How Roots to Sky approaches Life & Emotional Guidance
Most recent/original version of this article can be found here.
Do you experience low confidence or self-esteem? Does your life derail into seemingly unpredictable depression or anxiety? Do you often find yourself confused with life’s choices, or wanting to overcome the thoughts and fears that block you from the Inspired Life you know you are capable of living? Can you imagine your possibilities if you were to live without pain — either physical or emotional?
What makes my life coaching & guidance process different from other forms of counselling is the deep belief in the ultimate unity of the body and mind. From the ground up, Traditional Wholistic Medicines¹ acknowledge the powerful influence of thought, emotions and dreams on our physical beings… and vice-versa. Let’s explore…
The Roots to Sky Approach to Emotional Guidance
THE FLOW OF QI
We begin with the concept of Qi (pronouced ‘Chee’) — the energy of ‘functional vitality’ or as I call it Vital Inertia — the motivating force behind all functions of our organs and systems, from physical to thoughts & emotions.² We detect its flow and state of health similar to observing the patterns (symptoms) made by the wind as is ripples through the trees (our bodies) — the wind invisible, but its effects apparent. The nature of Qi is to flow unimpeded as a river does. When Qi flows, our health and experience of life flows with ease as well, we move towards our goals with more grace and natural joy. And like a river, Qi is known to stagnate, become sluggish, stuck or blocked, implying that on some level the basic function of an organ or system has become impaired — and may not show up on a lab test. The single primary cause of a ‘stagnation of Qi’ is unfulfilled desires — and if you take a moment to turn inwards to reflect, even as far back as your childhood… what else but unfulfilled desire is at the root of our suffering? Even if the desire was to simply not feel hurt…
“So while all flowing emotions are healthy, if excessive or suppressed they may lead to chronic blocks or disharmonious movements of Qi..”
It has been well understood for thousands of years that emotions themselves, when in excess or imbalance, cause Qi to flow erratically. Each of the emotions has a predictable and recognizable effect on Qi — for example chronic anger, like fire, causes Qi to rise, manifesting as symptoms such as flushed face, headaches, or bloodshot eyes among others (though these in themselves do not automatically imply anger as a cause, there are numerous others — this is what makes the medicine wholistic). So while all flowing emotions are healthy, if excessive or suppressed they may lead to chronic blocks or disharmonious movements of Qi which then impact our physical bodies further downstream. Our bodies define what is appropriate and what is harmful by communicating through signs & symptoms. Conversely, Qi can also stagnate through less optimal foods or eating habits, overwork/stress or other factors, which in turn can create predictable emotional symptoms such as depression or irritability. Thus in either case, the work is to uncover the root… And in doing so, we free up much needed energy… and inspiration naturally follows.
THE UNION OF BODY AND MIND (Yin & Yang)
Symptoms such as feeling “stuck in life” will almost certainly coincide with symptoms of stagnation in your body. By freeing the flow of one, the other often follows — so long as we give it space to do so. Our mental-emotional states are inseparable from our physical health. I often illustrate this with the image of a beautiful flowering plant: the roots of the plant representing our physical bodies, while the flower is our mental emotional creative consciousness — the health of which is firmly rooted in health of the body — they are one unit. Vice-versa, a healthy mind will in turn make healthy choices in how to take care and nourish the body through listening and respecting its needs. So while not all physical symptoms imply an emotional root, very often stubborn ones which do not respond to treatment are most likely due to the root being ultimately emotional in nature. Conversely stubborn emotional reactions/responses may not become fully resolved, which is to say may still become triggered, until they have been moved from the physical body as well. Talk therapy may be effective in some cases, but have we truly released the trauma from our whole being, or simply rationalized it away and returned to the cerebral status quo?
“The roots of the plant represent our physical bodies, while the flower is our mental emotional creative consciousness… they are one unit.”
