Sunday, February 27, 2011

CSO and E

I have always had a problem with teaching students how to learn to recognise the presence of an element through the four famous sensory indicators of colour, sound, smell and emotion (CSOE). I know from my own experience that it has taken me many years to perceive some smells, colours or sounds, and then pin on them the label of one of the elements. Even now, after more than 25 years sniffing at my patients, looking closely at them, listening closely to them, I may still not be able to pinpoint exactly what that particular smell, tone of voice or colour is. I have always felt that I am on much surer ground when I look at emotions, and not just those five emotional categories we have divided the elements into, but the whole emotional weight we carry with us which impacts with a jolt upon those we meet.

Of course we can sift this down into the small words of joy or grief with which we label an element, but our emotional make-up is much more all-encompassing than just whether a person looks happy or sad, since it is the overall impression of the whole of our inner emotional life which pours out from us in all that we do. And since we have all reacted to the emotional impact of other people from the day our mother first smiled at us with love (at least we hope it was a smile and not a frown!), this is the elusive quality with which we are, I believe, more familiar than the way we may or may not have reacted to the colour upon our mother’s face, the smell of her body or the sound of her voice. Of course these, too, will have affected our responses in some way, particularly perhaps the sound of her voice, but, unless we are blind or deaf, we are unlikely to continue to be as aware in such depth of all the other sensory signals as we are by the signals we detect with our emotional antennae.

I don’t think I am the only one to have learnt to rely more on emotional feedback than on that from my other senses, because I see the difficulty those new to five element acupuncture have in seeing, smelling or hearing anything which can help them differentiate between the elements. They appear to be able to attune their emotional responses much more quickly as a way into the landscape of an element. This being so, I think it is a bit unfair for students to be expected to give all four sensory indicators equal weight to start with. One consequence of implying that they should be able to do this is that this is likely to make them feel disempowered from the start, and the whole aim of any training must be to empower.

I certainly felt disempowered in those early days as I attempted to see anything which could be called a colour on the areas of the face I was told it apparently showed itself, the side of the temples and round the mouth. This is not the where I see colour particularly even now, but instead I have gradually recognised it as imparting an elemental sheen over the whole body. I use my rather red Fire hand as comparison, and by placing it anywhere on the patient’s body I can see another elemental colour appear on the patient's skin in quite startling fashion, and there before me now lies a bright yellow body or an ashen white body. If, on the other hand, I lay my hand on a Fire patient, the red of my hand softens into a more gentle pink, as the patient’s skin and my skin seem to meld together in harmony. (For any practitioners reading this, try this out yourselves.  The leg is an unobtrusive place to do this. You will learn a surprising amount about colour from this.)

Obviously there are people who have better vision, smell or hearing than I have. These are fortunate people. I remember that we had somebody in our undergraduate class who picked up smells with remarkable accuracy, but that was an unusual trait. How we envied him as we struggled to smell anything!

So all people out there trying to trace CSOE on their patients, take heart. It will take some years, but gradually the ability to see quite marked differences seeps into us, so that now I can walk in the street and be shocked at how clearly I may see a very green face, or hear a weeping voice talking in the bus. If we try too hard, though, our ability to distinguish these subtle differences appears to fade. It is far better to let the sensory impressions float towards us. And if, like me, you feel you can more easily diagnose which element a person belongs to through the emotions they evoke in you, then this is a perfectly valid way of starting to pin down the difference between elements, as the emotional signals everybody sends out raise an echo deep within us.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Changes to my Five Element Acupuncture Treatments blog

I am repeating here a blog I have just posted on my Five Element Acupuncture Treatment blog.

"By now readers of  my blog will have got a good idea of the kind of simple treatments I do. And if they have not, then I suggest they go slowly through the treatments again. I think, therefore, that I will spend more time explaining the importance of specific areas of practice, as I have done with the last entry, Patient 24 Wood. You will see that I have gone in detail through the importance of doing an Akabane test and correcting any imbalances found. The Akabane correction is an effective and quick way of helping correct any discrepancies in energy between the left and the right sides of the body. Any marked imbalance is often the reason why one-sided symptoms occur. For details of how to carry out an Akabane test, see my Handbook of Five Element Practice, page 62 (available through our website

In my patient, for example, I found an excessive build-up of energy in four meridians which run down the hand to the fingers, and this was particularly marked in the two, the Small Intestine and the Heart, which pass over and through the pisiform bone, which is where she is experiencing pain. Having corrected this imbalance during this first treatment, I will be interested to see whether the patient notices any improvement in the pain she is experiencing in her right wrist. This pain can be viewed as being the result of an excessive accumulation of energy on the right side of her body with a resultant depletion on the left.

