Monday, February 8, 2016

Heart 7 again: Addition to my blog of 5 Feb

The practitioner, Ruth Wallis, with whom I shared a happy day last week (see my blog of 5 Feb), has emailed me with a slight correction to what I wrote.  Apparently students were told to end the first treatment with Ht 7 rather than a source point of the element they have chosen only if they could not decide which element to choose.  As she puts it, “If I am happy with the CF then I do not use Ht 7”, adding that “you have at the back of your mind it’s all too easy to think 'O its ok not to assign a CF straight away because you can always use Ht 7 after AE'.”

And therein lies the problem, and what I consider to be the mistake.  This is my reply to her:  “But who is “happy with the CF” at the first treatment?  That’s really the problem.  People are so worried about getting the “right CF” straightaway that they don’t give themselves time to address the elements and instead reach for Ht 7.  You are right when you say about it being easy to grab at Ht 7 instead of looking for the element.  I’m going to write a follow-up email based on what you wrote.  Thanks for stimulating me!”

Each treatment is there to ask a question of the elements and we must get used to gauging their responses so that they eventually guide us to the right element.  Note the word “eventually”.  We should not try to model ourselves on the example of JR Worsley, who some of us will remember saying with conviction after only a few minutes with the patient that “he/she is Wood”.  He would say that we would all be as proficient as he was at diagnosing the elements if we had done the same 40 or more years he had.  But few of any us have this amount of experience.  I have completed some 30 years as a five element acupuncturist, and still acknowledge that I need quite a few treatments before I am ready to convince myself that I am treating the right element. 

Because element-diagnosis is such a rarefied skill, we should waste no time in the practice room.  And by not addressing a particular element by reaching instead for Ht 7 we are doing that.  The Ht 7 treatment will tell us precisely nothing about the patient’s element (unless by chance they happen to be Inner Fire), and it will only defer to the next treatment what some seem to regard as the dreaded moment when they have to make up their minds and plump for one element.  It is far better gradually to train ourselves not to be fearful of “not being sure” of the element, and instead accept, as I do, that the initial absolutely necessary period of uncertainty, often extending to several weeks of treatment if not more, is a natural part of the process and not to be feared.  We should not be surprised at the difficulty of pinpointing the unique complexities of each human shaped by one particular element.

And even JR would query his own diagnosis.  I remember him saying about a patient of mine, “That’s odd.  I’m sure he is Earth, and yet his colour is not Earth’s colour”, and he went away puzzling about that.

We should all enjoy the mysterious world which each human being opens up to us, and accept that this ultimate unknowability makes our work to fathom which element lies at the heart of each of us difficult but enthralling.  And we should never be in a hurry, always remembering one of my mantras “Don’t worry, don’t hurry!”  Patients don’t if we don’t.





Friday, February 5, 2016

A plea for caution in using the point Heart 7: Spirit Gate

It is always a joy for me when I have confirmation that what I have taught somebody has really taken root, and is now flourishing.  One of the difficult things I have had to learn as a teacher is to accept that much of what I try to pass on to others may fall on fallow ground and never produce the fruit I so much hope for it.  Last weekend, though, thankfully the opposite happened.  A practitioner asked me to come to her practice to help her with some of her patients.  This proved to be a very satisfying day for me, and, I could feel, for her, too.  She was eager to learn from my experience, and this encouraged me to pass on what I could.

There was just one thing that pulled me up short, and which she asked me to write about.  For some reason which I still cannot quite fathom, she had been told during her training as a student at the old College of Traditional Acupuncture in Leamington that the first treatment should consist of the Aggressive Energy drain (good), but followed, not by the source points of the element she had chosen to start with, but by Heart 7, and this for every patient.  For the life of me I can’t think why this rather bizarre first treatment had become embedded in what was essentially a five element practice.  Why would the first official to be treated always be the Heart?

