Sabin Wilms comes from the academic world, with personal implementation of the principles of Chinese medicine, and in particular the principles of Sun Si-miao, who will be a central topic of her lecture and workshops.
Wilms studied Chinese (and is also proficient in additional languages), and for many years she has studied medical texts written by Sun-Si-miao, among her other studies in Germany, Taiwan and Arizona.
With extensive experience in teaching, book-editing and writing, she comes to us, to talk about her favorite topics.
Here is a summary of an interview that was conducted with her by Yael Ernst in SINIT , three years ago:
What attracted you to China studies? Has it always been your principal are of interest?
When first went to university in Germany, I was interested in Classic philosophy, cosmology, Latin and Greek poetry and literature. But all these had been studied and translated extensively. I discovered China Studies and fell in love with it completely. I grew up in a small town in Bavaria, and China had the scent of an adventure, which constituted a perfect excuse for me to spread my wings. And so I moved to Taiwan, where I studied modern and classic Chinese for two years, and I enjoyed it a great deal. The culture, the people, the confusion, the language, the food – everything was wonderful! In addition, I appreciated the wisdom that was expressed in the classic Chinese literature, not only medical – the philosophy, the religion and other texts. I always regarded the Chinese texts that I translated as meaningful on a personal level.
I read in your resume that you devoted 12 years to academic-philosophic studies. Has it always been clear to you that you wouldn’t be a practitioner? Why did you choose that? Do you feel that it is possible to prove the knowledge that you have accumulated on the practical level?
I am descended from a family of doctors – my parents, my grandparents, my sister, uncles, aunts… I am surrounded by doctors. So naturally, I had to do something completely different, being the "black sheep" of the family. Additionally, I worked in the hospital in which my father worked right after I graduated from college, and there I realized that institutionalized Chinese medicine wasn’t for me. I returned to medicine through a long and indirect road, after studying Chinese philosophy, religion and cosmology. Only after all that did I read the Chinese medical texts. Only in recent years did the two passions of my life – my academic subject of the history of Chinese medicine on the one hand and my interest in agriculture and the "nurturing of life" in the widest terms on the other hand – merge into my current attempts to make the classic writings meaningful for clinical practitioners, and to implement the classics now, in modern times.
A critical bridge between these two is my ethnomedicine and medical anthropology studies, through which I realized the importance of practical experience when reading the medical texts.
On another level, I think that we must expand the meaning of "what does it mean to be a Chinese medicine practitioner". I strive to implement the classic writings in everyday life. What do we mean when we say "practitioner"? According to the texts that I've read, I implement Chinese medicine constantly – I integrate my microcosms and that of the animals on my farm with the macrocosms. I like moxibation, I like plants, nutrition and Chi Kung, and I certainly implement all these in my everyday life. I just don’t puncture people with needles.
I read that you've studied the writings of Sun Si-miao extensively. What interested you in his writings? What is it about his writings that made you study them more than other writings?
The first reason was the book Bei Ji Qian Jin Yao Fang (Essential Prescriptions Worth a Thousand in Gold for Emergencies) – the scope, the depth and the comprehensiveness. The book was written in the seventh century, and it is most unique source of information, with clinical implications that are relevant to this day. The more I read the writings of Sun Simiao, the more attracted I am to his general attitude to life, to wisdom and ethics, his insights about nature, his vision about health as harmony between the microcosms and the macrocosms, and his study of Yang Sheng nurturing and nourishing of life. He became an inspiration for the way in which I live my life, and I think that his message is surprisingly relevant to modern life.
You researched the effect of TCM on conditions of cerebral palsy. What are your conclusions?
The research was a very interesting experience for me. I was a young academic, extremely enthusiastic about working with an experienced doctor in a very prestigious pediatric ward, who was sincerely interested in improving the possibilities for treating cerebral palsy patients. After witnessing the efficiency of TCM treatments in China, he wanted to examine what works when the matter is examined in standards of medicine and science, and to integrate the findings to the work patterns of the treatments. I was very happy to bridge between the top pediatric doctors in China and top pediatric doctors in the USA, and I felt like a fish in water in my role as medical anthropologist, translating between these two medical thinking patterns. Unfortunately, the project was not carried out as planned, and I was replaced by someone else. But it was an excellent learning experience for me, in which I understood the extent to which most patients are unaware of the difficulty that exists in navigating between two completely different medical systems, and the extent to which this lack of cultural awareness actually harms the work of many researches with good intentions on both sides.
Unfortunately, I see this problem repeating itself today, many years after what I have described here, in most TCM researches that are conducted now – in my opinion, the attempt to adapt Chinese medicine to a thinking pattern and to measure its efficiency in medical standards is an injustice to the depth and wisdom that are inherent in this tradition.
Of all the books on which you worked and were involved in their writing, which are you most proud of, and why?
That's a difficult question. I'm excited about every book that I work on. My favorite is my translation of Sun Si-miao's creation Bei Ji Qian Jin Yao Fang (Essential Prescriptions Worth a Thousand in Gold for Emergencies). I learnt a lot in the years that I worked on its translation. This work is the basis for all my work since. Perhaps a book that is more useful for the practitioner in his everyday work – I recently completed the first volume of Formulas from the Golden Cabin with Songs, a translation of Jin gui Yao Lue with comments. This is a relatively shorter book that the previous one that I noted (which has 800 pages), but I hope that it will help clinical practitioners in their everyday work, presenting the beauty and wisdom of the classics to them. I love the beauty of the formulas that are presented in Jin Gui, and I'm happy about the way in which we have made the text accessible to the modern practitioner.
I understand that you teach a great deal in Europe and in the United States. What do you like best about teaching? What topic is closest to your hear and is most important for you to lecture about?
I do like teaching, but in the sense of exchanging information. I offer what I know about the classic writings or about my experience with them, and I like to hear a discussion that evolves, in which the course participants shared the way in which they take this information and implement is clinically or in their personal life. What's the point of research and writing books if you don’t offer anything useful for the reader?
Personally, I enjoy talking about gynecology and about the different starting point of Chinese medicine in relation to the female body, to menstruation and the reproductive process.
As a woman who has experienced pregnancy and birth and is raising a daughter by myself, I am very aware of the destructive pictures and messages in relation to the female body that are so abundant in the American mainstream culture. I don’t know what it's like in Israel, but the Chinese gynecology offers something different and more positive with an aspect of nourishing, that I think can make a great difference in the woman's health.
In addition, I like studying the meaning of Yang Sheng (nurturing and nourishing of life) in all the dimensions, and its implication for our modern life.
And another thing – I love teaching young children who come to my farm – about milking goats and the other animals in the farm.
Can you tell me a little about your farm – Happy Goat Productions?
I can talk about this subject for hours!!
It is a dream come true for me, my daughter and my small farm, in the mountains of North New Mexico, with many animals, fruit, vegetables and healing plants, for us and a little to sell.
In principle, we are trying to create a little Paradise for ourselves, and are examining how we can enable all the animals to coexist in peace. To me, it's another attempt to maintain the nurturing and nourishing of life, and it enables me to study how to live my life in a healthier way – for me and for this earth.
I am constantly amazed at how easy it is to grow your own food, and what a blessing it is to be surrounded by so many healthy and happy creatures.
This post is also available in: Hebrew