Monday, August 31, 2015

What simple treatment can do

It is always good to receive confirmation of how effective simple treatment can be.  A friend of mine told me that her husband was feeling so ill and desperate that he could not work and could not leave the house.  He had problems in breathing which several visits to hospital and several kinds of medication had not helped.  Would acupuncture help him, she asked me.  I referred him to a fellow five element acupuncturist, Guy Caplan.

This is what she emailed me a few days ago:

“Treatment seems to be going so well!  Three treatments have not helped his breathing problems but have changed his whole way of being in the world.”

She also told me that a friend had met her husband, and said, with surprise, that he was “smiling with his face”.

You cannot ask for more from such a few treatments.  To be able to “change the whole way of being in the world” for a patient is what all our work is about.

I asked Guy to tell me what treatments he had done so far.  Here is the list:

Treatment 1:  AE drain (none), Husband-Wife, VI (TH) 4, V (HP) 7
Treatment 2:   IV (Ki) 24, VIII – IX (Liv-Lu) block, VI (TH) 3, V (HP) 9
Treatment 3:  CV 14, VI (TH) 3, V (HP) 9
            All points with moxa before needling.

As you can see, the patient is being treated on Outer Fire.  As you can also see, the treatments have helped the deepest part of him, his spirit.  In effect he feels as though resuscitated (an excellent example of the effectiveness of IV (Ki) 24, Spirit Burial Ground). 

This is also a lesson for practitioners not to worry too much if physical problems persist a little longer.  I have no doubt at all that his physical problems will now gradually clear.  If you treat the deep (the spirit), you cannot fail but treat the more superficial (the body).  But of course this will take time.  He has had his physical problems for many years.




Thursday, August 27, 2015

The transmission of a five element lineage

I give below the text of an article I have just submitted for publication in the British Acupuncture Council's journal Acu:

“We are not good at lineages in this country, and we appear to have surprisingly little respect for others’ expertise.  In fact, most of our education system appears to be built, not so much on the idea of learning from those of greater experience than us, but more of teaching students to discover things for themselves, almost as if the hard-won knowledge of those preceding them should be discarded as somehow not so relevant.

I have spent many weeks since 2011 in China, introducing five element acupuncture to what must now be many hundreds of Chinese acupuncturists, and have learnt from these visits how much respect they show the lineage of five element acupuncture which they view me as representing.  This is why, there on the wall of the Tong You San He Centre in Nanning where I teach, I am greeted - each time with a slight sense of surprise - by a large panel of photographs, the first showing my teacher, J R Worsley, the second me and the last showing Mei Long, a student of mine, who initiated my first contacts with China through Liu Lihong, the Centre’s director.  Through his writing he is the person who has done most to stimulate Chinese traditional medicine’s search for its past roots.

For the Chinese, the line of transmission extending back to the Nei Jing, and on through the centuries to reach J R Worsley, then me and beyond,  represents what they feel they have lost, a direct connection to the past.  In the West, on the other hand, we seem to be, if not indifferent to this, then somewhat disinterested in the routes of transmission, as though we are not ourselves quite clear what lineage we are heir to.  This probably stems from the fact that generally both in this country and in China there is little clarity about how to integrate the precepts of traditional medicine with modern attempts to draw acupuncture closer to Western medicine.

The display of photographs which confronts me each time I return to China has made me re-evaluate my own thoughts about the transmission of a lineage, and led me to a new appreciation of what has been transmitted to me.  The way the Chinese view what I bring to them makes me more aware than before of the precious inheritance which has been passed down to me, and which the Chinese now clamour for me to pass on to them.  Here I am, coming from a far-off land, the bearer of an unknown treasure, my knowledge of an acupuncture discipline which fascinates them.  And, most importantly, somebody with thirty or more years’ clinical experience, which is something they value particularly highly.  I bring them a precious gift, the transmission of what they regard as the esoteric knowledge contained within the lineage of a particular branch of five element acupuncture handed down over the centuries from master to pupil.  This has found its way through devious routes to the West and is now finding its way back to its country of origin through me, an inheritor of this lineage.  It is useful to read Peter Eckman’s In the Footsteps of the Yellow Emperor, Long River Press 2007, as the best, and in my view, so far the only, in-depth study to trace these routes of transmission.