In the good old days, when JR Worsley controlled the curriculum, we were always being told to be extremely cautious about needling the Heart.  It is in many ways a sacred meridian, touching our very core, and therefore to be approached only with great care.  It is for good reason that one of the few times we use it for any guardian element is as the last point in treating a Husband/Wife imbalance, the point which we call upon to restore balance at the deepest level.  Apart from that, it can be used as a First Aid point for emergencies affecting the Heart, and, of course, as a command point, the source point, for patients with Inner Fire (the Heart and Small Intestine officials) as their aspect of the Fire element.  Here again, though, we should be wary of over-use, and concentrate treatment more upon Small Intestine points.

So please, please, all five element practitioners reading this, direct your choice of points firmly to the element you have decided upon from the very first treatment, and leave the Heart well alone.  And do at least 4-5 treatments on that element before deciding that a move to another element is called for.  To help those who are rather unclear how to start their five element treatments, you can look in my Handbook of Five Element Practice for a detailed discussion of point selection in general and for point selection for the first few treatments in particular. 

And give Heart 7 the respect it reserves.

Friday, January 29, 2016

A comparison of the thought processes of the different elements

Each element will think in its own particular way.  Metal will speedily resolve issues in its mind, cutting its way through thickets of thought which may hold up two other elements, Fire and Water.  It will think things through at a measured pace, ensuring that its conclusion and the verbal expression of this conclusion has only been taken after careful consideration, with none of the sense of haste which Wood can show.  This is so unlike the long dwelling upon things which Earth will need to indulge in if it is to fulfil its role as the profound processor of all thought.  Wood will want to reach a conclusion rapidly, making its mind up quickly, perhaps too quickly, and sticking to its conclusion often despite evidence to the contrary.   Water will be reluctant to allow anything to impede its need for its thoughts to flow, but may be hesitant in expressing these thoughts, perhaps often preferring to keep its thoughts to itself.  Fire, particularly Inner Fire, with its concentrated attention to the needs of the Heart, will try to ensure that any decisions it takes are appropriate for the Heart, and are made as quickly as possible to ensure that the protective cover it gives the Heart is maintained. 

A clear difference between the thought processes of Earth and Metal was revealed to me to me on a day when I happened to treat an Earth patient followed immediately by a Metal patient.  I became aware that I was moving from a room in which a patient was almost obsessively concerned with repeating a story she had already told me several times to a room with a totally silent patient, who left it to me to start the verbal interaction between us.  The comparison between the two was very stark and very illuminating, and probably gave me some of the most memorable insights into the differing qualities of the two elements.  I could see that Earth needed me to listen and understand.  It wanted to be heard, and would not be satisfied with simply telling me of an incident in its life, but had to repeat it several times in case I did not hear it properly.  Metal, on the other hand, far from wanting me to hear the processes by which it had reached a conclusion, only wanted to impart the conclusion it had come to quietly by itself in the least number of words possible.  It presented me with a complete episode, leaving unspoken the process by which it had reached this conclusion.  It was interested only in the finished product.  One could say it allowed its mother element, Earth, to do the preliminary processing work, whilst it waited to complete the action, to finalize the thought.

In each case, the speaker, here my patient, was demanding different things from me, the listener, and since these different demands reflected characteristics typical of each element, this could be used as another helpful pointer to a patient’s element.  Of course these individual characteristics can become exaggerated the more out of balance a patient is, and less obvious the more balanced a patient is.



Thursday, January 28, 2016

Alittle bit of unexpected cheer

I am watching with fear as the world, which often seems never to learn from its past, hovers yet again on the brink of another financial precipice, with the rich making sure that they get richer whilst the poor only get poorer.  And I can hardly bear to look at a newspaper or listen to the news because everywhere I see the desperate faces of asylum seekers risking their lives, and often losing those lives, in an attempt to escape the horrors of wars.  I can understand what being a refugee is like, although at one remove, for half my family, my mother’s half, was Austrian Jewish and many of them were forced to flee to this country before the second World War, most escaping the concentration camps only because my English father could vouch for them.

