Boundaries: A Function of the San Jiao Meridian?
The name San Jiao translates as the “Three Openings;” a reference to the three ‘burner’s’. The Nan Jing, an ancient classical text refers to the San Jiao as “having a name, but no form.” Instead the Nan Jing seems to attribute the functions of water metabolism to the San Jiao, it is said that the “Upper Jiao is like a mist, the middle Jiao is like foam and the lower Jiao is like a sluiceway.” In Chinese medical theory the San Jiao is integral to the transformation of qi and the free flow of fluids throughout.
The San Jiao is also used, clinically, to diagnose externally contracted febrile disease. By accurately assessing how deep the pathogen has penetrated the practitioner will determine the course of treatment. The upper burner (Lungs) is the first to be affected and the lower burner (Kidneys) is a more serious condition. Using the upper, middle or lower burner as a classification for the disease ‘center’ is useful, but in the clearest of definitions that is not a “San Jiao” classification, remember the San Jiao has a name, but no form. It does give the practitioner a practical way of addressing the condition, though not through the San Jiao meridian.
As an example lets say a patient has digestive problems, loose stools, fatigue after eating, bruises easily, his tongue is pale and scalloped. In TCM this is a very simplified pattern of Spleen Qi Deficiency. One could also say the middle burner, or middle Jiao is affected. But the treatment would not be focused on the San Jiao.
Of course I want to look at it in a slightly different light.
Let’s also say that same patient has been working in a job that he truly does not enjoy, the work environment is demeaning to him but he is keeping the job because in another 18 years he can retire from it. You might say he is having trouble digesting that choice.
I also think of the San Jiao as being integral to ones boundary system. Boundaries are important not only in the physical sense, how close do I let someone get to me (physically, emotionally, spiritually) but also in a less concrete manner. Do I allow the words that someone else says to enter and lodge into my belief system? Do I believe what others may or may not be saying about me? I think that the ability to process and function as one navigates the maze of determining what to let in and what to throw out is a function of the San Jiao.
For this discussion it is also important to recognize the interior/exterior paired meridian complex, the Pericardium. In TCM the Pericardium is the “Heart Protector,” its function is seen literally as protecting the Heart from evil pathogens. What is the difference between an “evil pathogen” and an unhealthy thought pattern that affects the way you see yourself in the world? So if the Yang aspect of this interior/exterior paired meridian, the San Jiao, does not function at its strongest it will allow the unhealthy thought to penetrate into your beingness and then it is the job of the Pericardium to protect your Heart from the inclusion of that thought into your world view.
Now, back to our patient. If this man can choose to look at how his choice of staying at a job he does not like is affecting his health he might be able to determine if the cost (poor health that most likely will deteriorate) is worth the reward (“retirement” IF all things go as planned and the company does not close or out-source his job).
So part of the treatment might very well include San Jiao concepts as I am seeing them, but only if the patient desires to get into that depth of being. As I wrote about in a previous blog, if one is following his or her destiny the payoff for that is good health and a longer life. Who am I to decide that for a patient? Yet I also have an obligation to open the door to this type of a conversation and see if he or she is willing to enter into this type of a discussion.
As I said at the beginning of this blog the concept of the San Jiao is intriguing to me. Having a name, but no form, not being associated with a physical substrate organ, being paired with the Heart Protector; all of that is one of the interesting paradoxes of Chinese medicine. I am not sure if any of this will make sense to anyone that ever reads it, but it is an interesting perspective to consider. If you like it, great. If not, in the words of Bruce Lee “Pare away the unnecessary.”
Till next week. Write if any of this resonates with you.