Nurturing life through the body, heart, and spirit with the wisdom of Chinese medicine


A collection of notes on the topics of classical Chinese, medicine, and traditional culture.

This blog is a collection of ruminations, translations, and personal opinions by Sabine and some guest authors. Reflecting my own personality, some posts are academic, some clinical, and some personal, some are excerpts from existing books and some may become part of future books. Please leave comments with feedback, questions, constructive criticism, and differences of opinion as long as you argue your reasons for disagreement logically. Any personal attacks, uncivil remarks, or self-promoting comments will be deleted.

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Cultivating Yin, Practicing Wuwei, and Disengaging from Social Media

The following statement is an explanation of why I am withdrawing from professional discussions on Chinese Medicine on Facebook. If you have benefited from my contributions there and connected with me primarily through that vehicle, I invite you to stay in touch by signing up for my Happy Goat Productions newsletter, joining my, or periodically checking in on the Events page of my website so that we can hopefully connect in person at lectures or retreats. Additionally, I will occasionally share posts on my Facebook pages “Sun Simiao, Master of Nurturing Life and God of Medicinals,” “Traditional Chinese Gynecology,” and “Happy Goat Productions.” You are always welcome to post questions there or drop me a line through my website. Most importantly, this disengagement from social media will free up space for what I consider to be a more productive and positive use of my time.

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These days, I am making a conscious effort to cultivate Yin and contemplate what that even means as a daily practice. Stay tuned for a visible manifestation of that to come soon… The older I get, the more I appreciate the importance of making space for this, for the sake of my body, heart, and spirit. I also clearly see and feel the contrast between this approach to life and the dominant values in the modern capitalist consumerist loud active “Yang” society and culture that surrounds me. I am sure that living a quiet reclusive simple life on an island in the Pacific rain forest is affecting me far more deeply than I am aware of rationally. And this dissonance hits me hard every time I “go to America” or “cross to The Other Side” as we islanders call it, or even have encounters with tourists who tend to drive and talk and act noticeably differently. Oh how I treasure being quiet, sitting by the beach and watching the tide roll in or out, listening to my chickens cooing peacefully, picking wild mushrooms and berries, drinking in the silence, interrupted only by the occasional eagle or raven or owl call, walking barefoot, not getting in a car for a week at a time…

Part of the reason why I personally need this lifestyle is that I write (which I love) and teach (which I also love but do find draining) and “publish” for a living, which is a necessary evil to make my writing habit economically sustainable. Publishing books that are going to be out there for a long time, are never perfect in my mind, and will be sold to strangers on anonymous platforms like Amazon, is an extremely Yang activity, one that I need to counterbalance by cultivating Yin in my other life, so achieve the healthy equilibrium my heart and spirit and body crave. I envision my blog posts and “Happy Goat” newsletters as going to a handful of friends and colleagues and students, so somehow that doesn’t feel so Yin-draining.

In this context, my active participation in a number of professional Facebook forums on Chinese medicine, including a group dedicated to a scholarly approach to Chinese medicine, has been an ironic contradiction. For some reason, I have felt compelled to spend countless hours over the past few years answering the questions of strangers, at times even doing textual research or producing translations, to share my understanding of classical Chinese medicine with this group and attempt to correct misunderstandings. Unfortunately, my views have often contradicted the dominant views held by most Western practitioners of Chinese medicine, based on what students have learned in “TCM” education, unconsciously inherited from popular culture that loves to “Orientalize” (see my blog on this topic if you don’t know what this means) and exoticize Chinese medicine, or been taught by various self-proclaimed on-line “masters” and “experts” about things like “Daoism” (as a catch-all for anything that contradicts what we might dislike about our own culture), New Agey spirituality or shamanism, specializations where not much solid information is available in English translation, “integrative” medicine that privileges the biomedical paradigm but adorns itself with exotic “Chinesey” tools to attract unsuspecting customers, and the like. Sorry, that was a long sentence but you get the idea….

Speaking up to correct people’s misunderstandings on the basis of historical facts and faithful translations of the actual texts from the medicine has earned me not only gratitude and respect but also, unfortunately, a lot of resentment. For most people in our Western culture, it is a negative experience, after all, to be corrected and proven wrong, even though it is an essential aspect of academic tradition. Ideally and theoretically, it is embraced by scholars for the sake of advancing knowledge in the field. Any student in a rigorous advanced academic degree program has suffered through but grown from the difficult and humbling experience of presenting their work in front of colleagues, whether in peer-reviewed journals, at academic conferences, or in defending a master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation, and having other scholars point out the inevitable errors, shortcomings, biases, and unanswered questions. This comes with the territory of academic research and leads to increasing understanding of the subject and refinement of all of our research findings. I have always taken it for granted that as life-long students of this deep, complex, and complicated medicine, we all embrace this challenge and appreciate it when other people, with different backgrounds and skills, teach us things that we don’t know.

From what I have seen, people are attracted to the field of medicine and the role of physician primarily for two reasons: Most students I know get into medicine because of a pure and sincere desire to alleviate suffering and to help others. Some people, however, are attracted to the role of the doctor because it makes them an authority, because it gives them power because they are put in the position of telling others where they are wrong and of “fixing” them. Many practitioners in Chinese medicine complain about what they see as the arrogance of biomedical doctors who supposedly look down on their patients and treat them dispassionately as collections of disconnected localized symptoms and diseases rather than suffering human beings. In my experience, however, this professional arrogance is not limited to biomedical physicians, but also sneaks into Chinese medicine conversations about diet, life style, yangsheng, fertility, protection from external invasion, and similar topics. In other words, nothing is ever black or white.

For a certain percentage of doctors, professional arrogance appears to be part of the package, regardless of the modality they practice, whether they work with tuning forks or surgical knives. And as the field of Chinese medicine is starting to produce more and more practitioners who proudly call themselves “doctors,” this problem of professional arrogance seems to be growing as well, compounded by a lack of rigorous academic training and education in critical thinking, to instill humility, an awareness of the need for life-long learning, and respect for the experience and knowledge gained in a lifetime of practice and study. So our institutions are cranking out advanced and terminal “doctorate” degrees for students who start presenting themselves as leading voices in the field soon after graduation, with very little clinical practice under their belt. And social media like Facebook (the only one I know) are the perfect vehicles for these newly minted vocal “experts” to acquire followers and admirers, sell their products, and establish themselves as leading voices in the field, while their more humble colleagues are busy seeing patients and studying quietly. No doubt many of these new doctors are brilliant, deserve their degree title, and are making important contributions to our medicine. But what happens to their professional growth after graduation, without the academic processes of critical reviews and rigorous critiques from the more experienced elders in the profession, whether at serious conferences or in peer-reviewed journals, especially in a field that we all agree requires life-long learning for personal and professional growth?

Reflecting on this matter in the context of my desire to cultivate Yin, I have realized that trying to replicate this academic process of providing critical feedback in Facebook discussions with junior practitioners of Chinese medicine, outside the context and rigor of academia or the structure of a formal course or lecture that allows for continuing growth and more personal accountability, is not productive. Ultimately, once again the truth is revealed of the saying that “Non-engagement is the only appropriate response to conflict.” So I will spend my time more constructively and positively on writing blogs and books. While I will miss the community, I will not miss the seemingly inevitable negativity of too many of these interactions. If you appreciate my offerings, I sincerely hope we stay in touch in other ways. Stepping back feels wonderful and long overdue. As always, Zhuangzi is my hero!

Sabine Wilms2 Comments