Book Review – Lonny Jarrett, Deepening Perspectives on Chinese Medicine
“The book you hold in your hands now is rooted in three perspectives; integral, evolutionary, and spiritual. In my eyes, these represent different facets of a single view. Looking through this view, the goal of medicine is to catalyze the emergence of a more deeply and highly integrated self, culture, and kosmos.” – Lonny Jarrett
Lonny Jarrett has emerged as one of the great voices in modern Chinese medicine. His seminal text, Nourishing Destiny, forced us out of the box we so neatly found ourselves in order to graduate from a master’s program and pass board exams, to consider who we are as Chinese medicine practitioners and how we might expand the five-element paradigm into a more three-dimensional and spiritual context. Lonny’s second text, The Clinical Practice of Chinese Medicine, offered a roadmap for the spiritual dimensions of clinical practice through the five-elements. And his new text, a 1000+ page tome entitled Deepening Perspectives on Chinese Medicine, forces us to consider evolutionary change as it exists within the constructs of human values and the development of the integral self. What role do we as practitioners of Chinese medicine play in the development of human capacity not just in our “selves” but also in the patients we commit to serving in our daily practice? Lonny states “In the last chapter of Clinical Practice, I laid out a vision of Chinese medicine as a sophisticated basis for the emergence of a truly integral medicine. This new text is a more significant elaboration of that vision.”
Chinese medicine, as it is practiced today, is at a crossroads. In the rush to integrate with our western medicine counterparts, many have chosen to ignore not just the roots of Chinese medicine but also the spiritual aspects of both the practitioner and patient. The “push back” from classical Chinese medicine practitioners and scholars may be equally blind to the growth opportunities and partnership inherent in such integration. Truly integral medicine, or as Lonny states “authentic medicine, […] empowers people to change,” and it is within this context that Lonny offers us his perspective on integral medicine.
Ken Wilber introduced us to the idea of integral theory, finding coherence in seemingly diverse traditions and philosophies in order to create a framework in which we might find understanding and value in each while investing in an integrated worldview. Finding synergy in the writings of Sri Arubindo, Jean Gebser, Patanjali and Liu Yi Ming, Lonny paints a picture of integral self so vivid that some will wonder how they’ve missed these connections. In essence, Lonny opens a portal for us as Chinese medicine practitioners to participate in this integral space.
Within integral medicine, Lonny suggests we strive to practice a holistic medicine that leaves no dimension of the self behind. He goes further to suggest that practitioners may only be able to access the self in patients to the degree that they have an authentic living, developing, and integral relationship to it. Concepts such as “body, mind, ego, soul, conscience, spirit and emptiness are not just buzz words or philosophical distractions,” but lived experiences that inform the integral practice of medicine.
And yet, while all of this may seem heady, Lonny also provides clinical case studies and ties these ideas of integral theory to Chinese medicine, the classics, and Chinese language. In his description of zhenqi (正气), Lonny evokes the wonder of Claude Larre and Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallee stating zhenqi “symbolizes the upright nature of spirit as it asserts itself as a pure motive through the authentic human being.” The text is divided into three sections providing context, an exposition on the five-elements as foundational mechanisms of conscious evolution, and finally integral theory as a meta-perspective. Lest one think this text contains just the thoughts and ideas of the author alone, Lonny includes over 1400 citations and footnotes, providing for the intertextual context which is so important in the study of Chinese medicine, philosophy, and natural sciences.
No doubt, there will be dissenting voices, those who reject this vision simply because it contrasts with their own worldview, or perhaps those who see his ideal of spiritual cultivation through the practice of Chinese medicine as too lofty or even elitist. I believe they will have missed the point. As Lonny outlined over a decade ago in his article Chinese Medicine in the 21st Century: Integral and Evolutionary Perspectives (CJOM), “The emergence and evolution of spirit is the highest goal of medicine if it is to do more than heal the body and comfort the mind, which, at this point in history, is simply not enough.” In that same article, Lonny stressed the need for a more mature profession in the expression of our practice and in our relationships with others so that we might elevate not just our patients but also culture. In the current text, he outlines how we might do so through the understanding and practice of integral medicine.
The text is deep, I found myself reading many paragraphs over and over again, putting the book down, and coming back to it several days later. In the great tradition of Chinese texts, I imagine my understanding of Lonny’s vision for integral medicine will evolve as my personal practice and understanding of Chinese medicine and other traditions expands. The emergence and importance of integral medicine in this moment is perhaps not by accident, but directly correlated with and in contrast to the rise in nativism and rugged individualism; here to heal a population that has lost sight of humanity’s heavenly mandate – the evolution of spirit. As Chinese medicine practitioners we are poised to take our place on the frontlines of this (r)evolution, but the integral-self must be cultivated if we are to lead. Through this important text, I believe many will find answers and connections (and a few rabbit holes) to move them forward on their path of spiritual growth and the highest expression of this medicine.
Spirit Path Press www.spiritpathpress.com