Monday, January 22, 2018

Metal removes itself

A Metal friend of mine, asked to explain how she deals with difficult situations, said simply, “I remove myself”.

I am always delighted when somebody offers such a neat and almost laughably concise illustration of an element’s particular qualities.  On reflection, I decided that I could not think of any other element apart from Metal that would say this.  I think it is the only element which I can see detaching itself so firmly and standing back.  Certainly, I who am as Fire as they come, could never say something like that.  In some way I realise that I always have to stay attached to whatever situation I am involved in.

This has made me think about how the other elements, Wood, Earth or Water, react when confronted with similar tricky situations.  I have my own thoughts on this, but would welcome feedback from people of these elements just to confirm my thinking.

Is there anybody out there who is Wood, Earth or Water, or indeed Metal or Fire, who would like to add something to this discussion?

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Wood can't afford to have doubts

I was with a Wood friend today and after a few hours in her company I realised that I wanted to ask her an odd question, which was, “Do you ever have doubts?”  I wondered why this question had popped into my mind and realised it was because the hours with her had in a subtle way undermined me.  She seemed so sure of everything she said, stating everything as an established fact.  It was as if I was listening to many statements all having the effect of a pronouncement, a kind of “this is so”, and “that is so” and “that is all there is about it.”

I asked myself why this had thrown me as much as it obviously did, because here I am now half a day later still slightly disturbed.  Mulling this over, as I always do when something happens which throws me off-balance, I realised that the strong certainty with which she talked about things had caught me on the hop by highlighting what I felt were my own uncertainties and making them look liked weaknesses.

If I look carefully at the times when I think of myself as uncertain, it is not in fact the result of weakness, rather the reverse.  It represents merely the necessary time my Inner Fire (Small Intestine) needs to weigh up possible alternatives, because I always have to allow myself to see two sides of every situation.  In contrast to Wood  I am asking myself: “It may be like this, but I must also consider whether it may on the other hand be like this.”  And then my Inner Fire carries on with its ceaseless work of sorting what it is right for the Heart to do.

The Wood element, on the other hand, has other priorities.  Not for Wood is the luxury of weighing up pros and cons.  It is there to get on with things, and its decisions have to be rapid and taken in a “no turning back” kind of spirit.  Once made, these decisions have to be put into effect as soon as possible, and once it has decided what its opinion about anything is, that fixes it, if not for all time, then certainly for the immediate future.  During the time I spent with my Wood friend, I heard many statements of fact which sounded as though they were my friend’s firm opinions.  With each of her emphatic statements I could feel any confidence in my own certainties fading a little, as my Small Intestine tried to take on board what was being so firmly offered as fact.  It often felt itself swayed by these dogmatic statements because it couldn’t give itself enough time to assess whether at heart it agreed with them or not. 

This was another important lesson for me on the differences between Wood’s ability to make decision and my own, and also gave me further insights into Inner Fire’s potential weaknesses, as well as its potential strengths.  These are related to its need always to see the other side of the question and therefore to evaluate the relative merits of the arguments being presented to it.   I feel that Wood has no such hesitations.  Once having made up its mind, that is it.  And as I put it myself, it can’t afford to have doubts, because doubts will hold it back from acting, and action is above all what Wood wants.

Thus do I learn a little more each day about myself, about my Inner Fire and about my relationship to the Wood element.

Monday, January 1, 2018

New Year message to Five Element Groups in China

Here is the text of the New Year's message I have just sent to the five element acupuncture world in China:

"I always like to draw my thoughts together as we approach the end of each year, looking at the good things that have happened and thinking ahead to what I think is important to take forward with me into the next year.  I’ll do this now in relation to the development of five element acupuncture in China.  So here is how I see what we have achieved in 2017, and the hopes I have for its future development in 2018.

The first thing that pleased me so much about my two visits in 2017 was the very great improvement in their five element skills of all those who had come regularly to our previous seminars.  I have been very impressed with the keenness and hard work everybody is putting into developing their practice, particularly the group of experienced practitioners who have been coming to our seminars over the past six years, and have now taken over all the teaching of the beginners’ groups.  This has made it possible for us to concentrate our seminars more on the intermediate group of practitioners, those with less experience.

