Monday, June 19, 2017

The Wood element in crisis

As those who read this blog will know, I think both Theresa May and Donald Trump are Wood, and both, unfortunately for the world, appear to be incredibly rigid, unyielding Wood, more stolid oak trees than graceful willows.

I was therefore amused, as well as horrified, by reading this in the Guardian newspaper yesterday about Theresa May:

“Wooden-headedness is a source of self-deception. It is also the defining feature of Theresa May’s prime ministerial stint, and particularly of her “hard Brexit” strategy.  On Europe Mrs May appears to assess a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring any contrary signs.  She then acts on her delusions and does not allow herself to be deflected by facts.  While this might be a good way of winning power, it is not a good way to exercise it.”

And the piece ends with: 

“Wooden-headedness is characterised by a refusal to benefit from experience.  Why not, Mrs May, learn from one’s mistakes and change tack?"

It made me think a little more about how I perceive Wood.  Changing tack, a very nautical expression for changing the sails of a boat to move it in a different direction, is very appropriate for describing the flexibility and manoeuvrability of the Water element.  It is certainly not how I would see Wood moving.  It likes to keep to a straight line, and once on that line is determined to stay on it as it presses onwards towards the future.

We all know that Wood’s function is to do with planning and decision-making.  When in balance these plans will be appropriate and lead to good decisions.  When under stress, which Theresa May always seems to be, the plans, once made, have been rigidly adhered to, and the decisions made on the basis of these plans can easily become the wrong ones.  She has been seen to change her mind suddenly and quite erratically (from a Remainer to a hard Brexiteer in the matter of a few hours, as well as all the volte-faces she has recently made in government). 

I think her dominant Wood official is likely to be the Liver rather than the Gall Bladder.  It appears to be much easier for her to plan (the Liver’s function) than to carry out the plans (the Gall Bladder’s function) by making the right decisions.  Others may see the differences between Wood’s two officials differently.  I have always been reluctant to specify which is the dominant official within an element, because I have always regarded the elements as an almost indivisible whole, the yin and the yang within them indissolubly tied together.  There are, however, definite differences in some elements which I have found easier to see, such as the difference in the Metal element between the Lung and the Colon official (taking in and letting go).

And finally Trump as well!  I need hardly point to Trump in this context.  Enough said, as they say.

 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Interpreting the elements is always a subjective experience

I have been very interested by the comments people have posted on my recent blogs about the differences between Water and Metal.  Some have agreed with my observations, others not.  All have given me something fresh to think about.  They have made me realise that people reading what I write may be assuming that the very personal way I have learnt to interpret the elements over the years is prescriptive, and that they should see and feel things in the same way, rather than what I say reflects my own often maybe quite idiosyncratic approach to the elements.  What I mean by the word prescriptive is that it may be felt that others reading what I write should try and see the elements as it were through my eyes.  I don’t think that this is right or what I would like people to do.  Instead, it is important that everybody develops their own personal filters through which they perceive the elements.  Everything we do, think and feel reaches us only through these filters, and will be interpreted according to what they tell us individually.

What is absolutely essential, though, is that each of us, practitioners as well as anybody else interested in developing their understanding of the elements, subject this understanding to a rigorous system of control.  This is what I have been doing ever since my eyes were opened on to the landscape of the elements spread before me.  I have learnt that I must test carefully my assessment that a person I encounter might at first sight be Earth, for example, against those other people who I have previously thought might also be Earth, and then assure myself that these people have enough in common to warrant being gathered together under the heading of Earth.  Collecting together enough examples of all the elements therefore takes time, and requires a great deal of patience and self-scrutiny as we assess how accurate our diagnoses are.  Being accurate requires us to be very aware that we may often get things wrong, and then be prepared to amend our initial diagnosis.

Some people, of course, will find this the most difficult aspect of being a five element acupuncturist, because we can never really know that we have found a patient’s element until we are offered proof from the results of successful treatment.  As I have often said, what we do is not a calling for the faint-hearted, but, as I have also often added, but it is a calling which, if we persist, brings us incredibly rich rewards.

A headline on BBC news: “Scientists say that they have proof that marriage may be good for the heart”

I love it when Western science, after much earnest research, prides itself on discovering something that we acupuncturists take as self-evident.   Understanding as we do that the Heart official will remain healthy if it is happy, perhaps before we agree totally with this bit of scientific research, we should add an important proviso.  Just as it is likely that happy partnerships will nurture the Heart, is it not just as likely that it will suffer under the effects of unhappy relationships?

