Interpreting Chronic Illness

The Convergence of Traditional Chinese Medicine Homeopathy and Biomedicine
By Jerry M. Kantor, 229 pages, published by Right Whale Press, MA, 2011.

Reviewed by Laura Sholtz, RSHom(NA), CCH, FBIH

The first thing that captured my attention when looking over this book was the synopsis on the back cover:  “Jerry Kantor’s book INTERPRETING CHRONIC ILLNESS views three seemingly incompatible fields of medicine through the lens of phenomenology and develops novel patterns of care for patients with chronic illness.”  With that guarantee of an innovative combining of modalities of healing, my curiosity was piqued.  But would a longtime homeopath, who is schooled in neither Chinese Medicine nor Biomedicine find this book helpful?  I had read THE WEB THAT HAS NO WEAVER years ago, and practice Qi gong, but have no in-depth knowledge of Traditional Chinese Medicine, or how to incorporate principles of TCM into my practice.  Would this one book convince me or other healers to expand our thinking?

The ten chapters lead us through Phenomenology, “…broadly defined as a theoretical approach toward understanding how people experience the world they live in and create….”  (1), plus the senses, cancer, chronic illness, and creating a personal mandala.  Likening our human form to “Our Great Ship” sailing in the “…primal energy of the Sea of Life….”  (204), Kantor uses these analogies to help the reader make a “…sea change…for constructing a new model of interpreting chronic illness…”  (1)

He begins with Phenomenology.  As in homeopathy, “…the essential meaning encrypted within the text of the patient’s illness must be decoded.”  (2)  In reading through the chapters on the dimensions of the senses, Kantor includes a mini materia medica analyzed from a TCM perspective in each section.  He goes into great detail covering many sense dimension illnesses, beginning with Taste.

“Taste is the sensorial foundation of our ability to make distinctions….the sense dimension of taste is related to contemplation and thought….In TCM the Spleen rules over the transformation of food and drink, separating the pure from the impure…This replenishes Qi and blood and nourishes the muscles.  For this reason, the Spleen is said to rule the muscles and limbs.”  (51-52)  The Spleen’s paired body organ is the stomach.  Because we well know that whatever we eat, whatever we take into our mouths can be either nutritious or toxic, what follows from this is the core issue of the Taste dimension:  anxiety.  “Taste is the first arbiter of the life-or-death digestive distinctions that we encounter with every bite.”  (53)

We also learn that “More ailments pertain to the sense dimension of taste than to all other dimensions combined.”  (55)  This alerts the healer to be aware of the vast number of chronic illnesses that are affected by the sense of taste; if our thinking is expanded to include this awareness, here is another guideline potentially leading to the right homeopathic remedy.  Kantor lists several taste dimension illnesses followed by detailed descriptions of homeopathic remedies, including aspects of TCM and biomedicine within his materia medica.  Nutritional strategies, health-promoting practices, and “Masters of Expression” end each dimension of sense chapter.  For example, on page 81, ending the chapter on Taste, here are the masters listed:  on the negative pole (which is anxiety), are:  Franz Kafka and Woody Allen.  On the positive pole (instead of anxiety, seeing a challenge) are:  Arthur Schopenhauer, Ayn Rand, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, and spiritual sources such as Mary, Isis, and Shakti.

The other dimension of sense chapters follow a similar pattern.  But the last three chapters offer different outlooks, while still incorporating the sense dimensions.  Chapter eight is titled “Encountering Scylla:  Consciousness and Cancer” and is laced with passages from John Milton’s “Paradise Lost, Book II”, including myths and commentaries to illuminate the reader’s understanding of cancer cells.  Kantor also includes causes and risk factors, “Cancer in Microcosmic Context:  The World of Viruses and Genes”  (160), and ends with “Lessons Learned From Cancer Awareness…each of us is also a cellular component of a vastly larger organism…in which each cellular unit is maintained by being in creative synchrony with all other units….Cancer has shown us that death itself appears to be a vital function of this universal rhythm of existence….In the universal view, every state of existence…manifests its purposefulness through creativity and utility.  TCM teaches that the lessons learned are stored after death within the Kidney Yang; and thus, the vital energies never die.”  (165)

Chapter nine focuses on the vortex of chronic illness, sensitivity and susceptibility, TCM energy cycles and phases, mother-child relationships, and compensation, covered mostly by TCM theory.  The myth of “…Charybdis symbolizes the cyclical vortex nature of chronic illness.”  (168)  Sensitivity imbalances can bring about disease.  “Independent of any kind of treatment, an individual’s sensitivity and his or her ability to heal are inseparable.”  (167)  We learn that the value of the energy cycles and their phases, fire, earth, metal, water, and wood in TCM provide “…energetic relationships between the Phases and their associated organs.  The first set of relationships, known as the Generating Cycle, shows the links between phases, organs, seasons, life-stages, and sense dimensions….The Generating cycle provides a template of a person’s normal growth function.  Homeopathic theory lacks the taxonomy to create templates for normalcy; so here TCM theory makes an invaluable contribution.”  (169-170)  Homeopathic remedies are included in this chapter, but a very different  perspective, based on the progression and linking of the phases, is offered.

Ten, the last chapter, is “Create Your Own Five Sense Dimensional Mandala…for meditation, using the distinctive features of the positive and negative core issues of each of the five sense dimensions, and the cycles described in Chapter 9…”  (187).  Pages of questions follow.  The goal is to “…potentially find healing of the self….”  (187), a lofty and definitely worthwhile investment of one’s time and energy.

For those of us who have read through this book, and realize that there is much we need to learn before feeling comfortable in using these modalities as supplements or tangents to our healing work with homeopathy, in the epilogue is a handy one page chart of the five sense dimensions and TCM.  I came away from reading INTERPRETING CHRONIC ILLNESS humbled and impressed with the brilliance with which Jerry Kantor entwines his intimate knowledge of TCM and biomedicine with homeopathy.  Anyone wanting to expand his/her thinking on the treatment of chronic illness would be well advised to read this book.  It is a unique compendium of useful information, as well as an enjoyable text that will stretch the boundaries of every homeopath’s understanding of healing chronic illness.

(As a note, one thing I would add in future editions of this book is to list page numbers of the Tables and Figures referred to in subsequent chapters; this would make it far easier to locate the chart indicated.)

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