Tuesday, November 7, 2017

"I'll have to think about that" - a phrase I would never use

It is odd how a small thought, casually encountered, can lead to much deeper thoughts.  I asked somebody what I thought was simply to give me his answer to, in my view, a very simple question.  I was surprised to hear him say quickly, ”I’ll have to think about that.”  My surprise was because the question deserved no more than a quick answer, and because I would never myself leave a questioner high and dry like this.

Here, then, was yet another lesson in learning to understand better how different elements respond, in this case to being expected to find a quick answer to a question.  Thinking further about this, I could not recall a time when I would have answered any question in this way.  Instead, if I am unsure of how to answer, I express this uncertainty immediately in words.  It is as though I am trying to find an answer as I talk. This is my Fire element’s dominant official, the Small Intestine, doing its job of sorting in plain sight, as it were. The friend of whom I asked this simple question, however, is not Fire but Metal.  Was his answer typical of Metal, then, I asked myself?  So I asked another Metal friend whether he could see himself replying like that, and he confirmed that he definitely could.

So here I had two instances of Metal needing time and space to think things through before coming to a decision, but making this decision by themselves rather than in open conversation with me, as Fire would do. This made me wonder about the other elements.  Earth, which likes to think things through thoroughly and slowly, would understand Metal’s reply, but would take longer reaching a final decision, possibly talking things through slowly with me.  Wood is the element closely associated with decision-making, but might be in danger of making too quick a decision and sticking to it through thick and thin, without considering too much whether it is the right one.*  When I come to Water, I am, as always with this hidden element, somewhat uncertain how it will react.  I must ask my Indian Water friend, Sujata, to help me here.

In a week or so, Guy Caplan and I are holding a seminar for 50 people which we have called “Exploring the Elements”.  I think this will be a good occasion to explore further with the participants the decision-making processes of the different elements.  This should help confirm or amend what I have written above.

*Added after I posted this blog for the first time:  Or Wood, always the inquisitive, enquiring element, might counter my question with a question of its own.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

We appear always to be dissatisfied with our lot

There appears to be something in human nature that strives constantly after change. It seems that we can never be satisfied with what we have, and always want more. This niggling sense of dissatisfaction can express itself in many ways, and in different ways in different cultures and at different times, but what all these feelings have in common is some level of discontent with a current situation and a desire to change it in some way.  We seem to long for things beyond our reach which we stretch out our hands to try and grasp.  We therefore never appear to be content with the status quo, each of us in our own often tiny and insignificant way trying to reach a little further out into the world beyond us.   

Viewed from a five element perspective, our individual element defines the direction of this search for the new and the unexplored, and shapes its terms.  It is therefore no coincidence that I should have found myself gradually moving towards a calling which feeds my Fire element’s need to relate to people, particularly on the one-to-one-basis I enjoy with my patients.  Nor is it by chance that I so much like helping others share in my delight through my teaching at what an understanding of the elements has added to my life. 

I have just returned from what I think is my 12th visit to China.  I hope that the 150 or more practitioners and students at our seminars will also emerge from our time with us stimulated into changing something in their lives through what they have learnt, and may well dare to venture into areas their newly invigorated knowledge of the elements points them towards.  All will have received some five element treatment, and once an element has been stirred into life in this way, it cannot rest until it has set in motion some of those individual changes all of us need to make if we are to fulfil whatever destiny our life has laid down for us.

Thoughts should, wherever possible, be free to download

I loved reading that Stephen Hawking, the author of a Brief History of Time, has agreed that his PhD thesis should now be available free on line to anybody who wants to download it.

“By making my PhD thesis open access, I hope to inspire people around the world to look up at the stars and not down at their feet; to wonder about our place in the universe and make sense of the cosmos,” he writes.  “Anyone, anywhere in the world should have free, unhindered access to not just my research but to the research of every great and inquiring mind across the spectrum of human understanding.”

What a lovely thought!  It made me think that I, too, would like people to have “unhindered access to my thoughts”.  And I hope that in a way they do, through this blog, which is why I so much enjoy writing it.  I feel that I am sending my thoughts far out into space, free, for anybody who is interested to read them.

Of course, even Stephen Hawking and his publishers have to earn their living, as I have to do when I publish my own books, so books, I am afraid, can rarely be handed out free, as blogs can, but the thought behind what he says is an important one.  Too many people feel that they must somehow copyright everything they do, as though clutching their thoughts tightly to themselves and reluctant to let them go except for payment.  I think the reverse should be true, and Stephen Hawking’s plea for “free, unhindered access” to thoughts is to be applauded.



