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Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine

Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine

by Harriet Beinfield, Efrem Korngold


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“Comprehensive, encyclopedic, and lucid, this book is a must for all practitioners of the healing arts who want to broaden their understanding. Readers interested in the role of herbs and foods in healing will also find much to learn here, as I have. . . . A fine work.”—Annemarie Colbin, author of Food and Healing

The promise and mystery of Chinese medicine has intrigued and fascinated Westerners ever since the “Bamboo Curtain” was lifted in the early 1970s. Now, in Between Heaven and Earth, two of the foremost American educators and healers in the Chinese medical profession demystify this centuries-old approach to health. Harriet Beinfeld and Efrem Korngold, pioneers in the practice of acupuncture and herbal medicine in the United States for over eighteen years, explain the philosophy behind Chinese medicine, how it works and what it can do.

Combining Eastern traditions with Western sensibilities in a unique blend that is relevant today, Between Heaven and Earth addresses three vital areas of Chinese medicine—theory, therapy, and types—to present a comprehensive, yet understandable guide to this ancient system. Whether you are a patient with an aggravating complaint or a curious intellectual seeker, Between Heaven and Earth opens the door to a vast storehouse of knowledge that bridges the gap between mind and body, theory and practice, professional and self-care, East and West.

“Groundbreaking . . . Here at last is a complete and readable guide to Chinese medicine.”—San Francisco Chronicle

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345379740
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/30/1992
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 90,374
Product dimensions: 8.92(w) x 11.02(h) x 0.97(d)

About the Author

Harriet Beinfield and her husband, Efrem Korngold, were among the first Americans to be trained at the College of Traditional Acupuncture in England and to be licensed in California. The couple maintains a private practice at their San Francisco clinic, Chinese Medicine Works.

Efrem Korngold and his wife, Harriet Beinfield, were among the first Americans to be trained at the College of Traditional Acupuncture in England and to be licensed in California. The couple maintains a private practice at their San Francisco clinic, Chinese Medicine Works.

