Monday, June 27, 2016

The disappearance of things

I have written before about a very interesting old Viennese musician and astrologer I knew many years ago called Dr Oskar Adler.  I remembered one of the things he would say after a curious incident which happened to me yesterday.  He believed that it is pointless looking for things that we have mislaid, because they really go missing.  You have to leave some time, and then they will re-appear.

I had further proof of this rather esoteric belief again.  Anybody of my venerable age will know that the one object they treasure above all others is the old people’s free bus pass, which allows us to hop on and off buses and in and out of tube trains at will, and gives us the kind of freedom denied previous generations of the elderly.  I always check that I have my pass before I leave home.  This morning, to my dismay, it was not where it usually is, tucked safely away in the front compartment of my rucksack.  I searched for a long time for it, looking into all the pockets of all the clothing I might have been wearing on my last trip outside, but could find it nowhere.

I decided that I should immediately apply for a replacement at the local Post Office, and so headed outside to do just that.  I was standing on the top step of the short flight of stairs leading to the road outside, when I happened to look down.  There on the pavement, tucked closely against the front railings, was my bus pass.  The road sweeper had obviously recently been, because the pavement was swept completely clean, the only object in sight on the ground being this little plastic rectangle in its white cover.  If I had grasped the right-hand rather than the left-hand railings to help me down the stairs I would have missed seeing it completely.

I still can’t think how it got there.  Rationally I could say that it might have slipped from the rucksack as I got out my front-door keys the day before, but I prefer the more mysterious explanation.  My bus pass decided to do one of those disappearing tricks the Dr Adler persuaded me to believe in, and simply took it in its mind to re-appear on another day. 

In the past, when something similar has happened to me, which it has done several times, the time between an object’s disappearance and re-appearance has often been longer, sometimes a few weeks.  And once I found the keys to my house, which I had desperately hunted for for days, hidden away a few weeks later under rubbish at the bottom of an outside dustbin.

I like to think that there are indeed “more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (Hamlet).  This little incident lifted my spirits a little, just a little, from despairing and dreary contemplation of the weekend's political turmoil.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Oh England! What have you done to yourself!

I am devastated by the results of the referendum, as is everybody I know.

The most appropriate comment I heard during a dreadful night spent listening with increasing horror to the radio and watching TV was that of Paddy Ashdown, the former Liberal leader, when he said: "God help this country!"

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Europe - In or Out?

Oh, this wretched referendum being forced on this country against our will!  Who wants a referendum except those who want us to get out of the EU?  Certainly, I don’t, and I don’t know many people who do.  I have always regarded myself as European to the core, and never a Little Englander, so I fervently hope that there are more people who think like me out there voting on June 23rd than those who don’t.

I come of a family for whom Britain’s connections to Europe dominated throughout the years of my childhood during the second World War, and one which had suffered deeply and often tragically from the xenophobic and racial hatreds which led to the war.  Unhappily, these now seem to be rearing their very unpleasant heads again, as poor suffering migrants, escaping the kind of persecutions my mother’s Austrian Jewish family had to suffer, are now being made scapegoats for many of the real problems people in this country (never the rich, mind you) are suffering.

I think we are going through strange and extreme times, of which the referendum is one symptom, as are the other odd signs of this, such as Donald Trump’s successes in the States, the rise of increasingly right-wing, almost fascist parties in Europe and the corresponding, and necessary, rise of parties of protest, such as those in Greece or Spain, and even what is happening to the Labour Party in this country.  The political uncertainties all this creates raise disturbing echoes of those at other troubled times, most obviously in the 1930s, which led to the rise of fascism in Germany and Austria, my mother’s and my birthplace. 