Friday, October 6, 2017

Our body clock: confirmation of the existence of horary points

I was interested to read in the Guardian a few days ago that the Nobel prize for medicine has just been awarded to three scientists “for their discoveries on the molecular mechanisms controlling circadian rhythms – in other words, the 24-hour clock.”  These scientists “were recognised for their discoveries explaining how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronised with the Earth’s revolutions.”  “They identified a gene in fruit flies that controls the creatures’ daily rhythm, known as the “period” gene.  This encodes a protein within the cell during the night which then degrades during the day.  When there is a mismatch between this internal “clock” and the external surroundings, it can affect the organism’s wellbeing – for example, in humans, when we experience jet lag.”

The article quotes Sir Paul Nurse, the director of the Francis Crick institute in London, as saying “Every living organism on this planet responds to the sun.  All plant and animal behaviour is determined by the light-dark cycle. We on this planet are slaves to the sun.  The circadian clock is embedded in our mechanisms of working, our metabolism, it’s embedded everywhere, it’s a real core feature for understanding life.”

The article goes on to say: “The rhythm of day and night affects our health and our cognitive functioning.  When it is disturbed, we are. But our sense of upset, or even jet lag, is just a minute part of the whole living world’s adaptation to the alternation of day and night: animals, insects, plants and even plankton show a cyclical pattern of behaviour as the Earth turns.  This is built into their DNA.”

I don’t think there is a better way of describing the action of the “light-dark” (or as we would put it the yin-yang) cycle of the elements.  How lovely when science confirms what the ancient Chinese discovered thousands of years ago, and we use every day in our practice as we attune our patients’ energies to the daily and seasonal cadences of the elements.

A footnote to the blog above which I wrote a day ago:  In a further newspaper article I have just read the following:  "In the past decade...scientists have shown that clock genes are active in almost every cell type in the body.  The activity of blood, liver, kidney and lung cells in a petri dish all rise and fall on a roughly 24-hour cycle. ...In effect, tiny clocks are ticking inside almost every cell type in our body, anticipating our daily needs."


Our body is a sacred landscape

I have come across two individual pieces of writing which in their different ways both describe the mystery which is at the heart of human life, and underpins my practice of five element acupuncture.

The first has provided the title for this blog.  It is taken from a podcast by Heiner Fruehauf on the Classical Chinese Medicine website https://classicalchinesemedicine.org/your-body-sacred-landscape/, which I listened to some time ago.

The second is from a blog by my young friend Sujata Varadarajan, who writes beautifully about her life in India and her yoga practice at http://sujatavaradarajan.blogspot.co.uk/   In her latest blog she says:

Now that I have begun focussing on my inner energy, I find myself unconsciously sensing the energy given out by the environment as well - in particular nature.  Not in discrete units but in a fuzzy kind of way, feeling the difference between the energy of water and land, of grass and granite, of raindrops and wet earth.

I feel an immense gratitude towards all the traditional, wise systems which recognized this energy, and devised unusual ways to work with it - in particular the systems I have come in contact with - Yoga, Five Element Acupuncture and Tai Chi Chuan.  It's a magical feeling to be linked to everything through something so basic yet intangible, and to be able to tap it and use it wisely.”

I love the thought that our bodies are sacred landscapes, and therefore that we always have to be aware that with each treatment we are being invited by our patients to enter a sacred space, and must do so sensitively and humbly.  And equally, how lovely it is that we are privileged to enjoy “the magical feeling” that “we are linked to everything” and are able, through our practice, to “tap it”, and, we hope, “use it wisely”.

Thank you, Heiner and Sujata, for putting thoughts so close to my heart into such beautiful words.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Building up our own list of the characteristics of the different elements

I have been looking through some of my past blogs about how I learn to diagnose the different elements, and came across one that I posted some years ago which has prompted a few more thoughts.  I am repeating part of here, adding a few more observations I have made since then.

Often without our being aware of this, we gradually build up a list of the  characteristics by which we have learnt to recognise the different elements  These are like our own short-cuts which lead us towards an element.  We often follow along what to us is a well-trodden route towards an element without being aware we are doing it, and, more importantly, without checking at intervals to see whether our responses have become stereotyped and no longer reflect the great diversity with which the elements manifest themselves.  We should always at intervals do a stock take, and throw out any worn-out clichés about an element which have passed their sell-by date.