Read an Excerpt

Lying motionless, gazing at a chart on the wall showing streams of force connecting the little toe with the corner of the eye in a web of continuous loops, I feel my breath soften and my vision sharpen
Delicate pins protrude from my elbow, ankle, and knee. My arms and legs are flooded by tiny rivulets of current. It’s not like a hypodermic needle that injects a foreign substance—what I’m feeling is simply more of myself. It’s strange, in the sense of odd and unfamiliar, but as a sensation not unpleasant. In fact, the edges of my mouth are cradling a silly smile.
The skin is stretched less tightly over my bony frame as my pores relax. I sense movement as I lie quiet, aware of impulse within my mind at rest. Thoughts tumble into consciousness, roll over, and shuffle off.
With my eyes closed, and perception directed inward, simultaneous layers of activity play like instruments in concert with each other. I am the composer and the composed, the musician and the listener, the instrument and its player.
SUBTLE YET PALPABLE, MY INITIAL ENCOUNTER WITH ACUPUNCTURE LEFT me tantalized by mystery and promise. Mystery, in that tiny needles could extend my field of awareness and completely alter the state of my being. Promise, in that by burrowing into the conceptual soil of this system, I could deepen my self-understanding.
As the daughter of a surgeon and the granddaughter of two surgeons, my early life was steeped in the cauldron of medicine brewed over several generations. Enthusiasm for healing was contagious, and I became infected. As a child I was impressed by my father’s devotion and satisfaction. He rushed to the hospital day or night to operate on a man lacerated in a motorcycle accident or a child threatened by a ruptured appendix. Lives would have been lost without his heroic intervention.
The role of doctor and the appeal of medicine came naturally—but why Chinese medicine? The ideology of Chinese medicine immediately captivated me by its stark contrast to the perspective of Western medical science. I had never been comfortable thinking of myself in my father’s language of electrolytes and blood-gas ratios, a collection of quantities and statistics. The Chinese medical vocabulary contained metaphors from nature like Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water, Heat, Wind, and Cold.* This cosmological description of human process confirmed what I knew intuitively to be so—that what moves the world outside moves within me—that subject and object are two aspects of one phenomenal world. As peculiarly outside my cultural context as it was, Chinese medicine felt familiar. What enticed me even more than my sense of continuity with family tradition was the affinity I felt with its concepts, and I wondered if the ancient wisdom embedded within its construction of reality could untangle some of our modern predicaments.
When Efrem and I were first introduced to acupuncture at a seminar at Esalen in the spring of 1972, there was tremendous upheaval in the world. The Chinese were in the midst of a cultural revolution, and so were we. During the sixties the concerns I wrestled with were more social than medical. Many of us were seeking to antidote the toxicity of racism in the American social body and heal the wounds inflicted by a decade of violence in Vietnam. I struggled to understand and reconcile how Western civilization, having achieved some outstanding accomplishments, could so often contribute to rather than alleviate human suffering. How could it perpetuate vast environmental insult and the threat of nuclear disaster and yet be building a better future?
To remake the world it seemed we needed to rethink it. After all, solutions depend on how problems are framed, the context within which they exist. At issue for me was in part how we defined reality—and the reality assumed by Chinese medicine made sense.
Chinese medicine echoes the logic of quantum physics, which suggests that we exist in a relative, process-oriented universe in which there is no “objective” world separable from living subjects. The essential questions cannot be resolved by measuring static “things”; rather, answers become stories about interactions and relationships. Within this paradigm contradictions are not only sanctioned but prevail, and truth is purely contextual. In contrast with our conventional Western tendency to draw sharp lines of distinction, Chinese thought does not strictly determine the boundaries between rest and motion, time and space, mind and matter, sickness and health. Chinese medicine transcends the illusion of separation by inhabiting the reality of a unified field, an interwoven pattern of inseparable links in a circular chain.
The ancient Chinese perceived human beings as a microcosm of the universe that surrounded them, suffused with the same primeval forces that motivated the macrocosm. They imagined themselves as part of one unbroken wholeness, called Tao, a singular relational continuum within and without. This thinking predates the dissection of mind from body and man from nature that Western culture performed in the seventeenth century.
From when I first encountered it, this fusing of the mind with the body and people with their world had a magic, seductive lure. I was eager to imagine myself as integrated and interrelated, an active participant in a system in the continuous process of transforming itself. I learned that Chinese philosophers and physicians have studied nature over thousands of years, divining how to interact with it to cultivate and guide Qi (pronounced “chee”), life’s animating force and substance. The Chinese concept of Qi symbolizes life in all its forms: thoughts and emotions, tissue and blood, inner life and outer expression. I wanted to reap and share the benefits of their knowledge.
I was startled to find that my father considered Chinese medicine quackery. Even though I could appreciate that surgery and antibiotics were often necessary, my father could not entertain the value of acupuncture and herbs. Though I could appreciate the worth of a microscope to identify tissue alterations and bacteria, my father could not fathom the notion of Qi. It probably should not have surprised me, since Chinese medicine does not rest solely upon the tangible, measurable phenomena upon which his medicine relies. That I was drawn to a system outside his Western conceptual framework unsettled and offended him. Yet I recognized the Chinese view as inclusive, not exclusive. Within that view the subtle, ephemeral, and invisible were as significant as what could be seen, touched, and counted, and caring for the human spirit was no less essential or real than caring for the human structure, nor separate from it.
Western philosophy was more akin to Eastern until the Renaissance of the seventeenth century, when our civilization revolutionized its thinking. It was then that the scientific philosophy of the 1600s began to consider people as independent of the living systems that surround them and assumed that we could dominate and exploit nature without being affected by it. We escaped from dependency on and attachment to the natural world, pursuing invulnerability, invincibility, and immortality. Four hundred years later many of us regret this stance, aware, as anthropologist Gregory Bateson puts it, that “an organism that destroys its environment destroys itself.”
The long-term survival of our species has been placed at risk by an unbridled lust for short-term gains coupled with a false postulation of civilization’s autonomy from nature. Human beings have befouled their own nest, a sure sign of either madness or disease when observed in the rest of the animal kingdom. Contamination of rivers and seas puts fish in peril and threatens our potable water supply, the ozone layer is nibbled by fluorocarbons, rain forests perish so that cattle can graze, soil depletion and pesticides diminish the quality of our food, urban horizons shimmer with heavy ocher air … The litany seems endless. The disruption of our global respiration seems the consequence of burning fossil fuels (which fill the air with carbon dioxide and other gases, trapping heat) and of denuding forests (whose trees release oxygen, consume carbon dioxide, and attract water vapor to cool the earth’s surface). Known as the “greenhouse effect,” this upset in the relationship between the primal elements of heat and cold, fire and water, produces a fever of land, sea, and air with disastrous repercussions—upon weather conditions and marine, animal, and human life as we know it.
The gravity of issues like this has motivated burgeoning numbers of us to re-form our consciousness about who we are and how to live with each other upon the earth. We are being obliged to see how that which appears to be separate affects and fits within a pattern, and we are seeing, as Bateson points out, that “the patterns connect.” Reluctantly we are entertaining the idea that it may be necessary to transcend thinking of ourselves solely as entities with private interests (nation-states, corporate bodies, individual persons) and instead view ourselves and our world as one organic system.
Today many of us seek to reclaim the sense of connectedness that existed universally in ancient culture, when human fate was wholly entwined with nature. The ecological assumption within these cosmologies held that all things were inextricably bound together. The world was seen as a symbiotic entity in which each living system interacted with and mutually supported every other. The growing popularity of Chinese medicine, which embodies these values, is itself part of a pattern. Chinese medicine instructs us to perceive the way the world functions and re-create harmony within the context of the whole.

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