It is fascinating working out a distance-learning schedule for my Chinese students, because they start from a totally different position from European students. First of all, they already have a much deeper understanding of the elements as though these are etched into their bones and in their heart. They are companions with which they have grown up, not the rather strange aspects of life which European students have gradually to be introduced to. And then the students are very well-trained, drilled almost, in their point location and practical techniques, such as needling. So I found that I started at a higher level in terms of their practical skills.
On the other hand, they are at a much lower level in terms of much that we take for granted here in five element practice in the West, and that is in relation to a practitioner’s approach to their patients. The one thing I was constantly surprised at was to hear Liu Lihong emphasizing throughout my days of teaching in Nanning what he called my compassion to the many patients I was asked to treat. When I looked at what I was doing, I realised that what, to me, is the most fundamental aspect of my practice, my warm relationship to my patients and the importance I place on establishing this from my first contact with them, was a completely new area of practice to those observing me in China. This is, after all, the essence of what we, as five element acupuncturists, are trying to do, which is to develop such a close relationship with our patients that they feel secure enough in our presence gradually to lay aside their masks and allow their elements to reveal themselves in their true colours.
So one of the first lessons I will be thinking about is to encourage the students to use even such basic skills as pulse-taking as a first step to developing the proper physical contact with their patients without which no subsequent treatment will be successful. This is why I don’t agree with taking pulses with only one hand. We need both our hands to enfold the patient’s hand in a warm, loving clasp. And as we feel each pulse, we should remember JR’s lovely phrase as he told us how we should take pulses: “As you feel each pulse, you are asking, “Small Intestine, how are you today? Heart, how are you today?” If you say this to yourself, there is no way your pulse-taking can become the automatic snatching at the mere beat of a pulse which a Western pulse diagnosis has sadly turned into.
My first lesson is already winging its way to China by email. It is on the Wood element, and how the students can find ways of observing its manifestations through looking at examples of some of the patients treated in front of the class when I was there, and adding to these some famous examples of Chinese people from the web. I have also asked them to learn the points not only according to their Chinese names, which gives each name an individual importance, but more in terms of their relationship one to another along a meridian. The point numbers we use, such as Stomach 1 – 45, draw the points together and attach them more closely to the line of the meridians they lie upon, something TCM is not so concerned with.
I have also decided, to my profound delight, to use the Roman numerals for the officials, I for Heart to XII for Spleen, which were embedded in Leamington’s teaching when I was a student there, and have so unhappily and so unnecessarily been discarded for the TCM approach which likes to start instead at the Lung. (If you look at the texts upon which the original teachings coming to this country in the 1950s were based, you will see that the Heart always appears first.) Maybe the reason the Heart has been demoted to a subsidiary position in this way reflects the lack of heart in TCM practice, something which is reflected in Liu Lihong’s desire to instil more heart in his students’ practice by inviting me, a Fire person (and Inner Fire as well!) to warm up the teaching for his students. He told his class several times that “we need more Fire here”.
So Heart once again takes what I consider to be its proper place as the head, the emperor, of all the elements. Luckily the Chinese students told me that they are already familiar with Roman numerals, unlike many of my former students, which makes their task easier.
So on to Lesson 2, the Fire element, and a discussion of the importance of touch.