpose, of human existence. One of them is the gradual demise of the Western-scientific health care system, which has fostered a revival of the age-old discussion about the nature of health, illness, and well-being. In the process of developing alternative approaches to healing, holistic medical discourse has consistently emphasized the “dis-eased” quality of illness and its therapeutic implications, i.e. the consequent restoration and maintenance of “ease.” However, definitions of the ease state often fail to go much beyond the biochemical aspects of well-being, and thus end up being classified according to the same parameters they were trying to overcome.
Recent news from the frontiers of scientific research have given firm grounds to the growing suspicion that the scientific parameters most modern health care professionals adhere to may be conceptually flawed. As has been extensively documented since the late 1970’s, the mechanics of modern medical “science” seem archaic when viewed in the light of quantum physics, while the “mythical truths” of archaic traditions become transparent as a very advanced way of thinking. This applies especially to the health sciences. In the following argument, I have highlighted relevant findings in modern research disciplines, and interfaced them with some of the fundamental scientific concepts of ancient Greece, India, and in particular, China. From the overlapping cross points emerges a highly dynamic concept of well-being, which hinges upon the creation, maintenance, and evolution of a continuous “flow.”
Flow Science: Movement in Classical Chinese Thought
All times and cultures have regarded the capability of reflective thought as the most important factor distinguishing human beings from other forms of organic life. Science is deeply rooted in our compelling urge to explore the origins and the nature of the universe, and perhaps most importantly, our own role within it.
In a very literal sense, it was the desire to find out “what makes the world go round” which prompted the early humans to scrutinize their environment for cosmological clues. It appears that all great scientific systems set out on their journey by observing the movements of the heavenly bodies, then discerning a pattern behind these movements, and finally formulating theories that articulated the relationships between them.
In the Western tradition, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus first articulated the concept that “everything moves.” His fragmentary ideas were succeeded by Pythagoras and his followers who tried to describe the intrinsic harmonies of universal movement in an elaborate system of mathematical and musical ratios. However, as time went by Greek philosophers took the phenomenology of movement to increasingly more abstract levels. Mainstream science became preoccupied with the task of idealizing changing phenomena, identifying them as non-dynamic truths that can be expressed in the “absolute” symbols and numbers of geometry and mathematics. It was only during the 20th century that Werner Heisenberg, David Bohm, and other exponents of modern physics put the reductionist view of science into perspective by describing a universe that is the conglomerate of highly complex, dynamic, and unpredictable processes, and essentially affirming that, indeed, “everything moves.”
The revelations of the relatively new science of flux, however, seem to have done little to bring about significant improvements in our everyday lives. This was very different in ancient traditions, where scientific theories about life and the universe had very direct implications for the integrity and well-being of its people. In the context of our topic, it seems particularly appropriate to take a look at the ancient Chinese system of scientific thought. For it is the Chinese who have left behind the most detailed documentation about the different states of the universal flow, and who consequently established every branch of science and every aspect of their everyday lives upon it.
Just like the ancient Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians, and Greeks, the Chinese set out for their scientific quest by observing the movements of the heavenly bodies. Chinese archeologists have recently unearthed stone circles dating back 7,000 years ago, which have been identified as primitive observatories. Summarizing the findings from these archaic observations, the first Chinese book of knowledge was the Yijing, known to most of us as the Book of Change. The character yi –change–was originally a pictogram of sun and moon, and the character jing –meaning both “universal path” and “classic”–depicts the warp and woof of their movements. Considering the philological implications of jing, all of the Chinese classics are texts which expound universal paths of movement, whether it is the path of the sun and the moon in the Yijing, the path of human beings in the Daodejing (Tao Te Ching) or the path of human qi and body fluids in the Neijing (The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine). In a more literal sense, The Book of Change can thus be rendered as the Classic on the Principles of Celestial Movement. Considering the particular focus of our discussion, it is also very important to note that another meaning of yi is “ease.” In other words, the Yijing can also be interpreted as the Classic on the Principles of Ease, or the Path That Things Have to Move On In Order to Be at Ease, or even Documentation of the Universal Truth That Ease is Movement.
Drawing from the conceptual fountain of the Yijing, Chinese thinkers believed for centuries that the shape and quality of all material things are only an expression of their present state of movement, reflecting their inherent vibratory quality. According to this view, it is its particular state of movement which causes an object to appear hot or cold or red or green.