In this country we often forget how precious the legacy of the past can be, tending to take this past for granted.  To the modern Chinese, deprived for so many years as they have been of much of the history of traditional medicine through the traumas of the Cultural Revolution, anything which helps them trace this past is a gift to be nurtured.  Even though all practitioners are brought up on rote learning the Nei Jing, they are aware that they have lost many of the connections between what is in these old texts and their practice of today.  In their eyes, the branch of five element acupuncture I represent makes these connections clear to them.

To the Chinese acupuncturists that I teach, therefore, five element acupuncture embodies a spiritual tradition which they regard as lacking in much of the acupuncture now taught in China, and connects them to a past which they feel they have lost.  Its emphasis on ensuring that so much attention is paid to the spirit is something they respond warmly to.  It echoes what they have learnt from the Nei Jing, but is something which is ignored by the TCM they are taught in their acupuncture colleges.   

To witness the joy with which they greet all the five element teaching I offer them is to raise an echo within me of a similar joy that I experienced sitting on my first day in the classroom at Leamington more than 30 years ago, and learning about the Fire element with the Heart at its centre.  It seemed to me then, as it still does, and does, too, to all my Chinese students, that to base an acupuncture practice upon treatment of the elements was to state a natural truth about life.  Learning from the Chinese approach to their past, I can now see more clearly than ever that I, and every other five element acupuncturist, form one link in the unending chain stretching from the earliest days of the Nei Jing down the years.  This path of transmission passed to the West in the 20th century and is now coming full circle on its return to its birthplace, China, in the 21st century.  This is indeed an inheritance to treasure."


Thursday, August 20, 2015

The different kinds of spaces Earth and Fire feel comfortable with

Here is an amusing little observation I made during my morning’s breakfast excursion to a local café.  It was quite full, and I tried to find a table as far away as possible from anybody else.  The place gradually emptied as people set off for their day’s work, until all that were left were two people at one table and me at another.  A woman then came in, looked carefully around her for quite some time, before firmly seating herself at a table a mere few feet next to the one occupied by the couple.  I was amused when I saw this, thinking that the last thing I would have done would have been to settle myself so close to the few other customers at the café. 

I then realised that she had made her choice for exactly the same reasons that I had made a completely different one.  We were, I thought, both following the dictates of our guardian element, different as these were. 

I assumed that she was Earth, mainly from her colour, and because she was quite at ease sitting in such close proximity to other people.  Earth likes being surrounded by people, almost irrespective of who they are.  I, on the other hand, am Fire, and Fire only wants to move close to others when it feels really comfortable in their presence.

It is by observing these tiny differences in human behaviour that we learn more and more about the elements.  This morning’s was another interesting little insight into the differences between Earth and Fire for me to ponder on.  Thus do we continue to learn.


Saturday, August 15, 2015

How sad it is.....

As I get older, leaving many years trailing behind me, I am aware that nostalgia for the past creeps up on me more frequently than it used to.  There are so many things now which are different from what they were, and though some of these differences are undoubtedly good (though here I have to stop and think hard without for the life of me being able to come up with even one example), many more appear to my ageing sight to represent losses which can never be made good.

A small, apparently insignificant, but to me important, example of this is something which happens every morning.  As I make my way out to pick up my newspaper and indulge in my early morning coffee in one of the many coffee shops around here, I step over the wet pavement outside the front door of a block of flats, and exchange good morning greetings with a young woman who is busily washing down and sweeping the front step and pavement outside clear of any rubbish.  She laughed when I told her that this piece of pavement is probably the only one now in the whole of London where the age-old practice of making sure that the pavements outside our houses are kept clear for passers-by by their owners still takes place.  Now we leave all that to the road sweepers.

