Thursday, July 19, 2018

Perhaps we are alone in the universe after all

The more I encountered the concept of the elements early on in my acupuncture studies, the more I became fascinated by the idea that the same energies which create the universe also created me and will continue to go on giving me life until the day I die.  As acupuncturists we are not always aware in our everyday work with the elements as we treat our patients that these elements are symbols for universal aspects of cosmic life.  I have therefore always been intrigued to realise how much this understanding of the work I do forces me to confront the deepest of life’s mysteries.  This has led me to the belief that each of us can be seen as a tiny thought in the mind of whatever god or universal force we believe ultimately created the universe.

I am therefore always thrilled when a little more light is shed into the deepest of life’s mysteries, where science tries to make sense of how human life appeared and, even more mysteriously, why it appeared in the form it has done.  So here is a further offering to my curiosity from the Guardian a few days ago with the headline: “Perhaps we are alone in the universe after all.  The article describes a paper written by three Oxford University philosophers in which they surmise that “the probability (is) that we are alone in our galaxy, and perhaps in the universe…. There is quite probably no one out there to rescue or to care about us.  What happens to our species is in our hands alone.  We had better get on with it.”

This has prompted me to look up some other quotations I had collected over the years on much the same subject.  Some are by Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, in which he says, in lovely poetic language:
We are composed of the language of the universe”
I think it’s only life which gives the universe any meaning.”
And, most memorably:
Perhaps it could be said that the universe was made for Man”.
Finally, in an article about Leonardo da Vinci, the writer, an art historian, said the following:

 “I once heard a scientist remark that perhaps the principal function of mankind was to bear witness to the universe, to be here precisely to see in the night sky the light of long dead stars, and in so doing to give completion and meaning.”
All these are profound thoughts for us all to ponder on.  But I don’t think we can understand the potential power of what we do as we harness the energies of the elements through our needles to help our patients if we ignore the deeper implications of our practice.


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Western Medicine confirms the existence of the Chinese Clock

I love it when Western medicine shows its surprise at discovering something we acupuncturists (and the ancient Chinese more than 2000 years ago) have known about all along.  In today’s Guardian newspaper there is an article entitled, “Night shifts throw brain and gut out of sync, research finds”. 

Here are some quotes from it:

“The finding highlights the dramatic impact that night shifts can have on the different processes that govern the natural rhythms of organs and systems throughout the human body”.


“We have a central master clock in the brain that draws on changes in ambient light to control when we wake up and when we fall asleep.  But many other organs in the body have their own biological clocks, including the digestive system.”


“..nowadays we can do anything we like at any time of day, so we are giving our body clock very confusing time cues.”
The Chinese, of course, extended their understanding of the 24-hour body clock to cover the longer period of the 12 months of the year, linking all these daily and seasonal variations to the waxing and waning of the influences of the five elements.    
Guy and I needle our own horary points as we pass through the different time zones on our flights to and from China.  We both feel that this certainly helps to mitigate the effects of jet-lag.


Sunday, July 8, 2018

Some early mistakes in my practice

Looking back at the early years of my practice, I sometimes cringe with shame at some of the mistakes I made.  These were not, as some people might assume, to do with my very basic understanding of the elements, or my choice of treatments, although they, too, were with hindsight often rather naïve or even somewhat inappropriate.  Instead they were nearly all to do with my relationship to my patients.  Based on something which JR Worsley had impressed upon us, I somehow thought that I had to make myself available to my patients at all times, even interpreting what he said as meaning that a patient should be able to contact me at any time they wanted to.  Those were the days well before emails and mobile phones when patient-practitioner contact was nearly 100% by good old-fashioned landline.  Since I worked from home, I soon realised that I needed to install a dedicated practice line so as not to confuse my private with my professional phone calls.  This meant also having two answering machines, making quite an impressive array of phone equipment lining my kitchen shelf.

I still remember the excitement of coming back home and seeing the “message received” light blinking on my practice phone.  I would always hope that this meant that a new patient was making contact, for each new patient was then a highly exciting event.  There was, however, one definite advantage of patients having to get in touch with me by phone, and not, as usually happens nowadays, by email or text message.  This meant that when I answered them our first contact was always person-to-person, and not the much more impersonal contact of the written word through emails.  It is now often overlooked how important this initial contact can be, not only because it offers both patient and practitioner a bridge to that key aspect of five element treatment, which is the setting up of a good relationship with our patients, but it also gives us the luxury of trying to diagnose two key components of an element’s presence, the tone of voice and the emotion the patient is showing.  On the patient’s side, it helps get them past the often challenging situation of a first meeting in the practice room.  I felt that this first phone call shaped the nature of my future relationship to my patients.

