By Jennifer Kapraun, LAc
Last week my favorite coffee shop was serving a blend called "Hologram". As I sipped from my cup, distinct flavors: blueberry, toast, sour, chocolate, bitter, would emerge and then recede and then merge again into the flavor we call "coffee". That cup of coffee was, in a word, heavenly. Drinking "Hologram" made me think of one of the central principles of Chinese Medicine: each part is contained within the whole and the image of the whole is reflected within the confines of each part.
A whole contains parts, of course. But one part containing the whole can be a more difficult concept to grasp. It is not a supernatural concept though. Empirical evidence exists in Biology: humans have recently (cosmically speaking) discovered DNA, coiled instructions for the entire body contained within each cell. And recently (in the scheme of things) physicists may have proven the universe itself is holographic, that is to say, information about an entire region of space may be encoded at its borders.
This foundational holographic principle (also known as the macrocosm/microcosm principle) enables acupuncturists to discern a complex image of how your body's systems are functioning almost instantaneously. If your acupuncturist has taken your pulse, looked at your tongue, or pressed points on your ears or your abdomen, you have seen this principle in use. The tongue, radial pulses, abdomen, face, and foot, for example, all contain a "map" of the entire body. When we press three fingers on your wrist pulse, we feel a reflection of how blood is moving through the upper, middle, and lower "chambers" of your torso. When we peer at your tongue, we see the temperature, moistness or dryness, swelling or mucus in different organs of your body. When we press on areas of your ear, we may feel areas that are sore, numb, or painful in corresponding areas elsewhere in your body. These visual and tactile methods of collecting information let your practitioner see where subtle changes in one area may cause the entire ecosystem that is you to become more balanced and healthy, or less.
Acupuncturists and Chinese herbalists have neither the perspective nor the diagnostic tools to zero in on single cause the way a biomedical doctor does. Your regular doctor will ask questions to construct a linear narrative or story about your disease; she or he may collect tissue for measurement and analysis, or they may even collect images (X-rays, MRIs) but only images of discrete parts, not of you in your entirety. Doctors' tools and theories make them great at identifying and eliminating single causes where such exist, but but Chinese medicine excels when complex factors interact to create disease. Sometimes conventional medicine fails to see that a symptom may serve a purpose. At times, a symptom may be what is holding the whole pattern, the whole fabric of you together.
Observing this microcosm/macrocosm principle may be valuable to you in your daily life. What problem are you dealing with at the moment? How are you defining the problem and how is it defining you? Is it best to zero in? Deal with things in a linear fashion? Or to soften your gaze and let the overall pattern emerge? Swift action or subtle recalibration? Yin or Yang? Good questions to ask of any of every hardship, discomfort, or health problem we may face. The interdependence of the part and the whole is central to the practice and power of Chinese Medicine, and central, I believe, to making sense of our ever more fragmented world.
Some big ideas to ponder over your morning coffee or tea.