None of the descriptions by which I attempt to define the elements can be absolutely clear-cut, any more than the distinctions between one element and another can ever be clearly defined.  Like the colours of the rainbow, the elements meld into one another at their edges, so that they will share, faintly, some of each other’s characteristics.   Though faint, these similarities can nonetheless confuse us, some more than others, and explain the difficulties we all have in distinguishing between the characteristics of different elements.  My own greatest confusion has always come from the differences between Earth and Fire, and my least from those between Metal and Water, with the similarities I perceive between other pairings falling somewhere between these two.  Other people will find it difficult to distinguish between other elements.

Each of us should remain aware of where our own particular difficulties in differentiating between the elements lie, and use them as warning signals along the path to a diagnosis.  In particular we need to ask ourselves at intervals whether unconscious bias for or against an element has crept into our practice, so that without our realising it the number of patients we diagnose as being of one element seems to be surprisingly high, whilst that of another element surprisingly low.  Are we perhaps tempted to avoid recognizing the characteristics of elements we find it too difficult to deal with in the practice room?




Difficulties of dealing with our own element

How does the Fire element make me feel?  This is a more difficult question than when I ask myself how the other elements make me feel, because here I am confronting my own element, and dealing with one’s own element presents challenges and risks all of their own.  One would think that its very familiarity to me would make me feel far more at ease, but oddly this is at the same time both a true and a false assumption. 

In a way I am very easy in the presence of Fire because I can relax and express my enjoyment of life with those who enjoy similar things.  But I find that I am also irritated by just those familiar qualities in other Fire people that irritate me in myself.  So my contacts with Fire are not always the unalloyed delight one might expect them to be.

In looking at the elements over the years I have often learnt a great deal from studying them in those closest to me, my family and friends, as many of us do.  We cannot choose our families, but we do of course definitely choose our partners, and thereby hangs many a tale about our relationship to the other elements.  We also choose our friends.  Unless we have moved from partner to many other partners over the years, our choice of friends will provide us with the largest selection of those we like to be with.  We are likely to have accumulated more friends than partners, and thus have a larger choice from which to learn more about the elements at close hand, and more specifically, to explore what it is about particular elements that has attracted us sufficiently to select them as people whose companionship we enjoy.  For me it has been a fascinating exploration which has yielded surprising results, all of which has taught me a lot about particular elements in general and about my own element in particular. 

I have therefore used myself as a productive tool of learning, which we should all do if we are to deepen our understanding of what distinguishes one element from another.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Simple can be harder than complex

I came across this quote from the Apple’s founder, Steve Jobs, in a Guardian article a few days ago:

“Simple can be harder than complex,” he said. “You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.  But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

This echoes what I like about being a five element acupuncturist.  One of my catchphrases when talking about my work is “the simpler the better”.  We certainly do have to work hard for quite a few years to get to the stage where we understand what it means to practise in the simplest, purest way possible.  This was a skill which JR Worsley so beautifully mastered and passed on through his teaching to us, his pupils.

I found it amusing and ironic, though, that the article in which I found this quote was entitled “We are at the mercy of devices we don’t understand”.  It was all about how incredibly complex the latest version of the i-phone which the writer had just bought had become, so that he ended up losing much of his stored data because he could not understand all the hidden instructions embedded in it.  This seemed to be hardly the kind of “simple device” which Steve Jobs had worked so hard to get his company to create.

But I like to think that our simple treatments can indeed move mountains.



Friday, September 15, 2017

Never ask a patient how they feel after treatment

It is never good to ask a patient to tell you how they feel at the end of a treatment.  A question such as this is usually a sign that we are looking to the patient to reassure us that we are on the right track.  Patients are not there to reassure us;  we are there to reassure them that we know what we are doing.  What a practitioner is really hoping with a question like this is that the patient will tell them that they are feeling marvellous.

In any case how can any of us put into words how we feel if we are asked?  There is so much involved in our feeling anything, particularly something like the result of an acupuncture treatment, when we are not sure what we are supposed to be feeling.  Being asked is therefore also likely to worry us to different degrees depending on the kind of person we are.  I know that when I have been asked this by some of the several practitioners who have treated me over the years, the question has always thrown me.  Being the person I am, I try to be helpful to whoever is trying to help me, and therefore I will think that I ought to say something complimentary as a way of thanking them for their help, however untrue this may be.  Other patients may think they ought to be feeling something, but cannot detect any change at all, and therefore leave the practice room disappointed.

