Monday, March 9, 2020

A call for more five element teachers

It is one of my sadnesses that so few good five element practitioners want to pass on their experiences to a new generation of student acupuncturists.  What I have learnt from teaching in China (see my blog of 31 January 2020) has helped me understand some of the reasons for this, and helped me try to devise ways of persuading my fellow five element acupuncturists to have the courage to follow in my footsteps and in those of other five element teachers.  There appear to be very few people now who are prepared to face what they may think is the daunting prospect of diagnosing patients’ elements in front of a group of people.  People are often afraid of committing themselves to diagnosing an element publicly in case they have to change their opinion later on.   

In all the years during which I have been helping practitioners develop their five element skills, I have tried to emphasize the fact that they should not be obsessed with finding the right element immediately, because this is an impossibility, particularly for novice practitioners with little experience to draw upon.  The speed at which we eventually home in on this element is directly related to how long we have been practising, how many patients we have treated, and with what humility we approach our practice.  JR Worsley always said that we learnt more from not getting the element right than from finding the right element often almost by chance, because we might otherwise assume that our diagnostic skills are more highly developed than they are, and this might lead us to become a bit too complacent.

I can confirm from my own experience that he was right.  I am reminded here of a very humbling incident which took place a few years after I qualified when  I returned to the Leamington college to start my postgraduate studies under JR.  Our class of about 25 was asked to diagnose a patient, and to my horror everybody but me raised their hands for Earth, whilst I was the only one who thought the patient was Fire.  What the others had observed, but I had not, was that the patient was circling round the same point again and again in what she was talking about.  To everybody this apparently pointed to Earth’s need to process its thoughts in a repetitive way, which they all saw as being typical for Earth, something I did not. So why had this bit of learning passed me by during my undergraduate training?  Had I perhaps been daydreaming when this was being discussed, a habit I still have, where I find my thoughts veering off sideways from the main topic under discussion?

I naturally felt foolish to find myself unaware of something so typical of the Earth element after two years in practice.  And yet I have never forgotten this incident.  It taught me to overcome the natural feelings of incompetence which a wrong diagnosis will arouse in us all, particularly as I felt I was so publicly exposed.  I realise, though, that this had the long-term effect of making me less worried than some other practitioners are at accepting as quite normal that sense of utter blankness after first meeting a patient, rather than expecting to experience a blinding flash of recognition of an element’s signature.  And the sooner all us five element practitioners learn not to beat ourselves up if we do not recognize a patient’s element as quickly as we think our years of experience warrant, the better a practitioner we will each become.

I believe that the reason why so many five element practitioners hesitate to put themselves forward as teachers comes from the speed at which JR diagnosed patients, which they either observed themselves as I did over many years, or heard about from those he taught.  He would always insist that we would all have reached the same level of diagnostic skill that he had once we had gained the 40 years’ experience he had.  I’m not sure that this is strictly true, but certainly there was an element of truth in what he told us.  The problem is that his example appears to have cast a shadow over the teaching of five element acupuncture which he himself would have been very sad to note.  When I told him one day that I felt that I did not have enough experience to teach others, he said very simply, “You know more than they do, Nora.”  And I remind myself of these words whenever I lose trust in my own ability to teach others.

I started my own teaching life by giving evening classes before I had fully qualified, and I learnt so much from teaching the little I knew then.  One of my acupuncture tutors who encouraged my teaching told me that as a teacher one should never claim we know something that we don’t.  Again this is something which has stood me in good stead, and I always judge those I want to learn from if they are happy to admit that they don’t know the answer to somebody’s question.  It is the teachers who give the impression that they are all-knowing who I am suspicious of, and I have known quite a few of these.

It is interesting that the Chinese five element acupuncturists I teach are quite happy to change their diagnoses, because I have emphasized from the start that it always takes time to home in on a patient’s element. This has meant that many of them are already quite happy to take on the role of teaching others the fundamentals of five element practice, without the fear I often encounter in acupuncturists in this country.

So this blog is a plea for anybody wishing to spread an understanding of five element acupuncture to as many people as possible to overcome their natural fear and just pass on their own delight in their practice.  They should remember that anybody who has been in practice for even as short a time as only a year knows more than those who have never practised five element acupuncture at all.



Friday, February 21, 2020

An ancient form of healing for a modern world in crisis: how an understanding of the five elements helps us cope better with the stresses of modern life

We are living through difficult times, perhaps more difficult than any that I can recall as an adult, though a childhood spent under the shadow of the second world war must certainly have weighed more heavily upon my parents.  Now with the sudden invasion of the coronavirus almost bringing the world to a halt, we are all confronting what is perhaps the most frightening of all, which is facing the unknown.  None of us can now predict how things will develop, not even the most experienced scientists used to exploring the secret worlds of viruses, with their eery ability to change shape and ferocity at will, in a never-ending attempt to outwit our human capacity to master them.

We are left, then, with our individual responses to this challenging situation.  In five element terms this will depend very much upon the element which guides our life, and the level of its balance or imbalance.  We need each to ask ourselves how, finding ourselves in such an uncertain and therefore threatening world, we will counter these uncertainties and threats.  Some elements will thrive and others will shrink.  So what particular challenge does the appearance of this virus, and its effects upon our everyday life, present for the different elements?  And here we have to look closely at situations which an element finds comfortable to be in, and those which by their very nature threaten and disturb it.  As with all things, we can use our insights here to teach us a little more about the elements.

First we have to look at how a five element acupuncturist deals with named diseases, like cancer, or the coronavirus now.  We have to remind ourselves that our approach to any patient suffering from any condition whatsoever must always be the same.  We must find out as much as possible about our patient, and gradually pinpoint their element.  Then by treating that element we hope that we will strengthen it sufficiently for it to cope with whatever stresses it is being subjected to.  The only difference when dealing with a very serious medical condition is the fact that this will be having a major effect upon the patient, and his/her elements will be under greater stress than if they are only suffering from a minor imbalance, such as a headache or slight emotional trauma.

