This book is meant to be primarily practical. It contains theory and philosophy as well, but its main function is to be a tool to improve your life. But most of the solutions in this book are not one-time magic bullets. You must continue to apply many of these frequently in order to bring yourself back into balance, and to maintain that balance.
NEW HABITS, NEW LIFESTYLE
But, as imperfect humans in a very demanding and distracting society, we have difficulty acquiring and maintaining new habits. In fact, it’s much easier to keep a good habit than to create a new good habit, and it’s tragically easy to let go of a new good habit. So, this book would be incomplete if it didn’t help you form and keep new good habits.
Men’s natures are alike, it is their habits that carry them far apart.
Another issue that needs to be addressed is that many of the solutions in this book (e.g. food choices, sleep schedule, exercise, etc.) are lifestyle changes. And changing the way we live is not easy. You may have adopted some of your bad habits to make up for imbalances in other parts of your life.
For example, you may reward yourself with sweets or ice creams at the end of the day because your work is so stressful. Yes, you feel so much better when you reward yourself that way. But, if sweets are aggravating or perpetuating one of your health complaints, e.g. low energy level, then your reward is actually shooting yourself in the foot. Your low energy level may be what makes your workday so stressful! Or your sweets may be perpetuating your weight problem- and some of the stress of the day may come from constantly feeling insecure about yourself because you’re overweight. It’s easy to get caught in vicious cycles like this. And it’s a little uncomfortable getting out of them.
In the above examples, you might have to eschew the sweets and take herbs or enzymes instead. When you get these right, you’ll have less cravings, and it’ll be easier to eliminate the sweets. But you still have to make that decision and stand by it.
To change, we need clarity, willingness, and discipline – and how to get and keep these things is, I believe, the major human obstacle to better health and a better world.
* Without clarity, we don’t know we need to change.
* Without willingness, we cannot adopt better habits.
* Without discipline, we cannot keep from falling back into the old habits.
Without these three qualities, we are at the mercy of our own unhealthy cravings and obsessions. These cravings may give us short term comfort, but in the long run, they lead only to disease and death.
The Chinese Medicine Physiology of DECISION MAKING and PERSISTENCE
You have to make decisions to change your health, and if you don’t persist in your changes, nothing gets better. Let’s talk a little bit about the Chinese medicine physiology and psychology of decision making and decision keeping:
1. PERCEPTION, CLARITY, AND CALM
The Heart-system is not only a blood pumper, but also relates to our overall consciousness. If we have a problem here, our perception of life, of ourselves, and of our habits may be distorted. Heart-system problems most often show up as anxiety and insomnia, so you may have to deal with these first. Certain imbalances can obstruct clarity, or create mental and emotional unrest. Once you have more calm and clarity from the remedies in those chapters, it will be easier to deal with your other problems.
2. ORGANIZING AND CATEGORIZING YOUR OPTIONS
The Spleen-system digests not only foods, but also ideas, concepts, etc. Once we have perceived our lives and our habits, then we analyze and categorize them. This requires energy, so if you have trouble with digestion, worry, or low energy, this part of the decision making process will be more difficult. In fact, this book may be hard to digest! Herbs, enzymes, different food choices, etc. will help you here, and then it’ll be easier to deal with other problems in your life.
3. EVALUATING THE GOOD AND BAD
Some Chinese medicine authorities maintain that the Small Intestine is involved with separating good from bad options- but this may also involve the Spleen, Heart, Kidney and Bladder. People have trouble distinguishing good and bad options for a number of reasons- you may lack the Heart’s clarity, or the Spleen’s strength of analysis. Some SI acupoints do have mental functions like SI3, so that would be a good point to add to other points like: P5, P6, SP4, ST40, and ST41. You’ll find more answers relating to your specific patterns in the anxiety, insomnia, and depression chapters.
Although you can certainly make philosophical arguments about how much gray there is in the world, decisions are much easier when you take a black and white perspective.
As I see it every day you do one of two things: build health or produce disease in yourself.
– Adelle Davis
4. MAKING A DECISION
After you’ve analyzed your options and decided which is best, you must make a decision. The most important organ for decision is the Gallbladder. Gall is not just physiological bile (part of the digestive process), but also a psychoemotional quality. You’ve probably heard it used of someone who was thought to be overly assertive: “Can you imagine- the gall!” Our oldest medical sourcebook, the Nei Jing, says, “The gallbladder is, like a judge in the imperial court, the one that decides.”
Translator Philippe Sionneau adds, “The Gallbladder is the organ that endows an individual with the ability to resolve, make decisions, and settle on a resolution. In the case where the Gallbladder Qi is abundant, decision-making ability is firm. In the case where the Gallbladder Qi is empty, the individual loses the capacity to decide; determination wanes; it transforms into fear, cowardice, and indecision. In the everyday language of China, it is said that a person with a small gallbladder (Dan Xiao) is shy, fearful, and cowardly, whereas a person with a large Gallbladder (Dan Da) is bold, intrepid, brave, and daring. The state of the gallbladder is proportional to the individual’s force of character.”
No pain, no palm; no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown.
– William Penn (1644 – 1718)
More Decision Quotes
Having once decided to achieve a certain task, achieve it at all costs of tedium and distaste. The gain in self-confidence of having accomplished a tiresome labor is immense.
– Arnold Bennett
Make up your mind to act decidedly and take the consequences. No good is ever done in this world by hesitation.
– Thomas H. Huxley (1825 – 1895)
The first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want.
– Ben Stein
As you become more clear about who you really are, you’ll be better able to decide what is best for you – the first time around.