In turn, this has been accompanied, for me personally, by a renewed interest in the tumultuous background to my earliest years during the war.  By coincidence, several things have concurred to bring this period of European life to the forefront of my thoughts, among them the reading of some highly interesting books which have illuminated this period for me.  First there is the recently published book by Philippe Sands, the international lawyer, called East West Street :  On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes against Humanity, a book of great interest not just to lawyers but to all those whose family suffered persecution under Hitler.  Philippe Sands interleaves his legal discussions relating to the background to the Nuremberg trials with discoveries about the history of his own family in Nazi-occupied Poland.  Co-incidentally, there are connections with my own family, since Philippe bought my mother’s house in Hampstead, and my mother’s cousin helped him decipher and translate some of the handwritten German documents he discovered during his search for his family.

The reading of this book also coincided with a re-introduction through a friend to an Austrian writer, Ilse Aichinger, whom I remembered reading some years back but had completely forgotten about.  She told me of Ilse Aichinger’s only novel, called in its first English translation, Herod’s Children, published in its original German in 1948, with the translation appearing in 1956.  This book, too, is about the period of the second World War, and follows a group of Jewish children in Vienna whose only permitted playground is a graveyard.  It is not a realistic representation of Viennese life under the Nazis, but a kind of mythical transposition viewing the world through a child’s eyes.  It is a book which deserves a much wider readership than it has at present.  So I am now on a mission to try and interest Daunts’, my favourite bookseller, to re-publish it, as it deserves to be out there again as one of the discoveries of forgotten masterpieces which they pride themselves on publishing.

Finally, to round off these few weeks of immersion in the past, I saw an amazing film called Son of Saul, about a Jewish prisoner in a concentration camp, who is part of the Sonderkommando, those prisoners who were set apart and given a few more months of life in order to act as guards shepherding their fellow Jews into the gas chambers.  He thinks he sees the body of his son, and the film is the story of his despairing attempts to find a Rabbi amongst the prisoners so that he can give his son a proper burial.  I was persuaded to see the film only after a friend reassured me that you do not directly see any of the terrible events taking place, but as dim background to the camera’s view which is trained always upon the father, particularly just on his face.  It is one of the most moving and, yes, uplifting, films I have seen.  Go and see it if you can still catch it.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Example of why it is so satisfying teaching my Chinese students

Here is an email I have just received from one of my acupuncturist students in China, who brought several of her patients to our recent seminar for us to help diagnose and treat:

"Thank you so much for what you did to help me to diagnose my patients' elements in Nanning and Beijing.  When I came back home I treated them.  Almost everyone feels well, and I also see the changes in them, especially in my mother-in law.  I treated her on the Metal element. She knows that she should let go more, and she is softer as a person.  So now I can get on well with her.”

It is so pleasing for me to receive such strong confirmation that what we have been teaching over in China for the past five years is falling on such productive ground.  I’m so glad that this particular student of ours is now getting on better with her mother-in-law, with whom she lives.  It shows how important for our relationships it can be if we work out what the elements of our nearest and dearest are.  We can then allow them to express themselves in the way they need to, rather than bemoaning the fact that they don’t behave as we would like them to do.  

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The power of releasing blocked energy

I love clearing what we call energy blocks, a technique which really forms the bedrock of five element practice.  All illness can be described as being caused by different forms of blocked energy, being the result of some impairment of the balanced flow of energy from element to element round the five element circle.  The most common form of block, and one we address at a patient’s first treatment, is that which leads to the presence of Aggressive Energy, an AE block, where one element in distress passes its disturbed energy on along the cycle, not to its child element but to its grandchild, throwing it across the circle “like some hot potato”, we were told.

It always amazes me how many physical complaints can disappear simply by expelling this negative energy from body and soul, and how often it will occur as a result of some mental or physical trauma.   Any form of surgery, for example, life-saving though it may sometimes be, must always be viewed as traumatic for the body (and soul), and therefore benefits from checking for the presence of AE afterwards.  It may well be there, and will hinder recovery if left to fester for too long.  In a fairly healthy person I assume that AE will gradually seep from the body without treatment, otherwise nobody would recover from surgery or other traumas, which of course they do, but recovery will be speeded up if this simple treatment is done as a matter of course.

