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.




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