The Branch, Root and the Soil - A Chinese Medicine Perspective on Pandemic Denial and Anger
We live in a world where, for all of our lives - beauty and status have been paramount: we crave it, we seek it, we spend our extra money on attaining it, seek out jobs that can provide for it, it’s ‘necessary’ for assimilating into social culture or being ‘seen’ … It. Is. So. Important. But… is it?
When we first experienced our ‘lockdown’ in the Spring I was aghast at the level of denial and flat out refusal of some people to follow safety guidelines. It made no sense… Why are people so readily willing to throw common sense out the window for a haircut? Are eyelash extensions really that important? Who benefits from outright denying this pandemic actually exists? Why is there so much hostility over a tiny piece of fabric? As time has passed the deniers and rebels against protocols became louder and more polarized, likely due to the politicization of the entire process. And while doing a little self-care to pump up our self esteem and confidence is an absolutely valid process, it always seemed like something much, much deeper was at play.
In Chinese medicine one of the first diagnostic principles we learn is to differentiate the root from the branch. The branch might be the presenting symptoms a patient walks in with, knee pain, insomnia, headaches, stress, anxiety, you name it - it’s the first thing that the patient complains about when you ask what they would like to work on today. The root is that underlying cause that created the environment for the current symptoms to arise in the first place. We often think of this as a constitutional imbalance, meaning that everyone has their own predisposed weaknesses and strengths, perhaps this is passed on from our parents and ancestors, maybe a result of early childhood illness or trauma or other underlying issues. The root is often extremely complex, and can sometimes be difficult to diagnose, but once we can get to it, or pointed in the right direction we often will see transformative shifts occur in the patient. The knee pain that hardly responded to direct treatment now can begin to release because we’ve found the root of the issue in a deficiency of the Water element and Kidneys due to some repressed fear. As we begin to unpack this root cause, the physical or emotional symptoms start to give way to the healing that is present. I also like to look another step deeper, to the soil, this is the deepest layer, this unseen and usually unnameable force that sets us up to create and experience certain things in our lives, perhaps another name for this is fate or predisposition. Dr David Hawkins, PhD calls it the ‘attractor pattern’, it’s the unseeable pattern that sets up the visible and nameable string of events that eventually leads to the presentation we are looking at in our office.
The Root - Hun Disturbance - Lacking Clear Vision
The spirit of the Hun in Chinese medicine is correlated with the Liver and Wood element, it’s responsibility is to help turn the insight of our Shen (our higher self) into ideas and plans that we can eventually materialize into reality. The Hun helps us plan our lives, it helps us to see and envision our future, to make plans and to see reality clearly. It’s about our clear vision, clear direction and our capacity for justice and benevolence. The Hun also helps us regulate and process our emotions and contribute to beneficial dreamtime, where we can gain information that’s helpful to our waking life. The overarching theme of the Hun is that they are helping us to find our True Path, quite literally looking at the question of who am I and where am I going?
When the Hun isn’t integrated with the body and other spirits, a specific set of symptoms point us toward a diagnosis of a Hun Disturbance and can help us give treatments, herbs and lifestyle recommendations to help call the Hun back home, reintegrate and continue the healing process. Repressing emotions is a big contributing factor as a cause of a Hun disturbance, repressing emotions blocks the Qi from circulating and prevents us from experiencing our emotions, this causes a build up of that energy or even the literal enzymes, neurotransmitters and hormones that cause feelings in the first place. When this happens we may also see physical symptoms like digestive upset, headaches, and fatigue that comes on during stressful times. Repressing or avoiding feeling emotions is a useful coping mechanism which we use to help keep us alive during times of stress, but as stressors become less lethal as we’ve evolved, repressing emotions no longer provides the same benefit as it did centuries ago. Avoiding and repressing emotions only makes them stronger, saving them for a later date, when we often boil over as we can no longer control the container we’ve hidden them in. Other contributing causes of a Hun disturbance include early exposure to alcoholism and violence during childhood, lack of guidance or direction from caregivers, substance abuse (particularly alcohol and marijuanna), anemia, and environmental toxin exposures.