Then of course there are all the frequent day-to-day blocks we encounter, which we call Entry/Exit blocks, blocks which occur at the exit point of one meridian and the entry point of another.  These lead to localized areas of pain and discomfort, which can speedily be dispelled by the needling of just a few points.    Finally, there is the most powerful Entry/Exit block of all, that between Conception Vessel and Governor Vessel, a CV/GV (Ren Mai/Du Mai) block. 

I remember JR Worsley telling us that we would do the points for a CV/GV block on every patient if only they were on the hand.  I recall laughing at the time, but I have since realised how true this would be because of the wondrous power this releases at the deepest level.  I suspect many of us choose not to detect this block from a natural reluctance to needle what is the most intimate part of a person’s body.  To help our students at SOFEA overcome their inhibitions, we always made sure that they had marked up these points on both men and women as part of their training.  (And here I will pass on a tip I have learnt from Chinese acupuncturists, who are much less reluctant to needle these points than the more inhibited English.  Turn a patient on their side with their knees bent, rather than, as we were taught, needling the points with the patient lying on their back, a more vulnerable position, certainly for women.)

A patient on whom I have just needled a CV/GV block told me that she felt very different immediately after the treatment.  “I feel more centred, more grounded, more upright.”

See also my Handbook of Five Element Practice for more on all kinds of blocks.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Nostalgic memories

It is strange to become aware of social change happening before my eyes as happened today.  I was reading an excellent book about Shakespeare’s life by James Shapiro, called 1606 – Shakespeare and the Year of Lear.  Shakespeare wrote Lear around the time of the Gunpowder Plot, with Guy Fawkes one of the conspirators.  For the next 400 years this day has been remembered by the fireworks displays we hold on 5 November.

But I now realise that things have changed almost without my noticing it.  It must be many years since I last passed a few ragamuffins on the street pushing along an old pram in which they had stuffed a hastily-dressed puppet, and calling out to me as I pass, “A penny for the guy?”  We still celebrate Guy Fawkes Day with fireworks, but children no longer re-enact the event symbolically by wheeling a model of Guy Fawkes around in an old pram.  Are there indeed still any shabby old prams out there suitable for this, rather than the huge modern contraptions blocking our pavements?  And pennies have long since disappeared.   But I was pleased when my colleague, Guy, told me that he remembers as a child dressing his teddy bear up in old clothes, propping him up in the street and begging passers-by for pennies.

Another nod to our past has thus gone almost without our noticing it.  Just as I can’t remember how many years it is since I last heard groups of carol singers knocking on doors up and down the street before Christmas, although maybe this still happens in small rural communities where people know their neighbours.  Some of the carol singers would gather in groups and collect for a charity, but often we would open our door to two or three young children, who would launch into feebly singing a few odd bars of “Good King Wenceslas”, before grinding to a halt because they didn’t know the words.   Perhaps nowadays, too, it would be considered too risky for young children to knock on doors on their own in the evening, another sad indictment of the times.

When customs such as these which have persisted for centuries lose their relevance, dwindle and die out, a little fabric of our social history is torn away with them.  Now all the new customs are created, not on the streets but at one remove on social media through our mobile phones.


One of the many challenges of being a five element acupuncturist

We must never be too quick to say “I know this patient’s element is obviously Fire (or Wood or Earth or Metal or Water)”.  There is nothing “obvious” at all about the way in which an element presents itself to us.  We may learn to recognize its presence more and more clearly with time, but we should always leave a healthy small (or large) question-mark hanging over it reminding us that elements can hide themselves so subtly behind manifestations of other elements that they still have the power to surprise us, as they do me even after all these years.

If the presence of an element were so simple to detect, we would all be brilliant five element acupuncturists early on in our career, but human beings are much more complex than we think.  So we should never underestimate the time it will take us to find the one element buried deep within the circle of all the elements which gives each of us our individual stamp of uniqueness.

