Thursday, January 29, 2015

A beautiful poem

I am not a natural reader of poems.  I have always found that I need to hear somebody reading them to me before I really understand their rhythm.  But I have just been introduced by a poetry-writing friend to a poem by John Clare (1793-1864), one line of which has haunted me ever since.  It is the third line of the poem, and I have decided that it will be good to exercise my brain by trying to learn the whole, quite short poem.

The line is from a poem called simply “I am”, and here are its first three lines, written down, to my delight already, from memory:

I am, yet what I am none cares or knows;
My friends forsake me like a memory lost:
I am the self-consumer of my woes"

(I got a few words wrong!)

I don’t know why these lines swirl away in my mind as much as they do.  I suppose that this is one of the secrets of good poetry.  Its rhythms and its juxtapositions of oddly-assorted words lead us away from the everyday into some distant realm of the spirit. "I am the self-consumer of my woes" speaks to me in a way I don’t really understand, but simply feel.

He was completely self-taught, working as a labourer in the fields to support his family, and then unhappily spent the last years of his life consigned to an asylum.  I have just discovered that “I am” was the last poem he wrote.  He must indeed have felt that his friends had forsaken him “like a memory lost”, so that he had to become “the self-consumer of his woes”. 

Reading about his life, and its unhappy ending, I can at last begin to understand the meaning of these lines

Monday, January 26, 2015

Beckham's beard

I find it fascinating to observe the influence certain famous people can have upon a whole generation.  This is so in the case of David Beckham and his beard.  I remember a time, now shrouded in the mists of quite a few years, when only a dedicated few wore beards, and certainly not footballers.  And then along comes David Beckham, a style icon if ever there was one, sporting one kind of beard after another, first just a discreet growth on the chin, followed by other kinds of adornments, and finally a thick bushy beard which certainly did him no favours.  This has now been trimmed back to the kind of beard everybody is now wearing, in mimicry of him.

Once Beckham was seen with a beard I noticed that they gradually started to sprout everywhere, until, now, particularly among footballers, it is almost odd to see a beardless face.  And not just in this country, but throughout the world.

I wonder how far each bearded person thinks his type of beard suits him.  To my eyes some definitely do whilst others definitely do not.  I think here of Gary Lineker on BBC TV, whose face appears to have shrunk behind his rather wispy beard, whilst others’ beards suit them better.

I wonder, too, how far the women in these bearded men’s lives like this new fashion.   I know of one young man whose relationship has foundered on his girlfriend’s insistence that he shave off his beard, and a wife who hated her husband’s.  They are, after all, really prickly!

And there is also the case of Beckham's tattoos, another fashion many footballers have followed!

I am now waiting for Beckham to shave off his beard to see whether the fashion will change again.  I think the tattoos are here to stay.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

New words of wisdom

I like to collect wise sayings, and today, to my delight, I have come across two, both of which have taught me something new.

Here they are:

“I’m getting angrier as I get older”, said by the artist, Cornelia Parker.

And a quotation from Tolstoy:

“We can know only that we know nothing.  And that is the highest degree of human wisdom.”

The first, by Cornelia Parker, echoes something which I have only just become aware of, my own increasing sense of anger at the inequalities of this world.  I only have to think of those rich people gathering in Davos now, all flying in with their private jets, and most of whom, I expect, live in gated communities to keep the starving hordes at bay, for this sense of anger within me to well over into a kind of fury that the poor and disadvantaged are expected to make sacrifices whilst the rich just add to their financial portfolios.

And, seen from the point of view of a five element acupuncturist, the Tolstoy quotation is an excellent reminder to me of something I always want to emphasize in my teaching.  With every patient we see we must always start from a position of absolute humility, of “knowing nothing”, because each is unique and teaches us something completely new.

I will leave my readers to decide whether either of these quotations resonate for them as they do for me. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Rory McIlroy's walk

Each fresh encounter with the elements, which occurs whenever I meet a new person, either fleetingly in the street or for longer in my practice room, in my social relationships or on TV, provides an opportunity to add to my knowledge.

An example of this occurred recently when I was casually watching some golf on TV (and everybody who knows me also knows not only how much I enjoy watching sport but, in particular, watching sportspeople often revealing surprising aspects of their true natures, and thus of their elements, under the stress of competition) I suddenly noticed the golfer Rory McIlroy’s walk.  I can best describe it as a kind of jaunty stride.  It is certainly not a stroll nor does it appear to be a form  of hurrying, and yet I can find no better way of describing it than to say that he walks as though pushing the air aside in front of him, not in any way aggressively, but firmly.  It is definitely a stride, but done with a kind of joyousness to it.  Usually he smiles as he walks.  You feel that if you were in front of him you would have to give way to allow this force of nature to pass by.

