In our modern society, and in Western medicine, we lack a coherent theory of health. Of late there has been an increasing accumulation of unrelated facts, born of analytic research. This has resulted in the fragmentation of medicine into specialties without an appreciation of the relationship between these fragments. Our concept of disease is basically the germ theory we inherited from Pasteur, and we augment this with the concept of attack by an external force: itself a reflection, in the modern sense, of the consequences of industrialization, and, in the archetypal sense, the ambiance of man’s struggle against nature. In this prevalent model of conflict and disunity, modern medicine has focused on the search for the ‘magic bullet’ with which it can destroy the alien forces and invaders causing disease.
However, if the body is viewed as a whole, and its health as the state of being of the entire entity, a unified theory of health and wellness is necessary to tie together the massive accumulation of disparate facts.
What, then, is a theory of health? Essentially, a theory of health is a reflection of a theory of life. In Chinese medicine, we have a theory of health based on our knowledge of healthy human movement, balance, rhythm and amount of energy. We gain and assess this insight through the use of the pulse, the tongue, the eyes, color, sound, emotion, smell, and other parameters. Using this body of knowledge to define health, we are able to detect and describe the smallest deviations from the observable standard. This standard is an energy philosophy, communicated in intricate detail, and it encompasses correspondences and interrelationships among all parts of our material and spiritual being, and furthermore, between that being and the environment: in its entirety and at all stages of maturation.
This medical model is therefore capable of correlating, to the patient’s Lifestyle, the initial stages of any deviation from the testable standard of health. Diagnostically, we are able to answer the question, “How is the patient, through his daily life, creating his own illness?” We can bring the medicine back to the simplest facts of life, so that the issue of responsibility is easily understood and, therefore, the steps to health more clearly within the patient’s grasp. In speaking of Lifestyle, I am referring to eating habits, working habits, environmental stress (both chemical and physical), weather, climate, social habits, sexual habits, trauma, exercise, emotion, and recreational habits such as drugs, television, and, more recently, computers. The Chinese medical model has the capacity to relate the smallest changes in function to excesses in any one of these parameters of everyday existence, and it can judge for how long such immoderacies have occurred, how heavily the patient has indulged, and how significant to the patient’s life his indulgences have been.
Using the signs and symptoms of disordered energy, we are capable, in the Chinese model, of distinguishing between constitutional and congenital disorders. The early identification of problems coming from these two sources is useful for patients and physicians, so that they may both, early on, offer support in those areas that require it. In addition, awareness of the origins of disorders will hopefully encourage and allow patients to alter habits and patterns of living and emotional development, thereby minimizing the impact of these problems. When parents have realistic, rather than inflated, expectations of their children’s abilities from the earliest stages of development, a great deal of conflict and pain can be avoided.
Without a concept of the process of disease based on the theory of health and life, and without a set of correspondences between living conditions and health, we are in no position to discuss prevention. In Western medicine, we know little or nothing about the disease process. So, despite the voluminous compilation of scientific research, there is no true preventive medicine in our culture. To be truly preventive, intervention in disease has to begin before the illness becomes a clinical, pathological entity. Today it costs millions of dollars to build a prevention clinic, which at best can tell us that we are already afflicted with a fatal disease in its early stages. As of yet, Western science is unable to detect disease on a sub-
Chinese medicine, on the other hand, has traditionally been a preventive medicine. It has the ability to perceive the process of disease prior to its manifestations as morphological pathology, and can relate these early signs and symptoms to Lifestyle. Thus the patient’s attention can be brought promptly to how she is creating her own illness, and to what is needed to prevent its more serious manifestation. In a sense, medicine and life are essentially one. If we follow the basic laws of our nature and the limits of our own constitutions, we will, barring bad fortune, enjoy good health.