Because all major illnesses are considered by orthodox medicine to be purely physical in origin, and therefore to be treated by purely physical remedies, such as drugs or surgery, the emotional and spiritual effects of these illnesses are usually overlooked.  This is precisely where five element acupuncture, with its treatment of all three levels of body, mind and spirit, can help.  Our treatment should therefore be able to support patients suffering very severe physical illnesses at a level which purely physical treatments cannot.

The extent of the spread of the coronavirus has raised the level of fear in everybody.   In this atmosphere of fear, it is difficult even for five element acupuncturists to remember that simply supporting the elements at all levels is likely to increase a patient’s resistance to infection. The more balanced all the elements are, the less likely they are to be overwhelmed by any disease. We also know that old people and others already weakened by illness are those most at risk, and we would hope that our treatment will help strengthen their ability to withstand the debilitating effects of any other infections they are exposed to.

When we look at how the different elements will cope with the serious task of dealing with the coronavirus and the understandable fear it engenders in all of us, it will be good to start by looking first at the Water element, since its emotion, fear, is the dominant emotion swirling around now.   Even the most laid-back person will be experiencing some deep-seated fear of what the future may possibly have in store for them, should it spread to whatever country they live in.  Being Water’s emotion, fear will already have given Water people a lifetime’s experience of learning to cope with this emotion.  In some ways, therefore,  they may be better able than people of other elements to deal with the current situation, perhaps by being the first to take practical steps to remove themselves quickly from the risk of possible infection.  If they can’t do this, they may then be able to draw on their natural skill in hiding the fear they are experiencing, thus making themselves look well able to cope, where people of other elements may not be able to do this.  If Water cannot flee from a frightening situation, which is always its first reaction, it has learnt to turn its fear into the kind of response a cornered animal will make, which is to fight rather than to give up.  Water people may then be the ones who appear to be the least disturbed by the real risks involved in any situation, and thus look best able to cope.

When we move on to Wood, we will find a different copying mechanism.  For Wood is likely to want to counter the risk of catching the virus by taking some definite action, and, unlike Water, whose actions may often be more hidden and surreptitious, and therefore appear to be seen as avoiding action, Wood likes to act not only openly, but to feel that it is controlling the situation for other people around it.  It is always happiest to be the one taking obvious control of any situation, whereas Water is likely to be more concerned simply with its own safety, with less interest in seeing how others are coping.  Wood will therefore be happiest if the whole environment in which it lives is operating smoothly and things are under control for everybody around it.  It will counter fear with action.

To get some idea of how the Fire element will deal with the current situation, I can use myself as the best example, because I have personally been faced with the reality of having to take some decisions about whether I should still consider going to China in mid-April as planned.  I expect my trip would have in any case had to be postponed because many airlines have already halted all flights until the end of April, but since my Chinese hosts persisted in telling me that all would soon be well, I felt it was up to me to make the final decision, and not wait for the airlines to make it for me.  In the end, it was I who postponed my trip.  Looking at my reasons for doing this, I realise that fear for my own health and safety was not the predominant one.  My main concern was for the Chinese acupuncturists I felt I might be letting down if I cancelled my visit.  It was only when it was pointed out to me that perhaps my Chinese hosts did not want to be the first to cancel my visit that I felt able to take the decision.

I also amused myself by envisaging myself landing at Beijing airport suffering from a slight sniffle, being whisked off to quarantine to some god-forsaken place I’d never heard of, succumbing there to the virus and being hospitalized, turning my visit into a disaster for my hosts.  I suspect that Fire’s reaction to dealing with a situation like this may always include a strong component of not wanting to be a bother to other people, mixed with any natural fear it feels.  Fear, though, is not an emotion I am very familiar with, and wonder whether that is a general Fire reaction.

Earth, on the other hand, will always tend to look after its own needs first, before checking that those around it are safe.  I think it will experience an appropriate degree of fear, which will encourage it towards acts of self-preservation.  Metal will weigh up the risks more carefully than any other element, work out a way of dealing with them, and then, once having made its decision about what avoidance measures it would be sensible to take, will just get on with its life.  Its assessment of the situation and the dangers involved for it and for others will be the clearest of any element.  It was my Metal son who was the first person to warn me not to go to China, well before the risks became so overwhelming.  All he said to me was “Watch it, Mum”, and then left it to me to decide what to do.  Since he is not somebody who would make more of a situation than it merits, I took his advice to heart, and have “watched it” by deciding to postpone my visit.

My observations here are necessarily very generalized, but I believe there is a strong core of truth in my thoughts on how the different elements deal with fear.





Friday, January 31, 2020

The challenge of teaching five element acupuncture in China

I have now given 14 twice-yearly seminars on five element acupuncture in China since 2011.  On my return from the last visit in October 2019 I realised that my  approach to our teaching over there had subtly developed over the years.  It will therefore be useful to chart these changes and the reasons for this, to help both my own development and that of anybody wishing to tread in my footsteps.  This will be one way of learning to understand the intrinsic differences which exist between how I teach in this country (and by extension in Europe generally) and how I have had to learn to teach in China.

