Each practitioner in their own way influences the course of treatment not merely by their selection of the treatment itself but by their very presence and the nature of this presence. This is the quality which should make the insertion of a needle into an acupuncture point so much more than that needed to obtain a blood sample from a hypodermic needle. For, enclosed as it were within the physical action of penetrating the skin with the needle, there should be some inner quality transmitted by the practitioner’s spirit into the heart of the action which transforms this action from a mere physical process into something akin to what is imparted by a caress.
And that is not too emotive a description of what we do, for at a deep level where the practitioner attempts to engage the patient’s spirit, he/she must do that with the kind of gentle warmth we impart to those we love. At the heart of all acupuncture treatment at the level of which I am talking lies love, the warmth of one human being for another, allied here to the desire to help another, which is a practitioner’s role. Though the needle is solid, unlike a hypodermic needle, in one way it should be regarded as hollow, offering a channel through which the practitioner passes something more elusive and intangible than a physical substance. Within this lie such ephemeral gifts as the practitioner’s experience. This will include the confidence he/she will impart born of this experience, which will include an understanding of the transformation the action residing within points can bring about in a patient.
It is therefore vital to understand that the actual insertion of the needle is only a very small part of the process by which the energy to which the point has access is stirred, in much the same way as the manner in which we touch a child can comfort or frighten it. If we are unaware of this, we become mechanical acupuncturists, going through standard rituals, and our needle is then little more than a more delicate hypodermic needle inserted at a physical level to carry out a specific physical action. But, as I argue strongly, what we do must always have within it something of the spirit, and thus the selection of an acupuncture point and its needling must also always be bathed in just such a spirit. So when I select a point I will already have endowed it with something from my spirit which breathes into it my own understanding of why I have chosen it for this particular patient and for this particular treatment, and when I lift the needle what I intend this point to do for my patient flows from me into the needle.
It is difficult to define the elusive nature of the quality we bring with us into the practice room, which is why one person using the same points for the same treatment as another practitioner may have a completely different effect. There is no doubt that the more focused the practitioner is, the more effective treatment becomes. Another acupuncturist once told me that he was surprised that he did not get the same results from treatment as I did, although he was trained in the same discipline and used the same points for the same reasons. This initially puzzled me, until I realised that, at heart, he had doubts about the efficacy of what he was doing, whereas I did not.
It is important that we do not think that this area of our practice, that in which a practitioner can summon to treatment some quality of understanding they have gained from their experience, is only accessible to the experienced practitioner and might make it difficult for a novice practitioner to carry out good treatment. This is far from the case. It is merely that it is important that a practitioner from the earliest days is made aware of this important facet of their practice, and is thus open to harnessing whatever experience they slowly acquire to guide their treatments in the right way. We can focus our intention to achieve whatever we hope to achieve from the first few hesitant steps we take in practice through to those more confident steps experience helps us to take. Merely being aware that a practitioner brings something all their own to the insertion of the needle which can endow that insertion with something much deeper is the first step in this direction.