In a very rudimentary way, the Yijing had thus preconceived many of the puzzling findings of modern physics. It was a tool to estimate the rhythmic patterns of movement, and very much like Nobel laureate Stephen Hawking once described the science of quantum mechanics, it never “predicts a single definite result for an observation; instead, it predicts a number of different possible outcomes and tells us how likely each of these is.”
The Chinese phenomenology of movement recorded in the Yijing entails a variety of sub-topics that are of particular interest to the focus of our examination:
1) Holism. First of all, there is the fundamental assumption that smaller units move according to the movement patterns of the bigger ones. This is, in essence, the message of the Daodejing: “The movements of human beings are determined by the,movements of the earth, the movements of the earth are determined by the movements of the celestial forces, the movements of the celestial forces are determined by the universal principle of movement, and the universal principle of movement just is.”
The title of the Daodejing, a text which is often regarded as the most universally read of all classics, refers directly and programmatically to the relationship between the patterns of macrocosmic movement (Dao) and its microcosmic ramifications (De). Reflecting the ancient meaning of the pictograms involved, the title, Daodejing, can be translated as: The Classic on the Relationship Between Macrocosm and Microcosm, or spelled out in even greater detail: The Universal Principle of How Human Beings Can Utilize the Binding Relationship Between Macroscopic and Microscopic Movements to Further Their State of Well-Being.
2) Energy. Secondly, it is the movement of energy (qi) rather than matter which is the object of scientific scrutiny. In the context of the Yijing, the material moon was regarded as an energy field vibrating at the lower end of the material frequency scale, while the material sun was considered to be an energy field vibrating at the higher end of the scale. Their movements or celestial paths, moreover, indicate the path of a guiding energy that is vibrating beyond material frequencies and therefore remains undetectable by the bare eye. In other words, the celestial bodies move where the celestial qi moves, just as the blood in the human body moves where the qi of the human body entices it to go. If we want to track the hidden energy lines of heaven, we just have to trace the path of the moon or other visible objects in the sky.
According to Chinese scientific thought, matter is therefore just a particularly dense form of energy, an energy form vibrating at a rather slow and stable speed. Or, in the terminology of quantum physics, matter is the explicate particle reality which has unfolded from the purely energetic wave aspect of reality that David Bohm called the implicate order.
Bohm, a former protégé of Einstein and one of the world’s most respected quantum physicists, is the author of what is undoubtedly the most articulate presentation of the world as a “frequency domain.” His book, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, postulates the existence of an implicate order and an explicate order, which by now have become technical terms in physics and most other sciences, with the notable exception of medicine. The manifestation of all forms, according to Bohm, is the result of countless enfoldings and unfoldings between these two orders. According to this concept, for example, an electron is not one thing, but a totality enfolded throughout the whole of space. Bohm thus likes to refer to the universe as a holomovement. Instead of calling different aspects of the holomovement “things,” he calls them relatively independent sub-totalities. His views are accompanied by the passionate argument that our current way of fragmenting the world into parts is not only unscientific, but may even lead to our extinction.
3) Relativity. Thirdly, ancient Chinese philosophers were acutely aware of the limitations of human consciousness. Therefore, they contended that science as the foremost product of human consciousness can never spell out the absolute truth about movements, but only determine in what way they are related to us. Traditional Chinese science is the exploration of relationships; the relevant lines, numerical symbols, and verbal terminology used by its adepts, do not purport to enshrine the “true nature” of things but rather express their relationship to us. For instance, Chinese astronomers of the early Han dynasty figured out that the sun does not travel on a path around the earth. They were, however, hardly disturbed by this discovery and continued to work with the system of the eight trigrams (which is based on the old cosmological model of the “covered heavens,” featuring a moving sky moving around a static earth) for 2,000 years thereafter, since it adequately described the relationship between different states of motion and, most importantly, their immediate effect on human beings.
One of the products of this highly pragmatic approach was the development of wuyun liuqi (Five-Six Phase Model of Cosmic Energy Movement), an intricate system used to describe the movements of “heavenly qi”–gravity, cosmic radiation, light and temperature fluctuations, etc.–and their physiological impact on us. It would go far beyond the narrow limits of this paper to describe the concrete calculations that this model entails. Suffice it to say that it was first presented two millennia ago in the most important of all Chinese medicine classics, the Neijing, and that it constitutes a kind of energetic calendar, approximating different aspects of the heavenly forces that we are exposed to.
