Tuesday, November 7, 2017

"I'll have to think about that" - a phrase I would never use

It is odd how a small thought, casually encountered, can lead to much deeper thoughts.  I asked somebody what I thought was simply to give me his answer to, in my view, a very simple question.  I was surprised to hear him say quickly, ”I’ll have to think about that.”  My surprise was because the question deserved no more than a quick answer, and because I would never myself leave a questioner high and dry like this.

Here, then, was yet another lesson in learning to understand better how different elements respond, in this case to being expected to find a quick answer to a question.  Thinking further about this, I could not recall a time when I would have answered any question in this way.  Instead, if I am unsure of how to answer, I express this uncertainty immediately in words.  It is as though I am trying to find an answer as I talk. This is my Fire element’s dominant official, the Small Intestine, doing its job of sorting in plain sight, as it were. The friend of whom I asked this simple question, however, is not Fire but Metal.  Was his answer typical of Metal, then, I asked myself?  So I asked another Metal friend whether he could see himself replying like that, and he confirmed that he definitely could.

So here I had two instances of Metal needing time and space to think things through before coming to a decision, but making this decision by themselves rather than in open conversation with me, as Fire would do. This made me wonder about the other elements.  Earth, which likes to think things through thoroughly and slowly, would understand Metal’s reply, but would take longer reaching a final decision, possibly talking things through slowly with me.  Wood is the element closely associated with decision-making, but might be in danger of making too quick a decision and sticking to it through thick and thin, without considering too much whether it is the right one.*  When I come to Water, I am, as always with this hidden element, somewhat uncertain how it will react.  I must ask my Indian Water friend, Sujata, to help me here.

In a week or so, Guy Caplan and I are holding a seminar for 50 people which we have called “Exploring the Elements”.  I think this will be a good occasion to explore further with the participants the decision-making processes of the different elements.  This should help confirm or amend what I have written above.

*Added after I posted this blog for the first time:  Or Wood, always the inquisitive, enquiring element, might counter my question with a question of its own.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

We appear always to be dissatisfied with our lot

There appears to be something in human nature that strives constantly after change. It seems that we can never be satisfied with what we have, and always want more. This niggling sense of dissatisfaction can express itself in many ways, and in different ways in different cultures and at different times, but what all these feelings have in common is some level of discontent with a current situation and a desire to change it in some way.  We seem to long for things beyond our reach which we stretch out our hands to try and grasp.  We therefore never appear to be content with the status quo, each of us in our own often tiny and insignificant way trying to reach a little further out into the world beyond us.   

Viewed from a five element perspective, our individual element defines the direction of this search for the new and the unexplored, and shapes its terms.  It is therefore no coincidence that I should have found myself gradually moving towards a calling which feeds my Fire element’s need to relate to people, particularly on the one-to-one-basis I enjoy with my patients.  Nor is it by chance that I so much like helping others share in my delight through my teaching at what an understanding of the elements has added to my life. 

I have just returned from what I think is my 12th visit to China.  I hope that the 150 or more practitioners and students at our seminars will also emerge from our time with us stimulated into changing something in their lives through what they have learnt, and may well dare to venture into areas their newly invigorated knowledge of the elements points them towards.  All will have received some five element treatment, and once an element has been stirred into life in this way, it cannot rest until it has set in motion some of those individual changes all of us need to make if we are to fulfil whatever destiny our life has laid down for us.

Thoughts should, wherever possible, be free to download

I loved reading that Stephen Hawking, the author of a Brief History of Time, has agreed that his PhD thesis should now be available free on line to anybody who wants to download it.

“By making my PhD thesis open access, I hope to inspire people around the world to look up at the stars and not down at their feet; to wonder about our place in the universe and make sense of the cosmos,” he writes.  “Anyone, anywhere in the world should have free, unhindered access to not just my research but to the research of every great and inquiring mind across the spectrum of human understanding.”

