In my daily perusal of the headlines, I recently came across an article by New York Times Op-Ed Contributor, Richard Parker, the title of which asks a question I feel has already been answered: “Can Austin Keep Itself Weird?” If you couldn’t already guess, Parker wonders if Austin’s rise to popularity over the last 20 years (or indeed the notoriety of some of its fallen heroes) has somehow irreparably changed – perhaps even tainted – the heart and soul of this once sleepy little town.
For better or for worse, I have called Austin my hometown for all my life. I was born here and, if I’m lucky, I’ll die here, too. Because of this I feel I can say with some authority that the Austin I knew as a kid – and admittedly which I sometimes get nostalgic for – has been dead for a long time. So what the heck, if anything does this have to do with Chinese medicine? This is supposed to be a blog about “various topics relating to your health,” right?
Indeed I write this even at the risk of offending some, but if you’ve gotten this far, please just hear me out. I use Austin or rather, the ideal of an Austin gone-by merely as an example. For me, it’s something I think about a lot. Too much, perhaps. For you it could be something entirely different – person, place, ideal, whatever – which you once held dear and which now, is no more. What I’m talking about here is mental health and it’s effect on the physical body.
As a practitioner and eternal student I am fascinated by the connection between the mind and the body. Of course, to know my background, this likely will not come as a surprise. I am, after all, a pseudo-physician, practicing “woo-woo” medicine in the eyes of some. To be sure, I have studied the works of Lorena Monda, who encourages practitioners to consider the effects that unresolved emotional issues can have on physical health; and the teachings of Nan Lu, O.M.D., whose work with cancer patients is rooted in regulating the emotions. If you need proof from the “Western” side of things, check out the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., founder and director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center; or that of Dr. Dean Ornish, M.D., a cardiologist whose work with heart attack survivors includes meditation as an integral therapeutic component. Whether “Eastern” or “Western,” the common thread that ties all of these folks together is a message I whole-heartedly agree with: we must process our feelings fully and completely in order to move forward in mental and therefore, physical health.
In Chinese medical philosophy we assign the emotion of grief to the Lung. To be nostalgic is a form of grieving for the past and, if left unchecked, can lead to anger, perhaps the most damaging of all the emotions if not dealt with properly. As I have watched my town morph into a city almost unrecognizable – R.I.P. Sound Exchange, R.I.P. Liberty Lunch, R.I.P. 1301 Newning Ave. – I have felt a deep sense of sadness at the loss of places I once held dear. This, in turn, has manifested as misdirected anger towards the “transplants.” Whether it’s the passing of a place once loved or something else, I think most everyone can relate to these feelings on some level.
And so today, in an effort to set the record straight, I offer a proposal: let’s have a collective wake for all the things we used to know and love (people, places, etc.) which will never be (quite the same) again – a proper and fitting tribute before laying them to rest for good and rectifying our qi for the long-haul. Other people usually say it better than I can, so on that note, I’ll let Iris Dement take us out with a quote from her beautiful dirge about life and loss. Raise your glasses in a toast to letting go of the past and if you know the words to “Our Town,” please sing along:
And I can see the sun settin’ fast,
And just like they say
Nothin’ good ever lasts;
Well go on now and kiss it goodbye,
But hold onto your lover
‘Cause your heart’s bound to die;
Go on now and say goodbye
To our town,
To our town;
Can’t you see the sun settin’ down
On our town?
On our town,
-Tama Henderson, L.Ac., ACN