But the flipside of these personal phone calls was that it gave my patients the impression that they could phone me whenever they wanted to, and this was where I started to make things difficult for myself.  I didn’t then have enough confidence to lay down careful guidelines as to when they could phone and what they could phone me about.  And I soon found this led to a further mistake.  Patients got used to phoning me at odd hours of the day, either early in the morning or, most often, rather late in the evening.  And I would find myself engaged in long conversations with them, all of which, I should have told them, were best suited to being continued at their next treatment.  It took me quite some time, and many interrupted evenings of phone calls, before I realised that what the patients and I were talking about belonged much more appropriately to the practice room, where it would help me determine the kind of treatment the patient needed.  As five element acupuncturists it is the treatment we offer our patient which helps solve their problems, and although five element acupuncture is partly a talking therapy, because of course our patients need to talk to us and we to them, it is good to remember that it is the needle, not our words, which eventually helps them.

This open-door, or rather open-telephone, policy of mine also opened the door to the thorny question of discussing the element I was treating them on.  I learnt to my cost that it is never a good idea to talk this through with a patient, because often one of the reasons for doing this can be our unconscious desire for reassurance from the patient that we are on the right track, and it is surely not their task to help us.  We are often hoping that they will confirm that we have made the right choice.  And I have come to realise that nobody, even the most experienced five element practitioner, is good at diagnosing their own element, though practitioners often like to feel that they are the best judge of this.  Unfortunately this is rarely the case, since we all tend to be rather blind to our own faults and like to think we have a special relationship to an element whose qualities we admire.  And if you mistakenly start to discuss a patient’s element with them, what do you do when you change your mind and change element, or change it several times?    Do you tell your patient this or leave them with the mistaken idea that they are of the Earth element when you have perhaps moved through Fire before finally landing on Wood?   We all know how often we find ourselves trawling through the elements before finally finding the correct one.  Thankfully, though, this happens less and less for me now.  So take heart all you novice five element acupuncturists out there.

So now I always advise practitioners to lay down firm guidelines for their patients on when and how to get in touch with them between treatments.   If we don’t do this, we are laying ourselves open to the possibility of patients controlling treatment.  For further discussion about this see my two blogs of 14 June 2018: Never let a patient take control in the practice room, and A lesson from JR Worsley: the importance of keeping control in the practice room.

Finally, it is not a good idea to tell patients what points you are using except very occasionally.  It is difficult enough for us to put into words why we are choosing a particular point or set of points, let alone explain this to a lay person.  If they ask, I have learnt to say, “I am not here to teach you to be an acupuncturist.  If you are interested in learning more, I suggest you read my Simple Guide to Five Element Acupuncture which explains my approach to treating you”.  The following are some of the few exceptions to this rule:  telling patients about horary and seasonal treatments (because we have to book our patients in at specific times for these), and correcting an Akabane imbalance, because patients are often fascinated to find that the readings change after treatment.  I have found that this is a very good way of convincing rather sceptical patients, particularly hard-headed businessmen, at the very start of treatment that there is something in what I do.

It is also useful to explain to patients that some of their symptoms may be the result of an entry/exit block, and obviously we need to explain in a little detail why we think a CV/GV (Ren Mai/Du Mai) block needs to be cleared.  In the case of this block I always first ask if the patient feels very exhausted all the time, a very good sign of a CV/GV block, and I tell them that this is because the main pathways of energy running up and down the body are blocked, draining them of energy.  Sometimes I add the fact that JR Worsley told us that if only these points were on the wrist we would do them on every patient!

On the other hand for obvious reasons I never tell a patient that I am about to clear a Husband/Wife block or do Possession treatment, because the last thing you want to do is worry the patient by giving them the idea that there is something seriously wrong with them.  With Possession, however, I tell the patient that I am doing some lovely connecting treatment, and that I need their help to make sure that they feel each of the seven points properly.  I have noticed that patients needing this treatment really understand what I mean when I say this, as though I am reassuring them that I know that they feel disconnected.  This is also a good way of describing Possession, which is in effect a level of disconnection of the spirit.

