China when it was on the horizon of development
In 1998, I was 21 years old, and had just graduated Cornell University. After graduation, I signed up for WorldTeach, a volunteer program based out of Harvard University. It placed eager volunteers like me, in developing countries to teach English. My grand life plan was to spend a couple of years “expanding my horizons” before I applied to medical school and began what eventually turned into ten years of study and training. They sent me to Yantai, a relatively small city on the northeast coast of the People’s Republic of China.
Whilst an English teacher in Yantai, I was lucky enough to witness a private treatment by a Qi-gong master.
Qi-gong can Cure Blindness?
To set the stage: One of my fellow volunteer English teachers, Damon, 38 at the time, had a car accident when he was my age that left him without sight in one eye and no sense of smell. Mr Ma, the headmaster at Damon’s School, and Ren-Bing, another school official, one day asked Damon if he would like to visit a grandmaster of external Qi-Gong who could try to cure his blindness.
Damon, knowing I was interested in medicine asked me if I wanted to come along. How could I say no to that? I recently rediscovered a dusty journal describing three of the “Qi-gong operations” by this grandmaster of the Chinese therapy.
Now, in 1998, I hadn’t yet had any training or experience with medicine, so what I wrote in my journal was not from the point of view of a doctor. I had not yet been infused with the inevitable biases that result from a formal medical education.
Here is the excerpt from my journal on 4/28/1998:
“…Damon, Ren-Bing, Mr Ma and I drove out to a building near the seaside by Yantai University, some sort of Qi-Gong institute. We waited in a waiting room and perused some photos. These were photos of different trinkets and such that had actual light emanating out from the object. Apparently these lights were not visible to the naked eye, but appeared only when photographed. I don’t know what these photos were, but I guess it could be possible (eg IR light)? There were many such photos of balls and jewelry with the light coming out. It was a bit bizarre.
Then we went in to the treatment room and met the grandmaster- this man apparently fled China to Mongolia during the cultural revolution where he met some Tibetan monk or Lama who taught him Qi-Gong. This man is apparently famous in China – as an author and as a Qi-Gong master. He was going to try to fix Damon’s eye.
Damon lost his vision in his right eye (the visual part of the optic nerve was severed) as did he lose his sense of smell in a car accident 16 years ago.
The master began by ‘getting in touch with the Qi” and started moving his hands in a swift movement around Damon who sat on a stool in the center of the room with his eyes closed. The master moved his hands and ‘directed the Qi’ in the right direction. At first I wasn’t too impressed by anything, until after about ten minutes of treatment the master was about five feet in front of Damon who was slumping in his chair and he moved his right hand and arm upward. As he did so, Damon moved his torso upward and straightened his posture. Damon was like a puppet with the Qi-gong master acting as puppeteer- however there were no strings.
The master continued for about 20 minutes ‘moving Qi.’ He focused his movements around Damon’s head and torso, and then focused on the blinded eye. After 20 minutes, the master stopped and Damon sat motionless in his chair for another 20 minutes. During that time, everyone else in the room were conversing and looking at more photos with the light emanating from random objects. …then the master walked up to Damon, moved his hands near his face and about one minute later Damon awoke. His face was deep red, especially around the eyes. Now it’s not like he could now see out of his blind eye, as was expected. This was supposed to be the first of many treatments or “Qi-gong operations”
I spoke with Damon afterwards. He said he did not recollect any of the time except the beginning and the end. He said he heard some sounds in the background-like when one blows over the hole of an empty bottle. At the end he saw some flashes of light- in his good eye- and maybe sensed the smell of a lit match. He was well rested- his eyes looked bloodshot, but his vision was very sharp. I found it interesting he could not remember any of the time he was in the chair (hypnosis?)
In conclusion, I don’t know what to believe. I definitely believe in some sort of “Qi force”, but if it can regenerate CNS neurons remains to be seen. It was however, one of the most remarkable things I’ve witnessed in my life.”
And here is an account of a second visit on 04/30/1998:
“…we woke up early to revisit the Qi-Gong master. His name is Jing Shah Yun. I learned today from him the idea that people, cannot perceive what is real- their senses confuse them. One must get in touch with the Qi of the universe to understand what is real.
Once again the master did a Qi-Gong operation. Damon moved around a little without being touched and sat unaware of us for about 15 minutes after his treatment. During this time I spoke through a translator to Mr Jing about my idea that western and eastern medicines can be linked and profit from each other. He thought this was a great idea. He talked how Qi-gong treats the whole body, not just the symptoms. In fact during the operation he spent some time working around Damon’s back because it had some issues. I asked what he was trying to do in his operations. He told me he was attempting to get the Qi flowing- to undo the blockages. He said that this treatment he tried a different method than before- he tried to get in touch with a different kind of energy in the universe. Afterwards Damon’s face was visibly red and warm to the touch. Damon said he saw waves of light (in his good eye)(or mind’s eye), but no definite improvement in sight. Grandmaster Jing said he was like a scientist finding the relationship between Qi in the universe and Qi in the body. It was surprisingly non-mystical, but rather more scientific.”