What a lovely thought!  It made me think that I, too, would like people to have “unhindered access to my thoughts”.  And I hope that in a way they do, through this blog, which is why I so much enjoy writing it.  I feel that I am sending my thoughts far out into space, free, for anybody who is interested to read them.

Of course, even Stephen Hawking and his publishers have to earn their living, as I have to do when I publish my own books, so books, I am afraid, can rarely be handed out free, as blogs can, but the thought behind what he says is an important one.  Too many people feel that they must somehow copyright everything they do, as though clutching their thoughts tightly to themselves and reluctant to let them go except for payment.  I think the reverse should be true, and Stephen Hawking’s plea for “free, unhindered access” to thoughts is to be applauded.



Friday, October 6, 2017

Our body clock: confirmation of the existence of horary points

I was interested to read in the Guardian a few days ago that the Nobel prize for medicine has just been awarded to three scientists “for their discoveries on the molecular mechanisms controlling circadian rhythms – in other words, the 24-hour clock.”  These scientists “were recognised for their discoveries explaining how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronised with the Earth’s revolutions.”  “They identified a gene in fruit flies that controls the creatures’ daily rhythm, known as the “period” gene.  This encodes a protein within the cell during the night which then degrades during the day.  When there is a mismatch between this internal “clock” and the external surroundings, it can affect the organism’s wellbeing – for example, in humans, when we experience jet lag.”

The article quotes Sir Paul Nurse, the director of the Francis Crick institute in London, as saying “Every living organism on this planet responds to the sun.  All plant and animal behaviour is determined by the light-dark cycle. We on this planet are slaves to the sun.  The circadian clock is embedded in our mechanisms of working, our metabolism, it’s embedded everywhere, it’s a real core feature for understanding life.”

The article goes on to say: “The rhythm of day and night affects our health and our cognitive functioning.  When it is disturbed, we are. But our sense of upset, or even jet lag, is just a minute part of the whole living world’s adaptation to the alternation of day and night: animals, insects, plants and even plankton show a cyclical pattern of behaviour as the Earth turns.  This is built into their DNA.”

I don’t think there is a better way of describing the action of the “light-dark” (or as we would put it the yin-yang) cycle of the elements.  How lovely when science confirms what the ancient Chinese discovered thousands of years ago, and we use every day in our practice as we attune our patients’ energies to the daily and seasonal cadences of the elements.

A footnote to the blog above which I wrote a day ago:  In a further newspaper article I have just read the following:  "In the past decade...scientists have shown that clock genes are active in almost every cell type in the body.  The activity of blood, liver, kidney and lung cells in a petri dish all rise and fall on a roughly 24-hour cycle. ...In effect, tiny clocks are ticking inside almost every cell type in our body, anticipating our daily needs."


Our body is a sacred landscape

I have come across two individual pieces of writing which in their different ways both describe the mystery which is at the heart of human life, and underpins my practice of five element acupuncture.

The first has provided the title for this blog.  It is taken from a podcast by Heiner Fruehauf on the Classical Chinese Medicine website https://classicalchinesemedicine.org/your-body-sacred-landscape/, which I listened to some time ago.

The second is from a blog by my young friend Sujata Varadarajan, who writes beautifully about her life in India and her yoga practice at http://sujatavaradarajan.blogspot.co.uk/   In her latest blog she says:

Now that I have begun focussing on my inner energy, I find myself unconsciously sensing the energy given out by the environment as well - in particular nature.  Not in discrete units but in a fuzzy kind of way, feeling the difference between the energy of water and land, of grass and granite, of raindrops and wet earth.

I feel an immense gratitude towards all the traditional, wise systems which recognized this energy, and devised unusual ways to work with it - in particular the systems I have come in contact with - Yoga, Five Element Acupuncture and Tai Chi Chuan.  It's a magical feeling to be linked to everything through something so basic yet intangible, and to be able to tap it and use it wisely.”

