Thursday, November 5, 2015

A reminder not to forget the basics : Windows of the Sky

I had a salutary lesson recently in the danger of forgetting the basics of what I do.  It showed me that it is unwise to ignore the principles that were drilled into me at acupuncture college all those years ago.  One of these concerned when to use the points called the Windows of the Sky.  We were told never to choose these points until we have given our patients at least eight treatments, because we need to be sure that a patient’s energy has been strengthened sufficiently to be able to cope with their effect.  As their name indicates, they are points which are there to open up a window on to a patient’s life.  We were warned that the light pouring into a patient’s spirit as a result of opening these Windows too early on in treatment may shine too brightly for them to cope with the reality flooding in.  The poet T S Eliot says this very well in one of his poems:  “Human kind cannot bear very much reality”.

The treatment I gave my patient this week provided me with proof of this.  Unwisely, instead of waiting to complete the number of treatments we were told we should, I selected these points at the 5th treatment, thinking that since the patient had already reacted so well to his first few treatments, and, as he told me, was “trying to see a way forward” in his life, it would be appropriate to select the Windows to help him do this.  On his return for the next treatment he told me that he had felt very depressed immediately after he had seen me, and could find no explanation for this.  It was only when I reminded myself that this was just after I had done the Windows that I realized that it was likely that giving this treatment too soon had had the effect we were warned about.  Gently talking this through with him, it did indeed seem as if that he had been unable to cope with the insights into his life which these points had presented him with.  I realised then that I should have waited a little longer to select them.

This taught me, yet again, that we need to tread warily when using the Windows.  It reminded me that I should always ensure that a patient’s energy is strong enough to deal with the insights which are one of the gifts the Windows can bring when used wisely.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The elements' different relationships to other people - Part 2

In my blog of 23 October I wrote about the relationships Wood, Fire and Metal like to have with other people.  Now it is the turn of Earth and Water.

There is some similarity between what these two elements want to experience in their encounters with other people, and in each case they express more of a need than we have seen with the other three elements.  Both of these elements enjoy being in the midst of a group, Earth liking to be at its centre with others around it, and Water melding more into the group, each Water person like a drop of water absorbed into the great oceans of life.  Earth will demand more individual attention, whereas Water is most comfortable with safety in numbers.

This picture of Earth surrounded by other people, preferably at their centre, metaphorically echoes the original five element diagram in which the other four elements circle around Earth in their midst.  With Earth the most important thing is that those surrounding it face towards it so that they can take careful note of what it wishes to say.  It is not enough, as it is with Water, for it to disappear into the group, for then its words will not be heard and understood as they should be, an understanding which is a necessary part of its need to process its own thoughts properly.  Processing is, after all, one of Earth’s most important functions.  It takes in, digests and then processes all that comes to it, both physically in the shape of food and mentally in the shape of thoughts.  It then has to pass on what it has processed as physical food worked on by the stomach, and as mental food in terms of thoughts and words worked on by its mind, which it then invites others to hear.

I have always found it interesting to note the somewhat confusing messages Water seems always to be transmitting.  On the one hand, as I have said, it has a need in some way to be swallowed up in the whole, to merge itself with those around it, and on the other, it has the quite contrasting, but less overtly obvious need to rise above the masses around it, and thus to rise to the top.  It is known to be the element of ambition and will-power, and just as water in nature exerts by far the strongest force when it is unleashed in storms and tsunamis, so a Water person will tend to achieve whatever it sets its mind to, often pushing aside those who stand in its way, as storm waters submerge all in their path.  Its relationship to others can therefore often seem somewhat ambiguous.  Appearing at ease in the company of others, it can then surprise them by pushing them aside, determinedly and often unobtrusively, in its fight to get to the top.  A Water person might well be the one in an office who, perhaps to others’ surprise, is offered the promotion these others had wanted and expected to be theirs.

And yet, despite this focused struggle to succeed in whatever it does, with little concern for how this affects others and often at their expense, it constantly seeks reassurance from those around it to still the fears lurking deep within it, fear being its dominant emotion.  