That set me thinking about the different ways the elements walk.  McIlroy is so obviously an excellent example of the Fire element.  He can’t stop smiling and he can’t stop making other laugh.  When he and Sergio Garcia (another Fire person, although slightly more subdued Fire) were paired together in the 2014 Ryder Cup, it was like watching two young children larking around on the golf course, with a lot of touching and laughing and an atmosphere of sheer enjoyment almost at odds with the seriousness of the competition.

I then compared his walk with that of another competitor, Patrick Reed, who I diagnosed as the Wood element.  Wood, after all, is another very young, outgoing element, with perhaps an even more forceful signature than Fire as its hallmark.  But Reed’s walk, though firm, differed from McIlroy’s because it did not have the same kind of joyous spring to it.  It was more of a firm placing of one foot in front of the other, a kind of a stomp, like someone claiming that bit of ground for himself, so that he made me more aware of the force with which each foot landed on the ground.  McIlroy’s stride makes me aware of the top of his body, as his chest breasts the air in front of him, Reed’s more of his feet conquering the ground.  This may seem a little fanciful, but I don’t think it is.  Wood, after all, emphasizes the feet, Fire the top half of the body.

This made me think about my own Fire stride.  Did I have something akin to McIlroy’s walk, and did other Fire people, too, or had my observation not revealed a characteristic peculiar to all Fire people but only to the one?  I have not yet come to any satisfactory conclusion about this, but if anybody were to watch me walking along the street they might be surprised to note how often I glance in shop windows as I try and catch myself in mid-stride to analyse how I am walking.  Thus do I learn a little more about the elements each day.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The qualities of a good physician

Heiner Fruehauf has translated part of a very interesting passage from a 1000-year old text about the qualities of a good physician.  To see the whole text, look at his website:    

Every physician should be warm and dignified by nature, humble and respectful by disposition; polite in actions; soft and flexible in behaviour; devoid of self-aggrandizing attitude and without indulgence in pride and extravagance.

…Wealthy and poor patients should be treated with the same level of attention, and those with rank and those without social status should receive the same type of medicine.   

…Nobody should ever be treated the same way – this principle was most important to the wise physicians of old”

These extracts are taken from his translation of A Guide to Children’s Health:  Theoretical Discussions and Treatment Plans, 1156 AD.

I have chosen a few passages which are particularly dear to my heart, the most important to me by far being the last, a precept, I notice, which is closest to the anonymous author’s heart, too.  “Nobody should ever be treated the same way.”

This is one of the reasons why I love being a five element acupuncturist, and why some people find this too challenging a discipline.  No five element acupuncturist can look up in a book to find a prescribed set of points for a set condition.  Each person presents a unique challenge to the practitioner, a unique puzzle, a conundrum which needs to be solved anew at each treatment.  The question each time must be, “What treatment should I give today which meets my patient’s needs of today?”  And, I emphasize, “of today”, because today’s needs always differ from yesterday’s, and differ even more widely from those I diagnosed when first I encountered my patient.  Our anonymous author says, “Nobody should ever be treated the same way”, and I would add, “nor the same way as they were treated when we last saw them.” 

We may be delighted to see how the previous treatments have helped our patient, but we cannot then rest on our laurels and simply repeat what we have done so far.  The patient coming to see us today is different from the one who came yesterday, or last week or last month.  He or she has lived another cycle of minutes, days or weeks, and is thus a different person from the person to whom we bade farewell last time.

And I have often experienced a slight shock when the patient coming into my practice room today appears so different from the one who left me after the last treatment.  Life has added another layer to them, and may either have further burdened them or lifted some of that burden, but will have altered, however slightly or radically, the interplay of the elements within them.  Since time never stands still, the elements which reflect time’s pressure upon us can in their turn never stand still.  And thus our treatments, directed at these elements, have to adapt themselves to take account of these changes.




Friday, January 2, 2015

The need to write

I love reading of people who, often to their own surprise, have found themselves spurred on to write, as though they have at some point in their lives found themselves unexpectedly before an open gate which beckons them out on to a landscape of words.  I have just come across two heartening examples of this.