Pride, as they say, comes before a fall, and never is this truer when trying to diagnose an element.  We risk much if we think our understanding of the elements is greater than it truly is.

In any case, the secret of good five element acupuncture is not simply managing to diagnose the right element, despite this being what many practitioners think.  Instead it is learning to respond appropriately to that particular element’s needs.  Even if we diagnose the right element, do we know how to respond to its needs in a way which makes the patient feel that they have been heard as they want to be heard?  If that understanding is not there, treatment will rest on fallow ground, however much it may be focused upon the right element.

Supposing, for example, that we diagnose a patient’s element, correctly, as Metal, but respond to it in a way which would be more appropriate to an Earth patient, offering a kind of “Oh dear, Oh dear, you poor thing” kind of response, we will find that our Metal patient soon backs away and decides not to continue treatment.  Our element may be Earth and it may be natural for us, mistakenly, to offer to all our patients what we ourselves feel most comfortable with.  Unfortunately, however, we have to learn to make ourselves at ease in the company of elements not our own.  To surround Metal, for example, with a kind of enveloping sympathy is not what it wants.  It will feel suffocated by it, its Lung unable to breathe.  Instead we must learn to offer the space it always wants to place between itself and others.

And the same holds true for how we need to approach our interactions with the other elements.  As far as possible, then, we must learn to suppress the needs of our own element and think ourselves into those of the element we have chosen to treat.  This is not an easy task, and one that it takes some skill and much practice to acquire.

Another beautiful quotation

I love unexpectedly coming across beautiful writing.  The quote below is from a book by Alexandra Fuller, who writes about her life in Africa.  All her books are worth reading, not only for what they tell us about a life lived through some of the turmoil of African independence wars, but also for the beauty of the words she uses to describe this life.

Here is a little gem which makes me understand, once again, why books are so important to me, and how they have the ability to transport me, as here, into the mysteries of the universe.

The lion lay next to Mapenga, contentedly licking fish flesh off the edge of Mapenga’s plate, and we talked softly about other nights when we had sat around fires in Africa – with different people – listening to wild lions, or hyenas, or to the deep, singing, anonymous night.  Above us the sky tore back in violent, endless beauty, mysterious and unattainable.  There is no lid to this earth and there is nothing much fettering us to the ground.  Eventually we will die and be wafted back into the universe.  Bones to dust.  Flesh to ashes.  Soul into that infinite mystery.”

Alexandra Fuller:  Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier, p. 232



Monday, May 2, 2016

A nostalgic trip into the past

I am reading a rather delightful book I picked up by chance in the library.  It is the diary by somebody called Kathleen Hey who was a shop assistant in Yorkshire during the Second World War.  It brings back very clear memories of my own childhood, particularly the four-year period we spent escaping the London Blitz to Bowness-on-Windermere in the Lake District.  Opposite the small house at the lakeside, a former café, into which we crammed our large family of relatives and friends who had escaped to England from Nazi-occupied Austria, was a small, derelict refreshment kiosk to which we as children would press our noses because, displayed on its dust-covered shelves, were cardboard replicas of the sweet and chocolates now no longer available in the wartime shops.

I was reminded of the feelings of longing I had each time I passed the kiosk by what I have just read in Kathleen Hey’s diary, as she describes a few days’ holiday in Blackpool:

“There were queues at all food shops, some serving customers (residents) at one counter and visitors at another.  By the time a woman on holiday has shopped for her family the morning will be gone.  There are no cigs, sweets or matches though many of the windows are attractively dressed with dummy boxes.”

I still have some of this longing for chocolate which must have been sparked by the dummy boxes in the empty kiosk all those years ago.  Give me a box of chocolates now and I am hard put not to finish it at one go. 