I am passing on some of my tips for what to tell patients because I wish I had been told much of what I learnt by hit and miss through my own practice.  It would have avoided some of the problems I created for myself.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Daring to think our own thoughts

However much we owe to those from whom we have learnt the most, it is one of the fundamental qualities of being a human being that each of us has the right, and I like to think also the duty, to develop our own understanding, and in so doing perhaps move what we have learnt in new directions.  This prevents us from simply repeating robot-like what we have been taught, and gives us space to develop fresh approaches.  It is natural that we will all feel daunted by the expertise of others, particularly those with many more years’ experience than we have, and this may make us believe that we have nothing original to add to what has gone before, but we each have our own particular perspective on our work.

I am thinking about this today, because of an email I received this morning.  It always amazes me how things occur very unexpectedly to move my thoughts in a new direction, this email being one of them.  It was from my lovely young Indian friend, Sujata, who lives in Bangalore.  Sujata is a keen reader of my blogs, and is herself a serious yoga practitioner, always looking for an inspiring yoga teacher to replace the one who unfortunately moved to another town and has left her somewhat bereft.

She told me about an interesting book she had just read in which the author described developments in his yoga practice.  This is what she said about his book:  

“(The writer) outlined his frustrated attempts, what the teachers had said, what he could implement or learn, what he refused to do, and how all this shaped his philosophy and knowledge.  It came at a time (a few weeks ago) when I (Sujata, that is) felt there were no more teachers here whom I could contact (after meeting a highly unsuitable teacher!) and I would just have to proceed by myself, by re-reading the old texts and practising.  It motivated me to think about things I had not thought of for a long time.”   
Sujata finished by writing:  ….It was the book about an apprentice that gave me the final push to go ahead, not the books written by masters.”

As I read this, a light went up suddenly in my mind.  I am very preoccupied at the moment in describing the many lessons I have learned over the years which have contributed to help me develop my five element practice.  What I had not until now thought of doing was to include in this writing more about the often difficult personal obstacles I have had to overcome in my practice to reach the point where I am today.  Sujata’s email has provided me with another slant on how I should pass on my experiences.  This should not just describe the valuable lessons I have learnt from others, but also the difficulties I made for myself.  In past writings I have tended to omit these, or have only briefly mentioned problems I encountered in my practice.  Perhaps the time has come, stimulated by what Sujata has written, to describe the five element journey to where I am now in more candid, honest terms than I have done so far.
This may well be a help to any reader now struggling with the inevitable confusions and puzzling situations confronting anyone starting out on the hard, but ultimately supremely satisfying road to becoming a competent five element acupuncturist.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The significance of a Husband/Wife imbalance

I remember asking JR Worsley how he would describe the onset of death in five element terms, and he gave me this very simple reply:  “A person dies when Aggressive Energy appears again and again, and a Husband/Wife imbalance can no longer be corrected.”

If we think through the H/W treatment procedure, his reply makes perfect sense.  It is always good to look at the five element chart when doing this, and trace the points we use to clear H/W on the chart itself.  When I teach the procedure I always draw a vertical line down the middle of the five element circle, separating the two sides in half.  When looking at the chart in front of us, and starting from the Fire element on the right side at the top, there are the two Outer Fire officials, the Three Heater and Heart Protector, the Earth element and the Metal element.  On the left side, there are the two Inner Fire officials, Small Intestine and Heart, the Wood element and the Water element.  Energy passes along the Shen cycle from Inner Fire, through Earth, Metal, Water, Wood to Outer Fire and on again in its endless circling.  The vertical line I draw to separate these two sides should be a broken not a straight line.  During life, the two sides must always be joined energetically, but when there is a H/W imbalance this connection weakens and threatens to break.  The point of complete separation represents death.

The Husband/Wife imbalance is diagnosed by a pulse reading which reflects a weakening of the cycle of energy, with the pulses on the right-hand side, which we call the Wife’s side, becoming excessively strong at the expense of those on the left, the Husband’s side.  (We need not be politically correct here.  The term is taken from an ancient Chinese view of the world.)  The following is the sequence of the points we use: III (Bl) 67, IV (Ki) 7, IV (Ki) 3, VIII (Li) 4, II (SI) 4, I (Ht) 7.  The sequence is important, because the first two points, Water tonification points, immediately act to strengthen the connection between the Metal and Water elements, in effect reinforcing the link between left and right sides.  They are followed by two energy transfers across the Ke cycle.  Energy is transferred from the excess energy of the Spleen on the right across the Ke cycle to the Water element on the left by needling IV (Ki) 3, and from the Metal element on the left to the Wood element on the right by needling VIII (Wo) 4.  The sequence is completed by the source points of the Small Intestine and Heart, further strengthening all the officials on the left side, and, significantly, finally including the Heart.

