Re-discovering creative freedom
Rules and regulations serve as useful boundaries to protect us from harm. But what about when those boundaries begin to impinge on one’s capacity for their innate, natural expression to come forth? Delving back into the world of natural medicine helps me reflect on the nature of ‘freedom’ and its role in creative expression.
Whatever happened to
the life that we once knew?
Always made me feel so free
— The Beatles
I facilitated my first client session recently, almost nine months after I closed my clinical practice and ceased seeing clients.
It was a very different experience, and quite pleasant. Kind of like the sensation of getting back on a bike after not having ridden one in decades. It went well, and the feedback I received was encouraging. In fact, I’ve been receiving a lot of feedback from old clients encouraging me to step back into the field.
I spent a few days afterwards contemplating and integrating this experience: do I really want to do this again? Is this an appropriate path to be treading?
I loved it; I really got a kick from doing the session. I’ve realised that what I loved about that sesson was that it was completely different to what I was doing previously.
For many years, I was a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner. My job was to help people within that scope of practice: acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. People would come when they had an illness, and get treatment. I was basically like a GP, just using different medicines. By the end of my time however, I was jaded with the profession; I felt constrained. Because TCM is a registered health profession under AHPRA, there were legal guidelines I needed to follow. These in themselves are not bad, and I agree with them being in place. The problem was that my work as a therapist evolved into something that was outside of the very narrow (legal) definition of what TCM is.
In other words, I wasn’t practicing TCM anymore; it was TCM in name alone.
And so, the container of TCM (as defined in legislation) became a constrainer.
Science, art, or craft?
When I was a lecturer, I used to pose the question to students: “is TCM a science, an art, or a craft?” You can imagine the kinds of discussions and debates that would ensue. In actuality, it is all of these, and this is supported by around 2000 years worth of evidence.
What I experienced was that the various rules & regulations to practice TCM in Australia were constricting my creativity as a practitioner; I couldn’t practice the ‘craft’ or the ‘art’. An artisan needs method, technique, and a framework to contain their craftsmanship; ultimately they are merely the means to produce a work of art. The medical establishment would be horrified at the idea that a practitioner and patient are co-creating ‘art’, with illness as the canvas. But in many ways, this is what occurs.
An artisan has a creative mindset, similar in nature to the creativity of the bricoleur. And this is the way I have always viewed the practice of Chinese Medicine. The history of Chinese Medicine’s development – paralleling the history of the culture it emerged from – is one of syncretism.
China’s plural religious environment has encouraged adherents of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism to horrow eclectically from each other’s traditions and to look benignly on pluralism, combination, and mutual influence. By the close of the sixteenth century, that borrowing had evolved into something like syncretism as expressed in the famous phrase sanjiao heyi, “the unity of the Three Teachings” of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. — (Brook 1993)
What occurred the other day was that I was in a space where I could draw on any tool, skill,
method, and idea that arose spontaneously in the moment. The client came knowing that they were not coming for TCM, and that anything could happen.And even though the complaint was physiological, it took an exploration of the psycho-emotional to shift the physical discomfort.
In being creative in the moment, I was freed from the usual constraints of how a session would normally be conducted. This freedom and creativity allowed the emergent properties of the client’s situation to come to the surface, and be dealt with appropriately.
And my time was my own
And my heart felt so free
— Uriah Heep
Freedom, so I can give
I’ve come to realise that what I value most as a healer is the freedom to be creative. Too many boundaries and constraints are not conducive to allow a truly organic and effective process to occur.
At the same time however, too much freedom – or no container at all – will also get in the way of the natural process. For example, what is it that this work becomes? What do we call it? How do people understand what this process is, and what to expect, and when to engage with it?
There need to be ‘rules’ or ‘guidelines’ of sorts. There needs to be some manner of structure that will allow the creativity to grow within – this is how nature works anyway. As one Taoist teacher of mine would say, “you can’t hold water except in a container; it needs boundaries to be accumulated.” This is a lesson explicitly taught in the I Ching, the Book of Changes.
Freedom is free of the need to be free
I don’t have the answers for that; but this is the dilemma that Taoist philosophers such as Zhuang Zi grappled with. And it’s a dilemma that all modern, Taoist-leaning TCM practitioners deal with, as they seek to balance giving a client what they need, and the stark realities of operating a modern, profitable business.
What I do know is that the process I enter into with a client far surpasses the traditional definitions of TCM. I still hold to the conceptual framework of yin-yang, five phases, and three burners. I still see the Being as a body-mind-emotion complex, as a network of systems, all connected through symbolic ‘channels’. I still use the language and terminology I’ve inherited from over 2000 years of practice, scholarship, and investigation. But I’m no longer constrained by ‘needles and herbs’ to help someone. My tools now are many, and range from the material, to the spoken, to the metaphorical.
And this is what freedom means to me: to be able to use whatever is available at hand in any given moment, to help co-create some kind of transformation, to allow something different to emerge into the world that will have a generative benefit for all involved.
I’ve realised that what I’ve needed is a re-frame around what is meant by the term ‘natural medicine’. Unfortunately, I think in the polarised society we currently are part of, ‘natural’ has come to mean anything that is not modern/medical/pharmaceutical. And yet, ironically, it emulates in pattern, not in content.
To provide an example of what I mean, a client now has their ‘problem’ reduced to a physiological disorder that is addressed using some form of substance. Replacing drugs for ‘natural’ drugs; pharmaceuticals for nutraceuticals (supplements). It’s just Coke and Pepsi: same shit, different packaging.
Natural Medicine is about finding the medicine that will bring the patient back to their true nature – the most fundamental and free expression of their Core-Self. Sometimes, material medicines are required – food, herbs, drugs, etc. Sometimes, it may require cognitive changes, changes to thought-patterns and beliefs. Sometimes, it requires moving the body, or moving internal energies, or even exploring deeper parts of the psyche through dreams and metaphors.
This kind of work is alchemical; it is shamanic; it is emergent. This is what feels natural to me. This is what I’m choosing to call 巫功 Wūgōng.
Though I try to find the answer
to all the questions they ask;
Though I know it’s impossible
to go living through the past;
Don’t tell no lie.
— Bob Marley