– Oprah Winfrey (1954 – ), O Magazine
If you choose not to decide — you still have made a choice!
– Neil Peart
Every oak tree started out as a couple of nuts who decided to stand their ground.
The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.
– Flora Whittemore
To decide, to be at the level of choice, is to take responsibility for your life and to be in control of your life.
– Abbie M. Dale
5. PERSISTENCE & WILLPOWER
If I had to select one quality, one personal characteristic that I regard as being most highly correlated with success, whatever the field, I would pick the trait of persistence. Determination. The will to endure to the end, to get knocked down seventy times and get up off the floor saying, “Here comes number seventy-one!”
– Richard M. DeVos
After you’ve made your decision, you must persist with a will. Without persistence or willpower, there is no change. Actually, in the larger context of humanity, without willpower, nothing can be achieved. If we are completely subject to our whims, we are like children – we want what we want when we want it, we’re unable to subjugate our desires, we’re incapable of paying now and playing later.
The Kidney-system is responsible for our willpower. It includes the adrenal glands, which produce cortisol, a natural steroid hormone that gives us a burst of intense strength. It’s the source of the strength of the proverbial supermom who can lift the car that’s sitting on her child. The Chinese said the essence of the Kidney is the Zhi, or Will.
Philippe Sionneau summarizes the Chinese writings on Zhi (pronounced ‘jur’) by saying that it is “the emotion of self preservation, but also prudence and attentiveness.” The Kidneys are also associated with Kong and Jing, which mean fear and fright. We know from WM that when we are scared we go into a sympathetic nervous system stress reaction that involves the release of cortisol from the adrenals.
On the disease side, the Will (Zhi) can turn into recurrent phobias, nervousness, and panic. But, Kong or fear can also be normal and useful in the form of “caution, fear of the unknown, and danger signals.” For example, at times when I am rock climbing and about to make a risky move, feel some fatigue while taking risks, or suddenly get scared, I get a burst of cortisol along with a certain amount of caution. Some extremists ignore these danger signals and end their careers dead. I always listen to the Kidneys’ warnings and make a decision about whether or not the risk is manageable and worthwhile. It’s not always easy to make rational decisions with a bunch of cortisol in your veins, so I when I lean toward not taking the risk, I oscillate between thoughts of my wife dealing with my dead or broken body, and insecurity feelings that I’m not daring enough. The latter, of course, are irrational, and I know that because overall I’m not limited by irrational fears.
One of the reasons the world was so fascinated with Michael Jordan in the 1990’s was that he seemed to be able to will a win and make it happen, to “put the rope in his teeth and drag his team across the finish line.” Of course, it became clear later in his career that he also had to work very hard every day. And Larry Bird became one of the most reliable free throw shooters of all time by shooting hundreds of shots every morning in college.
It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.
I learned that the above quote was true for the trudging, the arduous journey. All of my life, I’ve been more of a sprinter- give me something to do and I want to get it done quick and then relax. In high school track and field, I preferred to run the 100-yard dash than the 5000 meter. I just thought the long runs were too painful. Little did I know that persistence is like a muscle, and mine was atrophied.
Not long ago, my friend Arthur and I began training to hike up Mt. Whitney. Whitney is the tallest mountain in the lower 48 U.S. states. It’s 14,495 feet high. We knew the altitude would affect us, so we started by hiking up smaller mountains. The first one we attempted was the 10,804-foot high Mt. San Jacinto in Idyllwild, Ca. We planned an overnight, but we were unprepared in some ways. Not only did we run into a fair amount of snow (without boots or gators to keep the snow out of our shoes), but we each experienced altitude symptoms way before reaching our camp place at 9,500 feet. We had to descend the next morning (after poor sleep due to the altitude and Arthur’s snoring).
Six weeks later, we did it again, but this time with boots, and after taking a week of a nasty tasting preventive Chinese herbal formula for the altitude sickness. You can already tell we were determined. Fortunately, we experienced little or no symptoms (and when I almost got nauseous, I immediately layed down and napped for 10 minutes), and made it all the way to the top. But it wasn’t easy. The lack of air even at 10,000 feet makes your heartbeat one and a half or twice as fast as normal, and your body keeps saying stop, sit down, rest, go back down. This is where your willpower comes in.
As someone who was quite undisciplined earlier in life, someone who loved to sleep in, to indulge himself, to revel in selfishness, I wonder if I’ll ever feel that discipline and willpower come naturally to me. But I am determined to improve myself, to experience whatever human beings can experience, to prevail… some of that comes from the conviction that God wants us to do that, and that doing God’s will is the most important thing in life. And some of it comes from anger – my unwillingness to be the loser. And a little bit comes from ego, but truly less and less over time.
So I didn’t listen to my body. I kept going. I rested when I had to, then kept going. And it truly didn’t matter how slow I was going- so long as I didn’t give up. That’s how we made it to the top, at times less than 1 mile per hour.
The hardest part was on the way down when we lost the trail in the snow and had to go back up again to find the trail that took us down. I had thought we were done with going up. I had relaxed. So it was that much harder to bring back the willpower to go back up.
But there was no real choice. I couldn’t just lie down in the snow. No one was going to come pick me up. I wasn’t a little kid. I was a man who had to do what I had to do because there was no choice, and so no matter how hard it was, I would do it. And the exhilarating thing about it was that I not only had the will power to do it, but later I felt like I could have done more. I felt so free because I had broken through what I thought were my limitations, and felt like I could have gone further. It made me wonder what a human being is capable of.