JR told me one day to clear a Husband/Wife imbalance on one of my patients. He returned to the room to check on what I was doing when I had only begun the procedure, and had just needled the Water tonification points.  He took the patient’s pulses, and told me that the block had already cleared.  I completed the procedure after he left the room, as I did not think it appropriate to leave it half-way through.  This made me understand for the first time exactly how important it was to re-establish a strong connection between Metal and Water.  It is when the flow of energy between them starts to weaken that we must be alert to the strain it is putting on the Heart which is now being deprived of the good energy it needs to function properly.  When a person is dangerously ill, it is this link between the officials which starts to weaken and eventually breaks completely at the point of death.  In five element terms, the weakened Kidney (the Water element no longer receiving energy from the Metal element) passes Aggressive Energy across the Ke cycle to the Heart.  Looked at in terms of orthodox medicine, this represents kidney failure inevitably leading to cardiac failure. 

We are not going against nature if we try to correct a H/W imbalance in a severely ill patient whenever we find it.  We are just doing all we can to strengthen the Heart and make the patient as comfortable as possible.  Eventually, the imbalance will not correct itself if the patient is too ill.  This is when death takes over. The Heart will be telling us when it has had enough of life.

I always find it comforting to find the explanation for the onset of death in such clear five element terms, and I am grateful that we have such simple and powerful means in our hands to treat a potentially life-threatening condition in its early stages. 



Saturday, June 30, 2018

"Bug hotels"

Glimpsed for the first time on the pavement of the busy Euston Road in central London, a little notice saying “Bug Hotel”.  I was intrigued enough to stop and read.  It said that they (whoever “they” are) have allocated two small boxed-in garden areas along the road as spaces dedicated to helping small insects survive the stresses of town life. They have filled various little containers with different types of twigs and seeds as food offerings to any little creatures, to help them fight the odds against them in such a heavily polluted area of London  This is a lovely antidote for me to all the wallowing in the misery of the world which often constitutes my daily reading of the newspapers.

Whoever had the idea to help little insects in this way should be applauded.  And I love the name “bug hotel”;  it makes me smile every time I think of it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Another profound lesson from the master JR Worsley

A profoundly moving experience which has coloured the whole of my acupuncture life occurred when JR came to my practice for a day.  He had agreed to see six of my patients at hourly intervals.  I was therefore dismayed when he diagnosed that five of them needed what we call possession treatment.  I was shocked that I had not seen this myself beforehand, for this is a long treatment, which could easily last more than the hour I had allocated to each patient.  To help speed up treatment, JR said that he would stay the whole time in the practice room with me.

The treatment protocol requires the insertion of seven needles in a certain order, each needle having to be accurately placed so that the seven act as a combination to release this block.  We were also told that the needles should be left in for up to 20 minutes.  Locating these seven points is usually quite a lengthy business.  They are spread over the body, and since a few are particularly difficult to locate, it would normally have taken me quite a long time to find the points and insert the needles correctly, but with JR standing behind me and watching me as I worked, I relaxed completely, knowing that he would correct any misplaced location.  In the event, to my surprise I located each point without any difficulty for each of the five patients.  I heard afterwards from a fellow acupuncturist who was in the room with us that at each insertion JR simply nodded his head as if to say, “yes, that’s right”, and a mere few minutes after all the needles had been inserted, he would look at the patient and again nod his head, telling me to remove the needles.  Each treatment had barely lasted five minutes, and each case of possession had cleared.

Afterwards, thinking back on what had gone on in the practice room, I was convinced that JR was guiding my hand, such was the power of the energies he must have been directing towards my patients.  In effect I felt that he was treating my patients through me, and I did not think that it was fanciful to believe this.  It is this concentrated focus of all our attention with the aim of helping our patients, like a beam of light directed at one spot, which transforms what can become a purely physical procedure, the insertion of a needle at one point on the body, into something profoundly healing. 

I also remember JR saying that he did not really need to use moxa to warm a point, because he could do this simply by gently placing his finger over the point and the patient would feel the heat.  I thought I would see if I could do the same, and to my surprise found that the patient said “Hot!” as I palpated the point and before I had inserted a needle.  This confirmed to me that there is some transmission of energy between the practitioner and the patient which can become a powerful force if directed correctly.

