As I finish up this interview, I’m listening to a TED Talk about the science studying how trees in forests communicate with each other, which helps to create resilience among tree families.
It reminds me that there is still so much we don’t understand, or yet know, about the world around us.
Dr. Nan Lu also reminds me of this in his book, Digesting the Universe.
While we in the west tend to think of health care in terms of physical parts that make up bodies and bodily functions, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has, for thousands of years, evolved a type of health care that takes into consideration that we are body, mind, and spirit.
When we treat a body part without considering its relation to other functions of the human experience or even to other parts of the body, we treat only part of what is wrong with us. The likelihood of illness returning, therefore, sometimes in another form, is high.
Nan Lu, OMD, holds a doctorate in traditional Chinese medicine, is a master herbalist and internationally recognized Tai chi expert and Qigong master. He is the Founding Director and President of Traditional Chinese Medicine World Foundation and the Tao of Healing.
Despite all that he has going on, Dr. Lu took the time to provide us with thoughtful insight into the power of our own bodies to heal. I encourage you to check out Digesting the Universe for more of his sage insights.
In your book, you emphasize that Eastern and Western medicine do not have to be separate entities; that they can work together to provide the best effective care for our population. Can you start by explaining the basic tenets of traditional Chinese medicine and how they differ from the type of care we in the West are used to?
There are so many places where we could start to answer this question, but the first thing that’s essential to understand about traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is that it’s a by-product of a spiritual practice. It’s not a man-made medical system that evolved like Western medicine.
In deep meditation, ancient masters were able to “see” the laws of the Universe. Then, they were able to apply them in this reality to create a comprehensive body-mind- spirit medicine that’s kept billions of people well for over five thousand years. The ability to penetrate the physical world allowed ancient Qigong masters to “see” that everything is what we call “Qi” (pronounced CHEE)—often translated as “energy” though it has a deeper meaning than what modern scientists refer to as energy.
These masters also discovered everything is connected in the energy field. In the last century, modern scientists moved beyond Netwonian science to understand and apply the laws of energy in many ways that we take for granted today. For instance, medical devices like MRIs, CT and PET scans and x-rays use quantum physics to help us see into the physical body more deeply. Our cell phones and GPS systems are also based on modern science advances. Modern science and its understanding of energy touch every part of our daily life.
One of the fundamental tenets of TCM is that it believes we are all born with the ability to heal ourselves. We are born with this wisdom encoded in our DNA. That’s why its goal is to help a person return to balance and not just treat symptoms. When that happens, a person can heal themselves. More than 2,000 years ago, the Nei Jing, an ancient medical text, stated that when a person is in balance and Qi (or energy) flows freely in the body, there is no place for disease or illness.
There are a number of differences in how TCM and Western medicine approach treating a patient. The way I explain this to my patients is that TCM is a personalized, one-to- one, path that looks at a person’s whole self– its body, mind and spirit aspects. It concerns itself with the person’s energetic level—his or her “software.” Western medicine uses high-tech devices to look at the body also from an energy perspective; its approach examines the body’s “hardware” or physical parts.
There are many different ways to detect conditions on the energetic level. Today, modern science allows us to look at the body’s interconnections because we now understand nothing is isolated in the energy field. East or West, we’re beginning to appreciate that these interconnections have meaning when it comes to illness or disease and therefore, we have to treat the whole person. Another way we can appreciate the difference between Western and Eastern medicine is that Western medicine tends to deal with acute conditions, which often produce side effects.
Eastern medicine is a good complement since it understands the root cause of these side effects, which organs they are affecting and can counter them so the Western treatments perform better.
Part of the TCM tradition engages the Five Element Energetic framework, which correlates Nature’s basic elements–wood, fire, earth, metal, water. Can you share an example of how a TCM treatment, using this framework, might look?
Most Westerners are rooted in a physical reality that relies on the five senses; however, everyone also has a sixth sense that is tuned into another aspect of reality. As we go about our daily lives, it’s difficult to keep in mind that everything is energy.
TCM’s Five Element framework “looks like” its referring to physical objects, but TCM has a deeper insight into these things and understands items in each of the Five Elements as energetic vibrations that vibrate at the same frequency. For instance, the color yellow is related to the Spleen-Stomach organ system. If you’re someone who loves wearing this color, your body may want the extra energetic support or frequency of yellow for this organ system.
