Living in the real world I know that October is only one month of the year, but my soul lives for it all year long and it is finally my time.
And this year I found about something nifty – blogtober!
It’s a blogging challenge where instead of posting every two weeks I will be posting every. single. day.*
Sounds crazy, but every year I try to do NaNoWriMo so this will be an excellent warm-up.
I have an added challenge, though: you. You are all so important to me and I know you’re here for something specific: natural health. So instead of just responding to prompts to meet my goal of writing every day, I want to make sure I’m writing about something that answers a question or fills a need for you.
But today I’m going to start with something simple – who I am and why I chose to do what I do. I honest to God considering giving this blog post the subtitle “Who is this woman and why is she coming towards me with needles?” But only for a moment.
Then it took a fun turn from personal introduction to Chinese medicine (like I hope most of these will).
Hang on, this month is going to be a crazy ride.
Twelve years ago I looked at my life and I hated it. I had left university for a guy I was intermittently engaged to (but only when he felt like it), I hated my body, and every day was a gray miasma of depression. Something needed to change so I did what many women do when they want to improve themselves – I went on a diet.
This diet led to therapy, which ended that relationship, which got me an apartment on my own and eventually got me deeply, deeply obsessed with nutrition and exercise.
As the years went on, I eventually learned that health was more than the calories you ate and the calories you burned (a whole heck of a lot more) and I decided that it was time for me to pursue something that filled my soul.
I enrolled in massage school even though I had never had a massage in my life. This terrifying and objectively unjustified decision changed my life in ways I could never have predicted. As soon as I graduated, I immediately started the master’s program for Oriental Medicine because I just needed to keep scratching that itch.
Now, here I am, almost a decade later – a credentialed and licensed acupuncturist, herbalist, and birth doula.
How did I get here?
So, if you take a look back at the Jessica from over a decade ago you see a gamer who coded for fun, listened to metal, never considered meditating, made fun of hippies (acupuncturists included), and who was perfectly content to spend the rest of her life in a cube working under fluorescent lights.
Jessica today still wears almost all black and listens to metal, but she meditates all the time, takes herbs, drinks tea, journals, and has an extensive collection of crystals. The path from past Jessica to current Jessica is winding and strange.
In Chinese medicine, the spirit is divided into five parts: the shen, the yi, the po, the zhi, and the hun. You can read about the main differences here but I’m going to spend a couple of minutes talking about the zhi.
The zhi is our willpower. Its yang aspect is our ability to look at a difficult task, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and get to it. It’s what gets us through marathons, board exams, and starting a pop-up community acupuncture business. My yang zhi is what got me through my diet after I had decided to do it.
The yin aspect is more subtle. It can feel like fate but it’s not something that’s passed down from on high. It’s the result of the subconscious decisions and the gut reactions we act on. My subconscious always knew that I would never be happy working in a cube. Yeah, my yang zhi could have gotten me through it but it would have been exhausting.
But my yin zhi said, “Hey, nutrition is interesting. Where else does this go?” And then it brought me to yoga, meditation, and complementary medicine. Every step I took would require yang zhi to get through the action but yin zhi to make the right decision.
In this case, it worked for me. But it can feel like our yin zhi doesn’t have our best interests in mind.
An Internal Battle
When we are working within a dualistic paradigm, opposites are opposed (same word root – shocking, right?)
Night is the opposite of day.
Good is the opposite of bad.
Cold is the opposite of hot.
And so on, and so forth.
But are our conscious will (our yang zhi) and our subconscious, or more accurately, our unconscious will (our yin zhi) opposites?
This is where the dualistic paradigm begins to fall flat.
Chinese medicine exists in a holistic paradigm. Noon is the opposite of midnight, yes. 9 am is the day, but it’s less Day with a capital D than 11 am or 1 pm, and definitely less wholly day than noon.
There is no definite good or definite evil. Some outwardly good actions can have “evil” or bad consequences. And as we saw in the last post, there are no definitely healthy or definitely unhealthy choices either.
Everything exists as one and it is in the comparison of one part of the whole to another that differences arise. Our yang zhi and yin zhi, conscious and unconscious will, arise from the same being and the desires that both parts of our will manifest in our lives are our desire.
So when we find ourselves in situations that are uncomfortable or that our yang zhi is having trouble fighting through, we need to ask ourselves what small decisions and unconscious actions brought us here.
I personally like to use Carolyn Elliot’s methods of Deep Fear Inventory and Existential Kink to explore my yin zhi. As I worked with and connected to my unconscious through meditation and journaling I learned that the tiny little actions and decisions I was making every day had brought me to this drastically different and wonderful place. And as I continue my work exploring my unconscious, I can work with both my yin and my yang zhi to create the life I want for me and my family.
Now, I know that took a hard left down a fairly woo path, but honestly, the woo is how I got here. Logic and Western methods of thought are what got me into massage school. But I didn’t start breaking down barriers until I started embracing the yin side of my spirit.
I try to stay fairly buttoned-down in clinic, so if you’re a patient of mine all of this may have taken you by surprise. This is the real me. My spiritual practice defines the clinic space I have created for you. And it will continue to grow and expand as I learn more about myself and how to be present for you.
And really, that’s what I’m here to do: to be present for you, and to be a partner with you as you learn who you are. Because once you dare to look into your darkness, the shadowy places of your yin zhi, there are no limits to who you can become.
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Resources and links
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)
Breakdown of spirit in Chinese Medicine
Carolyn Elliott’s Deep Fear Inventory
Carolyn Elliott’s Existential Kink
Disclaimer: I am an acupuncturist in the state of Minnesota, and the information falls within my scope of practice in my state. However, unless I have directed you here as your homework I am probably not your acupuncturist. The information in this post is for general purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. As always, check with your own acupuncturist or primary care provider before making any lifestyle changes. This post does not create a patient-practitioner relationship and I am not liable for any losses or damages resulting or relating to the content in this post.
Jessica Gustafson is a licensed acupuncturist in St Paul, MN specializing in women’s health and fertility. She loves working with patients through the Health Foundations Birth Center on Grand Avenue in St Paul as well as doing home visits in the Twin Cities area. Check out the services page for more information!
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