To persuade myself of the truth of this in a more everyday situation, I rather mischievously decided that I would test out my theory when sitting on the top deck of a bus watching the world walk by on the pavement below.  I stared hard at the back of the head of a man passing below in the street.  To my delight, but perhaps not to my surprise, the man started to look around, gradually turning his head towards the bus, before finally raising his eyes to meet mine on the upper deck.  There was no doubt that whatever impulses I was sending out had somehow alerted him that somebody somewhere was watching, and he did not stop looking until he had homed in on me.  The same thing happened when I was sitting in the cinema and noticed a friend sitting many rows in front of me.  Again I concentrated on looking at the back of her head until I noticed her growing uncomfortable and starting to look around almost uneasily, before finally turning herself round completely in her seat and searching the back of the cinema until she had located me.

If my eye could send out such powerful signals quite a distance away, I could understand that the much closer contact with a patient, both through my eyes and through my touch, could have a correspondingly greater effect.  In my training much emphasis was placed on touch and its power to heal.  If this power is added to the action of a needle, then treatment can reach a profound level of healing in the hands of a caring practitioner.



Thursday, June 21, 2018

Two more incidents confirming my belief in the forces we can draw upon in treatment

Both of these cases concerned two very ill patients of mine, each, because of the severity of their condition, unable to talk easily to me to help me make my initial diagnosis.  The first was a friend’s mother, who was in a very advanced stage of bone cancer, in great pain and with a body riddled with tumours.  I really didn’t know how I could help her, but was determined to do something.  She was lying in bed, and severe back pain prevented much movement.  This was obviously not the time to carry out even the most cursory diagnosis, and I had prepared myself for this by asking my friend beforehand to describe her mother to me in as much detail as she could.  From this I gained the impression that she might be Earth, something reinforced by the yellow colour I thought I could see on her skin, although I did wonder how far this rather unhealthy yellow was not so much an accurate pointer to Earth but the result of her illness.  

She could hardly move, but her daughter and I managed to prop her up sufficiently for me to put needles in the three upper series of points for the AE drain (Lung, Heart Protector and Heart), where a great deal of Aggressive Energy appeared as angry red circles around all six needles.  I could only hope that there was no further AE on points lower down the back which I could not reach.  As the AE drained, I was amazed to see that the patient’s initially very burnt-looking back caused by so much radiotherapy treatment gradually lots its angry red and returned to a good, clear skin colour.  After this, I cleared a Husband/Wife block, and ended with Earth source points.

When I had finished the treatment, the patient looked much more peaceful and less distressed.  I tucked her up with a kiss, and went downstairs, leaving her daughter to sit with her.  About half-an-hour later, to my surprise, my friend walked into the kitchen where I was sitting with the rest of the family, saying, “Mum is coming downstairs behind me.”  She told me that her mother had not been able to stand on her own for the past few weeks, but now felt strong enough to join us.  My friend said that this was also the first time that she had seen her mother smile for a long time.  And there was her mother slowly walking towards us.

I continued to treat the patient and from that point onwards until her death six months later her spirit never faltered, even though it was obvious to all that she had not many more months to live.  This was a very moving experience for me, because it showed me so clearly that my acupuncture treatment could help a patient cope so much better even with a life-threatening disease and even in the last few months of life.  

The second instance of what I learnt from treating a very ill patient occurred at much the same time, when I was asked to come to hospital to treat a man who had just suffered a very severe stroke.  Again the patient was too ill to talk, but I did the best I could to make a diagnosis with all my senses on full alert.  He had been propped up in a wheelchair, so I was able to take his pulses, but he could not be moved sufficiently for me to do an AE drain.  Those were the days when the thorough early training I had received had inculcated into me a rigid adherence to taking all the preliminary steps we had to take before the first treatment, and even in such a serious case, I thought that I should do the Akabane test, particularly as I thought this might show some interesting readings because there had been such a severe left-sided stroke.

Carrying out the Akabane test was not easy, although easier on the hands than on the feet which were on the footrest of his wheelchair.  By dint of kneeling on the floor I managed to do the reading on all the meridians, but when correcting the block had to be careful to make sure that the lighted moxa stick did not burn my patient, because he only nodded slightly or blinked an eye to show me when he felt the heat.  To my surprise every single Akabane reading was out, with excess readings all on one side and almost no reaction at all on the other side.  I assumed that this was the effect of the stroke.  So I set about correcting them as best as I could, remembering that we were told that often correcting just one meridian’s imbalance would be likely to correct any others that were out of balance.  And this is what happened.  By this time I  thought that he might well be Metal (from the strong Metal smell and his colour), so decided to correct the Lung and Colon Akabanes first, to offer immediate help to his Metal element in this way.  After having done this, I re-checked the other Akabane readings, and found that they had indeed returned almost to normal, with much less discrepancy between the two sides.  I also corrected a Husband/Wife imbalance I found, something I imagine may often be the result of a severe stroke (the Heart under attack), and I completed the treatment with the Metal source points.  When I had finished I was delighted when my patient suddenly said, “I feel better now”.  When I had first seen him, I had thought he was very close to death.  Now I no longer felt this.