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Something frivolous for a change (or perhaps not so frivolous)

As light relief from the horrors of this utterly unnecessary election and Brexit, plus the disasters of Trump, I am allowing myself to laugh at myself in this brief blog.

I am of the generation brought up in the real austerity days after the 2nd world war, when there was nothing available in the shops to buy, and in any case you viewed buying anything which was not absolutely essential as frivolous, and made sure that you saved everything you could.  “Waste not, want not” was the slogan then.  These words popped into my head this morning as I walked, carefully watching where I put my feet on the increasingly uneven pavement (is the local council cutting back on repairing the road as well as everything else?), when I noticed, as I often do, one of the rubber bands which postmen now throw away as they walk on their rounds.  These rubber bands used to be red, but have recently changed their colour to brown.

I am always tempted to pick one up when I see one, because I often need them for all kinds of things, such as packing books together to hand on to my friends, and I baulk at the thought of buying a packet when so many lie discarded at my feet wherever I walk.  And then I thought of how odd it would look to see me bending over from time to time to pick them up (and what if I toppled over again doing this, just as I fell a few weeks ago?).  And should I then wash them to remove the street dirt from them?

So with reluctance I leave them lying sadly abandoned there, although each time I see one a little pang passes through me at the sight of so much waste.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Further thoughts on the differences between Water and Metal (see my last blog on 27 May)

I do a lot of my thinking as I walk.  And I have been doing a lot of walking recently, both because I no longer drive a car (quite deliberately having giving up driving because I’m not sure that all my faculties remain as acute as they need to be to cope with London traffic), and also because, on a more temporary basis, I fell over and bruised my bottom so much that for the past few weeks walking has been a less painful alternative to sitting.  Anyway, on one of these walks I was mulling over my last blog about the differences between Water and Metal, and the following definition just popped into my head:

             Water feels, whilst Metal perceives.

“What is the difference between feeling and perceiving?”, I then asked myself.  You feel through every pore in your body.  It is an instantaneous, immediate reaction to what is going on around you.  Metal, of course, also feels, as do all the other elements, but in a different way;  I do not think it is its first reaction.  With Metal there is a hidden filter between it and the feelings which are being aroused, and this acts as a first stage before the feeling part kicks in.  We know that the Lung filters everything before it allows it through.  At a spiritual/emotional level it filters feelings, too, as much as it filters air at a physical level.  Once feelings are filtered and allowed safe to pass through, Metal then also allows itself to feel. 

This is how I arrived at the word “perceive” for Metal.  It seems to me to be a word which has implicit within it this kind of filtering process - first thinking about something, and then feeling it.

I would be very interested to hear from any Metal people as to whether they recognise this description.  They are perfectly free to disagree with me.  After all, that’s how I continue to learn.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Insights into the differences betweeen the Water and Metal elements

My lovely Indian friend from Bangalore, Sujata, whom I have treated over the past few years on the Water element, has sent me some very acute comments about how she perceives the differences between her own element and the Metal element, which she calls, very correctly, “the medium of air”.

Here is what she has just emailed me:

I was thinking of your previous blogs about observing elements in public places and I watched the swimming pool a bit.  While I was swimming I got the notion (perhaps a little fanciful, I don't know) of the difference between the medium of water and air in terms of connecting to the surroundings.  It is of course easier to see, smell and hear through the air but movements and changes in environment are conveyed sensitively and quickly through water and one can feel them with one's whole body and respond very fast.  This is the kind of antenna a Water person (like me) has, I think.  Constantly sensing the environment (even when apparently at ease or focussing on something, one part is always tuned outwards to sensing), looking for little ripples and trying to re-orient to those, physically or mentally.  Sensing is the very nature of Water, then moving towards or drawing away from, never being able to stand apart in isolation (like an island!).

I love Sujata’s insights, just as I always love hearing those of anybody of the other elements, since they help me understand their element from the inside as it were.  I will never truly understand what it is like to live a life under the protection of the Water element or of the other elements apart from my own, Fire, and even then it is only Inner Fire which I feel I really understand as completely as anybody can ever understand themselves.  So these small openings on to slightly unfamiliar elemental landscapes each helps me grasp a little more how the other elements perceive their lives and therefore adds to my development as a practitioner.
 

Friday, May 26, 2017

The importance of changing one's routine

It is always good when circumstances shake us out of a routine into which we have settled a bit too comfortably.  And teaching can become a bit like a routine if we are not careful to revisit what we are doing from time to time, not only to stimulate those coming to learn from us but also to encourage us to develop new ways of thinking about what we do.  Today, circumstances have forced me to do just that, and I am trying to devise a new plan to adjust to these new circumstances.

