Life’s Challenges, the Nine Palaces
By C. Zinnia Maravell, L. Ac, DOM
The Nine Palaces are the nine life challenges that each of us faces. Working with the Nine Palaces gives you a way to help a patient with emotional problems that do not require you to know why he has the problem. You do not have to play at being a psychotherapist. You just need to identify which of the palaces is causing difficulty. For most patients it is not necessary to focus the whole treatment on a palace but you can add points to the treatment that address the palace such as the opening point for the Extraordinary Meridian. There are, however, a few patients when the entire treatment is to help them organize their energy so that they can successfully meet the challenge of the palace.
The effort your patient makes to maintain his integrity while solving these challenges is a taxation of his essence/jing. When the essence/jing is depleted, people develop illnesses, emotional problems, and other physical symptoms. Taking the Nine Palaces into consideration gives you another way of analyzing the patient’s presentation. In general, when treating patients for a Palace issue you would use one of the Eight Extraordinary Meridians.
As you read this article, think not only of your patients but of your self. Which of the challenges have you not met or would like to resolve better?
As an infant, it is the parent’s responsibility to maintain your health so that you survive but as you mature, it is your responsibility to cultivate good health. As an adult, good health is usually the result of lifestyle choices, eating properly, exercising, and resting. Most of our patients come to us for health problems but a Nine Palaces approach would not be appropriate unless the health issue is very long term or constitutional. Dai Mai/ Belt channel is the bridge between prenatal and postnatal qi so it ideally suited to addressing constitutional or inherited health conditions.
Abundance means having enough to live comfortably. That is having enough food, clothing, shelter but it is also an attitude of being satisfied with what you have. When your sense of abundance is weakened, you lose a sense of adequacy. When you have abundance in your life, you do not feel compelled to be constantly acquiring more things or eating more food to feel adequate. When you have not successfully created abundance, you can expect to have digestive issues, especially dampness. The dampness can also manifest as a lack of sense of direction. You can’t see through the fog. Yang wei mai/Yang Linking channel works with abundance problems because it links all the palaces together and frees energy so you can figure out how to have an attitude of abundance.
The difference between the abundance and the prosperity palace is that prosperity involves giving rather than acquiring. Prosperity also involves a sense of movement. You feel life is going well. What you do bears fruit. If you have an attitude of prosperity, you will be generous to others. You feel you have enough to share. This expansiveness is a fire quality. If you feel miserly or feel people are always imposing on your time or energy, then you have prosperity problems. Du Mai/the Governor vessel as the most yang channel and the home of ming men fire treats prosperity issues.
Like health, relationships start at birth with the parents and then expand to include other family members, friends, and a life partner. Unlike Maslow’s view that relationships revolve around the need to be loved and accepted, the Chinese take a less emotional look at relationships. What you are trying to do is have relationships with the world that allows you to fulfill your destiny. For example, an ascetic may choose to be alone to fulfill his destiny. Relationships are a fire issue. If you are having difficulty with the relationship palace, you may put some of your own needs aside just to stay in a relationship. Conversely, you may not be accepting of others. You may have problems even physically standing because emotionally you cannot stand up for yourself. The Yang Qiao mai, the Yang Motility vessel deals with the present and how one appreciates oneself. Self acceptance is the key to having relationships that support your continued cultivation. On the physical level it is how you stand and present yourself to the world.
In the past, creativity was seen as the fruit of a relationship because it referred to having children. The child makes you eternal. We can interpret creativity more broadly to include anything you produce that can endure past your life time such as art, music, literature, inventions, corporations etc. It is what you will take pride in as you die. In some sense, your ability to create gives your life meaning. You may have a problem with the creativity palace if you are dissatisfied with the choices your children have made, or have difficulty completing projects, or are often day dreaming about making your mark on the world. Creativity involves the Yin Wei mai, Yin Linking vessel and Yin Qiao mai, Yin Motility vessel. The Yin Wei mai helps to balance qi and blood which have become exhausted from thinking about the future. The Yin Qiao mai provides the form/muscles for keeping your orientation in the world, and helps you have the flexibility to create something new.
