Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Seven Ages of Man (and Woman)

I have always liked to see the five elements as each embodying one of what are known as the Seven Ages of Man (though two of those ages are shared between the five elements).  If we think of human life as circling in stages from birth to death, each life forms a similar progression to that of the elements, as it passes from its beginnings in Water on to Wood, to Fire, to Earth, to Metal and finally back to Water again.  As Shakespeare puts it in Jacques‘ famous soliloquy in As you like it:

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant…..

And finishing with:

………………Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

I see each phase of this circle of life as imparting its own quality to that life, each adding the quality of the element which it represents to those whose guardian element it is.  There will therefore always be something of the child in a person with Wood as their guardian element, as there will be something of the exuberant joyfulness of the young adult emerging into the wider world of the adult in all Fire people, whatever their age.  Each Earth person will show something of the mature adult throughout their life, as will a young Metal  person show something of the wisdom of those approaching old age even in childhood.  Water, always the most mysterious of all elements, the beginning and end of all things, will show both the naivety of the child which Wood always shows and the age-old wisdom of those living at the end of their days, which Metal hints at.

If a five element practitioner is unsure which element dominates in one of their patients, and they are unable to get enough information from their five senses to point towards one element, an attempt to see their patients in terms of how they appear in relation to the kind of stage of life they represent is a further way of helping our diagnosis.  In my book Keepers of the Soul  I gave the example of my mother, definitely of the Wood element, as showing a childlike enjoyment of life at nearly 90 years of age, and I have a Metal son who I turn to to put me right about decisions in my life which my Fire element does not appear mature enough to make.

In this context, it is interesting to note the emotional ages of the friends we choose.  I have always chosen those who are further along the cycle of the elements than me, predominantly the Metal element.  I notice, too, that other people’s choices of friends reflect something about the need for their own element to receive sustenance often from an element not their own which stimulates them.

I have never made a statistical survey of people’s elements compared with the elements of their friends;  this would indeed prove an almost impossible task, given that we need to treat a person for some time before really being sure of their element.  But I suspect that many of us choose friends from amongst elements other than our own.  I have always certainly done so, because, I have decided, I do not wish to have to observe in my friends the weaknesses I see in myself.

Friday, September 5, 2014

An example of the insensitivity of modern medicine

I am often appalled by the insensitivity the medical profession can show towards its patients.  Hidden within the well-intentioned aim of ensuring that patients are not banished from any discussion about what the future course of an illness is thought likely to be, doctors have started to err on the side of telling patients too much about the possible implications of some slight symptom or some tiny deviation from the normal in the results of some medical test or other.  In so doing, they seem to forget that they are handing over the kind of information which is likely to frighten their patients.

I recently heard an example of this.  A friend of mine went for a general check-up to a newly-appointed doctor at her medical practice who conscientiously read through all her notes to familiarize himself with what was wrong with her.  She had had a slight stroke some years back and was on medication to stabilize her heart.  The doctor looked up from his notes, and said “You realise, don’t you, that it says here that you are likely to get Alzheimers at some point in the future.”  Apparently some research had shown a correlation between having a stroke and Alzheimers.

I asked my friend how hearing this had affected her.  She is a very balanced, practical person with a good deal of understanding of medical matters and a sensible approach to her own health, certainly not the sort of person who would indulge in worrying excessively about what the future held for her.  But she said that, despite her best efforts to ignore what she had been told, his words were still preying on her mind and had changed her approach to how she viewed her health.  And yet there was no indication whatsoever of her having the slightest symptom of Alzheimers, nor was there any medical or lifestyle advice which the doctor could have suggested to reduce the “likelihood” of it occurring in the future.  So what possible purpose, apart from making her fearful, had telling her this served? 

My father, who was a doctor, always said that he had seen so many miracles in his long medical practice that he learned never to predict the course of an illness, and to take away hope was in effect condemning a patient to an earlier death.  A little bit of hope was taken away from my friend yesterday by those few words, spoken no doubt with the best of intentions, but unfortunately with the worst of results.

We should never take away a patient’s hope.  We don’t have to pretend, even if it is obvious that a person is close to death, and we need to answer truthfully if asked, but if a patient wants to pretend that they have more time than we think they have that is their right.  And if hope allows them to feel a little better, however ill they are, they are likely to live a little longer, and perhaps die more peacefully.


Monday, September 1, 2014

The effect of treating a Window of the Sky point on an Inner Fire person

I always love getting feedback about the effect of treatment from patients, and never more so if this is immediately after needling.