For the past few years we have always used the reception room at our Harley Street practice for our clinical seminars.  The room is large enough to hold about 18-20 people, although it is certainly not an ideal seminar room because it comes full of those deep leather sofas and armchairs all waiting-rooms seem to demand.  Before this room became available a few years ago, we used to run more frequent but smaller seminars from our own practice room downstairs, into which a maximum of 8 – 10 people could fit.  We have now been told that we can no longer use the reception room, which is why I have to think again about how I want to do my teaching.

Of course we could hire a room, and this might be sensible as all our seminars increasingly overbooked, but do I want to go to all the hassle and much greater expense of doing that?  And is the kind of seminar I have run really the best way to pass on my five element knowledge?  Is this change telling me that it is time to look again at what I am trying to do with my teaching in London, and perhaps my experiences in China can be used to develop a new approach to what I should be doing here.  I write “should”, but perhaps it should be “could”, for this surely is an opportunity to re-assess what I can offer and to whom I can be offering it.

Up till now I have not really considered these two questions.  Instead I have simply done much of the same at each seminar, and offered it to many of the same people, all of whom are on SOFEA’s distribution list and have registered their interest.  In other words, we advertised the seminars and accepted whoever applied on a strictly first-come, first-served basis.  Should I be a bit more selective about this, for example by restricting the number of students, and focussing more on established practitioners?  Would this be a better use of my time? 

I think that I should be doing more to help the more advanced practitioners, particularly since Guy Caplan is now expanding the teaching he is doing to include some of the groups I was already teaching, particularly in Europe, and others that I might have engaged with if Guy had not been there.  The important thing here is to gear whatever I do to a format which I would be happy to regard as part of what I now like to think of as my legacy.  And what this tells me is that I need to concentrate more on teaching the more experienced five element practitioners, leaving to others the task of inducting five element novices into the delights of what we do.

So I have made the decision, a decision essentially made for me by the withdrawal of the use of the Harley Street reception room, no longer to hold seminars open to everyone, from the student to the more experienced five element practitioner, but to offer my expertise only to the latter group.  This decision has been made easier by my experiences in China, where the very keen group of five element practitioners that have attended my seminars over the past six years are now themselves teaching various five element introductory classes throughout China in order to prepare those who wish to come to our more advanced seminars.  By themselves, in their highly organized way, they have thus made it possible to spread the word about five element acupuncture in the most efficient way and to as many people as possible, allowing me and my team to move away from the beginner level to the intermediate level (and, for just a few of the more experienced, to the advanced level), and therefore making it possible to reach more of the many hundreds enrolling in our programmes.

I am a little sad to have had to abandon novice five element acupuncturists to others, but I hope in future years to catch up with them as they in turn gain sufficient experience to welcome the kind of teaching I will now be concentrating upon.

 

 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Why I enjoy teaching so much in China

I often ask myself why I enjoy teaching so much in China and why this is so different from the teaching I do in this country or in Europe.  The answer I always give people who also ask me this is that I find it easier, and, to that extent, more satisfying for many reasons.  The most obvious, superficial reason may well be the way I am welcomed over there, which is as a revered visitor.  This is so unlike how students in this country treat their teachers, where the approach is much more irreverent than reverent.  In China the reverse is true; there the culture is built on a deep respect for tradition, and for their teachers who embody this.

Through one of the serendipities of life (oh how I love that word!), I happen now to be reading a book called The Souls of China: the Return of Religion after Mao (yes, souls, not soul!) by Ian Johnson.  Here are some brief extracts:

Faith and values are returning to the centre of a national discussion over how to organize Chinese life……As one person I interviewed for this book told me, “We thought we were unhappy because we were poor.  But now a lot of us aren’t poor anymore, and yet we’re still unhappy.  We realize there’s something missing and that’s a spiritual life.”

 All told, it is hardly an exaggeration to say China is undergoing a spiritual revival similar to the Great Awakening in the United States in the nineteenth century.  Now, just like a century and a half ago, a country on the move is unsettled by great social and economic change.  People have been thrust into new, alienating cities where they have no friends and no circle of support.  Religion and faith offer ways of looking at age-old questions that all people, everywhere, struggle to answer:  Why are we here?  What really makes us happy?  How do we achievement contentment as individuals, as a community, as a nation?  What is our soul?