4) Complexity. Since ancient Chinese thinkers assumed that there really are no solid things with clearly defined boundaries, the concept of singular causalities never occurred to them. From the perspective of quantum physics, traditional Chinese scientists saw the world as complex interference patterns. Calculating our energetic exposure on earth, the Chinese thus posited different energetic factors in the sky which combine to produce the fluctuating heavenly influence. This dynamic force field was then believed to interact with the manifold geomagnetic patterns generated by varying earth terrain, generating an even more complex interference pattern with the individual force fields that constitute every human being
Concrete calculations were done by interfacing two overlapping energetic cycles which were believed to have the strongest effect on humankind: the more stable five movements (wuyun), that is a combination of cosmic forces represented by the movements of the five planets (Mercury, Saturn, Venus, Jupiter, and Mars), and the six qi (liuqi), which mostly describes the influence of the sun. By interfacing these two cycles, the Chinese arrived at a great energy circle of sixty years which in combination with the geographical position of the Yellow River basin yielded information about the weather, patterns of plant growth, and diseases which are specific to each year.
Modern Chinese researchers have announced that the sixty year cycle corresponds very closely to the rhythm of sun-spot activity, which is intimately related to our prime weather maker, the solar wind. Prior to switching to the international method of keeping time in 1911, the Chinese year was counted by combining a five phase symbol and a six phase symbol. By simply looking at the two characters Ding-Chou, for instance, a knowledgeable Chinese farmer would be able to draw conclusions about the general weather patterns of the year 1997. He would further be able to complement his findings with a popular store-house of rich experimental data, relating the weather pattern to diseases which are particularly prone to grow rampant under the predicted circumstances, and to certain plants which experience has shown to grow particularly lush in years with the energetic label Ding-Chou. It is characteristic for the holistic nature of Chinese thinking that ancient scientists assumed these plants to be particularly effective remedies for the space-time related diseases that frequently occur during this year.
It is precisely this sense of inner balance which is at the heart of complexity. As University of Chicago professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has eloquently pointed out:
Complexity is often thought to have a negative meaning, synonymous with difficulty and confusion. That may be true, but only if we equate it with differentiation alone. Yet complexity also involves a second dimension–the integration of autonomous parts. A complex engine, for instance, not only has many separate components, each performing a different function, but also demonstrates a high sensitivity because each of the components is in touch with all the others. Without integration, a differentiated system would be a confusing mess.
In sum, it is the movement of things which determines their nature. Or, to put it more directly, things are movement. We can only fully appreciate this type of cosmology if we assume the point of view of a modern physicist. According to these conceptual creators of the super-collider, reality is essentially an amalgam of interference patterns–vibrational base patterns that constantly merge with other vibrations to produce ever changing and new vibrational forms. When Tao of Physics author Fritjof Capra summarizes the pioneering “holomovement” theory of his colleague David Bohm, he also spells out the core principle of traditional Chinese scientific thought:
The holomovement is a dynamic phenomenon out of which all forms of the material universe flow. The aim of this approach is to study the order enfolded in this holomovement, not by dealing with the structure of objects, but rather with the structure of movement, thus taking into account both the unity and the dynamic nature of the universe.
Science, Prejudice and Obstructed Mind Flow
We may ask the legitimate question why, if there is so much evidence from scientists throughout all ages and cultures, so little of this vibrant view on life has filtered down to the level of our everyday lives. Why do people know about the enormous cost of super-colliders, but would be shocked by the “outrageous” idea that their favorite toy or food or person was “only” a frequency blur? It is probably for the same reasons that the researchers of the frequency domain were at first vehemently attacked, and then often ignored by their less inquisitive colleagues. Ironically, the flow model itself may be able to explain this peculiar phenomenon, which proponents of new theories have encountered since the dawn of scientific activity.
From a physicist’s perspective, matter can be interpreted as an inertia in energy movement, a habitual vortex resisting the flow. In the same way, our thought patterns can stagnate and form strong opinions. Yale surgeon Bernie Siegel, for instance, has observed on many occasions that people seem to be addicted to their beliefs. This is why, he says, people act like addicts when you try to change their belief system.