A practitioner is the one who at the end of a treatment should be observing their patient so closely that they will be able to judge if the elements have responded in some way, always a sign of a good treatment (see my last blog about this).

We are there to help our patients, not puzzle or worry them.

Feeling our way towards a patient’s element

I always say that the work of a five element acupuncturist starts within themselves.  We should always ask ourselves “How does this patient make me feel?”  This feeling must then be linked to all the many other feelings our patients have given us over the years, and which, particularly in the cases of those patients we know we have treated successfully, have added to the pointers to the different elements we have gradually accumulated.

I have had a good example of this from a day I have just spent in Switzerland looking at six patients with two five element practitioners.  It was a productive day, as these days usually are.  I am with people who are keen to learn as much as they can from me, and I have to offer them as much of my expertise in diagnosing the elements and working out a treatment schedule as I can.  So days such as these are always challenging for me, because, unlike when I am in my own practice, I feel compelled to get my diagnoses right in such a short space of time, otherwise I will feel that I am wasting my host practitioners’ time (and money!).  In that sense, a day like this, as with any seminars I have run, has its own particular stress.   

It is by close observation of any changes at the end of each treatment that I receive some confirmation that we are on the right elemental path.  Changes can range from being quite obvious to being so subtle that I am sure that I would not have seen them in years gone by. Yesterday, for example, I observed two quite clear colour changes, one in a Wood and the other in an Earth patient, and a third patient looked much more relaxed and was communicating more easily with us.  There were also marked changes to how I felt about the fourth and fifth patients, as though I sensed that my relationship to them had shifted as their elements responded to treatment. 

Finally, the sixth patient blessed our day by putting the change he felt into words, such a rarity, and valued all the more for that.  This was a young man I diagnosed as Water, who was coming for his first treatment.  After his AE drain and his Kidney and Bladder source points, he stood up and said, with great surprise in his voice, “My feet feel as though they are touching the ground quite differently.”  I love the thought of the Water element sending good energy to connect him with the earth beneath his feet in this way.

This reminded me of what two of my Water patients told me after I had needled IV(Ki)1 on the sole of the foot.  Both said that they felt a rush of energy like a fountain pouring up their body. I remember thinking what an appropriate name for a point this was, Bubbling Spring, confirmation that the ancient Chinese really did understand the actions of the points they named.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The strange power of fashion

I find it both interesting and rather disturbing to note a fashion statement which reveals very clearly some of the confusion there still exists among even the brightest and most obviously liberated of women in relation to their footwear.  I am not a historian of fashion, but it is obvious even to my untutored eyes that the very high heels all professional women now wear appear to be a statement of what is called power dressing, because it is in these circles where these high heels are usually accompanied by extremely elegant suits with very short, tight skirts, revealing as much leg as possible accentuated by the height of the heels. Rather incongruously the wearers remind me of girls from a Folies Bergère chorus line.  It is as though we are being sent two quite conflicting messages: the first, the ostensible one, the image of the successful woman in whatever career she has chosen, whether as a BBC journalist or a city banker, and the second, hidden beneath this one, a much more sexually explicit invitation of availability.

I remember some years back the uproar caused by an employee at Harrods being forced by the management to wear higher heels than she wanted to.  Now the height of heels has become so entrenched in what women feel they should be wearing to work that it would probably cause an equal outcry if somebody appeared on our TV screens wearing flat shoes.

This was driven home to me most forcibly when I observed that most down-to-earth BBC presenter, Clare Balding, sitting uncomfortably in the TV studio wearing the most ridiculously high-heeled shoes for somebody of her sturdy build.  I always think of her as striding through the countryside wearing gumboots or flat sensible shoes.  The same thought occurred to me when I saw the BBC announcer, Gaby Logan, at the recent World Athletics Championship tottering over to a screen in the most uncomfortable looking, but undoubtedly highly fashionable high heels I had ever seen.  It somehow seemed a sad example of women’s almost schizophrenic approach to fashion that, at an athletics meeting where all the young girls wear the most comfortable trainers they can possibly find, the BBC announcer commenting on the races felt compelled to wear the most inappropriate shoes.