The treatments of these two patients confirmed for me the simplicity of the five element protocols I had been taught.  It was good see how the elements responded so powerfully to the simplest of treatments, and confirmed for me what JR Worsley had often emphasized, that to treat an element it would be enough to needle its source points again and again, and we would achieve the same results “only perhaps it would take just a little longer” than if we moved on to more complex element points.

What I learned from these two treatments also convinced me that the urgency of helping a very sick patient feeds some power with us, which can raise what we do to another level.  I did not think it was a coincidence that I had somehow been led to home in on the right elements and choose the right treatments.  The words, a practitioner’s intention, are bandied about rather too blithely, but I do think that if we are focussing all our attention upon trying to help somebody, our heightened senses may well be guiding us to select the right treatment,  At least this is what I have learned.

This also reminds me of the time when a young practitioner friend of mine told me sadly, “I use the same points as you do, but I don’t seem to get the same results.”  I puzzled about this for a time, but eventually realised that he and I had a very different approach to our practice.  I was totally convinced of the power of what five element acupuncture could achieve.  He doubted it, and eventually moved on to practising another kind of more physically based acupuncture.  His doubts must have conveyed themselves to the treatment he was giving, whereas I came to realise my absolute conviction added power to the treatments I gave.  This was another of those profound lessons my practice taught me which have stayed with me to support me over the years.



Monday, June 18, 2018

Important milestones in my five element life

An experience in my early acupuncture life had a long-lasting effect upon me, because it brought me face to face with an area of life which until then I would probably have denied existed or would even have ridiculed.  These were very early days in my practice and I was still a very uncertain practitioner, often unsure of what I was doing.  I doubt if I had treated a Husband/Wife imbalance on my own before then, and found myself faced with diagnosing a case obvious enough from the pulse picture and my patient’s distress for me to be certain that this block was there.  At the time I had the mistaken idea, culled from I know not where, that it would be dangerous on a Metal patient, as this patient was, to do the part of the treatment which required me to transfer energy from Metal to Water (the Water tonification points) to help re-establish the smooth flow of energy from the pulses of the right hand to those of the left hand.  I felt that this would be going against the principle that we always need to strengthen the pulses of the guardian element, in this case, the Metal element.  In fact the rule is always to treat the Husband/Wife imbalance, whatever the patient’s element is, and then continue treatment with the source points of the chosen element, whichever that is.

I remember freaking out a little, wondering if I would be doing the patient harm by needling these points, so calmed myself by very slowly marking the points whilst trying to gather my thoughts.  I had forgotten that I had given my patient a copy of JR Worsley’s Talking about Acupuncture in New York in which he mentions the importance of treating this block.  As my fingers felt for the points to locate them before needling, she suddenly said, unprompted and after a few moments of silence, “That sounds like quite a dangerous thing that Husband/Wife imbalance your Professor writes about in his book.”  I remember sending up silent thanks to the good lord of acupuncture hovering over me, and with a sigh of relief, carried out the treatment and cleared the block, emboldened now by my patient’s unconscious confirmation that it needed to be done.  She never mentioned JR’s book again to me afterwards in all the many further treatments I gave her. 

I have always asked myself what had moved her to help me in this way.  And this proved to be the first of many examples of the power of the often hidden forces which can stir the elements to life through connections set up by something as apparently simple as stimulating the points as I mark them, or, as here, some unconscious request I must have been sending out for help in dealing with a difficult treatment situation.  I have found that, at other difficult times in my practice, help has surprisingly been forthcoming in odd ways, as though I somehow offer up a prayer for help to whatever powers rule the universe and summon an answer when I feel an answer is desperately needed, as in the case of this patient.

This is when the rational part of me, nurtured since childhood in the atmosphere of an agnostic family with no particular interest in spiritual matters, and with an unshakable trust in the power of orthodox medicine to heal, for the first time encountered something I could find no rational explanation for.  And yet my family had been prepared to welcome a rather odd cuckoo into their nest, an eminent astrologer whose writings I later learnt were evidence of a belief in much esoteric thought.  So perhaps there was something in the atmosphere at home that prepared the ground for my growing realisation that somehow my practice of acupuncture had the potential to tap into forces in the universe which lay beyond my experience so far.  The incident with my patient with a Husband/Wife imbalance first alerted me to this.  What had made her mention JR’s words about Husband/Wife at the very moment when I was unsure what to do?  I don’t really know the answer to this, but the feeling that my acupuncture practice stirs into life forces so far unknown to me or ignored by me has grown increasingly strong with my years of practice.


