Monday, October 27, 2014

Always query your diagnosis

I woke this morning with a warm feeling in my heart.  Yesterday we had another one of our very successful and satisfying seminar days which I share with Guy Caplan.
 
I always like to focus these days on diagnosing the elements in patients our participants want help with, or, as this time, diagnosing the participants themselves who want a clearer picture of their own element.  You will note that I say “a clearer picture” rather than a definite diagnosis.  This is something I insist upon, because I am so aware that a diagnosis can initially only be a tentative hypothesis and awaits confirmation from the way in which a patient responds to treatment.  In other words, we are never sure that we have the right guardian element until that element has shown us, through its positive reaction to treatment, that this treatment is directed in the right place along the circle of the elements.
 
I know that hovering over all five element acupuncturists is the picture of JR Worsley interacting with a patient for a few minutes, and then turning to us with an immediate diagnosis of one element.  This picture can delude us into thinking that every diagnosis we make should be equally as fast.  But, as JR told us as students, it had taken him more than 40 years’ hard work to get to the stage he had reached.  We would all be able to do the same, he said, once we had the same number of years’ practice behind us.  So those of us with far fewer years’ experience will have to accept that tracking an element down to its source in a patient takes more than just a few minutes, and very often many more than just a few treatments.
 
What I tell students is that no patient minds how long this takes provided they feel our compassion for them.  A practitioner, Jo, who has attended many of our seminars, has just sent me the following lovely quote:  People don't care what you know, they want to know that you care.”  As long as we show we care, a patient will trust us to know what we are doing and allow us the time to work out gradually which element we should address with our treatment.  We must never allow ourselves to be hurried by our patients into feeling that things should be moving more quickly than they are.  One of the things we were told as students was that it takes about a month of treatment for every year of illness.  That does not mean continuous weekly treatments, but it is a helpful rule of thumb, and allows us to tailor our expectations to a more realistic level.
 
Once my patients have started treatment, I have noticed that very few of them, if any, seem to spend much time talking about their symptoms, but instead want to talk about their life in general.  In fact they often forget altogether why they originally came to see me, evidence that patients do indeed want “care”, and not necessarily a “cure”, although with care often comes cure, since usually the two are closely related.
 
Our next seminar will be in the spring. In the meantime, Guy and I are off to China again in mid-November.  Our usual enthusiastic group of practitioners over there are again organizing a preparatory five element course for the people who will be attending for the first time so that we will be preaching already to the converted.  And luckily the new edition of the Mandarin version of my Handbook of Five Element Practice, with its Teach Yourself supplement, is flying off the shelves over there, and will give Chinese practitioners new to five element acupuncture a firm foundation on which to base their practice.

 

 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Element-watching with the Ryder Cup

As everybody knows who has read this blog, I enjoy watching sport as a pleasant diversion from the horrors of much of what is going on out there in the world at the moment, and also because sportspeople reveal their elements much more clearly when under the extreme stresses competitive sport subjects them to.


So I have been watching the Ryder Cup, mostly on playback, since I was up at the British Acupuncture Council’s annual conference for part of the weekend.  And much of my watching has concentrated upon the Fire element, because not only is the leading golfer of the day, Rory McIlroy, most obviously Fire, but so is another well-known golfer, Sergio Garcia.  So that watching them together was a supreme example of the qualities particular to the Fire element.  Not only did they stoke each other’s Fire up so that they seemed to be having a little party between them all the time they played, but their joy also lit up the crowds watching them. 


If you are unsure about what exactly distinguishes the Fire element from other elements, you can do no better than playing back those parts of the Ryder Cup from the TV programmes showing them in action.  Watching these two golfers will teach you more about how to recognise the Fire element than any number of words.  They are examples of how Fire lights up both itself and those around them, and I can guarantee that you will not be able to stop yourself smiling when you watch them.  Only the Fire element will have this effect.