This reminds me of something the administrator of a large Chinese province told me as I was treating him.  To my surprise, he said, “We need you in China, Nora laoshi (Teacher Nora).  We have lost our soul.”  My surprise was that the person saying this was a provincial administrator, not, as one might expect, a practitioner of some spiritual discipline.  I smiled when I thought to myself how incongruous such a statement would sound coming from his British equivalent, a head of a corporation or a banker.  What it confirmed for me was the essentially spiritual nature which lies deep within the Chinese character, and it is partly this which explains much of the satisfaction I experience in my teaching over there.

For I regard five element acupuncture as a form of spiritual practice, not merely as a purely physical medical discipline.  It is that, too, of course, but it is much more than this, and it is this “more” which first attracted me to it, and keeps me so firmly enthralled by it that I cannot see myself abandoning my practice until my knees will no longer keep me upright and my hands shake too much to hold a needle.  Today, for example, I was faced with the need to help a longstanding patient of mine whose partner of many years had suddenly left without forewarning, leaving her devastated.  I cast around a little in my mind trying to think of what treatment I could choose to help her, but hardly had I taken her pulses when I was suddenly struck by the thought that, of course, these were the circumstances which were most likely to create a husband/wife imbalance.  The pulses themselves had not at first suggested this, so subtle can be the signs of this imbalance, and, as I often say, how crude and clumsy will always be our pulse-taking in the face of the very delicate nature of the pulses. 

But the situation obviously pointed to a classic husband/wife situation (relationship problems being typical evidence for this imbalance), and though I wasn’t initially convinced that I was interpreting the pulse picture accurately, I decided to carry out the procedure.  The result confirmed what I had guessed might be there.  The patient’s pulses steadied themselves beautifully after treatment, and as she left she said, “I feel quite different.  When I came I felt I couldn’t cope, now I feel more hopeful that I will be able to deal with this.”  I am making sure that she comes for a further treatment within a week, as one should always do in such cases.  After all, this indicates an attack upon the Heart, which will remain vulnerable for some time and needs regular strengthening to prevent the block returning.

For me, the experience of treating my patient was akin to a spiritual experience.  The atmosphere in the practice room, from start to finish, reflected something deeply emotional.  Long after the patient left, this feeling persisted in me.  We were, after all, both in our different ways facing a situation of profound crisis, and I was being asked to help my patient at the deepest level.  Sometimes one hears the most beautiful sayings which illuminate one’s day quite by chance.  On the radio yesterday I heard Archbishop Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, a really gentle, caring man, say “We do not have a window into people’s souls.”  But even though I agree that I did not have a window into my patient of today’s soul, I felt that my treatment had allowed a little more healing light to stream into that window hidden deep within her.

This spiritual dimension of my work, and the fact that this is immediately understood by Chinese practitioners, is one of the main reasons why teaching in China is such a satisfactory experience for me.  Since the basic components of my work, such as the Dao, yin yang and the five elements, are familiar to every Chinese person, this makes it very easy for them to start to incorporate the principles of five element acupuncture into their practice.  No longer do I need to answer the kind of questions my students in England would ask me with a puzzled air, such as, “How do we know that there are things called elements?”, or “What evidence is there for the existence of acupuncture points?”  These are both perfectly reasonable questions for those not brought up in an environment where the elements perfuse every strand of everyday life, and where to cast doubt on the existence of acupuncture points and the efficacy of acupuncture itself could be considered futile and almost sacrilegious in the strict meaning of the word (an affront to a basically religious belief).  To embark on the task of introducing an understanding of the practice of five element acupuncture to the Chinese is akin to sowing seeds in already well-fertilized ground.

My conviction that what I practice represents a profound truth therefore receives welcome confirmation each time I set foot on Chinese soil.  There I am amongst people all of whom at some deep level speak the same spiritual language I do, even if we differ in the superficial everyday languages we speak. 

And how I continue to wish I could learn to understand and speak this lovely language to a level which would make proper communication possible.

 

 

 

Monday, May 8, 2017

People-watching: Insight into the Metal element (plus a little more on Fire)

Since writing my last blog on People-Watching, a Metal friend of mine, Jeremy, has given me the following insights into how he approaches sitting down in a café.  

This is what he has written:

"I read your blog yesterday and can tell you exactly where I sit in a cafe.  I have 2 parameters.  

First, I need to be able to see who is coming and going, so need to face the door or main entranceway (I also need to know how to get out in the event of a problem - but that is probably my army training).
 