Friday, June 15, 2018

Publishing my "Five Element Compendium" in blog form

I find that I have written many more of my thoughts on my five element practice that have not yet seen the light of day than I thought I had.  The old Viennese astrologer, Dr Oskar Adler, who I have mentioned before in my blogs, always said that each of us has a duty to pass on whatever we have learnt to the outside world.  “We never know who will read what we have written and who will learn from it,” he said.  So in the belief that the more that is written about five element acupuncture the better, I will be using this blog increasingly to pass on my thoughts to whoever wishes to read them.

These entries will form part of what I will call my “Five Element Compendium”. The dictionary tells me that a compendium is a “package of writing”, or “one-volume handbook or encyclopaedia”, which seems an appropriate way of describing what I will be posting. 


Thursday, June 14, 2018

A lesson from JR Worsley: The importance of keeping control in the practice room

A further lesson which I learnt early on from JR Worsley was a very important one that we often don’t confront in our attempts to make the practice room a welcoming place, and that is ensuring that a practitioner must never allow a patient to take control of what goes on in the practice room.  For once we have lost control, it is very difficult to regain it.  Control can relate to many areas of our practice.  It can cover whether we allow a patient to dictate to us which points they will allow us to needle, at what intervals treatments should be spaced, whether or not we need to answer their questions about the treatment we are giving, and whether they choose not to answer our questions.  If we allow the patient to decide how the treatment will proceed, each of these situations is potentially one where we are assuming that they are the ones who know what needs to be done.  This is of course never the case, and is particularly true in the always tricky case of treating a fellow practitioner or somebody with some knowledge of acupuncture.

The following are some examples of times when I have lost control of the practice room in some way, showing how I at first failed to deal with the situation satisfactorily before finally, after hearing JR’s voice, regaining the control I was in danger of losing.

One of these changed totally the way in which I learnt to deal with patients I found difficult.  Of course we should never call a patient simply “a difficult patient”.  Instead, we should always add the words, “a patient I find difficult”, because our perceptions of people always colour our relationships to them.  A patient whom one practitioner finds difficult may be easy for another practitioner to relate to.  So it is always important to chart for ourselves what kind of situation we find difficult to deal with because often, when looked at closely, this will usually tell us more about ourselves and our own prejudices and inadequacies than about the patients themselves who we feel are making things difficult for us.

Analysed in this way, I realised that what particularly irritated me in a patient’s behaviour was often something as apparently insignificant as arriving a little late for treatment or always phoning to check the time of their next appointment, even though I had seen them enter this into their diary.  In such cases JR taught us a very simple procedure.  “Tell the patient what you find difficult”, but we must always make sure to include the words “I find” in what we say: “I find it difficult when….”   This is acknowledging that our feelings are filtered through our own perceptions.  It is then up to the patient to correct these perceptions or to agree that they are true.  This ensures that you avoid pointing an accusatory finger at them, and are instead asking them whether what you feel tallies with what they feel.

At the same time JR’s advice also taught me how important it was to confront any problem you are having with your patient as soon as possible, rather than trying to ignore it, because it is these sorts of problems, however trivial you may feel they are (does it after all matter if a patient is a few minutes late for a treatment?) which can take on a surprising level of importance out of proportion to their actual significance.  They can then cast disturbing shadows over our time with our patient.  For example, before I adopted JR’s advice, I would often be thinking during the treatment itself about how I should be dealing with the situation of the patient arriving persistently late rather than concentrating on the treatment.  Instead I might be cross at myself for being a bit too cowardly to dare say anything, perhaps fearing that I might offend them or that I was endangering the good patient/practitioner relationship I was trying to set up.  In fact the reverse would be true.  I was risking harming this relationship by the very fact that I was delaying dealing with a troubling issue which was getting between me and my patient.  And this was taking up precious time in the practice room which should instead have been spent concentrating upon the treatment.