I love the thought that our bodies are sacred landscapes, and therefore that we always have to be aware that with each treatment we are being invited by our patients to enter a sacred space, and must do so sensitively and humbly.  And equally, how lovely it is that we are privileged to enjoy “the magical feeling” that “we are linked to everything” and are able, through our practice, to “tap it”, and, we hope, “use it wisely”.

Thank you, Heiner and Sujata, for putting thoughts so close to my heart into such beautiful words.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Building up our own list of the characteristics of the different elements

I have been looking through some of my past blogs about how I learn to diagnose the different elements, and came across one that I posted some years ago which has prompted a few more thoughts.  I am repeating part of here, adding a few more observations I have made since then.

Often without our being aware of this, we gradually build up a list of the  characteristics by which we have learnt to recognise the different elements  These are like our own short-cuts which lead us towards an element.  We often follow along what to us is a well-trodden route towards an element without being aware we are doing it, and, more importantly, without checking at intervals to see whether our responses have become stereotyped and no longer reflect the great diversity with which the elements manifest themselves.  We should always at intervals do a stock take, and throw out any worn-out clichés about an element which have passed their sell-by date.

None of the descriptions by which I attempt to define the elements can be absolutely clear-cut, any more than the distinctions between one element and another can ever be clearly defined.  Like the colours of the rainbow, the elements meld into one another at their edges, so that they will share, faintly, some of each other’s characteristics.   Though faint, these similarities can nonetheless confuse us, some more than others, and explain the difficulties we all have in distinguishing between the characteristics of different elements.  My own greatest confusion has always come from the differences between Earth and Fire, and my least from those between Metal and Water, with the similarities I perceive between other pairings falling somewhere between these two.  Other people will find it difficult to distinguish between other elements.

Each of us should remain aware of where our own particular difficulties in differentiating between the elements lie, and use them as warning signals along the path to a diagnosis.  In particular we need to ask ourselves at intervals whether unconscious bias for or against an element has crept into our practice, so that without our realising it the number of patients we diagnose as being of one element seems to be surprisingly high, whilst that of another element surprisingly low.  Are we perhaps tempted to avoid recognizing the characteristics of elements we find it too difficult to deal with in the practice room?




Difficulties of dealing with our own element

How does the Fire element make me feel?  This is a more difficult question than when I ask myself how the other elements make me feel, because here I am confronting my own element, and dealing with one’s own element presents challenges and risks all of their own.  One would think that its very familiarity to me would make me feel far more at ease, but oddly this is at the same time both a true and a false assumption. 

In a way I am very easy in the presence of Fire because I can relax and express my enjoyment of life with those who enjoy similar things.  But I find that I am also irritated by just those familiar qualities in other Fire people that irritate me in myself.  So my contacts with Fire are not always the unalloyed delight one might expect them to be.

In looking at the elements over the years I have often learnt a great deal from studying them in those closest to me, my family and friends, as many of us do.  We cannot choose our families, but we do of course definitely choose our partners, and thereby hangs many a tale about our relationship to the other elements.  We also choose our friends.  Unless we have moved from partner to many other partners over the years, our choice of friends will provide us with the largest selection of those we like to be with.  We are likely to have accumulated more friends than partners, and thus have a larger choice from which to learn more about the elements at close hand, and more specifically, to explore what it is about particular elements that has attracted us sufficiently to select them as people whose companionship we enjoy.  For me it has been a fascinating exploration which has yielded surprising results, all of which has taught me a lot about particular elements in general and about my own element in particular. 

I have therefore used myself as a productive tool of learning, which we should all do if we are to deepen our understanding of what distinguishes one element from another.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Simple can be harder than complex

I came across this quote from the Apple’s founder, Steve Jobs, in a Guardian article a few days ago:

“Simple can be harder than complex,” he said. “You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.  But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

This echoes what I like about being a five element acupuncturist.  One of my catchphrases when talking about my work is “the simpler the better”.  We certainly do have to work hard for quite a few years to get to the stage where we understand what it means to practise in the simplest, purest way possible.  This was a skill which JR Worsley so beautifully mastered and passed on through his teaching to us, his pupils.

