Balance can be a difficult concept for most of us to grasp. It has different meanings in different contexts and for different people or communities. Sometimes, getting out of balance is part of being in balance. What is balanced in one situation may be radically out of balance in another. It’s one of those words that starts to fail to have any meaning because of its inherent flexibility.
To examine the concept a little more intensely for this year of sagely living, I’ve been looking deeply into the Hexagram Tai. Now, I’m no Jonathan Edwards when it comes to the yijing, but I’ve been consulting yi since I was 16 years old, and it’s gotten me out of some tight spots. It has one of those symbol sets that just speak to me.
Hexagram Tai is not just about the balance between yin and yang and the harmony that comes from it – though it is about that.
It’s also about sacrifice, about offering, and about water – about the pouring out of blessings that come when things are appropriately aligned. Further, it is about the sharing or communication of these blessings – this balance. This is, of course, a big job of the Lung organ system as the upper source of water – when it is doing its job in the flow of water metabolism – the appropriate balance of dampness and dryness is more assured.
I’ve been contemplating these images as I do my breathing exercises as I promised in the first post in this month’s Year of Sagely Living. What’s come from it has been rather surprising on a personal level. What does the Lung, as expressed by hexagram Tai and other symbols, teach me about my practice of Chinese medicine, about my work here at Chinese Medicine Central? What I’ve started to learn, I think, will benefit you as well as myself – so let me communicate this blessing. 🙂
Balanced requires a center
The Lung is Taiyin. Its relationship with the Spleen, then, is undeniable. The Spleen transforms the essence of our food and drink and passes some of the most refined aspects of the qi and fluids that come from it up to the Lung for distribution. I always think of Lung as an earth organ, because of this, despite the fact that we know it is most well associated with the metal phase element.
Regardless of that association, we can surmise that for the Lung to best do its job of distribution and control from the upper, it needs the nourishment of the center Spleen. This is of course echoed by the structure of Hexagram Tai – pure yin Earth combined with the heaven of yang. Above and below, solid and emphemeral. Interdependent, and ultimately balanced.
This is true in my life. It is especially true in my clinical practice, in both medical and business aspects. One of the most curious things about running a successful clinic has been my observation that when I am “off center” and not rooted in the deepest nourishment of my purpose, my income falters. Further, when I pay attention to my facilities, my operations, the weave of the physical reality of my clinic, we prosper. Marketing is important, of course, but even more important is the simple daily reality of executing my vision for this clinic in the everyday, material, functional realities of being in business.
The Lung and Spleen connection teaches me about this natural relationship, and reminds me that in order for the flourishing of blessings of the Lung to take place, the Spleen must be doing its thankless dirty work – taking things in, grinding them up, and passing their essences on.
Balance and the prime minister
Most of you know that Chapter 8 of the Neijing Suwen says of the Lung,
“The lung is the prime minister of the organ networks and out of it comes rhythmic regulation” (translation Heiner Fruehauf).”
This rhythm, echoed by the inbreath and outbreath, dictates the pace and flow of the whole body. When that flow is interrupted, many serious pathologies can result. Take a minute and take 10 breaths. Count in for 6 seconds, hold at the top for 6 seconds, and then out for 6 more seconds. Slow and easy. The entire body falls in line, things relax that you didn’t know were tense, thinking becomes easier.
This simple, steady exercise is – for me – the very essence of the Lung as prime minister. While the Emperor is all vision and presence and brilliance, the Lung does the simple work of regulating the every day. Pure simplicity, and undeniably central to normal functioning. As some Buddhist teachers encourage us to “Chop wood and carry water,” we too should attend to the basics that keep things regular, organized, and grounded in simplicity. While I have had many thoughts that relate to this, the one that is sticking with me might surprise you.
I am an advocate of the GTD methodology of productivity.
I have a lot to do on any given day, and as a person prone to anxiety, if I am not careful the daily realities of my position can threaten to spin me out of control. There is only one thing that has ever truly tamed this tendency – and that is embodied in the GTD system. Capturing things that have my attention, processingthose things by determining their meaning and setting a next action, organizing those things into a simple and coherent system, reviewing the system as often as I need to to feel centered and of course taking appropriate action (actually DOING) in accordance with the system – these very simple, repeated actions help me keep in balance every day.
Teaching people how to do these things is one of my favorite activities.
While people want to buck the approach, they insist they don’t need such structure, it is my experience that installing some Lung prime minister metal energy is good for nearly everyone, when done right. It needs to come from that earth center, it needs to be yin/yang balanced, and it needs to be done with gentleness and poise – but nearly everyone benefits from an approach like this. Just like a balanced inbreath/outbreath, an organized and strategized way of approaching work and life causes everything to fall in line behind it.
What my community needs right now
The communication of blessings part of Hexagram Tai, and the Lung, is a little tougher for me. While I have a blog, and teach publicly, mostly I find myself out of balance with regards to those activities. Out of fear, out of worry, out of lack of connection with my center, I tend not to be generous with what flows inside of me. The logjam that builds up causes me to create (or not create) in a way that doesn’t serve me, and certainly doesn’t serve my community.
Who IS my community? Well, probably you.
Those students and practitioners of Chinese medicine who don’t just want a job, but are responding to a calling. Those people who feel a resonance with the theories and energy of this practice that goes beyond acupuncture point protocols. People who want to change themselves and their world through their work, and enjoy the connection and camaraderie of a global network of people devoted to the same thing. But these people are also critically minded, they like to think, to learn, to know – and keep that in balance with what they feel and believe. This is my community, these are the folks to whom I am calling out with this website – and have been since 2007.
What I have been hearing more than anything else is that people want to hear more about the practice of this medicine.
About business, about management, about ethics and our profession. We want a place to discuss these things, to learn more about them. How can we be financially successful with integrity? How can we influence policy and institutional organization in a way that keeps our medicine true to itself? How do we balance the important truths of contemporary science and study with an ancient commitment to the dictates of the spirit? How do we avoid drowning in taxes? How do we stay centered and joyful even when patient flow is low, or we lose patients to the ravages of disease? I have been hearing my community ask for this, and I have not been delivering – because I have not been balanced and connected to my center.
Well, no more. I’ll keep listening to the rhythmic lessons of the Lung, and demonstrate my learning here. I hope you will stay tuned. And, if you don’t mind, I’d love to hear how this post resonated with you.
How do you stay in balance? What would you like to see more of on Chinese Medicine Central? Hear my call!