And there are very great differences indeed which I was totally unaware of when I was first invited to give a seminar on five element acupuncture in Nanning by Profession Liu Lihong.  If I remember rightly, I arrived with only very vague ideas as to who the people I was going to teach were, how many there would be and how I would structure the seminar.  I had no idea at all about the level of knowledge of five element acupuncture, or even whether those taking part in the seminar were already trained acupuncturists, or would simply form the kind of audience composed mostly of lay people I was often used to talking to in this country.  With hindsight I am surprised that I had not discussed all this in greater detail before setting off for China, but I think I was basing my thoughts on a brief discussion I had had with Mei Long about her introductory seminar in Nanning which gave Liu Lihong the incentive to invite me.  And in the photos Mei showed me it was obvious that what was waiting for me was a small but very eager group of mainly students or herbalists (Liu Lihong is a qualified herbalist)

In the event I walked into a classroom of about 40 people in the newly set-up centre of the Tong You San He Foundation in Nanning.  Half the group was composed of complementary medicine practitioners (herbalists and some acupuncturists), and the remainder were a mixture of interested lay people, including members of Li Lihong’s family.  I was amused to see among these the guard from the Nanning compound which housed the centre, who would join us at intervals, obviously listening with great interest to what I was teaching.   Also among the audience were some of those who were actively supporting Liu Lihong in his attempts to set up what has now become a highly successful Research Foundation focused on research into traditional forms of Chinese medicine.  This has now moved to Beijing, and has also expanded into establishing centres in other Chinese cities.

Something which shaped my teaching very strongly became obvious from the start. Unlike in this country everybody was steeped in an understanding of the elements.  All of Chinese life is based on respect for the elements which are regarded as forming an integral part of every aspect of how people conduct their lives.  There was therefore no need to spend time on starting my introduction to five element acupuncture with a description of the qualities and characteristics of the elements, which takes up so much of every five element course in this country.  What I quickly discovered, though, was that although the understanding of the elements was based on extensive knowledge of the classics of Chinese thought, such as the Nei Jing, it did not translate into the, to me, obvious application of this to the actual practice of acupuncture.  I came to see that what all Chinese acupuncture students learn by rote, often reciting word for word whole passages of the Nei Jing, remained completely separate from their acupuncture practice.  This was in contrast to five element acupuncturists over here who can easily call upon many passages from the Nei Jing to support their practice   After all, this forms the basis of much of Father Larre’s and Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallée’s excellent work in helping interpret these ancient texts in a form which makes them easily accessible for our five element practice of today.

It became clear to me that what I was bringing with me into the practice room for Chinese acupuncturists was providing a welcome link in the chain of transmission from the ancient Chinese world to the present day, a chain which had become weakened over the centuries.  This has also been one of the unhappy effects of the introduction of Western medicine into China, starting with the appearance of Christian missionaries in the 19th century.  Since then Western medicine has become ever more dominant, to the extent that it has come to be considered superior to traditional forms of Chinese medicine, which have been consigned to an inferior role. It is against this background, therefore, that I started what I regard as my important work in returning to its ancient homeland this most spiritual of all acupuncture disciplines.    

One of the most significant aspects of my teaching was something which struck me very early on, and this was the astonishment many students showed at seeing the emphasis we placed on the importance of the personal relationship between our patients and ourselves.  I realised that this emphasis on the emotional aspects of a therapeutic relationship was something totally alien to them, and something which disturbed them for its unfamiliarity.  I remember one of the students, an acupuncture practitioner of many years, who, after watching me talk to a patient in front of the class, asked, “How can I learn to relate to my patients as you did to this patient?  I don’t know how to do that.”  And I remember answering, “All you need to do is just be human,” which was perhaps a rather inadequate reply but the best I could think of to help her at the time.

I also learnt a lot about how they viewed my approach as a result of a comment made at the end of one of the first seminars.  One participant started to cry, as she told me that when I met her in the hotel lobby at the start of the seminar, “You looked at me and smiled.”  That helped me understand that interpersonal relationships between teachers and pupils were very different from what I had been used to with my own students in England.  The emotional detachment which those in authority exercise in every walk of life in China extends to the interactions between patient and practitioner.  To break down this barrier has required some courage on the part of the Chinese practitioners, for this brings up all kinds of personal issues which anybody undergoing any form of therapy in the West is well used to acknowledge.

It therefore took quite some persuasion from me to encourage students to step into the unfamiliar territory of their patients’ emotional lives.  Initially their presentation of the patients they brought to the seminars covered only physical symptoms, but gradually the more daring of them widened their approach to touch upon their patients’ emotional problems.  I was therefore delighted to observe, after this my 14th visit, that every practitioner now obviously discusses emotional issues as well as physical complaints with their patients.  In some cases, practitioners concentrated almost exclusively upon these, which represented a huge breakthrough in their approach to five element practice.

The cultural differences also extended to certain areas of emotional life which I did not suspect, and so I found myself at my last visit, all of eight years since my first, making what was obviously a deeply offensive faux pas in joking about something which my European students would certainly have joined me in laughing at.  I was talking about how patients often cannot acknowledge the cause of their distress, and assume it is because of some physical disorder.  I told them of a patient of mine who came to me for help with severe back pain, and after some weeks of successful treatment suddenly laughed and said, “I thought the reason I was coming here was for my back.  I now realise that it may well be because I have not until now realised how much I dislike my father.”  When I have told this story at our seminars in England, citing this as evidence that physical complaints are often a safe way of masking emotional distress, my listeners have laughed with me.  In China, however, my words caused an absolute silence to fall in the crowded seminar, and I knew that I had had made some grave mistake.  Asking my Chinese friends about this afterwards, they explained that it would be considered extremely rude to express such negative feelings towards a parent in this way, family being such a powerful influence in every Chinese person’s life.  In the West, where we are all conditioned by many years of psychological exploration of our relationships with our families, and where nearly everybody now has had some form of counselling help to explore their “inner you”, negative feelings towards members of the family are almost regarded as the norm and to be expected, and their expression often actually encouraged.  This taught me a great lesson, and I won’t make this mistake again.

There were, however, surprisingly few tricky moments like this, considering the very different backgrounds my Chinese students have compared with their English counterparts.  Instead, the common humanity we all share with one another, whatever our cultural differences, has shone through any slight misunderstandings or bewilderment at trying to take account of each other’s differing lifestyles and expectations.