I watch business women coming out of their offices, taking off their high heels, reaching into their bags and with relief putting on their trainers to make the journey home in comfort. For the working day they must have squeezed their toes into shoes which my chiropodist says are crippling more and more of their feet. What a sad indictment of women’s slavery to fashion, and something that at one level can almost be seen as mimicking a return to the days of bound feet in China!

As a postscript to this, I have just heard Alexandra Shulman, Ex-Editor of Vogue, talking on BBC Radio 4 this morning.  She said that wearing high heels for her is like “being a bit more in control.”  How interesting!

Finally, Ivanka Trump can apparently see nothing incongruous in squelching across storm-soaked grass in high heels from the aircraft when accompanying her husband on a flying visit to hurricane-battered Houston.




Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Adding something to life

One way of viewing the qualities of the elements is to regard them as aspects of ourselves which we can choose to use wisely or unwisely.  They can therefore be seen as placing a responsibility upon us.  Should we not make sure that we use them in a way which adds something to our life rather than detracts from it?  And not just to our life, but to the lives of those around us?

I have always kept on my desk before me a quotation from a very wise old Austrian, Dr Oskar Adler, who I have mentioned before.  He brought into our family a surprising aura of the esoteric which always seemed to sit oddly with our own more practical, down to earth view of life.  And yet he had an important influence over us when I was young, one which had a subtle effect upon me and which slotted almost imperceptibly into my increasing understanding of those very aspects of life summoned forth by my knowledge of acupuncture.  He was a musician and an astrologer, and where I learnt the most from him was by reading his fascinating books on astrology just as I started on my acupuncture  training, for they showed me surprising parallels between the two disciplines, enriching my understanding of the world of the elements, and giving it a wider dimension.

The wise saying of his which has accompanied all my writing over the years is one in which he writes that each of us has a duty, a duty, I repeat, to pass on to the world beyond us whatever we have learnt in whatever form this is and however slight or insignificant this may appear in our own eyes.  These words produced such an echo in my mind, and still do, that they became the impetus to my beginning to write my thoughts down, first in the form of handouts for the students at SOFEA, my acupuncture college, then expanded into one book after another (now six), then into my blogs and now into what I am writing here, which may well become my seventh book.  Without the encouragement his words offered me, I might never have had the courage to write anything at all.

And I believe we owe it to the world to leave it a little bit changed, obviously, we hope, for the better, by the way in which we live our life, and this means not only by producing something creative, such as my writing or a painting or a poem, but by how we live our lives.  Our passing through should cause some perceptible ripples to form on the groundswell of life, rather than for us to die leaving everything around us untouched.  From a five element perspective, such ripples will relate to the specific characteristics bestowed upon us by the elements which form us, since these give a different shape to the flow of life through us, and therefore a different kind of way in which the manner of our passing will impinge upon those around us.



Sunday, August 20, 2017

Blogging a Five Element Life: Publication of my sixth book

I am happy to announce the publication of the second book containing a selection of my blogs, Blogging a Five  Element Life.  This follows on from my first book, On Being a Five Element Acupuncturist, which covered an earlier period of my blogs.

The book can be ordered from Singing Dragon Press: http://singingdragon.com/uk/blogging-a-five-element-life-2.html

Although I know many people enjoy reading my blogs as I publish them, many have told me that they like being able to dip into them by reading one or two in book-form whenever they want to.  Not being a lover of electronic reading at the best of times, unless forced to by the convenience of using a Kindle when travelling, I, too, although the author of these blogs, prefer to re-read what I have written by holding the written words in my hand.  So I hope some of the readers of this blog today will feel the same.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Further delight of the unexpected

A reader of my past blogs may recall one entitled Hidden delights of London:  Phantom railings (3 September 2012).  Imagine my delight today, therefore, when once again passing the wall outside the British Museum about which I wrote, I could hear my footsteps creating a strident echo, as though their speed and strength was being mimicked by sounds coming from the wall.  I paused, turned back and retraced my footsteps, only for my surprise to turn into a happy recognition of the re-appearance of the musical artwork called the Phantom Railings, about which I wrote.  This time, though, the creators of this installation seem to have added a little more to it.  I gather that the sounds made by my footsteps as I pass this installation are now being streamed live and can be heard on www.publicinterventions.org.  