A Hun disturbance presents as three clusters of symptoms which we call deficient, excess and mixed patterns. While the presentation of each pattern can vary a lot, the treatment principles will still remain the same. I will detail the excess and deficient patterns below, a mixed pattern is simply a mix of both, usually presenting as flip flopping from one pattern to the other and back again.
A person with a Hun disturbance in the deficient presentation might be overly apathetic, depressed with a generally low affect and demeanor, they are shy, timid, confused and don’t show emotions easily or regularly, they may even find it difficult to name or tell you what emotions they are feeling at any given time. They are too weak to even start a project, nevertheless complete one.
An excess Hun disturbance presents with a heightened anger response, it’s a ‘me against the World mentality’, enraged with righteous indignation at the world, the government and anyone or anything they perceive as unjust in the World. This person may often have bouts of extreme emotions due to repressing emotions chronically, they bottle emotions until a small stressor ‘sets them off’ then an explosion of emotion wells up from within them. On a deeper level this person feels stuck and trapped, like it doesn’t matter what they do, they will always be stuck. They lack an awareness and ability to truly take control and responsibility of their life, likely rooted in the premise that in order to do so they would have to look at how their choices and reactions brought them to the place they are at now and this is overwhelming. This person has a very difficult time seeing reality clearly, if you imagine how you feel while experiencing a lot of anger we can tune in to how those heightened emotions narrow our window of awareness, we can only focus on what’s at hand and often don’t or can’t see the bigger picture. This pattern is the one I see most often associated with the denial, rebellion, conspiracy theorists and angry ‘Karens,’ it’s actually kind of a beautifully poetic way of looking at the inner workings of this type of person.
Healing the Hun requires learning how to access, feel and process our emotions, often best accomplished with a licensed psychotherapist, but we can initiate this process through acupuncture and other healing work as well. Developing a self reflection practice like meditation or journaling will help to get in touch with those emotions and experiences we have. We may also need to directly work with the Liver, be it with herbs and acupuncture or a more in depth rehabilitation program if substance abuse is a factor. While healing the Hun may help with this propensity toward anger and explosiveness, we still need to look deeper, what is happening in the soil that can point us to the deeper issue at hand?
The Soil - A Crisis of Identity - Who Am I?
As I watched people panic over haircuts, not being able to go out to dinner in a restaurant or shop the way they were used to, I noticed something - this wasn’t about the haircuts at all. This pandemic highlighted a crisis of identity as we sat isolated in our homes coming face to face with ourselves in a way we never have before, it raised some deeper questions. What is my purpose? Who am I really? This discomfort felt around the grown out haircut, missing lashes or being told what to do, isn’t about the haircut - it’s about losing the coping mechanism of beauty, status and perceived freedom that only highlights our attachments to our body, possessions, beauty and the way we are ‘seen’ by others as our sense of self worth, our identity, quite literally who we think we are. These types of attachments are obvious in those with clinical body dysmorphia where this attachment erodes the psyche and causes other issues; but this attachment is present in everyone to some degree, and it’s easy to miss or ignore - because it is so socially acceptable to be concerned or pay attention to our appearance or the things we buy.
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” – Lao Tzu
Leaning into conspiracy theories or flat our denialism also provides the same type of relief as other coping mechanisms, if it isn’t here or doesn’t exist or there’s some other ‘plan’ I can make sense of it helps to calm us down, helps us avoid looking at the underlying identity crisis that’s lurking just below the surface. With conspiracy theory in particular it’s helping us avoid the harsh reality that - sometimes the Earth is just a dangerous place, naturally, on its own. Having to look at our own mortality, truth of identity and then the reality of nature quite literally having the ability to ‘fight back’ is a bit overwhelming, and putting a label of ‘whodunit’ on regardless to any semblance of truth is actually a bit more easily digested than accepting that, sometimes (oftentimes really), life is dangerous, we are not as death-proof as Hollywood would like us to believe, and an invisible killer does exist.