Thus are we all conditioned by what happens to us in our childhood.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Thoughts on my return from my 9th visit to China

This blog is for all the dedicated Chinese five element acupuncturists and budding acupuncturists who came to our seminars and public lectures in Nanning and Beijing on my recent visit to China, some of whom I have taught nine times over the past five years.

So who are they?

Well, there were 35 students in our four-day advanced seminar in Nanning.  Then there were 120 more students and interested observers at a public lecture we gave at the Beijing Traditional Medicine Hospital, plus 350 or so more at a similar lecture for students at the Beijing University of Traditional Medicine.

And finally, at two packed days of clinical seminars at different acupuncture clinics in our last two days in Beijing, there were 50 people on Saturday and 30 on the final Sunday.  So we flew home on the Monday morning having spoken about five element acupuncture to nearly 600 people, as well as treating over 30 patients in front of them on clinical days.  I begin now to understand why so many copies of the Mandarin version of my Handbook have been snapped up in China. 

All in all, a truly prodigious feat for all three of us, Mei Long, Guy Caplan and me. We shared each teaching day, with a surprising level of harmony between us, as well as a surprising degree of agreement about people’s guardian elements.  We have developed into a very cohesive and effective teaching unit, each with our own particular expertise.  Guy concentrates on helping students with what we call their CSOE skills (those of recognizing the colour, sound, smell and emotion of the different elements).  He has developed many interesting and innovative ways of teaching them how to start diagnosing the elements through their senses.  Mei offers both sound clinical skills and the relief for our audiences of not needing to have to wait for each word to be translated into Chinese.  I offer my 35 years’ experience and whatever else is needed, often concentrating on helping students observe me in my interactions with patients as I carry out diagnoses in front of the class. 

All three of us combine well in diagnosing participants’ elements, something eagerly sought by all, and so essential for any five element practitioner.  We have become increasingly skilled now at bringing together our different insights into the elements to form a preliminary diagnosis which is then confirmed or amended as we get to know the participants.  Each person is then given a treatment, starting of course, with an AE (Aggressive Energy) drain, and finishing with the source points of the chosen element.  We are flexible, too, about amending our diagnosis if time with the students leads us to change our minds.

All this helps the students develop their own insights into the elements, as well as confirming the need to ensure that they retain the humility necessary for anyone working with the elements, to allow the elements, those elusive agents of transformation, to teach us and prevent us from becoming too fixed in our ideas about their different qualities.

I started writing this blog at Beijing Airport waiting for the flight back to London, warmed to the heart by the welcome we had received, and by the delight I personally experienced to discover how well the participants had absorbed so much of my teaching over the five years I have been visiting China.  This time, for the first time, I asked those bringing patients to be treated to list the last five treatments they had given, and was pleased to find how well they had taken in all that we had taught them.  This can be summed up in two of my mantras, “The simpler the better” and “Don’t worry, don’t hurry”.  Their treatments were indeed simple, and focused clearly on one element at a time, and they didn’t seem to worry when we changed the elements, nor did they seem to be in any hurry.  Rather, they appeared to have taken to heart the need for flexibility when trying to diagnose the elements, without feeling under too much pressure “to get it right”, which has unnecessarily bedevilled much five element practice in this country.

And now I am just about to finish reading an excellent introduction by Heiner Fruehauf to the long-awaited English translation of Liu Lihong’s book Classical Chinese Medicine, about to be published. His book, which has sold over 400,000 copies in China, has drawn attention to the need to reconnect Chinese medicine to its traditional roots to prevent it from becoming swamped, as it is at present, by the pressures upon it of Western medicine.  I feel much humbled when I realise that my own efforts to return five element acupuncture to its birthplace have joined this growing current which is drawing traditional Chinese acupuncture into the mainstream of medical care in China and on into the world outside.

As part of this trend is the recent inauguration of the Beijing Tongyou Sanhe Traditional Chinese Medicine Development Foundation, under the aegis of Liu Lihong, for which I have received an impressive certificate stating that I am an adviser to the Acupuncture Committee for a period of 5 years.