Another layer was added to the incident of the patient arriving late.   After I had told her that I found this difficult, I noticed a slight change in our relationship which I had not anticipated.  She apologized and promised to make sure that she arrived on time, but actually started to arrive much too early with a rather defiant look on her face, as though challenging me in some way, which I found both puzzling and disturbing.  Something in the situation had obviously unsettled her.  It took me some time to realise that, instead of just accepting the simple fact that she needed to arrive on time, she had interpreted what I said to her as a sign that somehow she had lost face with me, and saw my comment as a reprimand which she was annoyed by.  She was telling me this not in words but in the rather defiant and slightly triumphant look on her face as she persistently arrived much too early for the next few treatments, as though saying, “See, I’m being a good girl now and doing what you told me to do, but I’m not happy with your ticking me off in this way.”  In effect, I felt she was acting like a sulky little child, and showing me an unexpected side to her character.  She was a high-flying business woman, and I had no doubt she was the sort of person who would always make sure that she arrived well on time for any of her important business meetings.  So why not with me?  Did I represent somebody who evoked a relationship where the roles of who was in charge were blurred or difficult for her to deal with, the obvious person being, of course, her mother, since I am quite a bit older than she is?

I may seem to be making rather heavy weather of this slight, but clear change in our relationship, but it made me uneasy enough to view her name in the diary with some trepidation, as though I knew there was yet another issue here that I was not dealing with properly.  It really felt that there was a hidden struggle for control going on between us in the practice room.  We have talked this through now, and she agrees that the situation of me being her therapist and she the patient somehow made her feel as though I had taken on the superior role, and she has always found that difficult, in whatever therapeutic situation she had been in.  And it turned out that it did indeed remind her of resenting her rather controlling mother.  I think we have now talked this through sufficiently to move on, but it has left a slight feeling of discomfort in the air between us, which I hope will be dispelled in time.
Often it is just this feeling I have that something is not quite right between the patient and me which leads me to understanding my patient better.  Sometimes, of course, the opposite can happen.  If a patient feels that we are moving on to emotional ground which they find too uncomfortable to deal with and wish to avoid, these become the times when a patient may suddenly stop treatment rather than confront what is causing the unease.  And I, as practitioner, may not be adept enough to work out a way of helping me get round this particular obstacle to treatment.

Another issue which can often cause us problems is the extent to which we allow a patient to become involved in treatment situations.  This becomes a particularly difficult area in five element acupuncture if we start discussing with our patients which particular element we have decided to treat them on.  I know that different practitioners have different opinions about the wisdom of doing this.  Some do not mind at all going through with their patient the reasons why they have chosen a particular element.  I am not convinced, though, about some of the practitioners’ motives for doing this.  Hidden deep within this decision may be the practitioner’s often unconscious need to get some reassurance from the patient about the treatment we are offering them.  We may feel we are on the right track if the patient appears to agree with our choice, or our confidence in our diagnosis may be undermined if the patient shows disbelief at our choice.  In both cases, we are in effect allowing the patient to influence the diagnosis, a bad idea when we consider that they are not trained to recognize the elements as we have been, and also because they may have a predilection for one or other element from their rather superficial knowledge of them.  By letting our patients influence our choice of element may well be because we may unconsciously be revealing our lack of confidence in our own diagnosis by drawing the patient in to help us.

I remember clearly the day during my training at Leamington when a group of students went up to be diagnosed by JR, and arrived back depressed in the classroom, because he had diagnosed quite a few of them as Earth, when they were convinced they were Fire, Fire apparently having a better press for them than what they regarded as the neediness of Earth.

This brings me to the always tricky problem which rears its head once we approach treating a fellow five element acupuncturist.  Here there is not just the compulsion we all seem to feel to support our treatment choices by drawing an acupuncturist/patient into discussing what treatment is needed, but there is the additional problem that a practitioner often has their own fixed idea about their element, assuming that somehow their own personal understanding of themselves makes them better qualified to diagnose themselves than their practitioner.  The opposite is true.  We often like to flatter ourselves that we possess emotional qualities which we admire, whilst ignoring those aspects of ourselves which have a less attractive side.  So we are not good judges of which is our dominant element, or even of the elements of our nearest and dearest.  I remember very vividly completely misdiagnosing one of my children, choosing to interpret his behaviour in a selective way which fitted my somewhat erroneous perception of him, much coloured, and I realise therefore distorted, by my love for him. 

We have to accept that all of us have a tendency to regard one or other element in a more favourable light than the others, however hard we try not to, because events in our personal lives have shaped our approach to the elements.  All this has proved an excellent lesson for me not to treat those to whom we are too close, although this can sometimes not be avoided, particularly if there is no other five element practitioner geographically close enough.  The important thing is to be aware of the drawbacks, of which there are many.