The Tao of Addiction
This article intends to explore in the context of Chinese medicine the disharmony called “addiction,” and bring to light the underlying energetic dynamic that is at the root of the condition. This conversation is indeed a much broader conversation, however for our purposes here we will be focusing on yin/yang dynamics and their applications.
This article will further demonstrate that throughout the history of our culture the yang/masculine energy has been too one sided and dominant over the yin/feminine energy. This dynamic has caused a fundamental imbalance within the individual and the culture, greatly contributing to the addiction dynamic that is now epidemic in scope. We will be looking at the possibility that addiction is actually an organic development with a specific purpose, part of the re-emergence and new development of the yin/feminine principle.
Over the course of thousands of years, the Chinese immersed themselves in nature’s ways, observing the world around them, and called it tao. The taoists emerged from these meditations, and from these experiences created an eastern medical paradigm we now know as the theory of “systematic correspondence.” In this eastern medical paradigm, inquiry into disease begins with contextual thinking, where all phenomena are put into the context of the whole to be understood. The microcosm reflects the macrocosm, all individual parts represent the whole. Therefore each person is a singular universe unto themselves, while simultaneously being one part of, and intimately related to the larger universe. Therefore each individual aspect of the patient’s health is considered in relationship to the patients entire life and story, and each individual patient’s health is considered in the context of the health of the whole culture. The practical manifestation of contextual thinking is yin/yang theory. Most people recognize the yin/yang symbol of eastern philosophy, cosmology, and medicine. This is a good example of a personal, transpersonal, and universal symbol of the duality, the balance, and the organic tension of opposites required by nature for harmony to exist. All over the world this symbol is universally understood.
Essentially the yin/yang symbol represents that there are two aspects to everything, a co-existing that designates separate aspects of a larger interconnected whole. A yin aspect(the dark part of the symbol) and a yang aspect(the light part of the symbol). Yin and yang create, control, nourish, and transform into one another, thus creating duality and oneness simultaneously, ongoingly balancing the tension between the two opposites. These yin/yang attributes correspond to all of us as individuals(the microcosm), and the universe as a whole(the macrocosm). Each person experiences yin/yang dynamics to their core, including each internal organ, their emotions, mind, and spirit. A person, an eco system, a culture, or a planet, can never be very healthy if it is too one-sided and out of balance. Addiction as a disharmony manifests in this yin/yang way, because that’s where the qi, or energy is focused, and essentially stagnant.
Let’s make an inquiry about yin/yang dynamics and our western culture. Yang is bright, daytime, the sun, the masculine principle(not exclusive to males), active, moving, external, hot, energetic(qi), aggressive, thinking, forceful, ascending, expending, boundary making, expanding. It is the energetic capacity to move and create outwardly, plan, think, prospect for and envision the future. Contextually this would be the using phase of an “active” addiction. Yin is dark, nightime, the moon, the feminine principle(not exclusive to females), passive, quiescent, internal, cooling, viscous(blood), yielding, feeling, intuiting, descending, containing, regenerating, merging, contracting. It is the capacity to go inward and feel, intuit, reflect upon our past, feel rooted, and process inwardly the experience of being human. Contextually this would be the “recovery” phase of an addiction.
Reflecting upon the context is the way of Chinese medicine, always being open to observing what lays before us, considering and including our thought process and our gut reaction together. A series of questions follows the same line of contextual thinking, “Is our culture more yin or more yang? More masculine or more feminine? More concerned with action and movement or more concerned with passivity and quiescence? More external or more internal? More aggressive or more yielding? More thinking or more feeling? More intuiting or more sensating? More ascending or more descending? More containing and regenerating or more expending? More merging(relating) or more boundary making? More expanding or more contracting?”
Clearly, the dominant way of being in western culture for centuries has been the yang energy. Granted, the functional capacity of modern western people has expanded, indeed a great achievement that has provided many valuable breakthroughs in technology, industry, and science. These achievements were necessary for the development of the yang/masculine aspect of our culture. However, the scales have been tipped too far to one side, and the cost is that we’ve lost our center, our balance. The yang/masculine excess has come with a cost, a yin/feminine deficiency that is not only individual but clearly cultural, national, and global in scope. When this occurs for too long a period of time the energy of the individual and the collective culture shifts. Within this shift is the disharmony, the disease, the addiction.
The pace at which we live is at times dehumanizing. Our western culture is too yang, and not counterbalanced with quality time for the emotional and spiritual aspects of our being, which includes taking better care of the physical body. Incredibly, most of us have adapted to this yang lifestyle, even though the yin/feminine energy in quality and quantity has suffered, and quite truthfully lags behind developmentally. The yin root has become weak, cannot contain the yang, so it floats and becomes weak itself. This energetic weakness manifests in the psyche as well as in the yin and yang pairs of organs in the body: the liver/gallbladder, heart/small intestine, spleen/stomach, lungs/large intestine, and the kidneys/urinary bladder. Disharmonies that root in the yin and yang of the internal organs if left untreated eventually become disease. Addiction is a direct result of this.
The treatment of this yin/yang disharmony called addiction follows the line of contextual thinking. Chinese medicine is magnificent for the treatment of addiction. Acupuncture treatments and herbal formulas are designed to drain excesses, tonify deficiencies, and balance organ systems that are disharmonious. The National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) protocol is an auricular style of acupuncture that’s designed specifically for treating the different stages of the recovery process, often with remarkable results. This protocol is being used in clinics all over the world. Chinese medicine is not enough by itself, but is however a wonderful complement to rehabilitation, counseling, and twelve-step programming. With this valuable alliance of treatment strategies, the addict can indeed learn to cultivate their yin aspect, relax, and sharpen their focus. It is a beautiful thing to behold when addicts that were previously suffering access their potentials with harmony, and more gracefully participate in life. Chinese medicine, being quite yin in nature, has the functional capacity to effectively treat not only the detoxification process, but also the broad range of health concerns the addict faces as they go into the world clean and sober.
Addiction is part of the balancing and refining of the yin energy, not only in the individual, but also our western culture and eventually the planet. This could also be called the re-emergence and new development of the yin/feminine principle. Ultimately, the addiction forces the individual to bring up their yin, cultivate it, harmonize it, and this balances out the yang excess. Addiction is part of the design that nature has brought forward for the development of modern men and women – anytime something goes too far in one direction, it returns to it’s opposite. That’s the yin and the yang of it – it should make for a very interesting 21st century.