Our self worth and identity are extremely tied up in our perception of ourselves and the feedback of those around us, whether we’re aware of it or not. Being stripped of the ability to dress and adorn our appearance or being ‘forced’ to wear a mask, is shining a huge spotlight on these attachments and has only highlighted the question: who am I if I am not my body? This is why we are so uncomfortable, sad, angry and irritated with not being able to do things the way we were before. It’s not the fresh highlight and cut, it’s wanting to turn away and not face our deeper questions that exist only when we aren’t afforded the luxury of our preferred methods of coping, when we look at the rise of alcohol and video game consumption it’s pretty clear that we are certainly turning to coping mechanisms in droves. It’s an incredibly harsh reality and question we are being faced with, and while it seems so trivial on the surface, it’s a source of incredibly deep wounding, because the attainment of superficial beauty and status is actually an amazing coping mechanism. And now we’re here without it, in this unbearably uncomfortable confrontation.
This pandemic has been a difficult process for everyone, it’s uprooted our beliefs, views of reality, relationships and so much more. It’s forced us to question our identity, face our mortality in a way we haven’t before, for many there have been significant losses, of life, finances, jobs. Having coping mechanisms is a necessary element to getting through this trying time, but if we find ourselves feeling increasingly unbearable, angry, destroying our relationships, or just constantly uncomfortable, at some point it may be worth taking a look below the branch. It is perfectly ok to be exactly where we are with our process and our lives. There is no good, bad or in between, your path is your path.
A Path Toward Healing and Transformation
As a Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine I’ve spent a lot of my career specializing in Cosmetic Facial Acupuncture, a treatment designed to naturally address the signs of aging and improve the appearance. As my practice has moved away from cosmetic acupuncture and into transformational spiritual healing, the cosmetic acupuncture treatment has shifted as well, no longer being solely about beauty - it’s about getting in touch with our true self and embodying our Shen and five spirits (i.e. our True self.) The more we practice and experience embodying our divine self, the more beautiful we become, and it’s not because our wrinkles have gone away - it’s because we are radiating from the inside out with True acceptance of who we are, by actually being our true self, and walking our true path we reconnect with the greater purpose of our lives in the universe (btw that purpose is not a brand new Tesla), it’s about radiating the divine light that we are and connecting to our original intention of our unique way of doing that.
Acupuncture treatments can help people release attachments and beliefs around our false sense of self and the valences we carry. While everyone comes in initially wanting to address a specific symptom or issue, the underlying change always comes from releasing the attachments to the problem at hand and beginning to see a new perspective on who we are as spirits inhabiting bodies on Earth. It’s this kind of inner work that needs to be addressed in order to finally be at peace with what is, surrender to change, accept a difficult and scary reality (like a pandemic) and have a sense of purpose that sustains beyond coping mechanisms. This is of course, a process, not a one time fix or even an easy one, it takes a lot of inner reflection and awareness, but it is a process we can initiate simply by saying yes to looking at what we haven't’ before.
The first step on this journey is, like they say in AA, to admit we have a problem. This may not come easily to most, as often denial and anger are very intoxicating substances. But the path toward healing, towards acceptance and towards experiencing more peace in our lives is there, we just have to choose to walk it. I imagine most who read this article may not be the types of people I reference, but those who know them, and my words of advice to you are: we can’t change anyone, everyone is walking their own path and we actually have to let them. Yes, they can be a literal danger to society, themselves and others because of this, but the realization that we need to change must come from within, it has to be a self-realization and can never be forced or coerced. Instead of putting our energy into changing others, we can only truly change ourselves, this might mean adding boundaries for ourselves and those relationships, it may mean doing our own healing work to help us learn more about our reactions and how to see the bigger picture in the grand scheme of everything, maybe it means helping more, it’s different for everyone.
“To let go does not mean to get rid of. To let go means to let be. When we let be with compassion, things come and go on their own.” – Jack Kornfield
If you are interested in taking charge of your healing with acupuncture, energy healing and meditation please book an appointment or consultation to see if we may be a good match. I offer in person treatments in San Rafael, CA and online sessions via telehealth to anywhere in the World.
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Dr. Kim Peirano, DACM, LAc is the Owner and Acupuncturist at Lion's Heart Wellness, the San Francisco Bay Area and Marin's #1 Cosmetic Acupuncturist and #1 Holistic Healer.
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