After reading the above, Caroline, my Mandarin translator, sent me the following interesting comment:
“Being a Chinese who has never been abroad, I used to take what I had learned from my culture and education for granted, thinking this is what life should be. However, after being treated by five element acupuncture and following your teaching for 7 years, it is like opening in five element terms a "Window of Sky" for me. It not only gave me a chance to stand in a much higher and all-round position to look at my own culture, but also taught me to have my own judgement not based on what the so-called authority told me but on Nature and Dao. I can still remember clearly that you said in one of the seminars in Beijing that five element acupuncture is to help us to be unique individuals and it is dangerous to follow the herd. Being brought up in a cultural background of emphasizing collectivism and filial piety, I guess it is difficult for most Chinese students  to understand the importance of "to be unique individuals". Interestingly, some of my patients, when they reach to a point that they have to say NO to their parents to be themselves, they feel so disturbed and guilty because their parents and relatives might accuse them to be "unfilial", some of them may even stop the treatment to escape the conflict. Sadly, some practitioners also think that we should always listen to our parents' (and also our teachers' and other authorities') instructions instead of following our own choices. So except for other challenges of developing five element acupuncture in China, I think this is a huge barrier we have to face and break down if we have enough courage and strength.”







Future writing plans

To divert myself from the many unhappy events happening out there in the world today – the day of our leaving Europe, the horrors Trump is unleashing, and now the disasters of the spread of the coronavirus around China – I find myself escaping into the written word, not only by reading as much as I can (more of this later), but also looking through things I have written, much of it still unpublished.  At the moment I am concentrating on two topics:  one which is taking a fresh look at the elements, and the other which is examining how far I have had to modify the way we teach five element acupuncture to Chinese practitioners to take account of the cultural differences between our two countries.  We also have to be aware of the restrictions placed on our teaching because we are there for only two brief seminars twice a year, and there is therefore a lack of experienced five element practitioners to support practitioners when we are not there.

I have sent some of my writing to Caroline in China, who is the translator of my work.  She has now added her own thoughts to what I have written.  My next blog sets out some of my own thinking, finishing with Caroline’s comments after reading what I had written.  I think that Caroline expresses beautifully the cultural challenges we face when attempting to adapt the five element approach to practice to a Chinese context.


Wednesday, January 22, 2020

My New Year's blog for the Chinese Year of the Rat

My vision for the future of five element acupuncture

We have invited a group of five element acupuncturists from the Chinese Five Element Society to come to London in July. They include many of the people who have been following us with such dedication in seminar after seminar since our first days in Nanning in 2011 to the much grander venues in Beijing which now host more than 300 keen five element acupuncturists every time we come.  This group will include those who can now be regarded as the core of a five element teaching team spread around China.  This visit will be a lovely way for Guy and me to repay some of the overwhelming hospitality we receive each time we go to China.

Planning the group’s time here has made me think more about how I see the future of five element acupuncture, both in China and in this country.  My founding of the School of Five Element acupuncture in 1995 was a direct answer to the appallingly cynical downgrading of five element acupuncture in the eyes of many people in this country and around the world.  I still remember well being asked rather scornfully by somebody seduced by the temporary glitter of the introduction of TCM into this country, “Do you still only practise five element acupuncture?”, as though I was practising some primitive form of out-dated acupuncture. 

Nobody now dares say this, either to me or to anybody else, in the light of China’s wholehearted welcome for the return of five element acupuncture to the land of its birth some few thousand years ago.  This turnaround delights me, and justifies my fight for the survival of five element acupuncture in its purest form – and what a fight that was.   I feel the battle is now won, thanks in great part to the support Professor Liu Lihong in China has given me with such great heart from the first day we met and the years since then.  I am so proud that, in his dedication to the translation of Liu Lihong’s great book Classical Chinese Medicine, Heiner Fruehauf mentions five element acupuncture as being one of the disciplines now well-established under the umbrella of traditional Chinese medicine in China.

The original vision Professor Liu Lihong and I had of bringing five element acupuncture back to its homeland has, I feel, been achieved.  But that is only the first step, although a momentous one, in five element’s journey back from West to East.  The most important thing now is the journey it will continue to take as it consolidates its position in the Chinese traditional medicine world.  And here the visit of the first group of Chinese five element acupuncturists to spread their international wings abroad will become an important turning-point, providing an opportunity for future international co-operation between practitioners from our two countries. The group will spend time at The Acupuncture Academy in Leamington Spa, where they will meet tutors and students there. 

My hope is that this visit will eventually lead to cooperation between members of the Chinese Five Element Society and five element acupuncturists in this country on two fronts, one relating to research and the other to clinical practice.  The Director of the Acupuncture and Moxibustion Institute of the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences in Being, Wang Jingjing, is a very keen practitioner of five element acupuncture, and has already published a paper on five element acupuncture in the Science and Technology Review in China.  It will be exciting to see how this work can be expanded, and I hope, too, that there will be greater opportunities for future student exchanges between our two countries.

All in all, a very exciting start to the Chinese Year of the Rat.  From being just a personal quest on Professor Liu Lihong’s and my part to spread an understanding of five element acupuncture in China, our work there will now move to a wider, more international arena.  How exciting the future of five element acupuncture now appears to me to be!

A Happy New Year of the Rat to you all!

Sunday, December 15, 2019

A five element review of my year: December 2019

As I approach the end of another year, I like to add up its pluses and its minuses, always hoping that its pluses are the greater.  On the professional front I am pleased to think that they definitely are.  On the political front, definitely not, as we just emerge from another unsatisfactory election and face an even more unsettling future expelled from the comforting family of our European friends.  But since the world as a whole is going through a period of great turmoil, with no end in sight, I will concentrate here on the joys my professional life has brought me this year, none more so than observing the blossoming of five element acupuncture in China.  