We can also see from the Five Element framework that every organ system has an interrelationship with another one. No organ system operates separately. When cancer occurs, we have to look at which organ is affected; we also have to look at the relationships that this organ has with its fellow organs. For example, there is a generational, or “mother and child” relationship as well as a “cooperative” relationship among the organs. Each of these interrelationships functions in a different, but vital way to keep the body healthy.
There is a comprehensive graphic of the Five Element energetic framework in Digesting the Universe as well as on our website at tcmworld.org. It’s a fascinating, ancient map of how the body functions as a whole.
From TCM’s body-mind- spirit perspective, cancer is not an isolated event. If someone develops liver cancer, just treating the liver itself many not produce the best result. If we look at the Liver (and in my book I use capital letters for organs to emphasize that we are talking about the body, mind and spirit responsibilities of each organ) we can see in the Five Element energetic framework, that the Lung and the Liver have an interrelationship.
The Lung’s energy would have to be strengthened to support the Liver while it’s undergoing treatment. TCM has a number of ways to do this. The Kidney, too, has its role as TCM considers it the “mother” of the Liver. If the mother’s energy is too low, it has trouble giving its child help to heal quickly.
Just by looking at these two interrelationships, we can see how the complex Five Element energetic framework can be applied to cancer. Even though treatment may focus on one organ, none of a body’s other organs are isolated from the impact of the treatment.
Throughout your book, you use quantum theory to emphasize that everything is energy. It’s incredible that if we were to look inside an atom, all we would see are swirling balls of energy. Everything is made up of atoms, so therefore everything around us is energy. Knowing this, is it fair to say that there are some types of energy that are better than others? When it comes to food and our health, is the energy from unprocessed plants, directly grown in the soil and nurtured by sun and rain, better than the energy found in processed foods?
Over the past hundred years or so, quantum physics has opened the door to allow us to recognize that the world of our concrete reality is actually a world of energy in constant motion where everything is connected. Separation is an illusion. Rarely, do we think about this and apply it to our daily lives.
Sir Isaac Newton believed everything could be reduced to an atom, but modern scientists have shown us everything exists as a wave or a particle. A particle is not a “thing” like an atom. It’s really more a state of being. When it comes to nurturing ourselves, as well as preventing or addressing health issues, real food is superior to its processed version.
Why is that? Energetically, fresh, natural foods are manifestations of sunlight, moonlight, rain, the interconnections with plants and animals where the plant flourishes—these are all reflections of the unconditional love of the Universe.
I’d like to repeat that everything is energy and energy has consciousness and purpose. Food has its own energy, consciousness and purpose. However, I remind my patients, not to fixate on food.
I tell them on one level you are what you eat. On a higher level, you are what you think. This means they need to open their mind to recognize that any food’s energy carries the vibration of cooperation and the love of the Universe. I think the example of the real healing power of honey in Digesting the Universe is important. I definitely have to agree that natural foods are better than processed foods. Eat locally and seasonally as often as
I feel that when people are more in touch with themselves and are working toward living a fulfilled life and taking care of themselves, that they are often more pleasant to be around. Years ago, when I didn’t take very good care of my body or my spirit, I complained. A lot. Do you think this is a coincidence?
This is definitely not a coincidence. Every cell in the body is looking for health. This kind of GPS is encoded in your DNA. Your cells are not born looking for disease or illness. Yet, these things enter the body when things become out of balance, especially at the mind level, which in turn affects the physical organs.
One of the spiritual laws that I talk about in Digesting the Universe is that there are no accidents. Everything has a purpose. Each of us is composed of body, mind and spirit. Our spirit has chosen to experience this reality for its own unique purpose. We are born knowing we are a child of the Universe.
Often spirit nudges us along, even with disease and illness, toward something more that we somehow know we want.
Interesting. So if we want to experience the most from this human life, we really have to nurture our spiritual side as well.
I am fascinated by the placebo effect. This idea that people often get better simply because they BELIEVE they are going to get better. That the medication they are receiving is something that will make them well again, even when it’s only a sugar pill. Often it is discounted by western science, but only because scientists cannot
understand it and cannot measure it. How would TCM explain the placebo effect?
