Part One: Hunkering Down
Why do we hunker down? Well, to ride out the storm out, to live to fight another day, right? Is the soldier who charges forward against all odds heroic or foolish? We hunker down to survive. Sometimes we need to check the damage done, lick our wounds, and then begin to garner our resources to prepare for our inevitable return to the full light of day.
This exact human tendency to move inward to protect and collect oneself occurs every autumn as part of the cyclical flow of the time.
The pandemic has thrown us all off balance by requiring an extreme inward movement, including social and physical distancing. This behavior is a normal reptilian brain survival response, but normally mortal threats pass quickly. Sadly, the new normal has been like a prolonged Autumn since Spring!
But don’t worry, the ancient Chinese have a “mind” dedicated to survival. More to the point, we all have an aspect of the mind that processes basic instincts, especially the survival instinct. This part of “mind” seeks food, clothing, shelter, warmth, and safety from danger. Brain scientists call it the amygdala, or reptilian brain. The ancient Chinese called it the Po, or “corporeal soul”. This is precisely the mental tool to call upon in times of crisis or danger like a pandemic.
True enough, the Po has selfish goals and lacks empathy. Yes, it may lead us to conflict, oppression and violence if left unchecked. We have seen the reptilian brain do some ugly things. That said, survival of a society starts with an individual’s will to survive. In order to survive as a group, we will also need those parts of the brain that provide empathy, cooperation, and intelligence.
But don’t worry, the ancient Chinese have a “mind” for that too. In fact, he ancient Chinese understanding of mind is composed of five parts each with distinct functions:
- The Shen, or spirit, leads the five minds as consciousness and thought.
- The Yi, or intellect, processes memory and analysis.
- The Po, or corporeal soul, reacts with primal instincts, most notably the instinct to survive.
- The Zhi, or will, allows our will to survive and ambitions. The Hun, or ethereal soul provides direction and purpose.
Each of these aspects of mind will be examined in this series of articles, highlighting their roles in our personal health and collective well-being.
We will start with the most primordial mind, the Po. The Po is a lower level of intelligence. Rather than thinking, it simply reacts to threat. Survival is a very real threat today with the Covid death toll in the U.S. at over 245,00 and rising at a record rate.
We are also struggling for economic, social and emotional survival. Many events are beyond our control, but the Po can help us survive and thrive through these challenges. Ever cautious and vigilant, the Po urges us to retreat internally when we feel threatened, like a turtle retreating into its shell for protection.
The inward tendency of the Po corresponds to Autumn, the time of harvesting and gathering. Humans naturally gather and process their resources in the Fall and plan how to dole them out over the lean months ahead. Though limiting, this mindset plays a crucial role for survival, both seasonally and during this metaphorical Autumn of a pandemic confinement.
The Po is associated with the Lung. Like these organs, the Po functions as a connection between the internal and external worlds. The Lung functional system includes the lung itself as well as the skin. It is known as the delicate organ, due to its delicate tissues that are exposed to the outside world through respiration. It is also most responsible for our immune function, by virtue of its control of the opening and closing of pores and the oxygenation of blood.
The Lung is our first line of defense against viruses, bacteria, and airborne pollution. It tends to accumulate phlegm to fight infection, or as an auto-immune response to an allergen, or as asthma. A healthy lung uses the immune cells in phlegm to kill infection and then disperse the phlegm. But often phlegm persists after infection is gone or is generated by allergies, asthma, and even poor diet. If this becomes the case, you are clearly at greater risk for infection and a severe course of disease if infected by Covid-19.
Scary, yes. Fortunately acupuncture and herbs can both strengthen the lung to prevent infection and also to treat acute infection when it occurs. The Chinese science of treating epidemic disease with herbs to kill viruses, reduce fever, and stop cough continues as a valuable complement in China and worldwide.
Obviously the Acupuncture Clinic of Missoula does not treat active infections in the clinic, but herbal formulas are dispensed to be taken as needed along with conventional therapies to improve outcomes.
While acupuncture and herbal medicine work best together, herbal therapy alone is a powerful tool to boost your immune system and to keep on hand in the event of infection. It is important to note that an herbal consult is required in order to prescribe and dispense the proper herbal formula.
Acupuncture has a strong effect on bronchitis and cough. In fact, Autumn is an ideal time to strengthen the Lung to prevent bronchitis and stop coughing with acupuncture. The Lung tends to dry and wants to be wet. In Autumn dryness can worsen this tendency, leading to chronic cough, so those that tend to Lung dryness.
These suggestions are concrete measures to improve your body’s ability to first avoid infection by improving your immunity, and to be prepared to treat yourself instantly should you become infected. The dangers are real people. But our drive will always be to survive first. The Po, or corporeal soul, is always on point.
Keep it as sharp as possible.