At our first 2017 seminar in April I had the opportunity to attend the graduation of the first year of those attending the three-year Project Heritage Programme, and could see the enthusiasm of the 500 or so students of this course, and the dedication of the teachers of the different disciplines. In April 2018, Guy, Mei and I will be teaching an introductory five element seminar for those who have graduated to the second year of this Programme, creating another important development in the spread of five element acupuncture in China.

At our second seminar in October, I was very moved to see the dedication with which the group teachers, after long days spent at the seminar, then went on every evening to give additional help to small groups of the students.  Each group leader spent the evening discussing one aspect of five element practice.  I was so happy to see the enthusiasm with which the groups were learning.  It was after the success of this latest seminar that I began really to feel that the future of five element acupuncture was now resting safely in the hands of an excellent and growing group of Chinese five element teachers.  This is a great relief for me, because it means that I have already passed on so much that I can be sure that a real core of five element practice now forms part of the Chinese acupuncture scene.

On the book front, Lynn Yang has been supervising the publication of more translations of my books, three of which have now been published: The Handbook of Five Element Practice, The Simple Guide and Patterns of Practice.  By the time we arrive for our next seminar in April, the translation of my first book of blogs On Being a Five Element Acupuncturist should be ready, and Lynn is already planning for the translation of the next book, Blogging a Five Element Life.

I am also making very active plans for more books in 2018.  Another one, which is called A Five Element Heritage, will be published in England in time for me to bring copies with me to our April seminar.  I am thinking about writing another book, which will draw together my thoughts about the elements and tips for recognizing them in people.  This is making me look at the elements with fresh eyes, and I will bring my new thoughts with me to the April seminar.

I look forward very much to seeing many old friends and making many more new friends at our seminars in April.  Guy and I have already booked our flights to Beijing, and I’m sure Mei has, too, or will do so soon.

I wish everybody a very happy start to 2018."                     

Thursday, December 28, 2017

A chapter closes

As the tumultuous year of 2017 draws to a close, so too does a further chapter in my acupuncture life, for on 31 December I surrender the lease on the SOFEA clinic at 57 Harley Street and move my practice elsewhere.  For the first time in my acupuncture life I will be renting a clinic room in somebody else’s practice and handing over to others all the administrative work.  This will be a new experience for me, and in some ways brings my acupuncture practice full circle.  When I first qualified, I worked by myself from my own home, and only moved my practice when I started my acupuncture school SOFEA in Camden Town, and realised that it made more sense to practise from there rather than split my practice between home and school.

From that point onwards, for the past 20 more years or so I have had the responsibility of running a group clinic.  For the first 10 years this formed part of the school, and provided a student clinic as well as giving students the opportunity to observe a thriving professional practice at first hand.  The last 10 years started when I closed SOFEA and moved to a clinic in Harley Street with about half a dozen other five element practitioners, doing what I had got used to doing and without really querying whether I still needed to run a group practice.

Having now been forced by circumstances (a steep rise in rent, difficulties with our landlord) to decide whether to move this practice elsewhere or simply just move myself, the decision almost made itself.  It was, I realised, time for me to step back and look after my own needs rather than continually taking on the administrative responsibility for others.  So as of January I will find myself walking to a small clinic not far from my home for the few hours a week I still want to practise, where I will continue to treat my long-standing patients.  It is good that the other Harley Street practitioners have all found clinics close to each other, so that we will continue to nurture a small five element base in central London.

What then will I do with the time I will now have available to do other things?

The New Year, as every New Year should, will bring new challenges with it, and some remnants of things which need to be completed from the old year.  For instance, the draft of my 7th book, A Five Element Legacy, is already with my publishers, Singing Dragon Press, who have promised to get the book published in time for me to take copies with me to Beijing at the end of April.  The translation rights are already being discussed with my Chinese publisher.

Then, as promised by my hosts in Beijing, the translation of what I call my first blog book, On Being a Five Element Acupuncturist, will be ready for distribution to all those attending the seminars we will be holding there at the end of April.  These will now consist of a development on what we have done before.  The Foundation which Professor Liu Lihong has set up has now formed what they call A Project Heritage Programme, which is a three-year course focussing on the legacies of different forms of traditional Chinese medicine and thought, one of which is five element acupuncture.  We will be giving a four-day course as part of this programme, followed by a seminar for our more advanced five element practitioners which continues on from where we left in October.