And appropriately for a five element acupuncturist, I am breaking down my time in China into its different elemental phases.  There was its initial Water phase, when the seeds of five element acupuncture’s re-emergence in China were slowly being sown, after Mei Long had met me at a seminar in the Netherlands, and then written about this to Liu Lihong.  Then Wood’s buds, planted so inspiringly by Liu Lihong, slowly germinated, first a few of them in our seminars in Nanning, then more and more, as the buds of China’s five element spring gradually spread, until they have burst into full summer blossom in the last few years under the warmth of the Fire element which Mei and I bring to what we do.

How happy I was when I came to China this October to see the fruit of all our work in the large team of Chinese five element teachers who now teach the basic five element principles to the many hundreds of those wanting to learn.  These teachers represent the true fruit of what we have sown in the past eight years, doing the Earth element’s work for us.  And then appropriately as we approach the end of the year, we come to Metal, as Liu Lihong adds his inspiration to all our work, and Guy Caplan bestows Metal’s quality upon all the teaching we do.   

Finally, the growing success of what we are achieving in establishing five element acupuncture’s position in the traditional medicine landscape in China lies in the capable hands of the strongest of all the elements, Water, for without Lynn Yang where would we all be?  She holds everything together, drawing things into a circle so that one seminar ends and without a hitch the next is already at its planning stage.   Without her Water energy the circle which symbolizes the re-introduction of five element acupuncture into China would not be complete. 

Liu Lihong once told me, “Now we need a Chinese JR Worsley to appear”.  I am sure the seed for this has already been sown, and will emerge when the time is right.  As he said, “There’s no hurry, Nora.  If it takes 100 years or more for five element acupuncture to establish itself in China, it doesn’t matter.”  I am a much more hasty person than he is, and I am delighted to see that it has not taken the 100 years he predicted, but less than the eight years I have been going to China, for I see it happening already.   

So each element has added its magical touch to my years in China.


Monday, October 14, 2019

Which element would tidy up his/her practitioner’s magazines?

Here’s another little lesson in following up even the tiniest clues to the elements, sent to me by Pierre from France.  I give his words in full, with a few small amendments to make for easier reading:

Just a few words concerning an interesting clue in order to help diagnose the elements.

I treat a male patient since 2 months. At the beginning I felt Water and
Metal a little bit. The others haven't aroused my attention.

After the two first treatments he felt better, but I can attribute this to 7
dragons and AE drain, not to Water treatment.

When I saw him last week, I found that he walked slightly too fast and with
a kind of forcefulness. Compared to my way of walking, I had doubts about
Water... And then when after the third treatment, he got up fast and strong
from the treatment couch, I realized that my intuition was good to change my idea
of his guardian element : indeed I moved from Water to Wood ( thank you for
your blog about bodily movement!) . After he left, I went into the waiting
room and all the magazines which were in a mess on the table before he came
in were now well arranged in ordered piles.

" What an interesting clue to help diagnose a Wood person! Structure of the piles of magazines!"
Here is my reply:

A very interesting observation, Pierre.

I think probably only Wood would tidy up the magazines. I (Inner Fire)
would definitely notice that they were all in a muddle, but would not like
to make the practitioner feel that I was judging him by tidying up! I don't
think that Earth would even have noticed (much too busy thinking about
his/her problems). I think Metal would have noticed, but would think it was
the practitioner's task to tidy up, not theirs.

What would you have done, as a Water person? Would you have noticed the
Pierre’s reply to me:

I have never arranged any piles of magazines in a practitioner's clinic. I notice that it is a mess, and I don't like mess. But I know that each thing is moving and unstable : so making an effort to tidy up the piles of magazines is wasting energy for nothing.  I prefer to leave the magazines in a mess.

In my own clinic, I tidy up sometimes the magazines in the waiting room, but always by sorting and throwing out a lot!   Like that, what is left does not seem too messy when it is!

It is by following up such very tiny clues that we begin to differentiate between the different elements.

As a postscript to this blog, I asked Guy Caplan (Metal) whether I was right about Metal not tidying up the magazines, and here’s his reply:

When I arrived at the Acupuncture Academy there were some Acu magazines and EJOM's on the table in the entrance hall.  I instinctively tidied them up into two piles and put them in order.  I don't know if this is a Metal trait or a bit of OCD!

So my observation of Metal is not quite right, is it?  And that’s how we learn that we can’t shut up any element into too tight a box, much as we would like to.   

 And then Guy followed this up by adding another insight into Water:

 When we had the Water group in front of the class, one interesting thing came up for many of them, about not wasting resources! Perhaps the fact of taking time with no goal for itself would be a waste of resources of time for energy for a Water CF?

Interesting how one small but perceptive observation by Pierre has led me, and now Guy, and I hope all those reading this blog, to do a lot of thinking.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Political mayhem and the Wood element

It’s nice if occasionally other writers do my work for me, as a journalist just did in an extract printed in a newspaper about Donald Trump last week.  So here is what this writer, his biographer, said about him: “I don’t think right or wrong are categories he thinks in.  The only category is, can he get away with it?  He loves fights.  That’s his comfort zone.  He likes people being angry and yelling at each other.  He gins that up any chance he gets… He’s comfortable when everyone else is uncomfortable, running and ducking for cover.  That’s how he got elected, pitting people against each other.  He’s into “bring it on” because he’s in his element.”

And I would add to that, “because he’s in his Wood element”!

I don’t think you can have a clearer description of the Wood element completely out of balance, with its enjoyment in stoking up the anger in others so clearly shown.  And I think Trump has a very shouting voice, and always talks with the finger stabbing at his audience, which we recognize as one of Wood’s signatures.