And then I think of all those rich and influential people sitting around behind police barricades in five-star hotels in Davos, flying in and out in their private planes, to discuss from a distance what to do about the poverty in the world.  And the gap between their world and the world outside seems to grow ever wider.

It is sometimes too much for me, and I have to take refuge in reading all kinds of escapist literature, my favourite being detective stories, where good always triumphs.  I am particularly fond of the gentle old-fashioned English country village kind, which takes me back to the nostalgia of a simpler life, with echoes of my own childhood.

I am cheered, though, by hearing that at last this country will be doing something about the hordes of unaccompanied children who live in appalling conditions just a few miles over there in the camps in Calais, a prey to child traffickers.  It seems as though one or more thousand will be allowed in.  And high time too!


There is a happy postscript to the blog above which I have just read in today's Guardian newspaper:  "Teachers flood Dunkirk school for refugees with aid offers".

This is a heartening story of the school a teacher and friends have set up in the mud of a refugee camp in Dunkirk, of the success they are having in teaching the refugee children, and of the many other teachers volunteering to cross the Channel to offer their help.  Hoorah, hoorah!

Further thoughts on traditional acupuncture's legacy to the history of Chinese culture

I have recently written about the importance we should all give to the idea of a personal legacy which we pass on to others (see my blogs of 24 May 2015 The legacy we leave behind and of 27 August 2015 Transmission of a lineage).  I have been made particularly aware of this after reading a few books in the excellent series about China published by a very enterprising publishing house, Zed Books (, whose books I would recommend for those interested in understanding China's position in world history today, not only for people like me who visit China, but also for those concerned with world politics in general, as we all should be.   

For obvious reason I have concentrated my reading on steeping myself in things Chinese, and the Zed books I list below have given me much food for thought.  Each has changed my perspective on what my trips to China are teaching me (I am embarking on my 9th visit in April), and each has made me re-evaluate my own role in re-introducing five element acupuncture to China.  I see more clearly now how this fits into the general thrust of China’s renewed interest in connecting with its past, as well as helping me understand more how it wishes to extend its connections with the world outside its borders.

The books on China that I have recently read are:
Wade Shepard: Ghost Cities of China
Michael Barr: Who’s afraid of China?
Leta Hong-Fincher:  Leftover Women
Tom Miller:  China’s Urban Billions

And then there is a further book which is not solely related to China, but addresses the global financial world, and has taught me more than any other book I have read about the historical reasons which led to the 2008 financial collapse, and the possible trouble now looming over us yet again.  It has made me understand the sheer selfishness of politics now, which contrasts sadly with what I see was what could be viewed as a golden age in British life in which I grew up, the post-World War years before Margaret Thatcher’s arrival on the political scene.  In those years  there really was a feeling that the whole country was trying to work towards a more egalitarian country, and the state itself  looked after the weakest as a matter of course, and not, as now, stigmatizing them for being weak.

So my last recommendation is for another Zed Book is The Global Minotaur by Yanis Varoufakis.  He was the Greek Minister of Finance at a time when it looked possible that Greece might be able to defy the almighty power of the IMF and the German government and refuse to cripple its citizens with further austerity, a hope unfortunately not realized.






Monday, January 4, 2016

The Fire Element’s Four Officials (Part II)

Here’s my second blog about the Fire element, as I look in detail at each of its officials.

Let’s start with the Heart, and thus with Inner Fire, as we should always do, as it is our most important official, in five element acupuncture called the Supreme Controller.  There it sits safely behind all kinds of barricades in rather lonely splendour, with only its companion official, the Small Intestine, granted close access.  It is cut off from the rest of the castle to protect it, and there is no direct connection between it and Outer Fire.  This is the inner sanctum of the Fire element, with the Supreme Controller, like a Lord of a Manor or an Emperor in the Forbidden City in Beijing, hidden well away from sight, and closely guarded by its yang companion, the Small Intestine. 