I treated a long-standing patient with Inner Fire as his guardian element (the Small Intestine, rather than the Heart).  He always loves having his Windows needled, either II (SI) 16 or II (SI) 17, and occasionally both together when he feels the need for an acute sense of vision.  Today I needled II (SI) 16.  He told me that immediately I had treated this point, his sight cleared.  His vision had felt a bit blurred before, but it was now as if a veil had been lifted.

How lovely when we get confirmation of what an official can offer, and especially what a specific point adds to that official’s effect.  No element is more self-aware than the inner aspect of Fire.  As we know, it is the supreme sorter, and as we needle it, it immediately starts sorting out what its reaction to treatment is.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Good Earth quotes

I have always liked writing down particularly relevant quotes about the different elements in the books I read.  The first quote is from an excellent book I have just finished reading by Jacqueline Winspear, who usually writes detective stories based around the time of the first world war, but this time has written a very moving book of a family and friends who volunteer to go to the battlefields in Belgium.  This is a very appropriate subject for a book at the time of the centenary of this completely tragic and pointless war.

“Thea was aware of Kezia, nodding her understanding.  She remembered a certain look, from the very early days of their friendship.  Kezia would often take her time with a question, ruminating over it in her mind, chewing on it like a cow with a clump of grass, grinding it down from side to side to get the goodness – only with Kezia, it was as if she were looking for something in the middle of the problem.  The truth, perhaps.”
        Jacqueline Winspear: The Care and Management of Lies
I also list below some of the quotes I used to give my students at SOFEA as a way of helping them understand the Earth element better:

“What Anna most longed for in the days that followed was a mother.  “If I had a mother,” she thought, not once, but again and again, and her eyes had a wistful, starved look when she thought of it, “if I only had a mother, a sweet mother all to myself, of my very own, I’d put my head on her dear shoulder and cry myself happy again.  First I’d tell her everything, and she wouldn’t mind however silly it was, and she wouldn’t be tired however long it was, and she’d say, “Little darling child you are only a baby after all,” and would scold me a little, and kiss me a great deal, and then I’d listen so comfortably, all the time with my face against her nice soft dress, and I would feel so safe and sure and wrapped round whilst she told me what to do next.  It is lonely and cold and difficult without a mother.”
                                                                       Elizabeth von Arnim:  The Benefactress

 “He was one of those monstrous fat men you sometimes pass in a crowd: no matter how hard you struggle to avert your eyes, you can’t help gawping at him.  He was titanic in his obesity, a person of such bulging, protrusive roundness that you could not look at him without feeling yourself shrink.  It was though his three-dimensionality was more pronounced than that of other men.  Not only did he occupy more space than they did, but he seemed to overflow it, to ooze out from the edges of himself and inhabit areas where he was not.!
                                                                        Paul Auster: Moon Palace

"I thought of life as work.  You have a certain amount of time given to you and you have to find dedication, passion, concentration.  You have to cultivate yourself and be fruitful very much like a patch of land.”
                                                                        Jeanne Moreau, actress: interview

What Earth patients have told me:

“I felt as though the rug had been pulled from under me.”
“I feel the ground a bit firmer beneath me.”
“I always like having a sense of being right at the hub of everything.”
“I don’t think I should always ask other people to feed me.”
“I feel very ungrounded.”
“I feel supported.”
“Everything’s been wiped away from under my feet.”




Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How much reality can we stand?

I have always loved the quote from T.S Eliot’s The Four Quartets:  “Humankind cannot bear very much reality”.  And am particularly aware of the truth of this as I prepare to plunge into today’s newspaper, dreading yet another dose of all-too painful reality as I read what is going on in one country on the earth after another, and my heart bleeds for the people fleeing destruction with nowhere to go.

There seems to be nothing but misery in the world wherever I look, except when, with relief, I happen upon a TV programme showing some sport.  Recently it has been the Commonwealth Games and a cricket Test match which, to my and everybody’s surprise, England won.

I think watching sport on TV keeps me sane, a form of extreme escapism which lightens the weight of the world upon my shoulders.  And soon, an eagerly awaited event, golf’s Ryder Cup.  It happens to coincide with my talk at the British Acupuncture Council conference at the end of September, but having now learnt how to watch TV on my i-Pad, I will be able to catch glimpses of it at intervals between some more serious acupuncture input. 

