Lung organ system, classical Chinese medicine teaching & integrity

chinese medicine lung symbolism

I was recently, gently, called out by a colleague regarding my last post on Guizhi tang. This person found that my analysis was – at best – simplistic, and at worst flat out wrong. I have to admit to a major twinge of ego pain when I read the email, but I guess I must be getting older and wiser, because then I immediately turned reflective. What was fueling the critique, and could I respond with something other than irritation?

I thought I would share my process as I continued to contemplate this – as I believe it is the perfect end to the description of my experience with the Lung during this Year of Sagely Living adventure.

Layers of understanding – about that Guizhi tang 桂枝湯 article

First and foremost – it’s true that what I discussed in the last post was a superficial understanding, really not befitting the way I use a formula like Guizhi tang (GZT) in clinical practice. Truth be told, I don’t get that many opportunities to use GZT in my own practice, except with friends and family, as most people don’t come in until we’re well beyond the Taiyang stage. That said, a more complete understanding of GZT does inform my practice since the formula structure itself is found in – and built upon – in dozens of formulas in the Shanghan lun (SHL) and beyond.

I probably should have shared that deeper level of information, but I didn’t. Why?

This blog reaches a large number of people all over the world

Some of those people are advanced practitioners – even masters, but many more are lay persons or people just considering Chinese medicine as a profession for the first time. Most of this latter group see the medicine through the lens of books like The Web That Has No Weaver and the kind of information you can find on countless websites about acupuncture all over the Internet. They know simple zangfu principles, the absolute basics of the five elements, most haven’t even heard of the six conformations. They are just beginning their journey, searching for information to help them make decisions and orient themselves around a language and science that is – at best – foreign.

Friend and mentor Mark Silver once explained a concept to me that relates to this situation.

In his business teachings, he discusses the importance of understanding two different destinations when presenting something to an audience. The first is the one that the reader (or client) is seeking. This is usually something practical, simply understood, without much theory or high level philosophizing. In my clinical practice, for example, a person might be coming in because they don’t have the energy to play with their kids anymore and it bugs them.

But practitioners (and teachers, and other offerers of solutions) see and dwell on destinations further along. We think about vitality into old age, we think about resolution of long held trauma, we see the theoretical apex of the stream of learning. We comprehend the nearer destinations, and seek to alleviate that suffering, but most of us spend our time thinking about those further flung horizons.

It’s the same with writing these articles

When a brand new student comes, particularly anyone from the majority of CM schools in the US, their understanding of Chinese medicine is quite different from mine. Even something as simple as how we call the “five elements” (as you know I prefer “five phase elements”) can be a major barrier to understanding. When people don’t understand something, they tend to shut down, particularly on the Internet where quick comprehension on a smartphone is the primary desire. I know this, and have noticed over the years that my more sophisticated posts tend to go unread.

I don’t write for myself, really, or my closest colleagues. I write to reach as many people as I can. And in my articles, I often try to introduce just one subtle concept embedded in an ocean of otherwise familiar references. This seems to increase the number of people that stick around. Those who stick around tend to stay around, learn more, and move on in their study of Chinese medicine. I like the feeling I get from encouraging people to see something just a little bit differently.

But the reality is – I probably get lazy

So, I offer the above as an explanation. Truth be told, though, there is a middle ground. I can and should do a better job of explaining the understanding I’ve been privileged to develop through the guidance of my teachers and patients. I often pride myself in explaining complex things in a simple way, but perhaps I’ve gotten a bit lazy. In my desire to reach more people, I may be doing them and myself a disservice by moving too quickly, by seeking to explain things too simplistically.

After all, I am trying to talk about classical Chinese medicine, and if I’m just replicating the same things found on other websites and in many books – what’s the point?

Ultimately, this lazy tendency is out of integrity with who I am as a person and what I want to offer. I’m thinking about this a lot as I dwell on the end of the month of the Lung. The concept of integrity is often associated with the earth element – but in the Taiyin connection between Lung and Spleen – I believe we can see a lot of that energy in Lung as well.

Integrity can be seen as fidelity to one’s knowledge of one’s purpose and values. Holding true to those values, and the regularity and ease in decision making this brings, allows for a stable center – a deep home – that to me is the energetic heart of the Spleen earth.

So, contemplating this, I can see that I am called to a higher level of this fidelity. That my vision needs to be clear, and my execution of what I know to be right in my writing, teaching and treatment is of paramount importance. I’ll be exploring this particularly as I begin to offer business training through CMC, and continue to pursue my calling around the use of Chinese herbs in the treatment of serious diseases.

This reflection feels like a good place to move on from the lessons of the Lung for this year

Feels like a perfect time to move into the time of the Large Intestine. So, for the next YSL post (and through until April 15 or so) that’s where I will turn my attention.

It’s our first fu/yang/hollow organ – so I’m particularly excited. I feel these organs are so often ignored in standard Chinese medicine discourse. I also think it’s a prime organ system to start talking about business – more on that shortly.

Oh, and by the way, about Guizhi tang?

In much of TCM understanding, the Lung is what’s discussed. This makes sense – the surface, the movement of ying & wei, many of the early respiratory symptoms that can come from exterior invasion. But, I see it more as it is described in the Shanghan lun – as a formula used in the earliest stages of Taiyang wind strike, and beyond that, as a major formula to help build qi, blood, yin, yang both on its own and especially in its developments throughout the SHL text.  I’ve discussed it elsewhere, again simply, here. But, the more extended insights I’m reserving for the Guizhi course for now. If it seems right, I will share more of that on the blog in the future.

Thanks for reading, and for sticking with me, even when I wax so philosophical…


About Eric Grey

Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.

View all posts by Eric Grey - Website:

Discuss this article in one of these places below.

Discuss This on Our Forum