Don’t Shoot the Messenger
Symptoms are the embodied spirit’s (jīngshén (精神)) gesture to communicate its distress. They are intended to get the individual to focus his or her conscious awareness toward discerning the nature and causes of that distress. Though symptoms seem to be afflictions (to the personality), they are NOT themselves the problem. They are only the “finger pointing at the moon.”
In this case, the “moon” is the blockage to the natural and intrinsic flow of qì (氣), which is causing the distress in the first place. Sometimes this is an acute blockage (as from an injury), but much more frequently these blockages accumulate over time — in the “closets” of each individual’s life. The incipient accumulation of unresolved pathogenic factors leads to the wide array of progressive and degenerative diseases, which generally emerge as individuals age.
By the time many people seek help, their embodied spirits (jīngshén (精神)) are typically screaming so loudly with unbearable symptoms that individuals simply feel the need to control their discomfort. However, telling the embodied spirit to “SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP” doesn’t change the underlying blockage in any way!
Instead of directly quieting the messenger, classical Chinese medicine teaches us to stimulate the embodied spirit to release its attachment to (and entanglement with) the pathogenic factors that have been causing distress. As the natural and intrinsic flow of vital process (which we call “qì (氣)” in Chinese medicine) improves, the intensity of symptoms automatically decreases. Treatments that suppress symptoms serve the personality, and ones that stimulate or facilitate the (underlying) flow of vital physiological process serve the embodied spirit!
What are Indicator Symptoms?
The symptoms that come from chronic, progressive, or degenerative diseases are rooted in the (previous) accumulation of unresolved pathogenic factors. While the embodied spirit is willing and able to simply suspend those unresolved stagnations in a “closet,” the individual accumulates it in “dormancy.” In psychological terms, this process is called either suppression or repression, depending on the specifics of the individual’s avoidance strategy.
When the embodied spirit is no long willing or able to suspend the individual’s unresolved pathogenic process, it emerges in overt expression. The symptoms that people experience in such cases signal the blockages that had long been accumulating, but had also been held “dormant” to allow the person to “go on” with life. When the symptoms emerge, the embodied spirit (jīngshén (精神)) is announcing that the person must tend to the vital issues supporting the blockages causing those symptoms.
Frequently such symptoms (and even clinical signs like hypertension, which are not usually felt by patients) respond to lifestyle choices. When the individual makes choices that support his or her vital process to flow more smoothly, the symptoms and signs diminish; when those choices challenge flow the symptoms increase. Thus, the person’s symptoms become “teachers” concerning the wisdom of various lifestyle choices. Rather than suppressing (and even demonizing) symptoms, patients can use them to learn how to grow healthier.
I first wrote about using indicator symptoms in treating people with chronic degenerative diseases more than three years ago.