Whilst I’m thinking about the Wood element, it would be good to spend a little time wondering about which official out of the two Wood officials is the one that might most influence Donald Trump, the one I now like to call the guardian official.  Is it the Liver, the yin official, or is it the Gall Bladder, the yang official?  We know that the Liver’s function is to be responsible for making plans, and the Gall Bladder’s is to be responsible for putting these plans into effect.  I always like to think of the Liver as being the general sitting in his tent deciding on the campaign to be run, and the Gall Bladder the official in the field carrying out the general’s orders.  So which do we think most fits our impression of Donald Trump?  I feel that the Liver is more likely to be his weakest point.  It’s almost as though he represents the general sitting in his tent, sulking, as Ulysses did, whilst the army runs riot outside doing whatever it likes.  In other words, it seems as if his Gall Bladder is given no clear instructions on how to act by the Liver, which is why all those inappropriate tweets are sent off, significantly often during Wood’s time, in the middle of the night.

Enough said, I feel, about these somewhat unhappy excursions into the worlds of Inner Fire and Wood.  But how I wish both of the heads of state I have written about in these last two blogs would find their way to a five element practice room so that their poor, unbalanced elements could regain some equilibrium, and save their respective countries from much chaos and hardship.



Thursday, October 3, 2019

Political mayhem and the Small Intestine

To divert myself a little from the appalling political scene in this country, which mirrors what is happening in the US, I try to hone my five element skills by observing the leaders of the two countries in action on the world stage. I always add a proviso to my thoughts about the elements of famous people that since I don’t know them personally I have to base any tentative diagnosis on observing them at one remove on the TV screen.

The effect they have upon me is surprisingly similar.  They both make me very, very angry.  I am appalled at their behaviour and at their total lack of concern for anybody but themselves – an almost pathological level of selfishness which dumbfounds me.  But despite the obvious similarities between them I do not think they are the same element, and will try and explain why not.  I have blogged before that I think Donald Trump is of the Wood element, but, after observing the effect Boris Johnson has on those around him and on me watching on TV, I think his element is Fire.  Despite myself he makes me laugh, as he deliberately acts the clown.  If you watch the people around Donald Trump, on the other hand, all you can see is apprehension, the fear that an unbalanced Wood can arouse in those around it, with only a strained smile on the faces of his audience.  So I will concentrate in this blog on looking at how I think the Fire element shows itself in Boris Johnson, and dedicate another blog to updating my comments on Donald Trump.

When diagnosing the Fire Element we always have to remember the very real differences there are within this element between its two sides, the one I call Outer Fire, with its Heart Protector and Three Heater officials, and the other, Inner Fire, with its Small Intestine and Heart officials.  Having just held another happy day’s clinical seminar at which we discussed in detail just this question of how to distinguish between the two aspects of Fire, this has made me look more closely again at the kind of Fire which Boris Johnson appears to be showing.

I often gather significant pointers to how the different elements reveal themselves by reading newspaper comments.  Today, for example, I read that Boris Johnson has created an “atmosphere of feuding” within 10 Downing Street.  He is, the article says, “only listening to two voices now”, those of Dominic Cummings and of his partner, Carrie Symonds.  Would Outer Fire be so unconcerned about the atmosphere within its team that it would allow feuding between its members?  I can’t see that it would, for it is the task of its two officials to maintain a safe and comfortable atmosphere, physically through the balanced flow of warm blood round the body, and emotionally through their efforts to protect the actions of the Heart in their midst.  I see no sign that Boris Johnson is concerned with doing this.  Far from it.  He does not seem interested in ensuring the overall well-being of anybody apart from himself, and appears ever more preoccupied with pursuing his own ends without regard for others.  His team are said to be at loggerheads with one another, all but his inner circle of two having been banished to the periphery of decision-making.  And it is one of the characteristics of the Small Intestine that it has to make its mind up quickly in order to ensure that it does not endanger the Heart, its yin official, and quick decisions are more easily made by a few people rather than thrown open to a large group.  This again points to Inner Fire.  

Boris Johnson’s voice, too, reflects what I regard as the hesitancy all Inner Fire people show in speaking, as their minds work hard at sorting out the words to express the complex thoughts they are engaged in.  His speech is certainly not the articulate speech that distinguishes Outer Fire people, who think before they speak, and when they speak do so without hesitancy.  I have always believed that Inner Fire uses the very action of speaking as a way of sorting out its thoughts, as it searches for exactly the right expression to articulate these thoughts.  There is therefore always a kind of “stop and start” feeling about listening to Inner Fire people, as they try to gather their thoughts into exactly the right form to express what they want to say.  Boris Johnson often mumbles or sounds hesitant, interspersing this hesitancy with sudden bursts of bullying, when he talks over the interviewer apparently without listening to what he is being asked and failing to answer directly many of the questions directed at him. Is his “element within” Wood within Fire perhaps?

I have written before that I thought that Tony Blair was also Inner Fire, but a much more balanced expression of the Small Intestine as it takes on the task of sorting the pure from the impure.  During his time as Prime Minister, though, he had in common one characteristic which he shares with Boris Johnson, and that was his reliance upon one or a few people who he allowed to have too much influence upon him.  In Tony Blair’s case it was George Bush.  I still find it disturbing watching the old clips of Tony Blair walking in the woods in America with George Bush, with an almost sycophantic, adoring look on his face.  It was the influence his obvious admiration for George Bush had upon him which I believe led to his decision to follow him into the disastrous war in Iraq.  Similarly, we are at the time of writing this (3 October 2019) watching a somewhat hapless Boris Johnson appearing to be trapped in the coils of a disastrous attachment to his adviser, Dominic Cummings.  The Small Intestine, when out of balance, as Boris Johnson’s so obviously is, can indeed lose its ability to sort the pure from the impure, in the case of both these leaders of this country leading to disastrous consequences.

