The individual site we know of as a point has been endowed since the earliest days with a (nearly) unique Chinese name about whose meaning there is much learned debate in those circles which boast a knowledge of ancient Chinese. It might be considered simple to use a point’s name as the basis for treatment, without reference either to the meridian on which it lies or to its anatomical position. This represents to me a crude form of point selection, if used as the main basis for selecting what treatment to offer, for it is to take a point out of the context of the body as an interconnecting globe of energy pathways.
Since I have started translating Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallée’s work on Chinese point names, I have become increasingly aware of the complex issues surrounding the meaning of point names discussed in the many classical texts she examines. This has helped me recognise that there are wide variations in meanings attributed in these texts to the same point names. They also show many differences not only as to where some points are located, but also on which meridian they are to be placed.
If there is so much debate in the classical texts, it is understandable how much all of this shades over into the even more complex area of the translation of names into other languages. Linguistic purists may complain that the English (or French or German or Japanese) words may eventually bear little or no relation to the original Chinese character upon which they are supposedly based, but such changes are inevitable, given the journey from culture to culture and from language to language that these names have made. This being so, I think, for my part, that a study of the original Chinese characters, fascinating and illuminating though this is, may well best be left to the historian and the linguist, if I, as a practising acupuncturist, am not to be overwhelmed. What I feel is the most important to me clinically is the rationale underlying my point selection, and how far some idea of the meaning of a point’s name helps me in this choice.
Every practitioner will have absorbed a number of points into their practice which they feel comfortable to use, and it is likely that this list will contain points with which we have grown familiar because of their use in the tradition we have inherited. The important thing here is that we develop an understanding of our own concept of the meridian network, with an internal logic we can justify to ourselves as we choose individual points. We must place our point selection in the widest context possible, and develop our own rationale for the points we select. Nor must we forget how many layers of learning seep into us from all the many different people we have learned from, who are trained in the discipline which shapes the branch of acupuncture we inherit. All these different pathways of learning, including what personal interpretation we make of a point's name, together go to form a kind of individual acupuncture heritage, and coalesce to form the understanding we have of what points to choose, making point selection always into a very personal journey of adventure.
The important thing here is to be prepared at any stage to widen both our repertoire of points and our perceptions as to when to use a point. I have often found that another practitioner will mention to me a point they use which may be one that I have never thought of using, or one that has somehow dropped off my radar. Adding this point to those I select from then reinvigorates me, refreshing my practice, much as if I am putting new flowers into my practice room. Our practice needs constant stimulation with new ideas of this kind if it is not to grow stale. This is one of the reasons why I like writing about acupuncture, because thinking about what I want to write makes me examine every aspect of my practice with a fresh eye, as though coming new to it.