Below is an excerpt from the syllabus for the White Pine 2021 Graduate Mentorship Program. This excerpt explains the meaning of what I call Great Turning and its application for practitioners of Traditional East Asian Medicine:
The Graduate Mentorship Program has been running since 2003. This upcoming course, starting this March, 2021, is the 9th time I have taught it. Since the start, my understanding has deepened through experience, both in the clinic, through study, with students, and in life. In this rendition of the program, not only have the principles become crystalized and embodied for me, but I also feel that my articulation of them has evolved. Being a teacher is not only about knowing one’s material: unless there is a clear articulation that meets the student in a way that clarifies and open’s receptivity, the material cannot find a home within the student. While teaching, I always have the question, “Am I making sense to you?” I want you to have a sense of “aha!” and “Yes! I SEE!” I want you to have the experience of the murky confusion coming clear. I’ve learned that this happens when the foundational principles are sound. Only then does the material find its natural place in your mind and heart. The Graduate Mentorship Program’s foundational principles have evolved into what I am now calling Great Turning.
Great Turning is not new or unique to the Graduate Mentorship Program. Though it is uniquely my expression of our ancient medicine, my teachers are always there in my heart, for it is their engagement with the medicine on which I stand.
The Great Turnings are the endless circling of the universe around and within us. The stars, planets, sun, and moon are all part of this ceaseless rotation. Our classical root text, the Huángdì nèijīng 黃帝內經 (Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic), describes these heavenly patterns in great detail and urges us to see how life on earth, particularly in the human body, is a reflection of these patterns of motion through time. This text defines health as the dance of being in alignment with these celestial movements. Viewed through the lens of these dynamic movements of heaven within the human body, Zhāng Zhòngjǐng’s 張仲景 Shānghán zábìng lùn 傷寒雜病論 (Treatise on Cold Damage and Miscellaneous Diseases) offers us a method both for diagnosing exactly how the person is misaligned and
for re-establishing their right relationship with the processes of nature. When the patient is aligned, the Great Turning motions of nature do the healing.
The Great Turning view facilitates healing. What is healing? The word heal comes from the root word Healan, which means “to make whole.” To be whole, to be healthy, can be seen as being in right relationship with the Great Turnings of nature. When we view the body as separate from the rest of life, our ability to restore wholeness becomes limited.
Every living process occurs in cycles. There are cycles within cycles such as yearly seasonal cycles, day and night cycles, menstruation, breath, and pulse cycles. We see the processes of birth, growth, maturation, and completion occurring around and in us everywhere. Our own and our patient’s bodies are always expressing the pain of not connecting to these cycles. This expression is called “signs and symptoms.” Symptoms are the forms of suffering of which the patient is aware. Signs require a more subtle observation for the practitioner, primarily through looking, hearing, and touching. As a healer in the field of traditional east Asian medicine, the Great Turning view teaches you to read the language of suffering in the signs and symptoms and translate these into an accurate gesture of healing, of making whole, of re-establishing relationship. These gestures come in many forms, including acupuncture, massage, and words. The primary gesture we are learning in this program is one of herbal formulas. However, the herbal formulas themselves are expressions of a healing direction, and that expression is not limited to herbs. Our root teachers are the Yellow Emperor’s physician Qìbò and Zhāng Zhòngjǐng.
If you are to learn and integrate large amounts of material, your foundational principles must be firm. Only then will your knowledge be accessible and useful to you in the clinic. Sound principles will organize your mind and heart and connect you to your tools. We must understand the way life works, how we come into being, how our bodies work with nature, what illness is, and how healing works. Without a unified view, our learning is just a closet full of tricks — use this for this and use that for that. We can be overwhelmed by the plethora of options without a clear path for how to proceed. With a unified view such as the Great Turning, we know when and how to apply the appropriate tool. More importantly, when the principles are clear, you can take the material into your core and make it your own. This personal expression of healing that I call Great Turning is the unified view I’ve slowly learned to articulate. This view helped me take classical readings and contemporary teachings to my heart, to make them my own, and then to articulately communicate them back out to you. This process is itself an expression of the circular dynamic of the medicine! I hope you can take it in and relate to all you have learned in your life and all of who you are. This way, a kind of alchemy happens, where you make it your own. I hope it transforms your experience into wisdom and that you, in turn, can offer it back. Whether in the clinic, in your life, or as a teacher, for you, may the Great Turning view delight, support, inspire, empower and heal.