From its very foundation, Traditional Chinese Medicine does not separate the body from the Spirit. This is most obvious when looking at the ‘Zangfu’ traditional ‘Organ’ systems. In Chinese medicine, the ‘Organs’ represent a far greater sphere of action than our literal anatomical organs — instead, it is best to think of them as umbrella concepts with physically rooted locations. Rooted in the ‘Five Phases’ or ‘Five Elements’ theory (further explored here), the traditional view of Organs are as collections of corresponding body-mind-spirit functions, assigned into systems and named after the organs. In other words, from the modern biomedical view the organs are physical only, whereas in Chinese medicine they also include associated emotions and qualities of being such as willpower or decisiveness — to name a very few. Further elaborating on my Flowering Plant image, imagine a garden of five flowering plants — each with its own root system which interact and interweave with the others; while each having their own stalks, leaves, branches, flowers and even fragrances. Each of these aspects represent a corresponding tissue such as the muscles, a sense organ, and other physical manifestations — but most importantly for Guidance sessions, corresponding emotions and aspects of consciousness or Spirit. Thus, by bringing the ‘Organ’ back online, we bring back the vitality to all of these aspects — by watering the roots of the plant the whole plant thrives, and the bud of unripe/withdrawn emotions emotions such as fear, begins to blossom into its flower — fearlessness & courage. This is simply the natural way of things — we must have the bud of fear, to blossom into the flower of courage.
We now have to ask… why did these roots get damaged to begin with?
As children we have not yet developed tools of communication or even the strength to protect our boundaries — we know something has wronged us in some way, sometimes deeply and often deeper than we even realized, but we were essentially powerless to do anything about it. If these emotions are not fully expressed and purged from our systems, in an effort to maintain healthy cognitive function especially in a developing and relatively malleable mind, our brains develop psychological programs (templates) to cope with or avoid further traumas. Our conscious minds move on, yet the incompletely expressed emotions lodge in our physical body (which can be seen as an extension of the unconscious mind) as blockages of Qi, becoming like toxins slowly draining away our vitality year by year — without our consciously even knowing so. Most commonly, these old emotions are stored in our ‘guts’ or the actual acupuncture channels themselves, though in essence they can lodge anywhere.
I often use an amoeba and petri dish metaphor. Apparently an experiment (the story is more important than the literal citation, I’ll look into it however) was done where poisonous ink was injected into a small petri dish with an amoeba. The little amoeba can’t survive surrounded by the toxic environment, so to adapt it engulfed the ink and sealed it off in a vacuole within itself. It then lived at a sub-quality but basically functional life. However, when it was moved into a bigger dish, it then travelled to the far side, ejected the ink, and then moved away to safety.
Whether this is true or not here’s what we can learn from this metaphor: We often simply do not have the tools to deal with existing in a toxic environment or situation, especially when we were young, so we suppress the trauma within ourselves, essentially to deal with when we have the tools or safety. So when given a safe enough space, a big enough container to really get our bottled up feelings that we’ve been carrying out of us, it’s like unplugging a drain. The trick is to let them pour out completely until they have been purged. And when you find the original reason, the original wound, our present self can then kneel down next to the wounded being within and give it forgiveness, compassion, or understanding and let them know they did the best they could at the time and there is nothing more that could have been done with the limited tools we had. We just often need the right container to feel safe enough in for this purging process to unfold, and the tools to catalyze the journey.
DREAMSCAPES (The Stories of Our Souls)
“Dreams are the call that it is time to do this work…”
Dreams are a call that it is time to do this work. I believe that the deep dreams we all experience each night, (as distinct from the superficial dreams, the digesting of our daily experiences) are communication from the depths of our authentic selves, which one could call Soul or Spirit, and are gateways into understanding our unconscious fears or psychological programs, likely very deep or very old, seemingly impossible to retrieve. This has been powerfully confirmed beyond doubt to me through years of fascination — studying dreamwork and lucid dreaming from numerous cultures, as well as personal study of Jungian depth & archetypal/alchemical/mythological psychology, and is now applied in my clinical experience. It is no coincidence that beneath the cultural masks which our relatively more conscious minds interact with in the dreamscape, lie the universal symbols of humanity — as Carl Jung coined, the archetypes. If we choose to dive into the depths of our mysterious unknowns and learn the language of our dreams (our own personal myths) as well as become empowered to truly hear the richness of the “Deep Song” that faerie tales and legends speak of in whispers (the dreams of our common collective humanity) we can begin to embark on a journey from our oldest ancestral roots to our own personal potential visions, consciously creating the inspired life I believe we all have the potential to experience. Following the footsteps of the native narrative traditions of the world, I often rely on these myths, storytelling, and creative analogy to help you awaken to the realization that the journey you are on is an ageless one, and while your journey is a unique one, you are not alone in your suffering. It is safe to be who and where you are. In fact understanding these myths can form the very maps to help us when we are lost in the dark… Why else do they endure across borders, cultures and times?