Katharine Norbury, who is about to publish her first book, The Fish Ladder: a Journey Upstream, writes, “…suddenly I thought “I’ve got something to say!”, so I started saying it.”  “At my age it’s very relaxing to know there’s something out there that has some of my philosophy and thoughts in it…. I’m very happy that I’ve finally said something.”

And in the biography of a rather delightfully odd writer of detective stories, Suzette Hill, I found the following: “At the age of sixty-four and on a whim, she took up a pen and began writing.”

I have written books about acupuncture and continue to write this blog which gives me the chance “on a whim”, as Suzette Hill says, to write about the odd thoughts I have.  But I have never written anything in greater detail about my life, nor have I ever wanted to write anything fictional.  As I said in my blog of 2014 (28 December), apart from blog-writing I seem to be facing a book made up of blank pages, as though they are waiting for me to write words upon them. But I am not yet clear what words these will be.  I would like, though, to be able soon to say that these blank pages are starting to fill up with my writing, and then be able to say with as much glee as Katharine Norbury does, “I’m very happy that I’ve finally said something”, and, in my case it would be truer to say “something else”.

On being a five element acupuncturist

All acupuncture is based on the five elements in one way or another.  So how can I define what I have always called five element acupuncture?

I have been thinking a lot about this recently, because my book, called by the titleof this blog, is just about to be published and no doubt people who know little about what I do will ask me exactly what being a five element acupuncturist means.

It is rather a misleading name, because somehow it assumes that only we of all the acupuncturists who practise acupuncture base ourselves on the elements.  But that is not true.  All acupuncture points have a relationship to one, so in its widest sense all acupuncturists should call themselves five element acupuncturists.  But in the narrow sense used to define what I do, five element acupuncture has taken on a very specific meaning.  It describes a particular branch of acupuncture which diagnoses according to specific sensory criteria, used by a five element acupuncturist to determine the different states of balance or imbalance of these elements in our patients.

We are each the walking, talking, breathing illustration of the elements at work, and in particular – and this is what most narrowly defines five element acupuncture – of the imprint one of those elements makes upon us.  This is called, variously, the element of the causative factor of disease (the CF), which is how I learnt to call it when I trained at JR Worsley’s school in Leamington, the constitutional element, or, in a phrase coined by me, the guardian element.  I call it that because this term has a resonance for me of the words guardian angel, and reflects what I feel is one of this element’s most important features, the protective arms it throws around us, acting, when we are in balance, as a powerful guide as to how our life should most profitably be lived.  In some ways it represents our fate, the destiny handed down to us through our genes, making us who we are and like no other.

The aim of treatment can therefore be regarded as being much wider and much deeper than simply attempting to lessen or get rid of physical complaints.  I see it essentially as engaging as productively as possible with the direction a patient’s guardian element points to for that patient.  As I have said before, each treatment can therefore be regarded, at its deepest level, as a potential date with destiny.

And thus I see myself as being privileged, through my knowledge of the elements, at being allowed to work at this level – an awesome legacy passed down to me through generations of acupuncturists which I must cherish and in turn pass on to others, not least my gratifyingly receptive students in China, who, because of their history, quickly recognize this legacy in a way I think European students take longer to do.




Sunday, December 28, 2014

2015 New Year's Wish

As 2014 draws to a close, signalling the end of another year of my life, I am made increasingly aware of the steady passing of time, like the annual tick-tock of the clock of my life, a form of countdown to its end.  I don’t find this a morbid thought – quite the reverse.  It just sets me thinking about what I still have to do, and gives it additional urgency.  This is becoming all the more pressing since my body is finally admitting to its increasing age, with the gradual diminution of all kinds of faculties I have so far taken for granted, foremost among them my hearing.  This has always been a problem and is beginning now to affect my social life to the extent that I have to consider before joining others how far my struggle to hear what people are saying will affect my enjoyment of their company, and no doubt their enjoyment of mine, as I have to ask them to repeat what they have said.  And then there are my creaking knees, about which the less said the better.

But, and here is the flipside to this, all these physical problems which are after all minor compared with what many people are forced to suffer, persuade me that I have in a way to hurry up and do all that I feel I have to do before my body compels me to a full stop.  Certainly my mind appears to be more active than ever (at least nobody has so far dared tell me if this is not true!), though as all of us notice as we grow older, our memory, particularly of names but certainly not of faces, begins to suffer.  My sister, two years older than me, told me recently that she wanted to pack in as much travelling as she could “whilst I still can”, and I, too, want to do as much as I can whilst I still can.  But the big question is not travelling, which I am continuing to do quite happily (off to China again in April for my 7th visit), but what to write!