And then compare the effect these two people have on the crowds and on you with other golfers not of the Fire element, for example the American golfer Phil Mickelson.  I think his element is Water, and though he is very warm towards the crowds and encourages their participation, he does not make me feel that I want to smile in the same way as I do whenever Rory McIlroy pops up on the screen.  And there was also a rather angry Wood golfer I had never seen before, called Patrick Reed, who is also worth watching as providing a useful comparison with Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia’s Fire and Mickelson’s Water.


Of course, since I don’t treat any of these people, I always have to remind myself and those reading this blog that I cannot be sure that I am diagnosing the right elements.  I therefore offer my diagnoses with the usual humility.  But it’s important that those of us who have been looking at the elements for many years (30 in my case) offer their expertise to those who are just starting on the road of five element acupuncture.  I am more likely to be right now than I was 30 years ago when I started on this journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Good Wood quotes

I have looked through the list of quotations illustrating the Wood element which I gave our SOFEA students;  I am offering them here to my blog readers:


"She felt like a bulb must feel, she thought, at the supreme moment when it has nosed its little spear successfully up through the mould it has endured all the winter and gets it suddenly out into the light and the splendour of the world.  The freedom of it!  The joy of getting clear.” 
                                                                                        Elizabeth von Arnim: The pastor’s wife


The essential thing was to plot my next move.  But that was precisely what gave me the most trouble, the thing I could no longer do.  I had lost the ability to think ahead, and no matter how hard I tried to imagine the future, I could not see it, I could not see anything at all.  The only future that had ever belonged to me was the present I was living in now, and the struggle to remain in that present had gradually overwhelmed the rest.  I had no ideas anymore.  The moments unfurled one after the other, and at each moment the future stood before me as a blank, a white page of uncertainty.”
                                                                                                        Paul Auster: Moon Palace


"He was an old man, and he hated the snow.  Pushing on toward the river, he seemed to see in the storm the mortality of the planet.  Spring would never come again.  The valley of the West River would never again be a bowl of grass and violets.  The lilacs would never bloom again.  Watching the snow blow over the fields, he knew in his bones the death of civilizations - Paris buried in the snow, London abandoned, and in the caves of the escarpment at Innsbruck a few survivors huddled over a fire of chair and table legs.  This cruel, this dolorous, this Russian winter, he thought;  this death of hope.  Cheer, valor, all good feelings had been extinguished in him by the cold.  He tried to cast the hour into the future, to invent some gentle thaw, some clement southwest wind - blue and moving water in the river, tulips and hyacinths in bloom, the plump stars of a spring night hung about the tree of heaven - but he felt instead the chill of the glacier, the ice age, in his bones and in the painful beating of his heart.”
                                                                                       John Cheever:  The Wapshot Scandal



“It is ever so with the things that Men begin:  there is a frost in Spring, or a blight in Summer, and they fail of their promise.”

“Yet seldom do they fail of their seed,” said Legolas.  “And that will lie in the dust and rot to spring up again in times and places unlooked-for.”
                                                                                  J.R.R. Tolken: The Return of the King



“He was one of those sticklers for form who in every possible circumstance know the appropriate regulation, and are able to discuss it impersonally and accept it without question.”

                                                                                           Boris Pasternak: Dr Zhivago
 

“Mrs Thatcher has not come to terms with her abrupt departure from office last November.... Her interviewer says she appeared “a woman disoriented”.  Mrs Thatcher told her: “The pattern of my life was fractured.  It is like throwing a pane of glass with a complicated map upon it on the floor.”

                                                                                                  From a newspaper interview

 
And the following were things some of the things my Wood patients told me:

 "The world’s at your feet, but I have a total sense of lack of direction.  I feel rootless.”

“Damaged roots become warped maturity.”

 “All this abundance - I would like to get it into order.”  (A patient talking about spring)

 “It’s like living with somebody in forward motion all the time.” (A girl about her Wood boyfriend)

 

 

                                                                         

 

 

 

 

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 story 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”!