I am always happy to acknowledge that everybody is free to develop their own personal take on the elements, and should indeed do so.  I am therefore sure that some people reading this may well disagree with my diagnosis.  But since I feel a strong affinity with all other Inner Fire people, having the Small Intestine as my particular guardian official, I am quite happy to express my own very personal understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of living my life under the influence of this particular official, and how my personal understanding may be helping me see signs of this in Boris Johnson.

I also like to think that my writing this will help me let off a bit of the indignant steam I feel rising within me as I watch the political shambles unfolding around me.





Thursday, August 29, 2019

A meditation on the spirits of acupuncture points

(Article prompted by a request for me to write more about the spirit of points from Seán O’Neill of the College of Five Element Acupuncture (CoFEA) in Dublin, Ireland)

One of the conventions of five element acupuncture is that points are said to have their own “spirit”, a quality intrinsic to them which we can tap into when deciding which particular point to select.  According to this convention, a particular action is ascribed to a point. This is a nebulous, very vague term, and I have never felt that much thought has been given as to what it actually means.  Nor is there any consensus about how a point has acquired a particular description.  The assumption behind the term is that when we decide to use this point, we do so on the basis that we think the action traditionally ascribed to this point is one that we feel our patient needs.

This raises the question as to when and by whom the qualities were ascribed to individual points.  In my case, I was fortunate to be part of one of the last cohorts of acupuncturists whose teacher was the great master of five element acupuncture, JR Worsley.  I would listen avidly in class when he would suggest particular points to be used for patients we would see in the college clinic, and write down what he told us.  I still have my notes taken at the time, which have acted since then as welcome signposts in the often bewildering landscape of the traditionally 365 or so points available for us to select from.

I remember one awesome day with JR during the Masters programme I completed with him (the last he was to take), when he took up his famous brown point reference chart which lists the names and functions of all the points, and read slowly through the list, from Heart 1 to Governor Vessel 28, spelling out the name of each point with love in his voice, as though these were his beloved friends.  About some points he said very little, about others, quite a lot, and this is when I realised that he had acquired some esoteric knowledge conveyed to him no doubt through his own acupuncture masters, but which I would never aspire to.  On the other hand, I have used my time as teacher to pass on my own understanding of the points I use to the students I have taught, based very much on what JR told us, but also on my own experiences.  And this is how the inheritance of a lineage moves on from generation to generation.

The problem I have with the term “the spirit of a point”  is that it can all too easily be assumed that a point can have a quality which is almost objectively established, much like that attributed to the action of a specific drug.  It does not take account of the individual practitioner’s understanding of why he/she feels this particular point should be selected for this treatment.  An objectively ascribed function of a point should be regarded as an alien concept to us five element acupuncturists, where each treatment we select is based upon our subjective evaluation of our patients’ needs, guided through the prism of our understanding of the elements and their officials.  Professor Liu Lihong in his book Classical Chinese Medicine emphasizes the contrast between the Western medical approach and that of traditional Chinese medicine by saying that “Western medicine is biased towards objectivity”, whereas Chinese medicine “places great emphasis on the subjective experience”. Each acupuncture treatment is therefore seen as drawing upon some subjective quality in both the patient and practitioner rather than on a fixed quality within a point which remains constant whenever this point is used.

This has made me look carefully at what actually happens at the site of an acupuncture point, something we rarely think about.  Each point can be seen as representing a slight opening along the pathway of a meridian.  This is where an acupuncture needle can be inserted which by its action can alter the flow of energy along that meridian in some way.  Each point is one of the many places where the energy passing along a meridian makes itself available to outside intervention, in the case of acupuncture through the insertion of a needle.  It is therefore where what is within us can react to influences acting upon us from outside.  It is also where what might be called intrinsic to the point, its particular quality, meets something coming towards it which the spirit of the acupuncturist brings to the action of selecting and needling this particular point.  To this must be added a further component, which is what the spirit of the patient preparing him/herself to receive this treatment also brings to the needle’s action.

It is good to look at what happens at the interface between a patient, his/her practitioner and the needle which acts as the conduit between patient and practitioner.  Each of us can be seen as a distillation of the combined energies of the elements within us which emanate from us both as a shield and an invitation when we encounter another person.  In return, we receive from this other person a flood of different energies as though summoned by each of us when we encounter somebody else.  When we look at this interaction in terms of acupuncture treatment, the needle becomes the physical point of contact between two people, the practitioner and the patient. 

In Lingshu chapter 9 it says, “The needle is inserted in the surface area and remains a while, manipulated with delicacy and at the surface, in order to move the spirits.” In this context, in their examination of the patient- practitioner relationship,Father Larre and Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallée add their own explanation in an article in the Review of Traditional Acupuncture.  They say that “the most important thing for healing is the relationship of the practitioner, the spirits and the patient.” 

We therefore have three components which, when acting together, contribute to the success of treatment: the selected point itself, with any particular qualities associated with it, the practitioner and the patient. In talking about the spirit of a point, though, we often focus only on what is considered to be the characteristic of the point itself, either forgetting altogether those two other aspects associated with any treatment, or regarding them as not as important.  It seems to me obvious that the spirits of both practitioner and patient also play an important role in endowing a treatment with a specific quality.  In fact, it is only when the three act in tandem and in harmony with each other that the “spirits” will move, as we hope they will.

Here I am always reminded of an occasion many years ago when a young acupuncturist friend of mine complained to me one day, “How come I use the same points as you do, but don’t get the same results?”  Thinking about this, I realised that the reason must have lain in my friend’s doubts about what five element acupuncture could do.  These were the early days of TCM’s onslaught upon the practice of five element acupuncture in this country, when people began to be persuaded that five element acupuncture would only work if it incorporated TCM into its treatment protocols.  My friend was beset by doubts about his five element practice, since he worked with a group of other acupuncturists who were telling him that five element acupuncture “had had its day”.  Eventually, he abandoned five element acupuncture altogether, and moved to a TCM-based practice.  I therefore assumed that the uncertainty he had about the efficacy of the five element protocols he was using was conveying itself both to the needles themselves and presumably, also, to his attitude to his practice, and robbing his five element treatments of the absolute certainty which I had then, and have maintained in my many years since then, that a pure five element acupuncture treatment offers a profound form of healing.