Perhaps already I am slightly less of a technophobe than I was when I wrote my blog on August 14.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

We are becoming obsessed with ourselves

I am trying to understand why people seem to feel such an increasing need to take photos of themselves, “selfies”, wherever they are, particularly with famous people.  And I am also aware of how often people walking along the street turn towards shop windows to look at themselves.  And not only look at themselves briefly to see whether they are looking alright, but repeatedly looking into window after window as they walk along the street.  Sitting in the bus recently I amused myself by watching how often those passing by on the street or standing at the bus-stop looked at themselves in the bus window behind which I was sitting. 

It seems as though the world has become a mirror in which everybody searches for their own reflection.  Is this self-obsession with their own images a way of convincing themselves that they exist?  And constantly taking photos of ourselves and looking at ourselves whenever we glimpse a reflection of ourselves is certainly a form of obsession.  It can’t be healthy to spend so long in observing oneself, rather than interacting with the world around us in a more fruitful, less selfish, way.  We are beginning to lose our awareness of others in looking so much at ourselves, as though we are living in isolation from one another.

I think back some years and realise that streets were usually lined with buildings which had smaller windows placed higher up the walls.  You would be lucky if you could see yourself at all, and certainly not the whole of yourself.  This craze for observing ourselves is therefore made much easier by the huge plate-glass windows all modern buildings now have, which show us from the crown of our head to the tips of our toes.   

So mobile phones which overwhelm us with their noise and their insistent demands to be answered immediately wherever we are, as though the messages they send out are more important than any communication with those we are actually talking to, have blighted us in yet another way, by providing the cameras through which we can observe ourselves uninterruptedly all day long for as long as we want to.  It seems we are beginning to prefer images of ourselves to our real selves.



Thursday, August 14, 2014

I am a technophobe

I am frightened of modern technology and the speed with which it changes.  In the old days hardly had I got used to the old VHS tapes when I had to learn how to use CDs,and now there are DVDs and smartphones and tablets and all manner of ways of listening to the radio and TV, or downloading programmes I have missed.  To me, it’s a bewildering array of complex bits of equipment, all of which need to be plugged in somewhere to be charged or to be connected in strange ways I don’t understand.   And all of which, I am told by younger people as they manoeuvre their way seamlessly through it, are apparently there to make my life easier.  This is not to mention social networking, such as Facebook and Twitter, which adds yet a further dimension to what I could do. 

In the past I have always called upon family and good friends to help me navigate my way through what I see as very choppy waters, but surely it is high time for me to confront my fears and at long last learn how to use my iPad, which I’ve had now for more than a year, rather than looking at it apprehensively each morning as I dutifully charge it up before putting it aside unused for another day.  

So today I have finally decided to contact somebody who call himself a computer geek and provides a one-man support system for people like me.  Dare I lift the phone to ask for help, or will I leave it for another day, as I have left it for so many days?

As they say: “Watch this space”!



Monday, August 11, 2014

Writing and reading as acts of creation

I am delighted once again to have chanced upon another good book, “We are all completely beside ourselves” by Karen Joy Fowler, which has made me see life from a different perspective, as should all good books.  The only tiresome thing about it is its long-winded title, one of the many similar titles with which new books are often for some reason now burdened, perhaps to make them stand out from the crowd, but which, because of their long-windedness, slip from my memory immediately.   

Apart from being beautifully written, it is also beautifully constructed with a startling shift of perspective midway through it which sent me straight back to the beginning again to see whether I had missed some pointers which should have alerted me to this surprising development.

I learn about life as I read, and I also learn about life as I write.  My writings, as for example of this blog, do not merely repeat thoughts I already have, but form stages in the process of developing these thoughts, which would not therefore see the light of day without the act of writing them down.  It feels as though I am drawing these thoughts from within me as I write.  Each then becomes a tiny act of creation, so that often as I read afterwards what I have written I surprise myself, as though I am reading something new written by somebody else.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Article for the Acupuncturist, the British Acupuncture Council Newsletter

The following is an article I have submitted to the British Acupuncture Council's newsletter as an introduction to the lecture I will be giving at the BAcC Annual Conference in September 2014.

“Returning the spirit to acupuncture in China

We are used to thinking of the transmission of traditional Chinese medicine as being a form of one-way traffic passing from East to West, but somewhat to my initial surprise, I have become a key factor in its journey in the opposite direction, from West to East.  Specifically, it has become my task to take the first steps in helping five element acupuncture build a bridge back to its land of birth, China.