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A patient’s comments after his element was changed from Fire to Earth

Here is what a fellow practitioner told me after changing her patient’s treatment from the Fire to the Earth element.  After one treatment on Earth, the patient told her that he 'felt a profound change. Something felt very different'.

I am always delighted when I receive such strong confirmation of the effects of homing in on the right element.  My own patients have used different words to say the same thing, such as “I know who I am”, or “I feel myself now”.  That awareness of self that treatment helps patients to connect with is one of the most moving gifts our practice can offer them.     

Friday, October 23, 2015

The elements’ different relationships to other people - Part 1

Some time ago I had the opportunity to ask several practitioners who were all of the Wood element what was important to them in terms of their interactions with others.  After some discussion amongst themselves they all agreed that what they always wanted was to “engage” with people. Interestingly, two of the definitions given in the dictionary for the word are “to interlock” and “to bring troops into battle”.  Engagement is making some kind of direct contact with another person, and also implies some kind of physical contact, like boxers engaging in a fight.  It represents to me quite the reverse of somebody “walking on by”, which is more the action I associate with the Metal element’s desire to avoid just the kind of close encounter which the word “to engage” seems to describe.  In their description of what they feel most comfortable with, this group of Wood people gave proof of their element’s enjoyment of face-to-face encounters.  They are at ease with meetings with other people which contain some quality of a contest.  Again, we can contrast this with another element, Fire’s encounters, which lack this sense of competitiveness.

What Fire wants of its interactions with others is instead not a contest, but to set up relationships, gifts which the Heart, buried within this element, wants to offer all it encounters.  The challenges which Wood offers those it meets become in Fire’s hands offerings it hopes to give others, ultimately of course the gift of love.  The warm smile with which Fire greets everybody is in itself such an offering, and if this is not responded to warmly in return it will be viewed as a rebuff, a rejection of this gift.  Often we will see Fire people persist again and again with their offerings of smiles and laughter in an attempt to draw some reaction of warmth from the other person.  Wood, in the same position of being denied the engagement it looks for from another person, will simply metaphorically shrug its shoulders and move on, something Fire will find difficult to do, as it will judge the lack of response to its approaches to be a reproach to itself and will therefore try even harder to extract a response.

It is not a response of any kind which Metal wishes for.  Far from this.  It will view all encounters with other people as a test of its judgement.  They are still challenges, as in some respects all meetings with other people are, because they demand responses from each person’s elements, and in particular responses with which a guardian element feels at ease.  Metal’s challenge lies in the area of how accurately it assesses the value of any encounter.  This assessment will also consist in evaluating its own reactions, for all that Metal does includes a high level of self-evaluation, its task being to weigh up all things, itself included, on the scales of some value they assign to them. 

Metal judges itself as harshly, if not more harshly, than others.  And to judge you have to stand back and observe as impartially as you can.  So there is nothing here of the close involvement of one person with another that Fire strives for, or the challenging encounters Wood enjoys.  Instead, there is always a space around Metal which it builds for itself so that it can give itself some distance from which it hopes to view things in as detached a way as possible.  Of course, the degree of detachment and the amount of space depends upon the level of balance within a Metal person.  The more unbalanced the Metal element is, the less it can stand back and observe as impartially as it should, and the more its judgement will then be affected.

And what about Earth and Water, then?  That is for another blog.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Being happy is healthy

The following is an extract from an article in What the Doctors Don’t Tell You (8 October 2015):

Be happy: it could save your life if you have a heart problem

People who are happy and retain a positive attitude also have a healthier heart—and that can be the difference between life and death for people who already have a heart condition.

Positive people are living longer after they’ve been diagnosed with a heart condition, say researchers who tracked the health and psychological outlook of more than a thousand patients with coronary heart disease.

They were more likely to be alive five years later than others who had a negative outlook or suffered from depression.”

It’s good to have this confirmation from Western medicine of something acupuncturists have always known.  The Heart, an official of the Fire element, the element which brings us joy, must indeed be healthier the happier we are. 