I have been told by Lynn Yang, who is the brilliant organizer of every minute of our stay and negotiates so smoothly with Singing Dragon Press about the numerous translations now being completed for each of my books, that she intends to get one translation published in time for each of our twice-yearly seminars.  Three have now appeared (The Handbook, the Simple Guide and Patterns of Practice).  Over 25,000 copies of The Handbook have already been sold, and I have just been told that the Chinese publisher is ordering a re-print of The Simple Guide, as they have sold out of the 5,000 copies of the first edition.  The translation of the most precious (to me) of all my books, Keepers of the Soul, is being reserved for Lynn Yang herself, because, as everybody tells me, it is a complex book and requires a serious understanding of my very literary-based English.  It is my favourite book because it expresses, in language I am proud of, the depth of my feeling for the elements and what they represent in terms of human destiny.  Difficult to read it may be, though obviously not to me, but the profound things in life cannot always be shrugged away in simple language.  So I expect it will be long after all my other books have been translated that Lynn will find the time in an extremely busy life (she is the second in command at the Beijing Foundation) to do justice to my works in the way she has told me she thinks fit.  I am very lucky to have found someone so prepared to take the time needed to do this.

Finally, there is one thing hanging over from 2017 which is still very much under discussion, and that is a book I want to write dedicated simply to the elements and to the many tips for learning to recognize them I have devised over the years.  I realise that I have included in each of my books something about the elements, but often it has been interwoven with other topics.  For example, in the Handbook it takes second place to the practicalities of being a five element acupuncturist, and in my other books I often concentrate upon aspects such as practitioner qualities.  Recently I looked through my blogs and realised that that they contained many useful tips dotted here and there which could well be drawn together to form a more complete picture.

My lovely publisher, Jessica Kingsley of Singing Dragon Press, has sadly just announced her retirement.  In my email to her thanking her for what she had personally done to get my books published (and as she told me, saved me all the trouble of packing books up and traipsing to the Post Office to send them off, as I used to do when I first self-published my books), I tentatively asked her whether, as a farewell to her as she leaves, she would consider commissioning this, my eighth book.  She will let me know in the New Year, but the possibility that she might agree has spurred me on to look at the elements with a fresh eye.  This is therefore one piece of unfinished business with which the newly liberated Nora will occupy herself in the New Year.

These are the good things which lighten my mood when I am forced to contemplate the political shambles of 2017, with, I fear, much, much worse to come.  I feel like John Cleese in Fawlty Towers, who had to keep reminding himself not to mention the war.  For me, the red light is “don’t mention Brexit”, or “Trump” – so I won’t, for the moment at least.  I don’t want these two events to spoil my last entry for 2017.

I thank all who have helped me in my acupuncture work over the past year:  Lynn Yang and my lovely group of five element acupuncturists in China, Mei Long who comes with us to China, and above all Guy Caplan, who so stoically stands at my side through thick and thin, both in this country and China, coping with all the necessary chopping and changing my Small Intestine demands of me, as it tries to sort out what is best to do, whilst his Metal would no doubt prefer simply to work things out quietly, make its decision and stick to it.  I am always surprised how well two such different elements combine in our joint work in offering five element acupuncture to the wider world.

A Happy New Year to everybody.  I hope to see some of the readers of this blog at our next seminar on 2 March (

andbook, .  I thank all those.

Friday, December 15, 2017

A little Pre-Christmas serendipity*

A few happy or odd things which I am drawing together into a pre-Christmas blog to cheer myself (and I hope others) up:

First:  An article in today’s Guardian newspaper with the heading:  After this week, I no longer see Brexit as unstoppable”  (Hoorah, I said to myself)

Second: A lovely quotation about growing old by an American poet I have only just heard about, called Jorie Graham:

"You have to be ready for the late work.  Make sure you develop a toolkit that's wide enough for every middle stage and especially for the end...

I am living in the late season, but it has its songs, too”

 I like to think that I, too, am living in my late season, and I hope that my late season “has its songs, too”.

Third:  (and a most stupid, and therefore laughably funny advert, noticed on an estate agent’s window):  Find your happy”, it said.

