Superstar (Buffy Season 4, Episode 17)


The Jonathan episode!  It is amazing how much difference a change of clothing, hairstyle, and habitus — the way one holds one’s body and moves it through space — makes.  Actors are consummate artists in this respect, able to shift from one habitus to another convincingly.  Body language reveals much about a person’s character.  Sarah certainly did it in the previous episode, when Faith had taken over Buffy’s body — Sarah adopted the mannerisms that Eliza used to portray Faith.  In so doing, she demonstrated the history Faith had lived through, how she felt about herself and the world.

If the key words of Chinese medicine are change and transformation — the harmonious movement of qi and blood in the person (giving a shen spontaneously in tune with its environment), the transformation of qi from one phase or type  into another — than this episode demonstrates exactly the result at which treatment in Classical Chinese medicine aims.  While acupuncture and herbal medicine will generally have an effect on the body regardless of a person’s belief in their efficacy, treatment proceeds much more quickly if the patient is also working on self-cultivation.  Medicine and self-cultivation go hand in hand, regardless of what sort of medicine one is using.  Both Riley and Jonathan demonstrate such synergistic work in this episode.

Obviously, in Jonathan’s case, his self-cultivation was a short-cut, and thus unstable and short lived.  He cast a spell which altered the history of Sunnydale (if not other places).  In the process, he not only begot a monster which embodied his darker aspects, he also came to some realisations about the process of healing.

Both Buffy and Riley ask for relationship advice from Jonathan.  What Jonathan tells Buffy then, she tells him again at the end.  Jonathan recognises the truth of that advice for himself as well.  Things take time.   It does not happen all at once.  But it is worth it, in the end, if one extends effort slowly, consistently, in small steps.  As the tattoo of one friend reads, “A little bit, every day, with devotion.”

Forgiveness is a form of healing.  For me, I often view forgiveness as a resolution of grief.  In terms of Chinese medicine, lack of forgiveness is a holding pattern, a type of stasis in a body which benefits more from movement.  With movement, change and transformation can occur, grief can be resolved, and though life may never be the same, it can flourish once again.  Indeed, from the point of view of Classical Chinese Medicine, it is best not to return to the state in which one found oneself before trauma, since some weakness in physiology allowed illness to take root.  The goal of medicine, then, is to move one through the pathology into a stronger, more stable and malleable place.  This takes time, attention, and effort.

Buffy and Riley allude to such a process when we learn that Riley has taken control of his own diet.  Although he was told the food he received from his superior officers was no longer spiked with drugs, he decided to take no chances, and has been making his own food (or getting it elsewhere).  Preparing one’s own food is a basic form of self-cultivation which supports the work done in the clinic.  Qi Gong is another example, and in previous episodes we’ve seen that Riley does push-ups upon arising, despite the fact that they are not ‘regulation’:  he does them for his own benefit.

The key insight of self-cultivation, that things take time, leads to the question of making a prognosis in Chinese medicine.  How is a prognosis made?  What factors influence a prognosis?  Prognosis of death or recovery was one of the fundamental aspects of ancient Chinese medicine, at least if the manuscript texts are to be believed:  they constantly state what is a positive sign, and what signs indicate death.

Prognosis in Chinese Medicine is dependent on location, time, and communication.  Location refers to where in the body the illness is located:  is it external (e.g. wind-cold manifesting as the common cold); in the channels or muscle layer; in the hollow organs (i.e. GI tract), the solid organs, or the extraordinary organs?  Does it affect the wei qi, ying qi, blood, or jing levels?  The more superficial the location, the better the prognosis.

Time refers to the amount of time the illness has been in the body.  The more acute the case, usually the better the prognosis, except in cases of hemorrhagic fevers, which are extreme heat penetrating to the depths of the blood-jueyin level.  In cases where the illness has been prolonged, this is often an indication of emptiness of some aspect of the body’s own defensive capabilities, and thus is a sign that healing will take longer, unless such emptiness is also addressed.  In this regard, the patient’s own resources also factor into prognosis.

Finally, communication refers to two aspects:  the patient-practitioner communication, in which the patient describes to the practitioner what is going on with the body and emotions contextually, and where the practitioner (in addition to paying attention to what the body is trying to communicate via its pulses, abdominal conformation, and channel changes) clearly articulates what can be done to help the treatment progress even outside the clinic (e.g. walks in the fresh air, regular bed times, avoiding greasy food, when to take herbal medicine, etc).

The second aspect of communication has to do with the body’s own internal communication.  This internal communication is often referred to as harmony between the wei and ying qi.  The two levels of qi are in communication with one another.  Yin and Yang are not separating but mutually transforming and supporting one another.  Change and transformation are allowed to happen because these different aspects of the body are communicating clearly with one another, and not getting muddled by the advance of a pathogen.  The body knows what resources should be drawn upon in order to effectively expel the invading pathogen, or to smoothly rectify pathophysiology.

An example of miscommunication in the bodily physiology is when the Large Intestine becomes yin or fluid deficient.  Since the fluid associated with the LI is the jin or thin fluids, and since the jin circulates with wei qi, the body will draw both jin and wei qi (defensive qi) inwards in an effort to make up the depletion of jin in the Large Intestine.  However, this qi is quite hot, very yang in nature, and the result is actually inflammation — and symptoms like IBS.  Herbally, we would want to use something which redresses this imblance and floats the qi outwards again, while nonetheless still moistening the intestines.  Sang Ye, Jie Geng, and Qu Mai (for the SI) all fit this description.  They either release the exterior or float outwards, and are associated with the Intestines, the Lungs, and usually also moisten dryness.  Combined with careful observation by the patient leading to behaviour modifications to prevent future mishaps, the use of herbal formulae or acupuncture can help rectify the current patho-physiology, and  allow healing can progress apace.

As always, this post is for entertainment and educational purposes only.  If you feel you could benefit from learning other ways to cultivate your life according to the principles of Chinese medicine, I would refer you to Claude Larre’s The Way of Heaven and The Secret Treatise of the Spiritual Orchid, both published by Monkey Press.  These books are commentaries on key aspects from the medical canon, rather than texts belonging specifically to Daoism, Confucianism, or any of the other hundred schools which flourished during the Han and pre-Han dynastic periods.  Happy Slayage!

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