I am writing this in the British Museum, and will now hurry back past the wall to delight once more in this installation, before returning home to what I hope will be a session listening to the live streaming as others make their way past the wall. The sounds my footsteps made are those which resemble the familiar sound of somebody running a stick along an iron fence.  This was in the days before the second world war demanded the removal of railings round houses and parks, so that they could be turned into armaments for the war effort.  Or at least that was what I was told when reading about the installation five years ago.  Now, though, a completely different interpretation has been put on the removal of the railings.  Far from being an attempt to help the war effort, they were, the notice on the wall states, “a democratic gesture to remove restrictions to public access to parks and gardens”, much advocated apparently by George Orwell himself.

I enjoyed my time walking up and down, creating my own symphony of sound.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

How do we judge whether treatment is a success or a failure

I think most of us assume that a successful course of treatment should result in the patient feeling better in some way.  But in what way?  And who decides what feeling better actually represents?  In Western medical terms the successful outcome of any treatment can probably be judged as being whether the physical symptoms have improved or disappeared.  But when we view things from a less physically oriented point of view, as a five element acupuncturist or a psychotherapist would do, the role physical symptoms play in assessing the success of treatment is much less clear-cut.   

We take it for granted that we are offering treatment for soul as well as for body, and are therefore viewing things holistically, so how do we gauge how successful our treatment has been in helping our patient at the deeper level?  This is a much more difficult question to answer than merely noting that a patient is suffering from less headaches or is sleeping better, and the outcome of treatment may therefore be much more difficult to assess.  We then have to consider more complex questions, such as a patient’s own assessment of how far treatment may have helped them in changing some more intangible aspect of their life.  This could involve something like coming to terms with a past emotional trauma or having the courage to confront an unresolved issue with a partner.  Improvements in these areas of life are difficult to quantify, because they are based on much more subjective criteria, and may often at first hardly be perceived by the patient and only by a practitioner trained to notice what are often very subtle changes..

I learnt a very important lesson not long ago, which has given me a different perspective on the whole issue of what can be considered a failure of treatment.  A patient told me that he had been given my name “by a friend of mine who said you had transformed her life.”  I was puzzled, because I could hardly remember who this former patient was.  Looking up my notes afterwards, I found that she had come for just two treatments and then disappeared.  At the time I had assumed that she had not been happy with treatment, and I therefore listed her amongst those I thought I had not managed to help.  Obviously, though, this was not how the patient herself had viewed things. This taught me that we can never really know how far what we have done for our patients has helped them or not, or indeed what they themselves want from treatment.  It is therefore likely that patients and practitioners will have different criteria by which to judge the success or failure of treatment.  It also helped me understand the importance of not becoming too self-critical, a tendency I think we all have, particularly when we start in practice, because we may not be aware that our expectations are not matching those of our patient.

We must always ask ourselves whether what we assume our patient wants from treatment is actually what they are coming to us for.  Perhaps the few treatments I gave my former patient was all she felt she needed to set her life on the right path again, whilst I might have been considering a different outcome for her.  The very simple but profound treatments of the Aggressive Energy drain and an element’s source points which we start our treatments with can by themselves give a strong boost to the elements and help them regain balance.  An AE drain, for example, is a way of asking the elements whether they have been invaded by harmful negative energy, and, if so, clearing it from the body.  Addressing an element’s source points is one of the deepest and safest ways of stimulating that element’s energy.  These first treatments therefore set the tone for all subsequent treatments, and act as their firm foundation.

Perhaps for some patients, as with my former patient, this simple treatment is all they need.  Others, though, come for more than this, and may be uneasy about being left to sort out their life by themselves without ongoing support from their practitioner.  If this is so, it is a clear reminder that each of us is likely to want something uniquely different from treatment, often related to the specific needs of our element, and that it is the acupuncturist’s task to gauge these needs sensitively and try to satisfy them in the best way possible.

We can also waste a lot of time analysing each treatment in too much detail to see whether we could have done better.  Some good advice I was given early on, which I have found increasingly easy to follow the older I get, is to stop thinking about our patients the moment they leave the practice room at the end of treatment, and not continue to clutter our minds up by taking thoughts about the first patient with us into the next patient’s treatment, or home with us at the end of the day to preoccupy us later on.  Originally I thought that switching off from a patient too quickly at the end of treatment might be doing them a disservice, but I now realise that the opposite is true.  Before the start of each treatment, it is useful to give ourselves time to empty our minds of what has gone before so that our next patient receives the full attention from us that he/she needs, not the half-distracted attention somebody still preoccupied with thinking about the last patient will bring them.  And then when the patient comes back next time we are fully able to concentrate on them once again. 