Early on, both David Bohm and Stanford neurophysiologist Karl Pribram had contemplated the cerebral tendency to “get stuck” in certain habitual thought patterns. Transposed into the language of the flux model, our entire system of esthetic and moral convictions seems to operate according to the principles of resonance. In the course of our lives, certain habits and cultural beliefs are impregnated in our minds, and when we encounter them again–possibly disguised in a different, but related frequency–a resonance effect occurs and we feel agreement, pleasure, or a sense of beauty. But if we encounter an image, thought, or belief that is vibrating at a fundamentally different rate, we instinctively fear the chaos that might be created if we should resonate with the unfamiliar pattern and thus “erase” or at least alter the old pattern which we had so safely encoded in our brain.
A prominent voice on this subject is psychiatrist David Shainberg, associate dean of the Postgraduate Psychoanalytic Program at the William Alanson Institute of Psychiatry in New York. He thinks that the same tendency toward stability exhibited by energy vortices is what causes certain vortices of thought–ideas and opinions–to become occasionally cemented in our consciousness. Providing us with important clues for a definition of well-being, Shainberg feels that the permanence of some of these vortices is detrimental to our growth as human beings, creates blockages in the creative process, and makes us feel disconnected from the general flow of things. We should not allow the same vortices to take form repeatedly, he warns, otherwise we may be erecting a barrier between us and the “holomovement.” As a positive example of the uninhibited nature of the unfolding-enfolding process of consciousness, he appropriately cites the sparkling aliveness of children, who are usually free of prejudice.
All of this alerts us to the importance of overcoming stagnating thought patterns for the benefit of our physical, mental, and social well-being. According to the premise of the flow model developed in this paper, well-being thus includes freedom from prejudice and preconceived notions about our environment. It is movement that keeps both our minds and bodies healthy and well. University of Chicago psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi cites the rhythmically evolving lifestyle of the Shushwap Indians as a prime example of “flow” cultivation:
The Shushwap region was and is considered by the Indian people to be a rich place: rich in salmon and game, rich in below-ground food resources such as tubers and roots–a plentiful land. In this region, the people would live in permanent village sites and exploit the environs for needed resources. They had elaborate technologies for very effectively using the resources in the environment, and perceived their lives as being good and rich. Yet, the elders said, at times the world became too predictable and the challenge began to go out of life. Without challenge, life had no meaning.
So the elders, in their wisdom, would decide that the entire village should move, those moves occurring every 25 to 30 years. The entire population would move to a different region of the Shushwap land and there, they found challenge. There were new streams to figure out, new game trails to learn, new areas where the balsamroot would be plentiful. Now life would regain its meaning and be worth living. Everyone would feel rejuvenated and healthy.
Aimed at this type of rhythmical renewal, the Eastern civilizations feature many rituals that remind us of the transience of our cultural structures, including habitual thought patterns as well as actual buildings. The Great Shrine of Ise south of Kyoto, for instance, has been ritually taken down and resurrected every twenty years for centuries.
The Body and Its Flowing Field
Ancient cultures have always given the human body a special place in their understanding of the frequency domain. According to the Chinese view, for instance, human form (ren) is the product of heavenly (tian) and earthly (di) interference patterns. Modern research has shed new light on this “mythical” assessment. The French hydrology and engineering professor Louis Claude Vincent, for example, documented that the intricate balance of our biochemical terrain is dependent upon electromagnetic forces emanating from the universe as well as from the body itself. According to Vincent, these forces are “oscillations which are actually caused by the continuous movement in the whole universe.”
Coming from an entirely different field, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi comes to a similar conclusion: “The integrated cells and organs that make up the human organism are an instrument that allows us to get in touch with the rest of the universe. The body is like a probe full of sensitive devices that tries to obtain what information it can from the awesome reaches of space. It is through the body that we are related to one another and to the rest of the world.”
Prompted by the revolutionary findings of quantum physics and their stunning affinity to classical concepts, a small group of European physicians and engineers began to explore the human body as the ultimate frequency domain in the 1970’s. Similar to the nature of inorganic matter, they assumed, we should be able to measure a living organism energetically by understanding it as a distinct frequency pattern. The first person to explore this aspect of life forms had been the Russian biologist Gurwitsch, who discovered more than half a century ago that certain properties of living organisms can be transferred by electromagnetic means. He succeeded to transfer virulent properties of bacteria through a glass screen, and proved that those same properties could not be transferred through a plexiglass screen. It was only decades later, however, that the German and Swiss physicists B. Heim and J. Muheim substantiated the claim that matter, and organic matter in particular, obeys superior energetic forces.