The great majority of points lie along meridians associated with one of the five elements.  The greatest influence acting upon a point must therefore be the fact that each of these points takes on some of the qualities of a particular element.  Any point along the two Earth officials, Spleen and Stomach, for example, reflect some of the Earth element’s fundamental functions, each point, from Spleen 1–21 to Stomach 1– 45 (a total of 66 points in all) bearing the stamp of this element.  

At the most fundamental level, any point which lies on a meridian associated with one of the five elements receives some of its “spirit” from the properties of that element.  To help them in their point selection, therefore, practitioners have to steep themselves in their understanding of the elements and their officials.  Because all our efforts are directed at establishing which of the five elements is what I call the guardian element (the element of the causative factor of disease, the CF), much of what might seem the difficult work of point selection is made very simple once we are sure we are directing our treatment at the right element.  For all we need then do is concentrate upon choosing points on one or other of that element’s officials, or on both of the officials, and the element will then take over responsibility, with little nudges from us as treatment progresses.   Every one of these points is able to express the “spirit” of its element.  To stop us novice acupuncturists from being too daunted at the wide array of points available to us, JR would always remind us that good treatment could simply consist in needling an element’s source points time and time again.  This would produce the same result as choosing more complex treatments, but “it may only take a little longer”.  The purity of five element treatments was one of the main reasons by JR would say that five element acupuncture is such a simple discipline, “any child would understand it”.

In addition to a point’s association with a particular element and official, there is a further layer which contributes to point selection, and that is that certain points have been given specific functions in relation to the element to which they belong.  The most common of these functions is that associated with the group of points clustered around the arm and leg which we call command points.  These include what are called tonification, sedation and horary points, plus five individual element points.  Thus the Water officials, Kidney and Bladder, each have a Wood point, a Fire point, an Earth point, a Metal point and a Water point, creating an inner five element circle within each official.  These element points are like a reflection in miniature of the large five element circle.  Some points also have other functions when they form part of a sequence of points used in specific treatment protocols, such as those used for clearing Aggressive Energy, Possession, Entry/Exit blocks or a Husband/Wife imbalance.

In selecting which of the element’s points we should use at any treatment, we can also draw on our interpretation of the names the points have been given over the centuries, another profound and often confusing area of point selection.  A point’s name is very evocative, awakening in each one of us very different feelings, and finding personal echoes because of our particular life experiences.  There are many ways in which it will be up to each practitioner to choose a description which seems to him/her to best respond to their patient’s needs at any particular time.  For this reason, no two practitioners are likely to make the same choice of points for the same patient, though both may be making appropriate choices.

The trouble is that it is natural for people to like certainty.  Even the most experienced five element acupuncturist likes to have a handle to hold on to by being told that a point has a certain action, since this helps to give some fixed signposts in the often bewildering area of point selection.  Because there is so much that is indefinable in our work, any little pointer which helps us towards making a point selection may be too quickly snatched at.  I remember how eagerly as students we would seize on any description of a point’s action as though giving us a secure footing in the very mysterious world of point selection.  It requires some courage to accept that our own subjective input into point selection is a crucial component in the success of any treatment.  But then I have always said that five element acupuncture, with its emphasis on the importance of the practitioner’s input, is not for the faint-hearted.

I have concluded that the concentrated focus of a practitioner upon what he/she intends to be the outcome of the proposed treatment forms part of the treatment, if not its most important part, as though the practitioner’s energy directed at achieving the outcome of the treatment he/she is intending to give is itself something which adds to the depth and success of the treatment.  The spirit a practitioner brings to needling any acupuncture point is a function of a very complex interweaving of past experiences, the relationship of patient to practitioner, as well as something inherent within the point, at a deep level coming from its association with the functions of a particular element.  All this weaves together a web of personal associations which will differ for each practitioner.  Every time I needle Liver 14, Gate of Hope, I instil into this point all my belief as to why I think this patient is of the Wood element, plus all my years of delving into the mysterious world of the Wood element, and its Liver official in particular, and why I think it is good today to use this point to offer hope to my patient.

As a final illustration of the power of the interactions of the spirits of practitioner, patient and point is a moving occasion that occurred very early on in my practice when as a newly-qualified acupuncturist I found myself trying to decide whether I could detect a Husband/Wife imbalance in my patient.  Still somewhat unsure whether I was interpreting the patient’s pulse picture correctly, I started to mark up the sequence of points to clear the H/W, working rather slowly as I wasn’t sure that this was the treatment I needed to do.  As I marked the first few points on the foot (Bl 67, Ki 7),  my patient suddenly said, “That’s a rather frightening thing that Husband/Wife imbalance your Professor Worsley writes about.”  I had lent my patient a book by JR in which he described this imbalance, but she had never mentioned until this moment that she had actually read it.  I sent thanks up to heaven for this encouragement, and with a lighter heart continued clearing the H/W block which I felt her words had confirmed for me.  This was a moving example of the spirits of patient, practitioner and point combining to create a successful treatment.

Since traditional Chinese medicine places great emphasis on the subjective experience, as Professor Liu Lihong points out, there is nothing more subjective than an individual practitioner’s assessment of why he/she feels the patient needs a particular point or points on that particular day.  Each point becomes as though impregnated with our own personal narrative, which our use over the years has added to it.  I revel in the fact that every time I select a point, I bring to my selection the understanding of the particular element or official associated with that point which I have gained from my experience as practitioner over the years.  

Copyright:  Nora Franglen 2019