Here is an an excerpt from 05/09/1998
… I learned some basic Qi-Gong exercises which to me seem like well conceived stretching exercises. They relaxed me and felt good. Then Damon underwent a treatment. It was interesting- he once again was made to move without being touched. At one point he said he felt a burst of energy and he opened his eyes. There is definitely something going on. I am not seeing things and the movements are too often and too consistent to be coincidence. I have no idea. The only postulate I could think of is magnetism.Where acupuncture points(Qi points) often correspond to peripheral nerves. Could the moving of electric charge cause a magnetic field? If so- how could it be controlled?How could such a large force be created? The theory seems unlikely- its probably something else.
I also learned some Qi- Gong theory. The theory says there is a tube of some sort that goes up through the front and back of the body. There are seven intersection holes. I am not quite clear on the concept of the intersections. But it is clear something important happens at each of these seven intersections. (top of head, between the eyes, throat, heart, naval, genitalia, perineum).
Each person is born with an “original Qi” that comes from the perineum area. There are also Qi tubes that are inherited- one red- from the mother (menstrual blood); one white- from the father (semen). Between the naval and the genitalia is the area where the Qi is stored (center of gravity). One has the original Qi and Qi absorbed from food.
If I understand correctly one wants to to amass as much Qi as possible and try to open the intersection to the universe (very unclear to me).
The master is absolutely convinced Qi-gong works. I am convinced of two things 1) This is a functional paradigm- the points are not physiologic certainties, but rather represent underlying physiologic responses. 2) That there is something western science has missed- some force- not just a chemical in the body- but a fundamental force. It is either missed or wrongly described in physiology. If it is possible to find a physiological equivalent for this fundamental paradigm- it would be a major discovery. However, it is also likely no actual force exists and the concept of Qi can only be explained as a functional paradigm. For sure no one in the West is going to believe in it without more proof.
Now..20 years later…
So those are my words- my account of what I witnessed as a young man. Have you ever read something you wrote 20 years ago? It makes you feel old.
If I came upon that account today, I would think that person who wrote it was completely nuts. My years of medical and scientific education have trained my mind to quickly dismiss stories like the one told above.
However, I never forgot what I saw back in the seaside city of Yantai. For years, during my medical training, I kept it mostly to myself. I might as well also include my stories of being adopted by a family of leprechauns and my time spent at vampire camp- my colleagues would interpret it all the same.
To a medical professional, a Qi-gong treatment story makes no sense:
A person being physically moved like a puppet from across the room without being touched and the puppet remembering nothing of the event.
-Blood flowing into a man’s face and eyes for no reason other than another person moving their arms near that man’s head
-A man who has permanently lost his ability to smell briefly regaining his lost sense.
That is crazy talk. You show up in the emergency room telling that story and they immediately test your urine for all sorts of recreational drugs.
The doctor and scientist in me knows what I saw is impossible based on everything we understand about the physical world. But I’m pretty confident about what I witnessed 20 years ago. I have never had a reason to doubt what I saw.
Some small conclusions
I don’t believe in magic, but I do believe we don’t have all the answers. At least that’s what I learned from years of watching Star Trek. Whenever the crew of the Enterprise discovers an advanced alien race, it becomes obvious that their current state of scientific understanding is grossly inadequate. On the show, it’s never a condemnation of science, only a revelation that we have so much to learn. Since it’s on TV, I guess that must be true.
Now, years later, I have since traveled the world-been to almost 50 countries- visited cultures across the globe and I’ve seen some stuff I just can’t explain. There are so many different paradigms of medicine out there- some rooted in thousands of years of history; some from some crazy guy in a basement. Many of them may utilize biological and physical processes we don’t yet understand; some are complete fraud.
My future travels…
Who are these medicine men and women that operate outside our normal health care system? And why do patients go see them when my high tech cutting edge hospital is right down the street? Maybe we are not offering something they need? Something more than simply a cure?
I plan to go and visit these “unorthodocs” and see what is going on? I’m not easy to convince, but I’ll keep an open mind and am willing to question everything I think I know.
Back when I was an English teacher, my short time with a Qi-Gong master might have been the most important lesson of my medical education and it inspires me to go out and seek what other mysteries are out there.