Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies: Psychology & Chinese Medicine (Revised Edition)
Leon Hammer, M.D. Eastland Press, Seattle USA 2005 Paperback, 438 pages, £22.50
(Reviewed by Alan Hext, EJOM Vol. 5 No. 2)
Any work which affirms that Chinese medicine can benefit patients’ mental and emotional conditions rather than just their physical pain is to be welcomed. Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies was a pioneering book when first published in 1990 and continues to make a meaningful contribution.
Dr Hammer originally trained in psychoanalysis in America, also exploring the work of Reich, Bioenergetics, Rolfing and Gestalt. His two main acupuncture teachers were Dr Van Buren and Dr John Shen. Leon Hammer has subsequently published his codification of the clinical skills of Dr Shen in Chinese Pulse Diagnosis: A Contemporary Approach in 2001.
One inspiration for Dragon Rises was interestingly Lawson-Wood’s The Five Elements and Chinese Massage which he first read in 1973. Dragon Rises now appears in a revised edition, graced by an illustration of the interplay of the Dragon and the Phoenix, its most beautiful cover so far. The new publisher includes a much improved index, although one strangely lacking any entry under Dragon. It is also interesting to note that the Red Bird appears to be given an interpretation as an occidental rather than an oriental phoenix. On page 272, ‘Thus the ‘red bird’ self-immolates and flies again and again...’
I began reading with great expectation. The actual revisions are however surprisingly minimal. On the one hand this might appear a missed opportunity, on the other it is a testimony to the validity of the author’s original writing.
The book begins with an overview of Chinese medicine and psychology, then Psychosomatic Medicine: West and East. It is followed by in-depth section on its subject seen through the insights of the Five Phases, (previously ‘Five Elements’). Chapter 13 is entitled Anxiety and Depression and extensively describes anxiety arising from progressive stages of separation. It covers phases of individuation and their characteristic depressions as well as for example, bipolar disorders.
There is a key chapter on the systems model of Dr John Shen, who was a remarkable Chinese physician with whom Leon Hammer had extensive contact. This section contains revisions arising from Dr Hammer’s recent work on the pulse book.
Dragon Rises’ original publisher was Station Hill Press. In 1995 they published Rooted in Spirit, Larre and Vallees’ translation and commentary on Ling Shu Chapter 8. Leon Hammer is quoted on its back cover ‘Regarding the mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of Chinese medicine, this book is invaluable and fascinating.’ It is odd that such an appreciation has apparently not led him to further revisions of his own work. He appears to recognise that since Dragon Rises was originally published, a wealth of material concerning the Chinese classics has become available, which is of major relevance to his subject.
In Chapter 6 his first key point is ‘Except for joy, all the emotions described in the preceding chapters have negative implications.’ Such a value judgement derives from an incomplete understanding of the emotions in Chinese medicine.
This book is one you might consider recommending to a western physician, whilst also providing a challenging read for acupuncturists. A more recently published book, containing clinical information concerning specific conditions, is contained in Chinese Medical Psychiatry by Bob Flaws and James Lake. For more insights into the zang/fu as Officials read J R Worsley’s Volume III, Monkey Press’s Treatise on the Spiritual Orchid or Mark Seem’s Bodymind Energetics. For a classical understanding of the emotions read Larre & Vallées’s The Seven Emotions: Psychology and Health in Ancient China.
The back cover of Dragon Rises has praiseworthy quotations. One states ‘Hammer has plumbed the depths of this most ancient healing tradition….’ This may not perhaps be quite the endorsement the new publisher was hoping for! Further revision should be considered. I hope that Leon Hammer’s continuing longevity and further insights, combined with renewed book sales, allow this to occur.
Alan Hext Alan Hext was introduced to the Shen-Hammer pulse method in 2004. He teaches both Traditional Acupuncture and Zero Balancing bodywork and practices in Dorset.