Over the years China has made many different, often contradictory attempts to try to integrate its traditional form of medicine within the framework of Western medicine or to find ways of making Western medicine fit within it.  It has never been quite clear whether it should view it as a powerful indigenous medical system on a par with or even superior to Western medicine, or as a more primitive branch of medicine which Western medicine had in many ways superseded.  This uncertainty has hovered over China’s at times almost schizophrenic approach to its traditional medicine, and is one of the reasons for the confusion which this still causes, not only in China but to practitioners of Chinese medicine round the world.   In other words, can Chinese traditional medicine be viewed as a stand-alone, intellectually coherent form of medicine based on more than 2000 years of continuous practice, or has the appearance of Western medicine in the past 100 years or so demoted it to an inferior, ancillary role?

It will be obvious from my writings and my teachings that I am utterly convinced of the former, but sadly I am not sure how far my view is shared by many of its practitioners either in China or the rest of the world.

Through a series of what could seem to have been coincidences, but I regard now as clearly defined steps along a path which has guided me throughout my long association with acupuncture, I was led to meet Professor Liu Lihong at the Rothenburg conference in Germany a few years ago, together with his very good friend and translator, Heiner Fruehauf. Liu Lihong is described as being “arguably the most important Chinese medicine scholar of the younger generation in present-day China.  His controversial book Sikao zhongyi (Contemplating Chinese Medicine) became an instant bestseller when it was first published in 2003.  Since then, it has attracted a larger and wider circle of readers than any other Chinese medicine book in modern times.  His book represents the first treatise written in the People’s Republic of China that dares to openly discuss the shortcomings of the government-sponsored system of TCM education in China, which informed the evolution of TCM around the globe.”

I was then invited by him to give a seminar on five element acupuncture to acupuncturists at his research institute in Nanning in South China in November 2011, the first of five seminars I have given there to a growing number of acupuncturists.  At my last visit in April, Professor Liu, who is himself a scholar of the classics, when introducing me to the class of 70 acupuncturists, said, “The seed of five element acupuncture is a very pure seed.  I think it originates directly from our original classic Lingshu, “Rooted in Spirit” (Chapter 8 of Lingshu), or “Discourse on the law of needling” (Chapter 72 of Suwen). That is to say it fits easily within the Neijing. It is therefore not created from nothing.  It has its origin in the far-distant past and has a long history.  The seed which underlies its practice is very pure.  For many good reasons, this seed has now returned to its homeland and started to germinate.  In Nora’s words, its roots have started to penetrate downwards.”

I have been invited to give a keynote lecture on “Returning the spirit to acupuncture in China” at the BAcC conference on 26 September 2014, when I will be describing in greater detail the process by which the roots of five element acupuncture are being encouraged to grow steadily stronger in China.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Treating the whole person

I’ve just read a very interesting article in the Observer with the title “Over-treatment is the greatest threat to western health”.  It ends with a quote from a “visionary American physician and social activist Hunter Adams”, who said “When you treat a disease, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.  But I guarantee you, when you treat a person, whatever the outcome, you always win.”  The article finishes with the words “It’s time for real “whole person” care.”

This is a subject very dear to my heart, as somebody who regards “whole person” care as the main factor in helping our patients regain their health and balance.  Having myself recently emerged successfully from a life-threatening condition (a subdural haematoma of the brain), with all that it has entailed of Western medical care, by far the most important aspect of the care I received was its “whole person” aspect, the love of family and friends, and the caring attention of the medical staff. 

But I remember thinking to myself when I returned back to normal life that what I had most wanted to be asked by the numerous medical personnel who surrounded me was the simple question, “How are you coping with this?”.  I was constantly asked about my physical well-being, but not about how my spirit was responding to the situation I found myself in.  And, for me, this was what was troubling me most. 

The best example I have ever encountered of the kind of question I would have responded eagerly to was that of a very junior nurse at some hospital visit a few years ago who said at the end of a diagnostic procedure I had undergone, “You hate this, don’t you?”  And I certainly did.  She had paid me the kind of close attention we should all pay our patients, and had made what in five element terms would have been considered to be an excellent diagnosis, saying just the right thing I wanted to hear.  My immediate response was relief that here was somebody who saw me and understood my needs.

This remains for me an illustration of what each of our patients would like from us.  Each must hope their practitioner will have sufficient insight to see their unique needs and have the ability to respond appropriately to these needs, as this young nurse did to mine.