Dreamwork is a tool I use, but with any tool it is best used when is appropriate and may not be explored in your session. We all dream, we just may not be able to recall them. This is a prime example of the wholistic traditional perspective — Dreams are an aspect of the ‘Wood’ element, embodied in the Chinese ‘Liver’ organ. Bringing the Wood system back to its harmonious flow results in dreams becoming harmonized — not too vivid or nightmarish; nor mundane, colourless, or forgotten altogether. Perhaps then, upon their return of communicating with you, will we know the time is ripe for transformation…
CONTRASTING THE MAINSTREAM PSYCHIATRIC APPROACH
Roots to Sky seeks to participate in the movement towards re-framing mental-emotional health — not as diseases to be cured or removed as though it were surgery, instead areas to be embraced and explored from within, leading to a life of purpose and whole well-being. It might be bold statement, but I believe the conventional psychiatric approach is set up for failure due to the fact that it doesn’t acknowledge the inherent wholism of our beings, aiming instead to “fix” an isolated “chemical imbalance” with a pill. By contrast, to provide a very basic example, one person’s depression may be in majority due to nutritional or functional deficiency, while a smaller percentage due to outright trauma; while in another person’s experience these ratios may be reversed, alongside many other wholistic factors. (Note that trauma may not be in the typical sense, all too often trauma is due to the oppression of society — against ones gender, skin colour, privilege, etc. or the subtle but crushing expectations on your right to an intact sense of identity.)
To be extremely clear, myself and Roots to Sky absolutely recognize the role of capitalist pharmaceutical interventions, however it is also critical that those prescribing these substances recognize this role themselves — as placeholders, not as medicines in the truest sense of the word: substances which actually lead to a cure. Fortunately, the tides are turning in this area. So while they can be vital tools for some, Roots to Sky has no interest in judging one’s personal choices. Instead we seek those who are ready to take the steps to move beyond these placeholders towards reclaiming their health from a wholistic perspective — this work (including psychological, nutritional, functional, spiritual etc.) must be addressed if any tangible progress in transformation is ever to occur.
In Traditional Wholistic Medicine systems depression, anxiety or other concerns take on different meanings depending on their natures and those of the wholistic signs & symptoms that they are accompanied by — thus these states of mind are never seen as disease entities in and of themselves alone. Instead, they are seen as part of a constellation or component of a pattern. Relative inner peace is the side effect, a natural consequence or emergent property of untying the knot of threads that make up the pattern. Because of this foundational comprehensive approach, these traditions are highly appropriate launchpads for a new paradigm in the treatment of emotional health. I certainly do not claim these systems have all of the answers, however due to their fundamental wholistic nature that has been refined for thousands of years, there is no sense in reinventing the wheel when such tried and tested models already exist and are our shared human heritage, deeply worthy of exploration.
“…a caterpillar must surrender to complete chaos & disintegration in order to become a butterfly…”
Instead of soldiering through depression with a pill so that one can return to ‘life-as-normal’ can we not collectively aim higher and redefine our goals? Not towards a society people functioning at their bare-minimum levels — but towards a society of whole, healthy and consciously empowered humans, willing to work with our shadows? It can be said that the “Western” modern world has a preoccupation with bringing a glaring searchlight to every corner of our psyche and component of the universe — certainly a noble endeavour — yet often assumes that it is someday possible to know it all, as if we were inherently afraid of the dark. In contrast, the East (expressed loosely) paid great attention to the value and importance of the ultimate unknowable and its role in the healing process. We all experience the unknowable (‘Dao’), moments of complete surrender, acknowledgement that we may never fully grasp the depth or magnitude of an experience. This process is in fact necessary for the reorganization of our being which could be seen as a transformative reboot/upgrade process, in the same way that a caterpillar must surrender to complete chaos & disintegration in order to become a butterfly. This is the spiritual principal at work and symbolized behind the alchemical traditions.
As I have hopefully shown, beyond the treatment and diagnostic methods, the wholistic philosophy of traditional medicine itself is medicine we desperately need in our modern hyper-compartmentalized world… as this fragmentation is an all-too-often unrecognized cause of trauma in itself.
BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER — HOW DOES IT WORK?
Life coaches are everywhere these days, what makes Roots to Sky different?