I found it amusing and ironic, though, that the article in which I found this quote was entitled “We are at the mercy of devices we don’t understand”.  It was all about how incredibly complex the latest version of the i-phone which the writer had just bought had become, so that he ended up losing much of his stored data because he could not understand all the hidden instructions embedded in it.  This seemed to be hardly the kind of “simple device” which Steve Jobs had worked so hard to get his company to create.

But I like to think that our simple treatments can indeed move mountains.



Friday, September 15, 2017

Never ask a patient how they feel after treatment

It is never good to ask a patient to tell you how they feel at the end of a treatment.  A question such as this is usually a sign that we are looking to the patient to reassure us that we are on the right track.  Patients are not there to reassure us;  we are there to reassure them that we know what we are doing.  What a practitioner is really hoping with a question like this is that the patient will tell them that they are feeling marvellous.

In any case how can any of us put into words how we feel if we are asked?  There is so much involved in our feeling anything, particularly something like the result of an acupuncture treatment, when we are not sure what we are supposed to be feeling.  Being asked is therefore also likely to worry us to different degrees depending on the kind of person we are.  I know that when I have been asked this by some of the several practitioners who have treated me over the years, the question has always thrown me.  Being the person I am, I try to be helpful to whoever is trying to help me, and therefore I will think that I ought to say something complimentary as a way of thanking them for their help, however untrue this may be.  Other patients may think they ought to be feeling something, but cannot detect any change at all, and therefore leave the practice room disappointed.

A practitioner is the one who at the end of a treatment should be observing their patient so closely that they will be able to judge if the elements have responded in some way, always a sign of a good treatment (see my last blog about this).

We are there to help our patients, not puzzle or worry them.

Feeling our way towards a patient’s element

I always say that the work of a five element acupuncturist starts within themselves.  We should always ask ourselves “How does this patient make me feel?”  This feeling must then be linked to all the many other feelings our patients have given us over the years, and which, particularly in the cases of those patients we know we have treated successfully, have added to the pointers to the different elements we have gradually accumulated.

I have had a good example of this from a day I have just spent in Switzerland looking at six patients with two five element practitioners.  It was a productive day, as these days usually are.  I am with people who are keen to learn as much as they can from me, and I have to offer them as much of my expertise in diagnosing the elements and working out a treatment schedule as I can.  So days such as these are always challenging for me, because, unlike when I am in my own practice, I feel compelled to get my diagnoses right in such a short space of time, otherwise I will feel that I am wasting my host practitioners’ time (and money!).  In that sense, a day like this, as with any seminars I have run, has its own particular stress.   

It is by close observation of any changes at the end of each treatment that I receive some confirmation that we are on the right elemental path.  Changes can range from being quite obvious to being so subtle that I am sure that I would not have seen them in years gone by. Yesterday, for example, I observed two quite clear colour changes, one in a Wood and the other in an Earth patient, and a third patient looked much more relaxed and was communicating more easily with us.  There were also marked changes to how I felt about the fourth and fifth patients, as though I sensed that my relationship to them had shifted as their elements responded to treatment. 

Finally, the sixth patient blessed our day by putting the change he felt into words, such a rarity, and valued all the more for that.  This was a young man I diagnosed as Water, who was coming for his first treatment.  After his AE drain and his Kidney and Bladder source points, he stood up and said, with great surprise in his voice, “My feet feel as though they are touching the ground quite differently.”  I love the thought of the Water element sending good energy to connect him with the earth beneath his feet in this way.

This reminded me of what two of my Water patients told me after I had needled IV(Ki)1 on the sole of the foot.  Both said that they felt a rush of energy like a fountain pouring up their body. I remember thinking what an appropriate name for a point this was, Bubbling Spring, confirmation that the ancient Chinese really did understand the actions of the points they named.