It is of course natural to continue to think through the events of our day when we have finished practising, but we should try to do this at quiet times and not during the hurly-burly of the day’s activities.  Only then can we clear our minds sufficiently to help us sort out any problems we need to deal with.  All this is easier said than done, but if we are aware of some of the issues which make practising problematic for us, we are half-way to solving them.


Sunday, August 6, 2017

Usain Bolt - again

I have written about Usain Bolt and the Fire element before (see my blog of 24 August 2016), and I am delighted to be writing about him again today, the morning after he ran his last race here in London.  He didn’t win last night, but interestingly he didn’t seem to mind.  I could see him obviously enjoying to the full the love pouring towards him from the huge crowd.  This reflected what I had read in the newspaper on the morning of the race, words which so accurately describe the effect that the Fire element can have when it tries to share its joy with those around it.  Here are some of the article’s descriptions of how he affects other people:

“He is not only the face of athletics but its light-house, luring even the most casual fan to its shores.”

“..Usain really is a people person, too.  When he first went on the circuit, a decade ago, he would be in the hotel lobbies talking to people at 1am or 2am. He loves people and interacting with them.  I had to tell him to go to bed.”

And one description which makes me think Usain Bolt is Inner Fire:

“What struck me was just how willing he was in the middle of a conversation to break off and oblige a fan for a photo or an autograph, never complaining, always smiling…”

“He’s a selfless human being, one who genuinely loves to make others happy.”

All these descriptions could only be applied to Fire, I think, and in my view particularly to Inner Fire, which has a greater ability than Outer Fire to multi-task, even at the most emotionally extreme moments (such as running in the Olympics).
I know this from myself, who am Inner Fire.  Many years ago, long before I had even caught sight of an acupuncture needle or understood anything about the elements, I realised that I had this ability to do more than one thing at a time when somebody expressed amazement that I was able to switch from a very serious moment to pointing out something rather trivial happening nearby, almost as if the two events, the very serious one and the trivial one, were happening at one and the same time.  Watching Usain Bolt again, I could see that, whilst preparing for his race, he was nonetheless all the time aware of those around him and interacting with them, exchanging smiles and the odd word with whoever was next to him.  We can contrast this with the absolute and necessary self-absorption that Metal would display in a similar situation, as I have observed before.
So all hail to this most charismatic and joyous representative of the Fire element.  Feast your eyes on him wherever you can catch him on TV or social media, and you will get a lesson about one of the elements that you will never forget.  I wish it was as easy to find such outstanding examples of the other elements.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Horary treatments

Many things have happened during my years of practice which still make me laugh at myself, none more so than my attempts to give my patients what we call horary treatments at the right hour of the day (or night).  The word horary, used as far as I know only in the context of acupuncture now, comes from the Latin word meaning “hour”.  Horary treatments are treatments given at specific times of the day which are seen as having a particular relationship to different elements.  The 24-hour day is divided into six four-hour periods, one specific to each of the elements (two for Fire), and, within these four-hour periods two two-hour periods relating to that element’s yin and yang officials.  Thus the hours from 3 – 7am relate to the Metal element, with 3 – 5am that of the Lung, (often the time of day when people take their last breath), and 5 – 7am that of the Colon (which is why this is an excellent time to empty the bowels ready to take on food between 7 - 9am, which is the Stomach’s horary time).

Giving a patient a horary treatment, particularly in the season of that patient’s element (for example some time in the early morning between 3 – 7am in autumn for the Metal element) is considered to be the very best treatment of all.  Bearing this in mind and remembering JR Worsley’s exhortation to us not to forget horary treatments, even if they are at anti-social times, such as in the middle of the night, in the full flush of being a keen new practitioner eager to put everything that I learnt into practise, I gathered together two of my Wood patients for a horary treatment in the night, the best time being just before 1am still in the Liver’s horary time and just after 1 am just into the Gall Bladder’s horary time, carefully setting my alarm for 12.30am to be sure to wake up.  To my surprise both turned up on time, and I completed the treatment, congratulating myself on doing what a good practitioner should do, however tired I would feel the next day.

Imagine my horror then when a few months later I realised that with the greater experience I had gained since then I now recognized that neither patient was Wood.  Imagine also my confusion when another patient, who this time I was sure was Wood, and I had also scheduled to come during the night, overslept and never turned up.  Was I to phone her home, though I was reluctant to do so for fear of waking the whole household (this was the time before everybody had mobile phones by their beds), and how long should I stay up in case she arrived late?  Even when I felt I was treating the horary points at the right time during the night, did this justify the possible inconvenience which my previous sad experiences had shown me?  Finally, too, had horary treatments proved to be the uniquely excellent treatments that warranted all this trouble?