The German biophysics engineer Fritz-Albert Popp, moreover, showed in years of meticulous research that the enormous amount of information needed to maintain a living organism can only be transmitted via radiation, i.e. oscillations that move at the speed of light. He first introduced the concept of this organic info-flow in his pioneering books, Electromagnetic Bio-Information and Biology of Light, and coined the now widely used term, biophoton luminescence. “Frequency means information,” his colleague Bodo Kohler elaborates this concept; “in the case of disease this process of transformation is blocked, so that the oscillations ‘stagnate’ on the same level.” Kohler is the leading voice of a growing contingent of European physicians who put Popp’s findings into clinical use by applying bioresonance therapy, a modality aimed at harmonizing the biophysical field of the body.
In the United States, the most ardent and articulate voice proposing an energetic approach to healing has been the Detroit physician Richard Gerber. In his prolific study, Vibrational Medicine, he explicates in great detail the crucial relationship between the material and the field aspects of the body. Linking ancient Eastern wisdom with Bohm’s holomovement approach, he claims that the human energy field is the body’s own version of the implicate order. Illness, he says in unison with his European colleagues, first manifests here before becoming structurally visible. Body Electric pioneer Robert O. Becker and his famous salamanders, which re-grew severed limbs after electrical field modulation, are another part of this controversial but growing tradition of “quantum thinking” in U.S. medical science.
Returning to the original question of well-being, physical health according to the concepts of bioelectromagnetism can be defined as the stable condition where the uninhibited transmission of all information within the body can take place in the most efficient manner. This is another parallel to the Chinese doctrine of movement, which postulates that the most important aspect of physical and mental well-being is the absence of blockages along the pathways of “qi” and “blood.” In Chinese medical terminology, the terms “blood stagnation” and “phlegm” refer to structural accumulations, while “qi stagnation” implies the obstructed or inefficient transmission of bodily information.
So great is the Eastern belief in the powers of this hidden informational flow, that traditional Chinese doctors never adopted surgery as a major therapeutic option. Instead, in cases of severe structural deformation, methods of flow restoration such as acupuncture, massage, or “blood and qi vitalizing” herbs are prescribed. I have personally witnessed how several Chinese physicians healed severe splinter fractures by applying gentle massage and/or herbal therapy alone. In one particularly impressive case, the highly “chaotic” splinter pattern had found its way back together and, as x-ray pictures showed, completely mended in only four days.
Again, similar observations have been made by quantum physicists. Bohm once saw a device on a BBC television program that inspired him to rethink our general preconceptions about chaos and order. An ink drop submerged in a cylinder filled with glycerin would disappear into the greasy substance when a handle was cranked in one direction, and then completely reassemble into the shape of the original ink drop when the handle was cranked in the opposite direction. An intrigued Bohm wrote:
This immediately struck me as very relevant to the question of order, since, when the ink drop was spread out, it still had a “hidden” order that was revealed when it was reconstituted. On the other hand, in our usual language, we would say that the ink was in a state of “disorder” when it was diffused through the glycerin. This led me to see that new notions of order must be involved here.
Flow and Consciousness
While the field based model of medicine gives us information about pathological energy patterns in the body’s organs, it cannot always provide adequate explanations about body-mind processes. To get beyond the temporary nature of the state of well-being we thus have to look into the meta-realm of “the mind” and the related rituals of culture. This is where the concept of consciousness and consciousness control enters the plan, which plays such an extraordinarily important role in all traditional sciences, particularly in India and China.
Since our brain is a frequency transformer in which imagination and reality are ultimately indistinguishable, it should not surprise us that mental images affect the body as strongly as their material counterparts. Psychologist Jeanne Achterberg, former director of research and rehabilitation science at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Dallas, Texas, has written extensively about this phenomenon. Not only did she prove that mental attitudes can affect biochemical changes, but also that the physiological effects of imagery can be very specific. In one study, she taught two groups of college students how to image either neutrophils or T-cells, which both belong to the larger category of white blood cells. In all cases, students elevated only the particular type of white blood cell they had been visualizing.