And just as we leave it to others to clear the pavements outside our houses, so we now leave many other things to others, without concerning ourselves with whether in so doing we are making others’ lives harder or more unpleasant.  I notice that if there is something like a cardboard box in the middle of the road, nobody crosses over to push it to the side away from the traffic.  I remember my father stopping our car regularly, and getting out to remove some rubbish or a large stone to the roadside, because, he told us, “A bicycle or motorbike might not see this when it gets dark, and come a-cropper.”  The present reluctance to get involved extends to people stepping over any obstruction on the pavement, often at some inconvenience to themselves, rather than pushing it aside to the gutter.  Let alone how very rare it is for somebody to lift up a bike which has fallen over blocking the pavement.

It seems that more and more people are reluctant to put themselves out in any way, as though walking round obstacles is always preferable to removing obstacles.  Is this increasingly selfishness, inattentiveness (everybody talking into their mobile phone – or taking selfies!) or a fear of litigation, in case their actions cause problems?  Whatever, as they say, it seems to me to be a sad indictment of modern life that less and less people are concerned for the wellbeing of others and apparently more and more engrossed in their own.

But am I merely another example of an older person saying that “things were better in the old days”?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Worrying the well

I have just watched an excellent and important programme on BBC TV (BBC2, 12 August 2015: Dr Michael Mosley: Are Health Tests Really a Good Idea?), which you can catch up with on BBC i-Player.  As its title indicates, it looked in depth at the value of some of the many tests well people undergo, and queried how far many of these were necessary.  Importantly, in view of the enormous costs of providing health care for an increasingly aging population, it asked whether the vast amount of money allocated to these tests, which are overwhelmingly directed at the still well, would better be spent on treating the already ill.  The conclusion by two very eminent physicians, one from the United States and the other from Britain, summed it all up beautifully.  Surely, they said, it is better to direct resources at where help is needed, which is when a condition has actually revealed itself, and not spend so much on recommending tests for the well whose results are often uncertain, if not downright misleading.  The case of mammograms, in particular, was examined here.  It was pointed out that they often lead to needless, harmful and unnecessary interventions (a figure of 9 out of 10 mis-diagnoses was given).

This is when I heard the very telling and hard-hitting phrase, which underlines exactly what I think is the wrong direction in which the machinery of health is heading, and that is that “we are worrying the well”.  Once we are given the slightest indication that there is a slight query about any test result, none of us will be able to forget this, and it will continue to haunt us.  As I said in my book, The Keepers of the Soul, “One of the many areas to be re-assessed is the Western reliance on statistics. The trouble with statistics is that they are illusory.  They appear to be based on scientific fact, and offer scientific validity, but they have no meaning whatsoever in the individual case.  If a test is said to offer a 60% probability of establishing that a person is likely to suffer a heart-attack, am I in the 60% category of the sick or in the 40% category of the well?  No-one can tell me this, but human nature being as it is, all 100% of us are unlikely to sleep easily at night with such a statistic hovering over our heads.  And yet we may never fall ill.”

And again, “Once in hospital hands, we often find they never let us go, for one test or another, imperfect as all tests must be, may surprisingly often yield a slightly ambiguous result which demands a different test or a further check-up later on, leaving us forever waiting for what we anticipate may be a dreaded result, as though shackled to a permanent pathological prognosis.  This is a depressingly frequent occurrence, for no doctor appears to dare sign us off for fear of future repercussions.”

I will leave it to the lovely British doctor in the programme to confirm what I so deeply believe in.  We are frightening well people”, she said.  And what I particularly liked was her conclusion.  “We are seeking technological solutions to existential solutions.  We all have to get old, we all have to die, we all have to lose people we love.  We are devoting resources to worrying the well”.   It is rare for anybody in what I call this medicalized society, particularly a medical practitioner, to state this so clearly and so baldly.  Modern society is in danger of adopting a mind-set which devotes too much time to searching for pathological symptoms instead of concentrating upon nurturing the valuable aspects of our life, and accepting the natural course of life, which may or may not include illness, but will inevitably conclude in death.