Such is the Heart’s importance that it has two further protectors, forming an outer defensive ring, the Three Heater and the Heart Protector.  These I call the two Outer Fire officials.  They patrol the castle’s ramparts and form the outer perimeter of the Heart’s defence system.  The Heart Protector can be thought of as a guard always with weapons in its hands, defending the castle from attack.  Its yang companion, the Three Heater, ensures that every part of this defensive structure functions harmoniously and as a single unit.  These two officials are alert to any danger, and do all they can to prevent an attack upon the Heart deep within.   We can interpret this emotionally as an awareness of the risks inappropriate relationships can pose.  It is interesting to note how often an Outer Fire person may cross their arms across their chest when they talk to other people, a physical sign that they are trying to protect the Heart inside.

This image reveals some of the characteristics which the two Outer Fire officials show as they maintain their defensive attitude at all times.  This can manifest itself as vulnerability when they are weak, as though retreating behind protective barricades.  It is as if they are physically lowering the portcullis when danger threatens.

This kind of defence is quite unlike the response of the Small Intestine to pressure upon it.  Since it is the closest official to the Heart, it cannot afford to retreat in this way, but has to stay in control at all times.  Instead, its yang quality shows itself increasingly the more defensive it may feel inside.  It counters stress upon it more by verbal sparring and mental agility.  We know that the Small Intestine’s function is to sort the pure from the impure, rejecting impurities to protect the Heart.   It is therefore constantly responding to whatever situation it is presented with by trying to sift from it only that which it is good to allow through.  

When we are trying to distinguish the characteristics of an Inner Fire person from that of Outer Fire, this somewhat restless activity can be seen as one of its distinguishing features.  The slightly puzzled look in an Inner Fire’s eyes as it tries to sort out its responses to a given situation is a good clue.   Outer Fire is not puzzled by life, just alert to its dangers.

I give below some of my tips for distinguishing the two sides of Fire from one another:

Outer Fire:

Easier than Inner Fire for people to relate to. (This reflects its time of maximum activity which is the evening, at the end of the day, as people start to relax.)

Relaxed company, spreading warmth and joy around it.

More articulate than Inner Fire, since it does not need constantly to sort out its thoughts.
Inner Fire:
More active than Outer Fire, since its time of maximum activity is around noon, when the sun’s yang energy is at its height.
             More prickly than Outer Fire. 
Likes to spread warmth and joy, but is often prevented from doing this because it is concentrating more on trying to work out what needs to be done to help the Heart.
Can look puzzled by life and remains puzzled until it has worked out a solution.  Can therefore send out confusing signals which other people may find disturbing.

Despite these tips, it is not easy to distinguish the differences between these two sides of Fire.  This is why we always start by treating Outer Fire for a few treatments to strengthen the Heart’s defences before moving to Inner Fire if we feel we have not reached the core of a patient.

I like to think that Outer Fire asks "Is this person safe to love?", whilst Inner Fire asks "Is this person wise to love?"

Thank you, Mary,  for prompting me to collect my thoughts together on the Fire element in this way.


The Fire Element’s Four Officials (Part I)

I seem to be thinking a lot about the Fire element at the moment, so my next two blogs offer some more of my thoughts.

A few days ago a student asked me about this element, and particularly about one of its four officials, the Three Heater (also called the Triple Burner), and that has set me thinking about what exactly the different functions of these officials are.  They are obviously all part of the Fire element, which has as its centre the Heart, but what do the other officials do to help the Heart?

I have always had an image in my mind’s eye when I think about the Fire element, and that is of a mediaeval castle, surrounded by a moat and battlements. These represent the Heart’s outer protectors, the Three Heater and the Heart Protector, which work together and which I have named Outer Fire.  The battlements have what is called a portcullis guarding its entrance from the outside world.  For those not familiar with the word, a portcullis is a heavy iron or wooden barrier which is lowered down from above to cut off anyone trying to gain access over the castle’s moat, and thus to protect the castle from intruders.  At the very centre of the castle there is a further structure, again surrounded by its own fortification, which represents the Heart with the Small Intestine circling around it and protecting it.  To these two officials I have given the name of Inner Fire.

