Real Me (Buffy, Season 5, Episode 2)


In this episode three characters feel out of place.  Dawn is the central focus, and she is explicitly told by a crazy person on the street that she does not ‘belong’ ‘here’.  Tara, an outsider by virtue of the fact she was not in the first three seasons, spends some time with Dawn, sharing her own sense of not being part of the group either.  Finally, Harmony has a crisis of confidence (that is the only way to put it, really) and attempts to form her own little vampire coven with the explicit aim of killing her former high school classmate, the Slayer.

I’ve already addressed how to become more comfortable with oneself (Halloween, Season 2) using acupuncture and herbal medicine , so here I’m going to nuance the diagnosis and see how acupuncture might be used for self-confidence (Harmony, Dawn).  In terms of herbal medicine, I will look specifically at herbs  for finding one’s inner core — something Harmony eventually finds in the Angel series, after attending a life-coaching seminar for vampires.  Clearly, one can develop oneself through many modalities.

To gain insight into the physiology of having a core identity, I will look at the herbal tradition first.  According to the Divine Farmer (Shen Nong Ben Cao), the following eleven herbs help supplement or nourish the centre, often understood to mean the spleen.  However, ‘the centre’ (‘zhong‘) can have a broader meaning as well, including the gathering qi of the chest, the heart, and the stabilising pivot around which all other physiology moves.

The herbs include:  Ling zhi (but only ci, red, and therefore associated with the Heart);  Shan Yao (commonly used today to tonify qi, nourish the yin and Kidneys, and to bind the jing; the property of consolidating one’s essence is particularly important in anchoring one’s sense of self, or more specifically one’s sense of will to move through the world);  Ba Ji Tian (said by Shen Nong to warm the Liver, that is, to move it out of a state of contraction and into the world; Ba Ji Tian also tonifies the Kidneys, fortifies the yang, strengthens sinews and bones, and disperses cold-damp);  Bai Hao (more commonly known as moxa, one of the most yang plants); Di Fu Zi (which clears heat, eliminates dampness, promotes urination, and stops itchiness — implying that it can eliminate external wind or boost wei qi); Mai Men Dong (particularly noted to treat a damaged centre, nourish yin and Stomach; moisten Lungs, generate fluid, clear Heart); Sha Shen (clear LU heat, moisten LU yin, nourish ST, generate fluid);  Zi Cao (used to cool blood, invigorate blood, vent rashes);  Xuan Fu Hua (descend rebellious qi, expel phlegm, stop vomiting);  Du Zhong (said to supplement the centre ‘because it can make yin abundant’; more commonly used today to tonify Liver and Kidneys, strengthen sinews and bones, and calm the fetus);  Nu Zhen Zi (perhaps the most important of the eleven, it will nourish and tonify Liver and Kidney yin, and enhance visual acuity).

One formula which contains several of these herbs is from the Tang Dynasty Qian Jin Yao Fangby Sun Si-Miao, namely, Wu Bi Shu Yu Wan, or Wu Bi Shan Yao Wan.  This formula warms the yang and nourishes essence, while also nourishing the yin.  The twelve ingredients include only three from our list, but substitutions can be made for two additional herbs.  I would suggest substituting Chi Shi Zhi with Ci Ling Zhi, relying on the similarity in colour (perfectly reasonable Tang dynasty logic).  Nu Zhen Zi can be used as a substitute for Niu Xi or Tu Si Zi, while Mai Men Dong can replace the Sheng Di Huang if heat is not present.  Overall, this is a much larger formula than I am accustomed to prescribing.

If I were to reduce the formula to three or four herbs, I would go with Du Zhong, Shan Yao, Nu Zhen Zi, and Sha Shen.  Such a formula is heavy on the Kidney tonification, but also addresses wind (i.e. physiology and personhood confronting environmental change) and fluid balance.  If the Liver or Ming Men needed warming, I would add the Bai Ji Tian.  Looking ahead at how the pathology or treatment may progress, Gan Mai Da Zao Tang tonifies the ying qi; while Gui Zhi Tang will harmonise any resulting imbalance between the wei qi and ying qi.

The statement about how Du Zhong supplements the centre is important for understanding the physiology of ‘the centre’:  The centre relies on yin, yet a yin which can move outwards into the world.  Philosophically, yin is the solid, slow moving, thick, and gathering substance of the body.  Gathering is the movement  of the earth phase in particular, though one could also think of the movement as a pooling, in the sense of water pooling before it springs out of the earth.  This movement is different from the inward moving metal.  Though one could make an argument that that inward movement is also yin in nature, in comparison to outward moving medicinals which are yang, the eleven herbs seem to relate more to the moment when stillness has been reach and is ready to erupt, yin about to become yang.

Another aspect to note about these herbs is the association with Kidneys and Spleen.  The spleen stores ying qi, the kidneys store essence.  These two yin substances may be implicated in the centre in ways which blood (stored in the Liver), sweat (the fluid of the Heart) and thick fluids (governed by the Small Intestine), and thin fluids (of the Large Intestine and Lung) are not.  What differentiates ying qi and jing from these other substances?  Simply put, together they give rise to the form of the body.  Jing qi is the template according to which ying qi will pattern itself in the formation of the limbs and channels of the body.  As that which forms the exterior body, jing and ying qi are the centre of human physiology.

In terms of acupuncture, I would note that the he-uniting points, where the qi of a channel plunges into the interior, are either water- or earth-associated points — earth associated on yang channels, because heavenly yang seeks earthly yin; water on yin channels, because yin must pool before it can spring upwards with wood-like yang movement.  I would therefore suggest using a he-united point treatment on our patients.  The he-points are said to treat organ-disorders as well as problems with qi counter-flow.

What channels shall we choose for the treatment?  I would suggest using LU-5 and SP-9, both on the taiyin channel.  Taiyin opens from the interior outwards towards the exterior.  It is responsible for bringing yin nourishment to the form of the external body.  It thus serves a function similar to what the eleven herbs noted above tend towards doing.

As always, these posts are for entertainment purposes only.  If you feel you could benefit from the traditions within East Asian medicine, please see a qualified practitioner.  Happy Slayage!

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