Monday, August 3, 2015

We are all discoverers of hidden truth

I have just come across the phrase “the discovery of hidden truths” in a video of Liu Lihong, my host in China, on the website .  Once he was introduced to five element acupuncture, Liu Lihong very quickly recognized that here was a hidden truth which he wanted me, as an inheritor of this lineage of acupuncture, to return to China, where up to this moment he felt it lay buried.

I love the expression “the discovery of hidden truths”, because I think it reflects something very fundamental about human nature.  We can all be said to be discoverers of hidden truths, those which lie hidden within each one of us.  The older I get, the more aware I become of these layers of hidden truths within me, and constantly surprise myself by the fresh discoveries about myself which life forces me to make even after all the many years of living which I trail behind me.

Today, for instance, this phrase stimulated another thought.  Could all our lives be said to be lifelong attempts to discover more and more who we really are, where the “hidden truth” of ourselves really is?  Can we, indeed, ever say that we know ourselves completely?  Here another quotation, this time from the Bible, springs to my mind:  For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

Perhaps, indeed, we always peer "through a glass darkly" at life, with only occasional glimpses of all that lies within us, all these hidden truths which age reveals only slowly to us.



Thursday, July 30, 2015

Hot desking

What a very odd term this is, some of my readers may say.  It is one I heard for the first time a few days ago, but is apparently one used by all modern office workers.  It appears that it is very common now for those working in offices to share desk space with others.  Presumably the term has something to do with keeping an office space warm for another person.  Office workers are now peripatetic; they are asked to wander around each day looking for a desk on which to put their laptop and, presumably, also any personal belongings they have.  They stay there only as long as they need to, placing their things for safekeeping in a personal locker before leaving work.

I was told of a senior member of staff who had worked from her own office all her working life, but who now had been told that she, too, needs to take part in this daily scramble for desk space.  She is appalled by this, and feels totally uprooted.  Where can she put the photos of her family with which she likes to surround herself as she works?  And does she have to get rid of her pot plants which she tenders so lovingly each day?

I wonder what the thinking behind this is, apart, presumably, to save space.  If desk spaces are freed up when people are out of the office, I assume this makes it possible to cram more people into ever smaller spaces.  But what may be the human cost of learning to view your office, not as a place where you establish a second home (your own desk, your own things), but as a public space available to anybody?  Has anybody calculated that?  I wonder whether anybody has thought to measure the comparative job satisfaction of having a familiar against an unfamiliar, ever-changing place of work?  Would it not be as though every day you have to search for a new home which you have to try to make your own?  From a five element point of view, what does this do to office workers’ Earth element, the element which so strongly wants to make every place where it rests its home?

This reminds me of a patient of mine who came to me because her ankles had suddenly swollen so badly that she could hardly walk.  After enquiring carefully about what was happening when this trouble first appeared, it apparently coincided with when she was promoted and moved to an office on her own.  Aware that she was Earth, and therefore, as are all Earth people, is happiest in the company of people, viewing her fellow office workers as a kind of work family who surround her, I asked her whether she liked this.  It turned out that she hated working on her own in this way.  With my knowledge of the Earth element prompting me, I asked whether she could move somebody else in with her.  She was not sure whether this would be possible, but then, as often happens, the fates intervened.  The management wanted to rearrange office space and asked her whether she minded sharing her room with two others.  Of course she agreed.  Very soon after this, and with the additional help of treatment on the Earth element, the swelling on her ankles disappeared.

I always attributed the rather sudden disappearance of her symptoms to her Earth element’s relief at no longer working alone.  Perhaps symbolically her swollen ankles were Earth’s way of immobilizing her, trying to fix a home for her within herself when her actual office home had become too lonely for her.  Once the office had returned to being a comfortable place peopled by others, it could be said that her body could now return to its normal shape, no longer needing to try to find its own stability within itself, which is one way of viewing her swollen legs.  Fanciful though this might seem to some people, I don’t think it is.  Our physical symptoms always in some way reflect what is going on emotionally within us. 

