Chinese Medicine Daoism Healing Chronic Illness Health

The Mystical Experience Demystified


The soul is a newly skinned hide, bloody
and gross. Work on it with manual discipline,
and the bitter tanning acid of grief.

You’ll become lovely and very strong.
If you can’t do this work yourself, don’t worry.
You don’t have to make a decision, one way or another.

The Friend, who knows a lot more than you do,
will bring difficulties and grief and sickness,
as medicine, as happiness, as the moment

when you’re beaten, when you hear Checkmate,
and you can finally say with Hallaj’s voice,
I trust you to kill me.

By Jalaluddin Rumi translated by Coleman Barks

The seven souls from
The seven souls from

In Chinese philosophy there are seven souls that animate the physical body. They enter during gestation. These souls carry the lessons that were not completed in previous generations or previous lives (If you do not believe in such things, I think no less of you dear reader). In terms of Western medicine we would be talking about trauma and subsequent DNA mutations passed on to the next generations. The Rumi poem describes how Eastern philosophy sees these challenges as more of a legacy than a burden. Each of us face challenges that bring us closer to our authenticity. We are like rough gemstones bouncing in a mountain stream. We look like any other rock. When we erode and become smooth in the constant abrasion, the gemstone is revealed. Sometimes we get stuck on one lesson that we pass on to subsequent generations and we also deal with in future lifetimes. This is the nature of healing; it takes as long as it takes. Our graduation from some lessons takes time. It is common for people to have three major teachings in their lives.

The seven souls in their less evolved form from
The seven souls in their less evolved form, click picture to enlarge, from

The seven physical souls are described in the Dào Dé Jīng (The Classic of Daoism written by Lăo Zĭ) as dirty mirrors. It is our responsibility to clean them as best we can so that we see ourselves with clarity. The most efficacious way to do this is in the midst of a working lifestyle rather than a monastic one. It is a challenge to experience the true self with the distractions of the outside world but this self-awareness is more sagacious.

Cleaning our souls involves eating a diet that promotes the health of our biochemical individuality. Food is medicine in Chinese belief systems. Not everybody requires the same food as others. Meditation and exercise are included in spiritual cultivation, AKA cleaning mirrors. Once the mirror is unsoiled, we see the beauty of our true nature. This vision inspires us to follow its direction rather than living exclusively to fulfill prescribed social obligations. At this point we have gained the insight to change. The method to do this involves seeing the space within us that creates our form. It is like imagining the vast distances between the protons and electrons in our molecules. Recognizing our physical permeability is like breaking the mirror. We fall into pieces as Hallaj did. He is joyful because he has another opportunity to reshape his image. He trusts his disintegration because he can reorganize the fragments to match more his spirit’s true form. Indigenous cultures call it a shamanic dissolution. Some call the experience ego death or liberation from earthly desires. A serious illness, mental or physical, is sometimes a sign of this disintegration.

That said it is not necessary to understand anything about enlightenment. Rumi consoles us that the process unfolds whether we consciously pursue it or not. It is our nature to evolve. The Friend can be considered the godhead or the light that lives within everything.

The godhead from
The godhead from

Chinese philosophy describes The Friend as the spirit, which is different from the seven souls. It manifests within the human body as three teachers. From within they are helping us every step of the way whether we are aware of them or not.

The three teachers gazing up at the seven souls sitting on a precipice from
The three teachers gazing up at the seven souls sitting on a precipice from