The adventure palace makes you want to leave the confines of your family or a relationship and experience something new. It is about not feeling you are stuck in a rut. It can be satisfied through traveling, tasting new food, learning a foreign language, meeting people different from yourself. If you always talk about taking a cross-country road trip but never take it, get help with this palace. The Yin Qiao mai works with this palace because it helps the person have the strength to adapt to the new situations.
The career palace involves not only your desires but society’s willingness to facilitate the fulfillment. For example, can you get the education you need to meet qualification standards for an occupation? Do you have the resources, intelligence, determination to prepare yourself? The career palace is not a job but an occupation that nurtures your soul. Does the occupation give you a feeling of abundance, self worth? People often identify themselves by their occupation or job and see the world through the values of that profession. Typical career palace problems are feeling trapped in a job that does not use your talents or losing a job you really liked. Challenges to this palace are treated with Chong Mai/the Penetrating vessel, because Chong mai goes to the heart, which houses the Shen, spirit, and down to the legs. Symbolically, the legs represent action, the ability to move toward what you want.
Wisdom evolves naturally from satisfying the other palaces. Wisdom is self reliance and acceptance. You are comfortable with who you are. It is knowing that whatever happens in life, you will be able to handle it. This is treated with Ren mai, Conception vessel. The Ren mai consolidates the qi needed to solve problems.
The home palace is the sanctuary where you find peace within yourself. Home is accepting that everything has a happy ending. Returning home is the idea of dying and returning to the Tao. There is no need for treatment if the person has successfully met the challenges of the other palaces. If the person has not, determine which palace is causing the most problems and help the patient with that palace.
In my practice there is a patient who was born very prematurely. Since infancy, she has had allergies and digestive issues. I have been treating her on the paired channels of Dai mai and Yang wei mai. Just recently she reported that she visited a friend with cats and did not have a problem. She said she is feeling much less stressed now that she knows she will not have an allergy attack every time she goes somewhere unfamiliar. The decreased stress may improve her digestion.
Another patient is an 85 year old woman with lung cancer. She is very aware that she is dying. For the last several years she has been complaining about her children’s life choices, and lamenting the fact that she has not written more books. I have been treating her for creativity palace problems and the complaining is not as strident.
A young woman came to me for weight loss and smoking cessation. She said both problems were caused by emotions. Her problem is that she feels caught in a job that does not allow her to use her education. I have been treating her on Chong mai and she says she can now resist eating when she is not hungry and stops smoking for a few days at a time.
Just recently I have started to work with a woman who has satisfied most of the Nine Palaces. She finds her career rewarding, has several creative outlets, travels, has good relations with her family and friends although she would like to establish an intimate relationship. She has had recurrent breast cancer. Her problems are in abundance and prosperity. She feels she never has enough money although she is living comfortably and feels guilty about not being generous to others. So, unlike a Maslow type model, you can successfully satisfy higher level needs but still be struggling with what he would consider basic needs. The reason the Chinese model is different is that the Chinese are viewing abundance and prosperity as states of being rather than purely physical conditions.
When you are treating a patient for a Nine Palace issues, you need to let the patient know that it may take three to six months for them to feel more comfortable with the life challenge represented by a palace. For this reason it is important to make sure that you and the patient have a trusting and caring relationship.
C. Zinnia Maravell is a licensed Acupuncturist working in Washington, DC. She was trained in TCM but studies Five Elements acupuncture with Niki Bilton and Daoist acupuncture with Jeffrey Yuen. Zinnia teaches Yoga in the tradition of Khrishnamacharya. She is an authorized meditation instructor in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition. She teaches the Mind Body Stress Reduction program pioneered by Jon Kabat‐Zinn. She has a BA from Bryn Mawr College and an MBA from the University of Chicago. Her web site is www.attentivedragon.com.