I thought of this patient today, although she came many years ago, because she is further evidence to me of how any environment we are in, office as well as home, will affect our emotional well-being, either positively or negatively.  I suspect office planners rarely think of this when designing how their office spaces should be used. 



Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Wearing people down with Fire's smiles

The trouble with being Fire is that I share Fire’s burden of always needing to communicate with other people wherever I am.  I can do this through speech, of course, but communicating through our eyes is just as, if not more, powerful.  Yesterday the phrase “I wear people down with my smile” occurred to me after I had passed another person in the street, and, yet again flashing a smile at them, realised that they were reluctant to engage with me, indeed looked a bit dismayed at being asked to respond to my invitation.

Each element has its own burdens.  Fire’s are associated with its overwhelming need to relate to others.  I must now think of those of the other elements, and will write more about this when I have done a bit more thinking.  It is far easier to write about what affects our own element.  Imagining oneself in the skin of another element is always more complicated, even if, like me, one has tried to do this for years.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Rats respond emotionally to acupuncture

It's good to hear of scientific proof that acupuncture works, even if only in rats.  In an article in the Guardian (22 July 2015), researchers in the States found that the acupuncture point St 36 reduced “chronic stress-induced depressive and anxious behaviour in animals".

But then we know that acupuncture reduces “stress-induced depressive and anxious behaviour” for many other conditions, not only in animals but, much more importantly, in humans, too.  And also, that it is not only St 36, but many, many other points which do this.

I wonder whether the rats used in the experiment might all have had Earth as their guardian element!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

How to learn whilst enjoying myself

There are many ways to learn, but for me none nicer than to put my feet up in front of the TV and watch sport.  I have a particular affinity for cricket because of what happened in my childhood.  In those days there was no TV, of course, but sport was brought to us through the radio.  I succumbed to scarlet fever and had to be put in quarantine for six weeks to protect my younger brothers, because in the days before antibiotics scarlet fever was considered to be a dangerous illness.  So there I was stuck in a bedroom on my own upstairs away from all the family, and with only the radio to keep me company.  As luck would have it, a famous cricket series between England and Australia was being played, and there were a lot of exciting matches to listen to.  I had no idea about the subtleties of cricket which I was listening to (what was a “silly mid-off”, for example?), but I got hooked, and once hooked this interest in cricket has stayed with me all my life, to the extent that not long ago I went to my first cricket match to experience it at first-hand.  It was only then that I realised just how fast people bowled, and how dangerous a cricket ball could be.

For anybody reading this who may be interested in cricket, and particularly those in Australia who will be aware that we are in the midst of an Ashes series, there is a further lesson about the Fire element which my TV watching is teaching me at the moment.  There has been a surprising turn-around in the fortunes of the two teams, with the English team suddenly transformed from a rather dour, inhibited group of players into a cheerful, expansive (and successful) team.  And what do TV commentators, and I, too, attribute this success to?  To the injection into the team of some new Fire people.  As one commentator said about one of them, “It’s good to see a smile on his face.”  Looking carefully at the whole team, I realised that three of its new members appear not only to be Fire, but a very outgoing kind of Fire, probably with the Three Heater as their dominant official, for they all seem to be what we could call “the life and soul of the party”, a Three Heater characteristic.

So if you can catch a few moments watching cricket on TV over the next couple of months, look out for the following cricketers for clear evidence of the exuberance of Fire:  Joe Root (in particular), Mark Ward and Jos Buttler.  And for Australians reading this, it is worth looking at  their captain, Michael Clarke, who I think is also Fire, but a much quieter Fire, probably with its official the Heart Protector rather than the Three Heater.

Thus do I continue to learn whilst enjoying myself!