UCLA kinesiology professor Valerie Hunt has contributed another piece to the complex body-consciousness relationship puzzle. She discovered that an electromyograph, a device used to measure the electrical activity in the muscles, can be used to detect certain qualities of the human energy field. The results of her research reveal that a person’s state of consciousness is reflected in the frequency spectrum contained in his or her field. The electromyogram measured field frequencies close to the body’s biological frequencies of 250 cps when her subjects’ focus was on the material world, but detected frequencies of 400-900 cps in people with “extraordinary” abilities such as healing or going into trance. In some people, whom Hunt classified as “mystical personalities,” she found frequencies of up to 200,000 cps.
All of these findings seem to confirm several fundamental assumptions of classical Indian and Chinese science: a) our state of consciousness directly affects the energy field of the body; b) highly conscious and mentally evolved individuals “vibrate” at a higher rate than normal people; c) consciousness control is the key to modulating the energy field, and thus influencing the biochemical and structural reality of the body.
It thus appears that the state of well-being includes uninhibited flow within all three of the presented realities of human existence–the structural body, the energy field, and consciousness. It is also evident that there is a distinct chain of command, with “consciousness” at the top. Although changes on any one of these levels will necessarily impact the others, the magnitude of change appears to be much greater if we act in accordance with the natural hierarchy of this command structure. It is unlikely that the physical removal of a tumor will eliminate the pathological field information or enhance our state of consciousness. From the perspective of the flow model, surgery may be able to enhance the quantity of physical life, but rarely the quality of our general state of well-being. On the other hand, consciousness control will always affect the two subordinated aspects to a certain degree.
Rather than evoking the image of a body mechanic, ancient traditions have always emphasized the role of the physician as a teacher of life-style, diet, and mental attitude. Modern experts from various fields are beginning to advocate the same. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the leading scholar in the newly developed field of optimal experience, has spent the last twenty years analyzing the anatomy of psychological well-being and developing a blueprint for the ideal state of mental existence. The main word associated with his concept is “flow,” which has now become a technical term in the field of intrinsic motivation. Although the research underlying Csikszentmihalyi’s flow concept is generally limited to the description and classification of psychological states, it can be used to illuminate the missing piece in a more comprehensive flow concept which transcends the boundaries of narrowly defined scientific fields.
Csikszentmihalyi’s descriptions of flow are particularly relevant, because they do not focus on the extraordinary feats of a few individuals. After questioning thousands of people from Arizona to the Alps and to Bangkok, Csikszentmihalyi and several of his colleagues concluded that a) flow is a sought after sense of inner harmony–happiness, satisfaction, serenity–which seems to occur in people as diversified as Chicago housewives, Korean nuns, and Japanese motorcycle gangs; b) flow can be brought on by a diverse range of activities, such as working, tending the garden, helping others, reading, praying, or chemically induced “trips.”
In general, Csikszentmihalyi’s definition of flow is characterized by intense concentration, clarity of goals, and effortless action leading to a sense of inner growth through intrinsically rewarding interactions with some aspect of the outer or inner environment. The psychology of optimal experience, therefore, clearly advocates the cultivation of consciousness as a vital element of the flow experience. Csikszentmihalyi’s blueprint of well-being thus parallels the concepts of Taoism and other Eastern sciences. Taoist daoyin, that is modern qigong, practices are exactly what their name promises: “exercises that entice the qi to flow” by means of focus and consciousness control. Laozi’s doctrine of “doing nothing” (wuwei) is actually the conscious induction of (internal) movement by (externally motionless) meditation techniques. The same principle is found in Buddhist teachings. Images of the contemplative, i.e. practicing or focusing, Buddha almost always include the lotus flower–the Oriental symbol of the “heart” which is considered the seat of consciousness.
The highly complex and detailed ways of modulating the human energy field via the processes of the mind is really the essence of Eastern “training,” which has been called both a religion and a science by Western commentators. In order to induce the cherished sense of synchrony between our own rhythms and the universal pulse of universal movement, all of the schools in question teach how to “absorb” cosmic energy–qi, ki, or prana–in the most efficient manner.