Thursday, October 1, 2015

Two laments for the end of an era and one happy thing

I start this blog with my laments.  The little café, Stefano’s, which I would pop into daily on my way to the clinic, and which I wrote about in my blog of 29th March, has now closed and been taken over by what looks like a very much more upmarket place.  I think I can no longer call it a café, but would describe it more as a small patisserie.  And my favourite espresso has nearly doubled in price.  Stefano and his Italian family seem to have been the last survivors around here of a time when small family-owned businesses ran a one-shop enterprise.  Now the coffee chains, such as Starbucks, with their standardized fare, are taking over everywhere, perhaps understandably in view of the rents charged.  Even this new little patisserie has other branches elsewhere in the up-and-coming areas of London.

My second lament is for the puzzling substitution in train announcements of the good old-fashioned word “passenger” by the word “customer”.  I wonder who decided that this change was necessary.  Did a group of railway executives with nothing better to do solemnly sit around a table to discuss the merits of the one word against the other?  And why change it at all?  When I hear “passengers” I always thrill slightly to the thought of all those large ocean liners, like the Queen Mary, or indeed the Titanic, or people climbing aboard The Great Western  or the Orient Express.  When discussing the Titanic disaster, is anybody likely to ask, “How many customers were lost?”  The word now only reminds me of the money I paid today for my rail ticket to a much less exotic destination, Sussex.

But to relieve the slight gloom of writing about these two rather sad things, I tried to think of something good that has happened to me, and came up with quite a few examples, none more heartwarming than a little incident that occurred in the street a few days ago.  There was a different Big Issue seller from the usual one outside my local supermarket, and I thought I recognized him from seeing him somewhere else.  He smiled at me, and said, “You may not remember me, but you’re the lady who called to me to come across the street in Bond Street some time ago, so that you could buy a copy from me.”  Now I recalled that this must have been over a year ago.  So he had remembered this small act of kindness from all those months back.  Perhaps too many people treat Big Issue sellers as nuisances, and walk on by, and too few as people, trying hard to put their lives together.  We smiled at each other like old friends, and I walked on with my heart a little warmer. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

How people make us feel

Each day of my practice adds one more day of learning.  Today’s lesson came from something I observed in myself after I had been asked to look at another practitioner’s patient.  Together we agreed that she had been treating her on what I, too, considered to be the right element, which was Fire, but when I was thinking back on this patient the next morning, I remembered that I had remarked at the time, “She’s a rather passive person, isn’t she?”

Something about what I had said jarred now with my feelings around the Fire element.  Was passive a word I would ever use to describe a Fire person, I wondered?  That set me thinking of as many Fire people as I could, including of course myself.  Nobody could call me passive, but then I am Inner Fire, and the Small Intestine is the most active of all the four Fire officials.  But I could think of no Outer Fire person I knew either to whom the word “passive” would fit.  I then thought more carefully about something else which had struck me after seeing her.  I had not felt that she was trying to give me anything, far from it.  I felt instead that she was drawing me towards herself, which gave me now with hindsight the feeling I associate much more with the Earth element.  She seemed to be expressing a need, as though asking something from me, rather than wanting to give me something, so much more typical of Fire.  I told the practitioner of my doubts about Fire, and suggested that she should change her treatment to Earth and let me know how the patient was after a few Earth treatments.

It pleases me that I somehow could not leave things alone until I had traced my unease about the time I had spent with the patient to its source.  This feeling about how we experience being in the presence of a particular element becomes ever stronger with experience, and we should always take note of it.  It can be seen as a form of direct transmission to us of the essential nature of a patient’s element.  

If we interpret this information correctly by examining our own feelings and their response to what is coming from the patient we are well on the way to finding the element.

I always love it when an element declares itself so firmly in this way, even giving me only a slight, but clear hint of its presence.  It may take me a little while to see what it is trying to tell me, but then it always certainly better late than never.


Graham's groan

Today I happened to meet a young man in the street whom I hadn’t seen for a number of years.  I am calling him Graham, because it makes for a good title to this blog, but that is not his name.  We exchanged greetings, talked for a short time and then parted.  As I walked away, I found that his voice was so pronounced a groan that I laughed at myself for not having thought of him as Water before.  What was interesting to me, and what taught me a little more about the Water element, was that the sound of this voice stayed with me for so long.  I could still hear it echoing in my head many hours later.  I almost felt that I was pursued by its groans.