I don’t know where I got this image of a castle from.  Did one of my teachers at my Leamington College describe the Fire element in these terms, or was it an image I developed for myself to understand the different functions of the four Fire officials?  I know that it was already clearly imprinted on my mind by the time I started my evening classes in London soon after I qualified, so it has become a very long-standing representation of this element for me.  And I find it very useful as it helps explain for me some of the differences between the two Inner and two Outer Fire officials.  For each pair has a different function within the Fire element, has different characteristics, therefore expresses itself differently within us, and needs to be treated differently with its own groups of points.

I will discuss this in greater detail in my next blog (Part II).


Saturday, January 2, 2016

Some problems of treating a patient of our own element

Because my own guardian element is Fire, I can often be quicker at diagnosing that this is another person’s element than happens with other elements, but this also gives me certain problems that these other elements don’t cause me.  We say that familiarity breeds contempt, but in five element terms it also breeds some confusion.  What I experience as being characteristic of the Fire element can all too easily colour how I perceive those who are similarly Fire in ways which may be particular to me but not to them.  I may assume too close a fit between them and me, and therefore think that they will react as I do.  In other words, I may lose some of the necessary objectivity which we need to maintain if we are to help our patients.  By identifying too closely with a patient I believe is Fire, I may overlook our clear differences, differences which are always there since we are all unique manifestations of whatever element is ours. 

I may even misinterpret signs my patient’s element is imprinting on them in favour of too close an identification with what I may only be assuming is Fire.  For that is indeed one of the pitfalls confronting all five element acupuncturists, which is that we assume too casually and too quickly that there is a relationship to one element for reasons of our own, and not because our patient is displaying this element’s signature.  In my case, I relax whenever I think I am in the presence of Fire, for this is my familiar resting-place.  How comfortable it is to sink back into the well-known atmosphere surrounding the Fire element, and how seductive to me it can be rather too rapidly to assume that a warm smile or a sudden laugh is pointing to Fire, rather than being only a momentary Fire-like illumination laid upon the foundation of another element.  After all, everybody of whatever element likes to smile and laugh, and maybe the smiles and laughter I see upon them are provoked by my own Fire-like approach to them.  In other words, my Fire may be drawing out their Fire, whilst their dominant element may lie elsewhere.


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

My year-end stock-take

This is a longer blog than usual as befits the final summing-up of a year.

I always see the end of a year as a time to look back at the months that have passed and to try to fit them into the pattern of my life.  What, then, has 2015 brought me and taught me?

It has brought me much joy, and some sadness, from my family and friendships.  It has brought me introductions to many new writers, many of these in other languages I am familiar with, such as German, and renewed my interest in writers I have enjoyed in the past.  At the end of this blog I am listing some of my favourite reads of the year for anybody who, like me, is fascinated by the written word.

And what has it brought to my calling as acupuncturist?  After publishing my book, On Being a Five Element Acupuncturist, at the start of the year, I experienced a kind of mental blankness for some months.  I missed the feeling of being compelled to write by something inside me.  I continued with my blogs, but could find no central theme around which to build what might eventually become another book.  I struggled with this for some time until one day a friend told me that her son, not an acupuncturist, enjoyed reading my books because they taught him to understand human beings better, and that he was looking forward to reading more about the elements.  Somehow this stirred something in me to life, and I began to write odd bits and pieces, focusing on how I was developing new ways of interpreting my own reactions to the elements. I am continuing to do this, still with no particular structure in mind, but just darting here and there with my thoughts.  I trust that a structure will emerge at some point, as it did with my other books, and that the different pieces that I am now writing will in some miraculous way fuse themselves together into a book with which I will again hope to interest my lovely publishers, Singing Dragon Press.