On my long and ever-spiralling journey through the ups and downs of wholistic well-being and deep lasting contentment, I have explored a wide terrain of psychological paths; synthesizing my primary influences and personal study of Asian consciousness philosophy, Primal therapy, Non-Violent Communication, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Gottman Institute research, Ayahuasca, Gestalt & Primal therapy, Narrative Medicine, Jungian depth psychology & dream analysis, HeartMath research, Tibetan and Zen Buddhist psychology and extensive Mindfulness training — all woven into my education as an advanced Chinese medicine practitioner. This broad yet deep overview has allowed me to integrate my own insights each step of the way. I have received intensive training by Lorie Eve Dechar author of ‘Five Spirits — Alchemical Acupuncture for Psychological and Spiritual Healing’, an incredible and traditional approach to deep mind-body healing. Using these different lenses as teaching tools — without adhering or preaching, I aim to offer you an incredibly trusting and vibrant experience.
Do you flex and adapt in the winds of life, or shatter easily like a stalk of dried bamboo?
Beyond outright symptoms such as depression or anxiety, we examine other qualities of being as well — willpower, motivation, frustration, fear — to name a few, and how these all link back to expressions in the body. For example, concerns of a lack of willpower due an underlying fear are rooted in the Chinese Water element and embodied in the ‘Kidney’ system — often alongside symptoms such as lower back-ache and urinary or temperature disturbances. By restoring health to this system, qualities such as courage begin to be a natural consequence, a side effect. In Guidance sessions we thus work at a deeper level than standard TCM treatment of typical health concerns such as poor digestion or infertility in themselves. For instance, we might explore why your ‘Fire’ may be smoldering or diminishing, why your mind or path ahead might be ‘clouded’, why your emotional health shatters easily like a stalk of dried bamboo, rather than flexes and adapts in the winds of life. We aim to connect the dots from your poor digestion to your insomnia to your confidence concerns — and anything in between. By using ancient principles Roots to Sky never reinforces the mind body split, I believe that traumas or stagnations affect the whole being, and that by only treating one side of the equation one often comes at the expense of the other. To make lasting changes in the emotional state corresponding changes must be made in the body; blockages in the mind can only truly be released by releasing blockages in the body for whole health to blossom.
Roots to Sky utilizes teaching exercises, home-explorations, energywork & creative visualization, Non-violent Communication techniques, storytelling and acupuncture; while at the same time correcting the diet and if necessary prescribing herbs, working alongside any other practitioners you may have on your team — a truly wholistic approach geared towards taking the leap towards your personal potentials from the ground up, from Roots to Sky. And despite the depth of this article, often Guidance Sessions are booked to simply explore mind-body connections, a specific dream, options at a life crossroads, advice & council, or even just a listening ear — we go as deep as you need to.
My Role is to read the patterns of expressions from your being to uncover where blockages lie, and then apply our tools to uproot it; while more importantly giving you tools and guidance to discover your own, to build your own personal toolbox towards living your inspired vision of life.
Your Role is to stay strong in the truest sense of the word — strong enough to cry or to laugh, the strength to explore, the willingness experience the depths, the strength to stay open, open, open. And together as equals, we merge the traditions of the past with the visions of the future, to create a more whole you in the present.
THE SPIRAL JOURNEY
What brought me to my own Spiral Journey is my own personal struggles with depression, anxiety, low self esteem, and seeing the very real connections to the expressions from my body… Each of the two steps forward one step back (sometimes three…) gave me countless tools in my toolbox that I can now share with you — to reconnect you to the fact that its safe to be who and where you are are, you have all the tools necessary for healing already within you, they are simply just blocked or suppressed. So from life’s daily frustrations to the powerful transformative experiences we all encounter, I am here to provide a safe container, an ear to simply listen, or advice to help along your path towards your dreams, and walk with you in our shared journey to a peaceful mind and open heart.
¹ I have coined the umbrella term “Traditional Wholistic Medicines” of which Chinese medicine, as well as Ayurveda and Native American medicine to name a few, are included within.
² If you are an evidence-based medicine type, or if this article raises more questions than it answers, know that my complete introduction to Chinese medicine is on its way.
To explore some of the tools we use in depth, hover over the Guidance sub-menus, or get started Here.
Wholistic Life Guidance & Coaching by Matt Walton R.TCMP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.