What it showed me about Water was that a groaning voice, unlike any other tone of voice, has the ability to make itself felt in a very persistent way that I had not noticed before.  It seems to me to be a clear reflection of Water’s ability to push through whatever obstacle is in front of it.

I must listen now to some more Water voices to help me learn to recognize this quality in their voices.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Paring away the inessential

I was thinking whether there was one word I could use to describe the essence of an element, that which lies at its very core and defines its specific quality.  And with the word essence the words “paring away the inessential” leapt to my mind, and echoed there for a long time.  I recognised this as referring to the Metal element, and saw that it was appropriate that it was given to this element to be the first to formulate its own definition of its essential quality, and to offer me this glimpse of itself so clearly and succinctly.  There can be no more condensed a definition of an element’s most fundamental nature than this. I feel that the phrase goes to the heart of what distinguishes Metal from the other elements.

It is helpful to think what the word to pare means, and why this is so true of Metal.  Interestingly, we usually add the word “away” to the verb, thus to pare away.  Again this points to a very interesting Metal characteristic, for to pare away is to discard, throw away, get rid of, and this is, after all, the function of the Large Intestine.  To pare away is to remove the outer skin of something, such as fruit, and throw it aside to expose that part which we want to eat.  This action is always done with a knife, and this is of course always a metal knife.  One of the disposable knives in wood or a kind of ecologically acceptable plastic as an alternative to metal which now litter eating places cannot do the job properly, for they are far too blunt.  Only a metal knife can peel away the outer layer sufficiently cleanly, as the element itself does in peeling away the outer, superficial surface of things to reveal the truths lying below.  That is Metal’s task, and when carried out in a balanced way this is what it does all the time.  It forms the last stage of any process, its final reckoning, just as its season, autumn, exposes the skeletons of trees, revealing their essential nature before winter comes to cover them in frost and snow.

It is to Metal people that I find myself turning when I have a difficult decision to make, for I have found that they can sum up the essence of a situation quickly and in very few words, in effect paring away what is inessential in the situation and revealing the heart of the matter.  This is always done in surprisingly few words.  A Metal person when asked for their opinion about some problem is likely to say, “Do this” or “Do that”, or “I don’t think that’s a good idea”, and leave it at that, as though for them the subject has now been dealt with and put to one side, and they want to move on.  It is as though they have removed the outer skin of whatever we are discussing, pared the inessential away, and pointed to its inner core, to what they consider its essence.  I have therefore always found Metal’s advice to be to the point (such a Metal phrase!), as if they are indeed handing over to me the heart of the fruit on the tip of the knife which they have used to pare away its outer covering.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

A reason to write my books

I have just received this lovely pat on the back about my latest book, all the way from Australia:

“I just wanted to tell you how much I have loved reading "On being a five element acupuncturist". Somehow I take more in from words on paper than words online.

It's a gem - not only in terms of giving insight about diagnostic and practice skills but also I find it immensely reassuring and affirming. It's so nice to know that doubts and mistakes are normal and even useful. It can be particularly challenging over here in Australia where there are so few of us trained in five element style acupuncture.

Thank you, Nora!”

I am reprinting it here for two reasons.  The first, obviously, is because it is lovely for me to hear that what I write is of help to others.  The second is that I am delighted that I am helping five element practitioners understand that “doubts and mistakes are normal and even useful."

I have always liked to Descartes’ phrase, which is usually quoted as “I think, therefore I am (cogito, ergo sum)”.  But in fact I prefer its fuller, correct version, which is:  "I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am (dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum)”.  The ability to doubt and therefore to be humble in our thinking is a rare gift we should all cherish in ourselves.  This is particularly so, as I always say, when we are trying to track down the elements.

I could not have expressed one of the aims of why I write more succinctly and more beautifully.  So thank you, too, Lucy, for this encouragement to continue writing.