“…the saints did not wait for illnesses to appear, but took care of them before they appeared. They did not wait for disorder in affairs but took care of it before it appeared.” – Huang Di Nei Jing. Su Wen 2 (The classic of the Yellow Emperor, Simple Questions Chapter 2, translated by Claude Larre SJ)
This quote from the first classic of Chinese medicine demonstrates the wisdom of anticipating and preventing illnesses of body, spirit, and society. The text suggests that the correct way to live (in accordance with the Dao) takes into account preparation for a difficult future. If we live as though nothing will ever change, we will be woefully underprepared for the changes that are surely in store for us.
Life is change. The Dao is change. To think otherwise is a death sentence.
To take this wisdom one step further, Tom Balles, in his book “Dancing with the Ten Thousand Things” writes:
“Parallel to what happens in our personal lives, symptoms and signs of impending disease often go unnoticed or untended. Communities and organizations that function out of balance for long periods of time will become ill… Inappropriate (and even illegal) behaviors go unchecked… I offer these symptoms and signs as phenomena that point to a growing imbalance within communities and organizations… I offer them… as a starting place for a conversation within your group” (pages 146-147)
What does this mean for you, today, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic crisis?
For many people throughout the United States, the illness has appeared. As a society, we did not prepare, so the illness has arrived. As a society, inappropriate and illegal behaviors in our group are going unchecked, and a conversation which we needed to have in the yesterday of last century are still being silenced.
As this situation continues, people are beginning to try to open up affairs, to not allow for the changes necessary for people to survive this crisis. Though thousands are dying, those who remain are still not doing the work to promote balance and health in our communities.
Until we prepare, until we lean into this change, we cannot open up. Our affairs are not in order!
So stand up in your community. Voice the truths of the changes that are necessary to prevent further loss of life.
-Stay home if you can, and wear a mask and practice social distancing when you go out. Only go to enclosed public spaces for essentials like food and medicine, and try and take those outings as infrequently as possibly.
-Pay attention to news outlets, but be sure to question what you read and consider where the information is coming from. Be smart about interpreting data. Remember that the data we have are largely coming from tests that are infrequently and improperly administered, and which have many false results. Know that at this point, it is too late for us to rely solely on testing to know how safe we are in public spaces – the illness is here, and un-contained.
-If you become ill, self-isolate and call your doctor! Only go to the emergency room for life-threatening concerns. If you can’t breathe, or you’re seriously injured or otherwise experiencing another emergency that would normally mean an ER visit, do go. But if you only have a cough and a fever, call your doctor for further guidance.
-Stand up for disenfranchised communities. This disease doesn’t discriminate, but we do. COVID-19 is therefore influencing a very specific set of people who work essential jobs – the poor and certain minority groups, people who work in factories and grocery stores, and other vulnerable populations are very sick right now. When you see or hear someone minimizing these groups, speak up! Their lives do and should matter. Recent events reveal a sickness of policy and community in our society where certain people are being seen as less human by majority groups.“In an arrangement of extended harmony, the virtue of wood prevails everywhere… Its qi is uprightness. Its nature is adaptive. Its [mainfestation is] curved and straight. Its transformation brings beings to life and makes them flourish… Its corresponding season is spring.”
– from Su Wen chapter 70, translated by Paul Unschuld
Fortunately for us, the present season is Spring. Spring carries with it the virtues of the Wood element – the capacity for uprightness, for being firm yet flexible, for weathering the winds of change. If we can all lean into the energy that nature is bringing to the table right now, we can have this conversation, and take action towards a healthier community. When we live in accordance with the seasons, with the right way of things, we can prevent illness and death.
The ancient texts in which Chinese medicine are rooted carry with them a wisdom which can benefit humanity on so many levels. Being able to step back and view the world through this lens brings a larger sense of possibility for health and growth. I endeavor to apply the principles of these texts every day in my personal and professional life. One of the most beautiful opportunities as a practitioner of Chinese medicine is to share this philosophy with others who may be served by it, and who may serve their community with it. By healing ourselves, and one another, we can heal the whole of society. May you carry this wisdom to others in your life and community, may this philosophy continue to have ripple effects outwards during this crisis to help the whole world.
I recognize that this way of thinking might be quite unusual for the average lay person. I hope you enjoyed it at the very least as a thought experiment! Please let me know what you thought of this post, and what you’d like to see me write about next.