I cannot say that the results of giving horary treatments at more sociably acceptable times of the day have prompted me to consider that facing the possible hurdles of night-time treatments is worthwhile.  But I still like to remember with affection my novice practitioner’s enthusiasm.  Certainly my patients were terribly impressed that I was prepared to sacrifice a few hours’ sleep for them, which I am sure made our relationships all the closer, perhaps the best result of all.

I now think back rather sadly and with some nostalgia to a time when I so enthusiastically tried to put everything I had been taught into practice, and realise that I, older, much more hard-bitten and less idealistic, but perhaps not wiser, would be unlikely to do the same now.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

What to charge patients

Since my formative years coincided with the birth of the NHS and free medical care for all, I feel deep in my bones that at some level all medical care, including what I offer my patients, should be free.  This has always made me feel uneasy about charging my patients, making it all the more difficult for me throughout my long practice life to know at what level to pitch my fees.  I am, after all, a freelance acupuncturist dependent on my practice income for my financial survival, unlike those working in the NHS who are employed by the state, so charge I must, but how much?  Do I add into this figure the number of years I have been treating, and do I have a standard rate for everybody? But what about those people who can quite understandably not afford the weekly fee needed for treatment?  Hidden within this, to me, vexed question of the level of fees to charge, too, is the conviction that it would be wrong to deny treatment to somebody I could help simply because they cannot afford it.

This problem has bedevilled all the years of my practice, and seems to have grown if anything more acute since my move first from my home practice to the SOFEA clinic in Camden Town, and finally on to Harley Street, of all places, to what is considered to be the pinnacle of medical practice, where I now work amongst those who are happy to charge the most exorbitant fees that I would be ashamed to charge anybody.

My arrival in Harley Street was the result of one of those chance encounters which seem to punctuate my life, and had nothing to do with a desire to work from the very heart of London’s private medical world.  If anything, I would have preferred to move my practice somewhere else, but this clinic just fell into my lap, a chance too good to miss.  I was walking along Harley Street and passed a handwritten notice in a window saying that there was a clinic room for hire.  It turned out to be an ideal place for me and for others from SOFEA, its greatest advantage being our freedom to use moxibustion without other practitioners complaining of the smell, and access to surprisingly large storage areas for the many SOFEA files which needed to be kept for the requisite minimum of seven years.  It also happened, luckily, to be only a few minutes’ walk from my new home.  But as I walk to Harley Street each day, I am aware that I am walking past many medical practices where what I have decided to charge my patients would be viewed as ridiculously low.  What would those working in these very luxurious clinics say, I think, were they to know that I continue to charge some of my longstanding patients the very reduced rates I have offered them over the years, with the occasional free treatment thrown in for good measure?

One of the reasons why the whole issue of fees has proved such a problem for me is because it has a lot to do with my assessment of my own worth, something I am unclear about.  How do I value what I do, and do I put a monetary value on this, and, if so, at what level?  What fee to charge therefore still remains a sensitive subject for me, particularly as a few days ago I happened to note from the web that a former student of mine is charging three times the rate I now charge.  Is she right to do this, and am I therefore being unprofessional not to do the same?  Or is there still some value in retaining the idea that the vocation I have chosen represents my desire to help others, rather than doing it for financial reward?

I realise I have ended up after all these years doing what a tutor during my original training told us not to do, which was to charge different levels of fees for different patients.  He said that this only led to confusion, and he was right.  “Stick to one fee and let the patients decide whether they can afford to pay it.  Don’t make their financial circumstances your concern,” he told us.  And this is what I have always found difficult.   

I have come to the conclusion that my problem with working out how much to charge touches on my dislike of meanness, and its counterweight, my desire to be generous.  I regard treating as a gift I am offering my patients.  To ask them to pay for this is in some senses much like giving somebody a present and then holding out my hand for them to pay for it.  Even though I recognise the need to make a living, to charge the high fees which some would definitely consider appropriate for my many years of practice and my level of expertise represents not the gift I would like to bestow on my patients, but smacks of meanness.  For somebody who would always prefer to give than to receive, this inevitably causes problems, still unresolved within me to this day, after so many years of practice.