Today, the placebo effect is difficult to understand because it’s a non-material phenomenon. This makes it difficult to measure and is often dismissed. However, each patient possesses a body, mind and spirit. These aspects of our being are interrelated and can’t be separated one from the other. Each patient is born with his or her own healing ability—not just from cuts and scrapes or a minor cold, but from major health events. The body carries tremendous wisdom.
Scientists tell us that the energy field, of which we’re all a part, is an unimaginable processing event. When the placebo effect occurs, deep down a person’s consciousness has stimulated inner wisdom at the cellular, genetic and spiritual levels. We can’t yet measure these kinds of actions or processing, so we’ve called it “placebo effect.”
When it occurs, the patient realizes they have hope; they believe they can get better. That belief is almost like turning on a new switch within the body. The placebo effect is best understood from the spiritual perspective. Because our Western culture demands that things be connected to a cause and effect, we miss the significance of this action.
If everything’s connected in the energy field, what is the placebo effect related to? It’s a dimension of consciousness that stimulates your inner wisdom and healing capabilities.
I cannot emphasize enough to my patients that they have to believe in their healing.
In your book, you compare our way of seeing the world to the Internet. There is a vast wealth of information out there, yet we only know about the information we seek out. That doesn’t mean the other information does not exist. So the way we understand the world right now is not complete. You suggest we open our minds to information that exists in the Universe, so that we can better see its totality. What would that look like? What can we do to open our minds?
As I say in Digesting the Universe, first you have to believe that there is a vast amount of information that exists in the Universe. To access it, you can’t use your everyday mind. You have to take a different path. The information in the Internet is accessible to the everyday mind, but the information that the Universe offers resides within an invisible reality.
Therefore, you have to use a different technique than the normal mind to access its gifts. The normal mind just doesn’t have the capability for this kind of processing. Often, in the East, people use meditation to experience things that are beyond the visible and the five senses. Meditation, Qigong, Taiji, Yoga, are several ways that allow us to see the same set of circumstances from a different and better angle.
The mass of information the Internet offers is literally mind-boggling. But, it’s we ourselves who search for what we want to know and add into our lives. So this information field always exists. However, if we only go to the same place for answers, change is very difficult. I believe it’s time for people to open their minds to the concept of Oneness; they will find different answers to many things. I recommend that they don’t search the Internet, but search their Innernet for real answers. All religions tell us the answer is always within.
I encourage my patients to get their mind out of the way! From our level of reality, we can never see all the factors impacting a situation, but is we can change our angle of view about a situation, we will see different things.
Imagine looking at an event like Macy’s famous Thanksgiving Day parade. If you’re on the third or fourth floor of a building you might see the top of the head of a balloon character. But, if you’re on the tenth or eleventh floor, you’ll see not only the character, but the float it’s on from an entirely different angle. You also may see the floats that come before and after this one. It all depends on what we want to see. We have to have the desire to open the mind and think differently.
The “Innernet”. I like that. It has taken me a while to “digest” your book, and I know I will be referring back to it again and again. What inspired you to write and what do you hope people will come away with after reading your book?
Thank you for saying that. I agree Digesting the Universe is a work that needs to be, well, digested. Most of my patients are Westerners, most are women. Many have stubborn, chronic conditions that they’ve tried hard to heal for a long time without major results.
What I wish is for each reader of your blog and each one who reads my book is to know that you are a body, mind and spirit. These aspects of yourself are intertwined and cannot be separated or isolated. Each one influences and impacts the other in profound ways. Please do not limit yourself by focusing your attention only in this reality. You are much, much bigger than you believe. Within each of you, you carry many treasures and gifts. We are all far bigger than the sum of our parts.
My passion is to inspire everyone to recognize that, in the truest sense, each of us is a child of the Universe entitled to experience its mysteries and miracles. There are several practices in the book that can help anyone start a healing journey to regain balance in their health and in their life. Thank you for letting me share this information with your readers.
And thank you for taking the time to share some of your knowledge with us!
To read the interview as it originally appeared on “Better Off Well,” click here.