Friday, April 3, 2009

Cravings, Yin vacuity and Gu Pathogens

Dear Friends,

We live in a completely unnatural world, in which the boundaries between day and night are blurred, foods lack nutrition obesity is rampant, people live indoors, and stresses are so overwhelming, that few manage to function and survive without multitasking, compartmentalizing and anesthesizing.

It is no wonder, that for so many, food is no longer the Divine gift it was intended to be, enabling us to be healthy, strong and able to serve Ha-Shem, but rather it has become a drug, an anesthetic which for some, is even viewed as an enemy. I recall that when I was in medical school, I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to treat former addicts with acupuncture at a Jewish sober living center in Culver City. I was astonished by the constant snacking and obesity, as well as the chain smoking of the residents. This facility required ex-addicts to be verifiably clean for a certain period of time, and the residents were subject to constant urine tests. But they missed the point and were tragically allowed to replace one drug for another. The externship was under the auspices of the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association(NADA) which taught that all addicts are vacuous or deficient of Yin. The addict is starving for Yin, for material substance, and will desperately seek any substance that will give him a quick fix. The Bostoner Rebbe, Shlit'a, of Har Nof Jerusalem, pointed out many years ago, a fascinating spiritual parallel: We find the same emptiness with Jewish souls raised with cold, boring and unchallenging Jewish educations and who are therefore starving for spirituality. It is because their Jewish experience has been superficial and unsatisfying, that their souls, are drawn to the many exotic sects and religions that offers them warmth, excitement and perhaps a good meal. This too, is a type of Yin vacuity, a craving to fill in the emptiness in one's existance, either in body or soul. Clinically, the classic telltale sign of Yin vacuity is a red tongue without a coat, either the whole tongue, or at the very least, the tip of the tongue.

But there is also, a second component of craving: what classic Chinese medicine calls "Gu" pathogens. In Chinese medical theory, the organ which is responsible for extracting and making available the nutrition from the foods we eat and distributing it throughout the body is the Spleen (which some modern scholars also identify as relating to the pancreas). The spleen thrives on foods which are warm and dry, and becomes dysfunctional when foods that are cold and damp are eaten, impeding its performance and vitality. This lack of vitality causes an accumulation of dampness, which then transforms into phlegm. The Chinese consider phlegm and fat to be synonymous. When the spleen does not work properly, the resulting fatigue and accumulation sets the stage for "Gu syndrome". Professor Heiner Fruehauf' discusses this in his article, "Driving out Demons and Snakes, Gu Syndrome, a Forgotten Clinical Approach to Chronic Parasitism" http://www.classica lchinesemedicine .org/downloads/ cs/gufinal. pdf. In it he writes that "Gu worms", though they indeed are to be taken literally, also, from a modern perspective, need to be viewed figuratively as well. The fungus, Candida Albicans, which flourishes in the presence of dampness would be clearly a Gu pathogen. Its symptoms fit perfectly with the description of Gu syndrome, both emotionally and physically. For example, the mental-emotional symptoms associated with Gu pathogens such as depression, irritability, anger and restlessness are commonly seen in cases of Candida Albicans as well as what Fruehauf describes as"a sensation of being posessed." Furthermore, as parasites, Gu pathogens drain the body of yet more Yin, further depleting the already vacuous patient.

It is these two insidious patterns, therefore, Yin vacuity, and Gu pathogens that lock the patient into a prison of craving. Helpless, for as the gemara in Brachos tells us, "One who is in jail is unable to get himself out."

But is there a way out, is there a way to heal? Yes! And by carefully looking to the Torah, we find the roadmap which provides our escape and deliverance.

There are three important steps:

First, one needs to do Teshuva: to return with complete sincerity to Ha-Shem, our loving Father. The Rambam says in Hilchos teshuva (the laws of repentance), that the first step toward reconciliation with Ha-Shem is Vidui(confession). One needs to articulate and acknowledge that one has a problem. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov tells us that talking OUT LOUD to Ha-Shem, verbally expressing what we have done, to Him, has incredible therapeutic value, and reconnects us with Ha-Shem. Often, one who has cravings and addictions is on automatic pilot when he eats. He is disconnected from Ha-Shem, numb, and out of control. The first principle of Traditional Jewish medicine is "Bchol derachecha d'eyhu" (Know Him in all your ways, and He will straighten your paths). By acknowledging how we have been eating and by talking to Him, we reconnect. Our sages tell us "Haba le'taher, mesayim oso" (Someone who wants to purify themselves will be helped from above). This, then, is the first step: reconnecting.

Second we need to think differently and eat consciously, slowly and with purpose. It is not enough to say a blessing on a food, but one needs to, with deliberation, THINK that they are providing spiritual nutrition to their souls and physical nutrition to their bodies as they eat. The Rambam is Hilchos Deyos(the laws of character traits) and elsewhere, tells us of the importance of conscious eating. He tells us that one should not eat unless one is hungry nor drink unless one is thirsty. One should never delaying elimination at all. One should stop eating when one is 3/4 full. One should drink very little with meals. One should never exercise right after meals but rather specifically one should exercise before meals. One should sit quietly when eating. One should eat light foods that are easy to digest, always eating lighter foods first. One should avoid rich and sticky foods, particularly foods prepared from white flour, and additionally one should generally avoid eating fruit, especially sour fruit, and in particular, peaches and apricots. By following the Rambam's diet, utilizing the gifts of Chinese medicinal formulas to dry dampness, transform phlegm and strengthen the spleen, and acupuncture to invigorate the body's vital connectivity, Gu pathogens can be tamed and defanged.

Third, we need to replenish Yin, and accomplishing this must involve the second principle of TJM: "Sur me'ra va'ase tov" (turn away from bad and do good). We need to stop doing things to harm ourselves and burn ourselves out. Yin vacuity is an emptiness that one brings upon oneselves by not getting enough sleep, letting negative emotions such as anger, fear, depression, over-thinking, lightheadedness, jealousy or arrogance control us, by using substances which harm our bodies, and overdoing healthy, normal activities. Women are much more vulnerable than men because they menstuate, lose blood during childbirth and psychologically, tend to multitask and go beyond what their bodies are able to handle. It is these emotions and activities that deplete our bodies and souls of Yin, and it is imperative that we make ourselves aware of what we are doing, and how we are living.

If we accept upon ourselves this three-pronged approach of connecting with Ha-Shem, thinking and eating differently, and refraining from activities that deplete Yin, we can overcome this seemingly inconquerable foe: Food cravings, and transform eating to the high spiritual action it is intended to be.

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