I will also be interested to see whether clearing the SI/Bl block will have relieved a similar kind of build-up, this time around both eyes. I view symptoms of the kind the patient was experiencing, which were excessively runny, red-rimmed eyes with buzzing in the ears, as a sign of a blockage to the flow of energy as it tries to pass from the end point of the Small Intestine at SI 19 at the ears to the first point of the Bladder at Bl 1, at the corner of the eye.

A glance at all the 24 treatments I have listed so far will show how important I regard clearing entry/exit blocks as being, and how often they appear. Clearing them is like releasing a tourniquet, or opening a sluice gate to a dam. The pain at the points can often be quite sharp for a time, as the renewed flow of energy pushes past where it was dammed up, but the relief felt can be enormous and immediate. Many physical symptoms simply disappear when we do this.

It is also important not to forget that a block also represents blocked energy at the emotional level, too, which is potentially much more debilitating than a purely physical block."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Mystery Within

I have just read the following in Sujata Varadarajan's blog from India, which I would like to share with everybody involved in healing work of all kinds.  She writes:

"We all need reminders. This time, mine came through my friend Nora. She wrote describing how she believes that what goes on inside each of us is a mystery and cannot be read in entirety through graphs and chemical tests.

It's something we forget, more so after visiting conventional doctors or hospitals. Modern medicine, in its desire for objectivity and rationality, has lost sight of that which brings about healing and balance - the inner spark of which we know little. There are some exceptions, a handful of doctors, some books (my favourites being 'Love, Medicine and Miracles' by Dr. Bernie Siegel, a surgeon at Yale and the 'All Creatures Great and Small' series by James Herriot, a vet. who worked in Yorkshire) and a few films (eg. Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, Munnabhai MBBS) to remind us that medicine is not about statistics, it is about individuals. Illness and health work in ways that are not as well understood as doctors would like us to believe.

As I visit hospitals, I see many kinds of illnesses on the rise, notably those to do with endocrine and reproductive health and lifestyle related problems. And I see the patients - people of all ages waiting patiently ('patient' is apt here!), many showing signs of stress, frustration or despair. And I think once more of what I would do if I were running a centre to tackle these kinds of problems.

I would definitely rope in an acupuncturist, a masseuse and a yoga teacher to help release some of the physical and mental stress. I would create a separate room for discussions for patients- with each other or in a group, as they please (have you noticed how isolated or pressurized some of these people look? And how their faces light up at the sight of a smile, even though it comes from a stranger?). A library with books and music to help them while they wait. And last but not least - lots of clean bathrooms and plenty of drinking water. And sit back, wait and watch those 'healing statistics' soar as each person feels better in his own way."

Wouldn't it be lovely if people could be greeted, as Sujata would like them to be, with smiles and love and care, rather than with the cold informality with which hospital and doctors' reception desks now usually greet us?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Matters of life and death

Sometimes we come upon a quotation which sets us thinking. This is what happened yesterday, when I started reading a lovely book, another one of those books that have opened up my mind to further thoughts. It is a biography of Michel De Montaigne, the 16th century French essayist, and the man who coined the word “essay” (“essai” means “attempt” in French) which every schoolchild now uses. The book is by Sarah Blakewell and is called How to live – a life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts, a lovely title in itself.

Apart from stimulating me to plunge back into Montaigne’s Essays, it brought me this quotation from his writings:

“If you don’t know how to die, don’t worry. Nature will tell you what to do on the spot, fully and adequately. She will do this job perfectly for you; don’t bother your head about it.”

And this stirred another memory for me, taking me back to the first time I read Sogyal Rinpoche’s The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, a meditation on where we should place death in our lives. The quotation below from the end of the 20th century gives me much the same feeling as Montaigne’s words from the 16th century:

"Dying is no problem. It will happen quite successfully. It's how we die."

What both have in common is an acceptance that the advent of death is a natural event and something we should slot into our lives, rather than as something which is to be viewed as a dislocation, an abrupt, unwelcome ending to be feared. As an acupuncturist I have had to learn to deal with the death of patients of mine, and have had to work out my own approach. It could be thought, as I did at first, that a patient’s death is proof of the failure of my skills, but then I came to understand that I did not hold life and death in my hands; that if it is ordained, by whom and for what purpose we will never know, that a person’s life has run its course, then it was my task to help make that ending as fruitful and serene as possible, rather than to lament the fact of its ending.

I find both the words of both Montaigne and Sogyal Rinpoche comforting, bringing death and life into a kind of companionship, rather than viewing them as enemies.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A very acute comment about the difference between Wood and Metal

I have a friend of mine, Maja, to thank for the following comment which I think is worth passing on for people to mull over:

“For Wood people, death is far away. For Metal it is very close.”

Friday, February 4, 2011

Building up a library of the characteristics of the different elements

Often without our being aware that we are doing so, we gradually build up a list of the characteristics of each element by which we have learnt to recognise them. These are like our own aide-mémoires, our short-cuts which lead us to an element. It is worth our while to think a little more about this, as 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, as it were, 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, I find, 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.