There’s an article out in the Huffington Post about addiction - addiction being not about the external substance or activity in question but rather the internal substance or activity of the human in question. Societally, addiction invariably brings up judgment: the thought of who is addicted; the one-sided thought process of what happened to this person to make them this way. This way is more derogatory on the spectrum of ways you could think of a person because an addict a) can be called an addict, which blunts a human down to their actions, distancing me-the-thinker from that-person-the-addict, and b) it’s 2015, enlightenment is in, and some might even say we’re addicted to bettering ourselves. Addicts, in this view, are decidedly not enlightened.
An addicted person has a problem, right? Harshly, an addict needs to get their shit together; softly, addiction passively happens to a person. It’s like saying someone has depression versus someone who is depressed - in this case, the semantics matter.
And addiction crops up in many ways. I’ll be honest: I’m addicted to sugar, and am thus subsequently unenlightened. It seems benign enough, but take the grainy white stuff away from me and a monster begins grumbling from within. Have you ever seen Ghostbusters? You know the part where Zuul via Sigourney Weaver doesn't get his way? Yeah... I mean, I'm the first to admit that the manifestation within me is not as sultry as Ms. Weaver's, but subjectively, indulging in an addiction can make you feel more alive and I think, in the moment, more beautiful (cue my idea of what I look like eating chocolate). Inhibitions lower, dopamine spikes, and we actually have more positive self-views in these euphoric moments. (When the dopamine crashes and you realize all the chocolate is gone is a completely different story.)
This brings me to beauty, because it's a tricky thing. What is beautiful to me may not be beautiful to you, and as human beings beauty is a great driving force in our lives. It drives us to connect and to grow - two very basic things that make each of us a more complete person.
And then there’s the enduring kind of beauty, those early photographs for which you had to sit hours, peppered with shades of integrity and trust; the kind of beauty that makes you a better person because the beauty is rooted in connection with another human being. The Huffington Post article strongly drives that point home, that it's not the cocaine or the sex or the gambling or the heroin, or even the sugar. These things placate and comfort when really, it's the genuine human connection that people are seeking. Dopamine is released when we're in love. Dopamine is released when we engage with these addictions. Dopamine is necessary for human brain function. Dopamine is strongly implicated with the experience of positive emotions. Positive emotions make for a better experience of life.
Dopamine, in short (and in the correct balance), is a good, healthy thing.
In Chinese medicine, dopamine would be seen as part of the Fire element. Connection and love are deeply rooted in this upward moving element. Everyone has Fire, and our Fire imbues us with the ability to connect, to experience joy, to responsibly have fun in a purely hedonistic sense.
In balance, the Fire element also helps us think clearly and sort through information to discern what is needed and what can be discarded.
Fire has to do with sex, love, connection, clarity, and compassion.
In his book Nourishing Destiny, Lonny Jarrett explains that "it is the concentration of our Shen that brings intention into the world in a way that fulfills destiny."
In Chinese medicine, Shen is consciousness. Shen is the light in your eyes; Shen is the light that connects all living beings to one another, and clear Shen allows for compassion.
"If habitual reactions to the emotions of sorrow or joy perpetuate a dysfunctional relationship...the Shen will not be focused in a way that promotes connection to life's purpose."
So now, let's bring this back to 2015 and take a look at how our world can very easily throw our Fire elements out of balance. The internet makes it near impossible to truly sort through options and discern what is good for you and what is not: confusion ensues. Modern technology and our fast-paced lives make it so that connection is more of a luxury than a necessity: that, too, falls by the wayside. Without the ability to think clearly and without the ability to connect, the genuine experience of feeling true joy doesn't often happen. Sex and love get confused. There's no place for compassion when there's no clarity or ability to connect.
In sum, everyone is left wanting more, disconnected from their life's purpose, and our dopamine receptors, or Fire elements, are primed to find comforting substitutes in the ways that actually are available to us. That is the message of Johann Hari's piece on addiction: we are actually seeking connection at the bottom of the bottle, inside the syringe, through the gentle mucosa of the nasal passage, in those extra pounds we carry around.
One way I like to describe acupuncture is that it kind of forces you to connect with your body. It's this mind/body medicine and yet, even speaking of it in that way is acknowledging the divide that we struggle with - that divide between mind and body. Consciously, we are aware of the separation: my mind is different from my body, obviously; but our subconscious generally has ulterior motives because that obviously is a very modern device. Take the myriad of issues that can arise when you're stressed out: your head hurts, your stomach hurts, your bowel movements change, you're retaining urine, you're bloated, you're retaining water, you're crying for no reason, you have a migraine, you suddenly can't digest gluten/dairy, your lower back starts hurting, the muscles along your shoulder blades start hurting, your irritation makes you want to kick things... should I go on? And I know, your feet are sore, too. All that standing around, waiting for the F train.
And don't get me started on the knees.
In this technologically connecting but physically disconnecting time we live in, the road back to connection starts within you, and a way to self-connect is through regular acupuncture treatments. Not only is it an hour of your day where introspection is demanded of you, but it's also time you get to relax. Both of these things are important for you, the patient. Both of these things make you an active participant in your treatment. Acupuncture is medicine with cumulative effects - meaning, it builds on itself. And it's building on how you interact with it. This is important because acupuncture helps to set you back on your path to your life's purpose.
Those cumulative effects of acupuncture exist in empirical literature in pain relief and in stress management. Acupuncture can help to rebalance your elements - all five of them, not just your Fire. But most likely - with sleep problems, with relationship problems, with eating disorders and psychological problems - your Fire element is in need of some serious tender, loving, and connected care.
A recent piece in The New York Times describes this recipe: ask a potential partner 36 particular questions + look in each others' eyes for 4 minutes = love. It's a fascinating read and is probably as much an antidote to heroin or chocolate as any because quite frankly, it seems pretty terrifying to do. "The idea is that mutual vulnerability fosters closeness. To quote the study’s authors, 'One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure.' Allowing oneself to be vulnerable with another person can be exceedingly difficult, so this exercise forces the issue."
Regina Spektor sings that “I’ve got a perfect body, ‘cause my eyelashes catch my sweat.” This is simple, and to me this is beautiful, and this primes us for connection: the beauty of the human body as a machine that works with itself is an avenue to connect with and foster love for all human bodies. Maybe it's so beautiful to me because it's juxtaposed against #duckfaceselfies - a phenomenon of a beauty standard that by definition is saying, "I am cultivating a look and thus not being myself and as such, I don't actually have a desire to connect with another human being." There's a vapidity that is inherent to the quickness that we all engage in as members of this First World and that quickness necessarily cuts into our ability to truly connect with ourselves, and in turn, with other human beings.
Tonight, someone I love wanted to Skype with me but I really wanted to get this idea out on paper, so instead of connecting as truly as I technologically could, I wrote this piece, alone while drinking a beer and eating chocolate. Talk about being a hypocrite! (For the record, this post is meant as musing, not as advice - clearly I'm not fit to give it, beer swig).
And so, this is the balancing act. This is how we all must become enlightened jugglers in the 21st century: the ability to have our cake and Instagram, and also stare deeply into the eyes of those we care for and tell them we love them, too.