The book of my blogs, to be called “On being a five element acupuncturist”, will appear in bookshops in January, and I want to organize a book launch for it, as a way of celebrating its completion but also as a good pretext for inviting many people from my days as Principal of the School of Five element Acupuncture with whom I have lost contact in the years since I closed the school.  I hope the reception room at our Harley Street clinic will be large enough to hold everybody.  But after that, what?

I feel bereft without the project of another book to work on.  Blogs such as the one I am writing now certainly help me formulate my thoughts, but I ask myself whether I have anything left to say about five element acupuncture, or is it more about life that I need to write?  (And as I ask this question there flashes through my mind an odd thought about the way the Fire element walks which was stimulated by watching Rory McIlroy, the golfer, in a re-run of some of the highlights of the Ryder Cup this year on TV.  Remembering this is prompting me to write another blog about the elements.)

At midnight on New Year’s Eve each year I make a pledge to try and complete a further aim which I set for myself for the coming year.  I now only have about three days between now and the end of the year to discover what this year’s wish will be.  Will I manage to do this this year or not?

Happy end to 2014

I like to end my blogs of 2014 on an optimistic note.  And what could be happier in an age where people seem obsessed by ever more useless consumerism than to hear of the generosity of people towards those consigned to the bottom of the pile.  In London some of these are eking out a living selling the Big Issue on the streets.  I have my own familiar group of Big Issue sellers for whom I keep a stash of coins ready in my pockets as I walk around London, but I found myself in an unfamiliar part of town walking past a seller I had not seen before.  As he smiled at me, I asked him whether his takings for that day had been good.  “No, “he said, “it seems that everybody is just hurrying past to do their Christmas shopping.  But I must tell you about two lovely things that happened to me a few days ago.  One of my regular customers came rushing up to me on his way to fly off abroad for Christmas, and pressed a £50 note into my hand.  And not long afterwards, another person gave me £20.  That was my lucky day, wasn’t it?”

And I, too, was the surprised recipient of other people’s kindness.  In one of my favourite coffee shops, I decided to give myself a pre-Christmas treat of various goodies, and then asked for the bill.  The waitress said, “I don’t think you will be needing that,” and returned, not with my bill, but with a Christmas card from all the staff with my name on it.  I don’t know how they found out who I was, because I usually pay with cash, but I must once have paid with a credit card with my name.  And they refused to let me pay for my little feast.

So there is more generosity around than there often appears to be on the surface.  I left both the Big Issue seller and the café with big smiles on my face.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

The curse of the mobile phone

I have written before about the way in which I think the use of mobile phones and other electronic equipment is having a negative effect upon human interactions.  I am reluctant to condemn all these new inventions because in many ways they are miracles of human invention, but it is hard for me to see their good in a world now increasingly peopled by automaton-like figures peering into their screens with never an eye raised to acknowledge the presence of those they are passing by.

If you become used to allowing the demands of the mobile phone to control your life in this way, I wonder how this will affect human interactions in the long term.  More and more people now appear to be compelled by their insistent ringing tones to give mobile phones priority over everything else to the extent that they allow them to interrupt whatever social interactions are taking place at the time.

I was reminded of this at a restaurant I went to last week, where the owner said that she was quite happy for us to sit on as long as we wanted after we had finished our meal, because she was so pleased to find people who had not spent the whole of their meal shouting into mobile phones, as her other guests often do. She is appalled at the way these telephone conversations are conducted at high volume without consideration for other diners, but said, “I can’t tell people they mustn’t use their phones because I would lose too many customers if I did”.  Recently I heard the story of an irate diner, who, plagued by the incessant loud mobile conversation at the table next to his, had simply got up, grabbed the phone and thrown it into a large bowl of flowers where it bobbed about helplessly. “You’ve spoilt my meal, “he said, “so now I’m spoiling yours”.  I certainly often have a strong inclination to follow suit, but I’m not sure I have this man’s courage.

There appear to be very few people left who would still consider it rude to interrupt a conversation with a friend to answer their phones.  And if we increasingly ignore those that are physically close to us as we respond to the demands of those disembodied voices on our machines, what effect will that have on human relationships in the future?

Why the need, too, for so much hurry?  We have become slaves to these tiny machines.