Moving forward from my personal acupuncture-focused life to my more public life as a teacher, what of that?  Well, increasingly this now works on expanding what I am doing in China.  I have written before of how, much to my surprise, my work appears to have changed direction in the last few years, from an emphasis on helping five element acupuncturists in this country and Europe, to introducing it to China.  Increasingly now my task appears to be to continue adding to what I have so far achieved over there, which is a lot, indeed much, much more than I could ever have dreamt of when I first met my host, Liu Lihong, more than four years ago.  There must now be some few hundred Chinese acupuncturists who have come to our seminars and are venturing to start five element practices of their own.

This year-end also brings news of the Inauguration Ceremony of a Foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine which is being set up in Beijing, with my contribution to this enshrined for perpetuity in a lovely certificate I was honoured to receive from Liu Lihong in April stating that I am a Consultant in Five Element Acupuncture to this Foundation for a period of 5 years until 31 December 2019.  Seeing this date on the certificate pointed me to further work that I need to do in the intervening years.  By the time we reach December 2019, I will, I assume, be well past the age when I will be of practical use as a teacher over there, although possibly still be a kind of five element figurehead to be wheeled out at intervals to remind people of the long five element lineage to which I am heir.

In China there are also moves afoot to translate more of my books (only one, my Handbook, is published in Mandarin).  My non-English-reading students are always clamouring to read the others in Mandarin.  I and my two regular companions, Mei Long and Guy Caplan, during our next planned visit to China in April 2016, will make our presence felt in Beijing to support the new Foundation there in addition to holding our usual seminar in Nanning.

So my stock-take for 2015 has shown me much that I can personally be very happy about.  It does a little to offset the news pouring in from around the globe of all the strife which human beings, alone of all the animals, seem to enjoy engaging in, and all the mostly man-made disasters bringing floods and famine to many parts of the globe.  I like to think, though, that what I can offer my patients, and encourage others to offer theirs, in some small way helps to contribute something important to the sum total of human happiness.

I wish all my readers a fulfilling and happy year to come when 2015 turns into 2016.


A few of my favourite books from my 2015 reading-list (D = Detective story):

Wade Shepard:  Ghost Cities of China
Jill Ciment:  Heroic Measures
Tom Drury:  The End of vandalism
Jenny Erpenbeck:  Wörterbuch (for my German readers)
Alexandra Fuller:  Don’t let’s go to the Dogs tonight
Robert Seethaler: A Whole Life
Elly Griffiths:  The Ghost Fields (D)
Atal Gawande:  Being Mortal
Ann Granger:  Dead in the Water (D)
Kent Haruf:  Our Souls at Night
Vaseem Khan:  The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra (D)
Attica Locke:  Pleasantville
G M Malliet:  Death and the Cozy Writer (D)
Alexander McCall Smith:  The Woman who walked in Sunshine
Robert Peston:  How do we fix this Mess?
Marilynne Robinson:  Gilead
Bapsi Sidhwa:  The Crow Eaters
W G Sebald:  Austerlitz
Magda Szabo:  Iza’s Ballad
Anne Tyler:  Searching for Caleb
Elizabeth Taylor:  A View of the Harbour
Fred Vargas: Dog will have its Day (D)
Anthony Trollope: Is he Popenjoy? 


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Two more interesting quotes

I love collecting quotations which open my mind to new thoughts.  Here are two more, one from the detective writer, Michael Dibdin, and the other from an American author, Vivian Gornick, I know absolutely nothing about.  I don’t think I have read her book, which is apparently an autobiography, but I must have found the quotation tucked away somewhere.  I love the idea of “driving into a vast darkness” when I am reading a book which reveals a new side of human nature to me.

Michael Dibdin: A Long Finish
“You couldn’t be sure of doing the right thing.  All you could hope for, perhaps, was to do the wrong thing better, or at least more interestingly."
Vivian Gornick:  Fierce Attachments
“For Davey, reading was a laser beam – narrow, focused, intent – driving into a vast darkness.”