Who on earth came up with this ridiculous wording?  Find your happy what?”  If it had said something like “Find your happy home”, that would have been a bit more understandable, although not very much so, but as it is, it has puzzled me every time I pass the estate agent on the bus, as I do nearly every day.  I wondered whether I should go in and ask them to explain what the advert means, but then decided there are more important things to do with my time.

*Dictionary definition:  The faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Who says that coincidences don't happen?

I was given a lovely example of a strange and moving coincidence which took place, as many of my extraordinary life experiences seem to do, in a café, this time Paul’s in Marylebone High Street, to which I betake myself each morning to mull over my thoughts, with a croissant and small espresso in front of me.  I am often served by a young Italian waiter, Mattia, with whom I have struck up a warm friendship, as he, a great reader himself, is fascinated by how many books I read and by what I am writing.  Some months ago I gave him a detective story about Venice, since he was Italian and I thought it would help his command of English.   

I was immersed in my usual reading, when I noticed a woman of mature years with a face I seemed to recognize popping her head around the corner to stare quite searchingly at me, and then leaving the café.  The next minute Mattia plumps a book on the table in front of me and says, “You gave me a book about Venice some time ago, and this lady has just given me another book about Venice which she has written.”  The book was Donna Leon’s Earthly Powers.  Any detective story reader out there who doesn’t know who Donna Leon is should now go straight out and buy one of her books.  They are beautifully written accounts of life in Venice, a part of the world I know well from the many family holidays we spent on the Venice Lido.

As soon as I saw the book, I realised why the person who had looked at me had seemed so familiar to me.  Of course, she was Donna Leon herself, and I had been to a book launch she had given up the road at my local Daunt’s bookshop some months ago.  And the book I had given him was another of her books, as he showed me by placing the two books side by side, one signed by the author herself, the other signed by me encouraging him in his English studies.  I asked him why she had looked so directly at me, and he said he had told her that I was a lady who read many, many books and did my writing in the café.

Donna Leon lives in Venice and only visits London briefly.  What then are the chances of Mattia receiving two books by the same author in the same café, one given by the author herself and the other by me, both of us being together in the same place for just a few minutes?  I find it truly amazing how often such apparently coincidental happenings occur as though they are meant to be. It reinforces the, to me, comforting belief that that there is indeed a pattern to life, and whilst often this pattern remains unclear, occasionally, as today, it stands out in stark contrast to the shapelessness and random nature of much that happens around us.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Somewhat belated acknowledgement of the duality of mind and body

Recently the media have been paying a lot of attention to mental health and its problems.  It is as though people are only just now waking up to the fact that Western medicine concentrates upon the need to treat physical symptoms, whilst ignoring the fact that the solution to ill-health may well lie elsewhere.  It was therefore heartening to read the following in an article  in the Guardian entitled “Mental health?  It’s in the mind and the body, too”:

“Once we accept the union of mental and physical health, a few things become clear.  First, we should ditch the term “mental health”.  From now on, we should talk about someone’s health – all in. We should lose much of the stigma that still surrounds saying we are “mentally” unwell.  We’re not.  We’re just unwell. 

Second, treatment. What promotes good cardiovascular, endocrine and musculoskeletal health also promotes good mental health and vice versa.”

All this may seem so obvious to practitioners of a holistic form of medicine such as acupuncture that it hardly needs stating, but is clearly so far from obvious to the journalist writing this article that she shows her surprise at coming to the conclusions she does.  However odd we may find her surprise, it is nonetheless good that the holistic nature of healing is being recognized (at last, we might add) in this way.

Why are actresses called actors now? (Blog 2)

In a blog on 5 July 2011, I wrote about my puzzlement as to why the media now called all those who acted by the name of actors, irrespective of whether they were women or men.  Recently, with delight, I came across the following comment by somebody called Denise Gough.  Asked why she preferred to be called an actress rather than an actor, she said, “We fought to be on the stage.  We should reclaim that word.  I don’t know where it came from, this fucking notion that putting “ess” on the end makes us weak.  I would be no less afraid of a lioness than a lion.”

Hoorah for somebody who agrees with me that removing the perfectly appropriate word “actress” seems to me incomprehensible.  We don’t mind calling a daughter a daughter or a son a son, why then have we become so squeamish about the sex of those in the acting profession?  Has the world gone a little overboard in its attempts to be gender-neutral, to the detriment of common-sense?

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.