An important aspect which has not been mentioned by Csikszentmihalyi is the inducive function of faith. Ancient adepts realized that before we can absorb universal energy with the aid of focusing techniques we must first believe that there really is this qi out there, and that it is worth our while to invest in the long and sometimes exhausting training. Cosmic frequencies, or “information,” are called xinxi in Chinese–a combination of the characters xin (believing) and xi (absorbing). When I interviewed many eminent qigong masters in China’s Sichuan Province between 1990 and 1992, all of them contended that the mystical elements surrounding Taoist practices are nothing but scientific ways to make the adept “believe,” so that he or she will completely relax and “absorb” most efficiently.
It is the same mechanism of consciousness which is responsible for the fact that third world cultures, children, lowly educated people, and the mentally retarded respond significantly better to treatment, particularly in serious diseases such as cancer. The educated city dweller stands less of a chance, since he or she believes in scientific statistics. It was again imagery researcher Jeanne Achterberg who documented this universal phenomenon in an American context.
Taking this into account, it becomes more and more clear why human beings exhibit a built-in need for a limited belief structure, be they of a religious, scientific, or cultural nature. As demonstrated above, completely static beliefs are intrinsically detrimental to our state of well-being. Yet from another angle, a less rigid form of belief seems to be necessary to help us keep our focus. As Csikszentmihalyi adequately describes this phenomenon:
Cultures prescribe norms, evolve goals, and discover beliefs that make human action more fit to tackle the challenges of existence. In so doing they must rule out many alternatives, and so limit possibilities; but this channeling of attention to a limited set of goals and means is what allows effortless action [flow] within the self-created boundaries of culture.
There are several messages that emerge from these deliberations: 1) traditions are a powerful way of developing focus, which is one of the most important preconditions for the flow experience; 2) traditions should never be allowed to deteriorate into empty rituals, but should always involve the element of consciousness; 3) certain traditions seem to be more successful than others in the universal attempt to optimize the conditions for flow. Csikszentmihalyi and his wife Isabella have eloquently verbalized this last point:
Some of the classical civilizations may have succeeded in . . . evolving a set of goals and rules so compelling and so well matched to the skills of the population that its members are able to experience flow with unusual frequency and intensity . . . Athenian citizens, Romans who shaped their actions by virtues, Chinese intellectuals, or Indian Brahmins moved through life with the intricate grace of ballet dancers, and derived perhaps the same enjoyment from the challenging harmony of their actions as they would have from an extended dance.
This assessment is highly appropriate. It does not drive a dividing wedge between the traditional cultures of East and West, which were both highly evolved in their understanding of universal movement and, most important for us today, in their concrete application of this knowledge for the purpose of general well-being. In the sense of the Chinese jing literature, traditional cultures are “classic” because they have cognized and lived the “universal way” in an exemplary manner. The rift which has developed between the flow-oriented mode of thought and our more structurally oriented state of existence is therefore historical rather than cultural. Today, we live in a world where machines and computers do the work for us, and where this void is filled by watching TV and the engagement in other non-conscious activities. The classic traditions may still be valued as cultural icons, but for most people they represent dead, static concepts. They are generally looked upon as “backward” or at least not worthy of emulation, for their material achievements seem so far behind when compared with CT scans, space stations, and other feats of modern science. Unfortunately, we seem to have forgotten that it is the human body/mind complex which is and will always be the most advanced of all devices, and that the greatest of human movements–our own evolution–can only proceed in and through it.
However, as the example of Popp’s biophoton research demonstrates, our machines have become sensitive enough to detect the sublime reasoning behind the rituals of many experience-based traditional sciences. We have reached a time when we may actually be ready to reclaim some of our lost heritage. Although we evidently have forgotten the mastership of well-being, our structuralist type of science has taken on a life on its own and shown us, resistant though we are to accept it, that some of the ancient scientists knew a long time ago what we are “discovering” only now. In the spirit of the spiral-shaped form of the evolutive holomovement, we have gone forward in time, yet moved in a circle and thus reached a point where we have already been before–only on a higher, potentially more evolved level.
In this light, many areas of “scientific life-style” as practiced in classic cultures are worthy to be considered according to the specific needs of our times. It would go far beyond the narrow limits of this paper to describe in detail all the classical rituals of well-being which could potentially inspire us. The important point to make is that it is our way of thinking which fosters the evolutive process of well-being. As this essay may have helped to clarify, well-being is first of all a dynamic process, not a static state that can be measured and described by the often inflexible terms of modern science.
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