Second, I need as much distance as reasonable from as many people as possible, so that I can get perspective on what is happening and get the minimum impact of other people's presence on my thinking and reflecting - I want to be able to see and watch everything and not have what I see and think disturbed..."
 
Thank you, Jeremy, for opening my eyes to other aspects of Metal. 
 
And a Fire friend of mine, having read my blog, agreed with every word of it.  She told me that she is very careful always to sit with her back covered, with nobody behind her.  This is also true of where she sits in the train as well as in restaurants.  This is obviously her Heart Protector doing exactly the kind of protecting that it should do.
 
How fascinating all this is!

Friday, May 5, 2017

People-watching

As everybody knows, what I enjoy above all things is people-watching wherever I am.  And today, over my morning cup of tea and toast in a local café, I became fascinated by another illustration of the oddities of human behaviour and how everything we do reveals something about ourselves and the elements which direct our lives.

The café was only half-full, with many of its small tables unoccupied, providing plenty of choice for newcomers. It had a counter with six stools, two tables for four people and six tables for two people.  I started to notice that the abundance of choice itself was proving problematic to some people as they came in.  If only one table had been unoccupied, I realised the choice of where to sit would have been simple, because it would have made itself.  Here, though, the possibility of many different choices presented itself.  A woman came in, and I watched as she looked round, hesitated for quite a time, and then started to move round a few tables.  Eventually she settled herself down at a table next to one of the occupied tables.  It looked as though she was trying to draw herself as close as she could to another group of people, without actually joining them at their table.

I contrasted this with my own choice of seating a few minutes earlier.  Here I had quickly checked all the tables as I came in, trying to find one that was evenly spaced between the occupied tables, and had felt myself fortunate to find just what I like, which is always having some space between me and other people.  I realised I would certainly not have sat myself down next to somebody on the next table, as she had done, if there had been more room elsewhere.  I had deliberately chosen to distance myself as far as possible from my fellow guests.  Not only was I trying to distance myself but I was also attempting to do this in, to me, the most physically harmonious way possible, for I had chosen a table which positioned me carefully at equal distances from each of two other occupied tables, with an unoccupied table on either side, creating a kind of a pattern.  (The Small Intestine likes to put things in order and sees things in terms of patterns wherever possible.)

The next person who came in now had less choice, but still hesitated, first looking at the long counter, but then deciding to sit at a table, and again taking a little time to choose at which table to sit.  The man following her, however, plonked himself down at the counter without looking round at all, even though the counter was close to the now mainly occupied tables, and there was plenty of space elsewhere.  So obviously, unlike me, he didn’t mind being pushed up close to other people, and hardly seemed to notice his surroundings.

This reminded me of the cartoon of a theatre audience with only two couples attending, in which the couples seat themselves one behind the other, with the whole of the rest of the auditorium completely empty, and the woman in the row behind asks the woman in front to take off her hat, as she can’t see the stage.  I always think of this cartoon when I go to my newly-opened local cinema, and find myself each time in a fairly empty auditorium, and each time annoy myself by not being able to decide where to sit, because there is so much choice.  The same is obviously true for many people, as I see my fellow cinema attendees hesitating for quite a long time before deciding in which of the many empty rows of seats and the many empty seats in these rows to sit.

Of course, being me, I had to try to relate this behaviour to the different elements, starting with my own. Is it typical of Fire to be as cautious as to where it positions itself in relation to other people as I am?  I am very aware of how close other people get to me and realise that I welcome approaches from people I accept as being safe to be with (my Heart Protector working actively here), but am very hesitant to allow the kind of close contact enjoyed by those who welcome group hugs, a very Earth element pleasure, I think.

The young woman who sat herself down so close to another group may well have been Earth, or at least had strong Earth qualities, needing the closeness of others around her.  Water, too, though, is in need of the company of others, but in a slightly different way, and this woman did not show the kind of hesitation I think I would have expected of Water, a hesitation combined with that quick glance round to check what is going on around it, and ensure that no danger lurks.  This is often Water’s way as it enters a new space, and one which can therefore potentially represent a risk.  I was a little more unsure how Wood would seat itself, but I think it would undoubtedly be less concerned with who the people were it was sitting itself amongst than either I would be or the woman who came into the café after me.

And what about Metal, then?  Here I am even more unsure.  I feel it would certainly slip in more quietly and unobtrusively, as the man who settled himself down quickly did, for this is the element with the lightest tread of all, but would it look around and seek to position itself in a specific relation to other customers, or simply ignore them?  I decided that I must ask my Metal friends about this.

This is how this morning’s breakfast gave me another lesson in the elements.