Monday, April 25, 2011

The unknowability of another human being

I think that each of us harbours illusions about our ability to empathize with another human being. To do this entirely would mean stepping out of ourselves, out of that envelope which encloses the unique qualities which define us, and stepping into that of another person. The nearest we can get to this is always to some extent an approximation. Even with somebody with whom we think we are very close, such as a family member, we may think we understand what they are feeling only to be taken aback, as I have been on numerous occasions, by something they say or do which appears to be “out of character”. It is only so in our eyes because we have given them a character which in some respects is not true to them, but is defined by our own perceptions.

The important thing here is to accept as true that we cannot know another person as we can know ourselves. Since a part of another person is therefore always unknowable, we need to take this into account in our dealings with them as acupuncturists. In other words, we should always respect the unique inner core in another human being to which we can never have true access. The patients themselves do, however, have this access, and will open the door to themselves once they are convinced that we are to be trusted not to abuse our position, or to tread with clumsy feet on such delicate ground. We must therefore allow the patient to lead the way, and it is up to us to follow where they lead.

Little wonder, then, viewed the extremely delicate and complex nature of our first interactions with our patients, that the chances of our getting it wrong are surprisingly high. It only needs one unwise word uttered at the wrong time for the patient’s Heart Protector to slam shut the gates to the Heart, creating difficulties in our future relationship with them. Far better, then, not to be too hurried in our approach, but allow both the patient and ourselves time to orientate ourselves around each other.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The onset of summer always disturbs me

People are often surprised to hear how reluctantly I welcome the longer days of spring, which for me herald an even more disturbing season, that of summer. Until I learnt about the elements, and about mine in particular, Fire, I could never understand why this was so. Now I can. I see this as a sign of the pressure building up on my element as the energies of nature change in response to greater warmth, first from the uplift Wood ushers in with spring, and then the full blast of summer’s warmer days.

You would have thought, I always said to myself, that I would feel increasingly comfortable as my own Fire energy started to receive its boost of increasing yang energy from nature outside. Why, then, does the reverse appear to be true? I find part of the answer to this lies in the feelings of threat I experience as the world out there starts to throw off its clothes to greet the sun. Everything and everybody then opens itself up more, exposing itself to the gaze. And this is the crucial point, I realise. People are everywhere around me, not hidden away as in winter, and this abundance of people can represent a kind of hidden challenge to a Fire person, because of the abundance of potential relationships it offers, as though its Heart may be overwhelmed as it tries to respond to the demands made upon it.

This may seem fanciful, almost incomprehensible, to anybody who relishes the summer, but then I myself cannot understand why people dread the start of colder days in autumn, which I welcome with a kind of relief. Each season will always represents a challenge of some kind, whether welcome or threatening, to those of that season’s element, because of the accumulation of energy it brings with it.

Of course, I realise, too, that my response to summer will always reflect the state of balance in my Fire element. I live in hope, therefore that one day I will float from spring into summer, welcoming it with open arms, as others appear to do. “Maybe this year,” I say to myself.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Two more of my favourite books

I love being able to tell other people about books that I have enjoyed reading, and, more importantly, have taught me something more about human nature. Here are two more, quite different ones.

I don’t know how I came across Louis Sachar’s Holes, probably through one of those lists of people's favourite books. I gather that Louis Sachar is really a children’s writer, though Holes, like the books of Jacqueline Wilson, is really for everybody, and perhaps particularly for hard-bitten, life-weary adults, for whom reading about what can make life so precious is a powerful antidote to reading any of today’s newspapers. He has apparently written a follow-up book to this called Small Steps, which I have yet to read.

I always find it difficult to describe what a book is about. I have no memory for facts at all; I have difficulty remembering the name of the author, the name of the book or plot of a book, even the country it is set in, but I can always remember the feeling of a book, and, as now, if it is a good book, of something powerful having been added to my life. So the only way I can describe Holes is to say it is a kind of a myth about children despatched to some corrective establishment in some desert place, which is presumably America, but could be anywhere in the world, and the relationships of the children to each other, and, in particular, the beautiful relationship which develops between two of the children.

My second book of the day is by the travel writer, Colin Thubron, To a Mountain in Tibet. Obviously, from its title, I know which country this book is about, and the mountain is Mount Kailas, the Holy Mountain for both Buddhists and Hindus. Colin Thubron is neither, but he is certainly what I, with admiration, call a spiritual man, and the book can truly be called a spiritual journey in the deepest sense.

I found both these books uplifting, a word I use sparingly, because so very little is uplifting, but which I always think of as meaning something which helps me raise my eyes to what lies beyond and above.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Recognising the Water element

Another practitioner asked me to look at one of her patients yesterday, and I found it interesting afterwards to think through what had gone on in the practice room which eventually led me on to my diagnosis of Water and away from the other elements.

I met the patient in the reception room for a brief exchange of greetings, and observed a quickness of movement, a rapid shake of the head, and an equally rapid dart into the practice room ahead of me. As she went to lie down, I mulled over whether this had taught me anything. I did not feel that she had looked at me at all, and this made me put both Wood and Metal at the bottom of my pile of elements. Wood, I felt, would have made direct eye contact with me, and Metal would have given me a feeling of somebody sharper, more defined, certainly more likely to observe me, rather than of somebody wanting to escape from my presence. So that left Earth, Water and Fire.

When she was lying on the couch I noticed that she shifted quickly away from me as I sat down next to her, and withdrew her hand as I put mine on hers. By now, I thought, Earth would have snuggled into the couch, and would be holding my hand tightly as though drawing me towards her. There was none of that feeling here. So what about Fire or Water? She smiled warmly, laughed quite a lot, perhaps a little too much, but failed to continue to warm me after the smiling stopped, as I would have felt with Fire.

So now I was left with one element, Water, and at last I could feel things falling into place. I observed my own reactions, and noticed that I was surprisingly unsure of myself, as if I didn’t know quite what to ask and what approach to take, a sign of the nervousness Water tends to make us feel, as a projection of its own anxiety. Added to this, I could see signs of fear in the rapid eye movements as she glanced quickly at me and away again. And, finally, I thought that I could smell something wet in the room, which is my own way of experiencing Water’s smell. On colour and sound I got no particular feedback to help me.

So with Water we started our treatment. What I suggested was very simple, but as always, profound, because we had first to clear a Husband/Wife imbalance. Then we ended with the source points of Water. She looked different as she left, showing that indefinable difference which is often the only evidence we may have at the end of treatment that a patient’s guardian element is revelling in receiving the treatment it needs.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Desert Island Discs with Martin Sheen: BBC Radio 4 Sunday 3 April 2011

Occasionally, all too seldom, we hear something that lights up our day, and this interview with Martin Sheen on  BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs did that for me.  I found to my surprise that he has always been a political activist for the rights of the under-privileged and marginalised, and been arrested more than 60 times for his activities. 

Then he said one of those things that make you sit up and cheer. Asked what he gained from being so politically active, he said, “I do it for myself, not to influence anybody. You do it because you cannot not do it and be yourself.” That is a statement we should all ponder upon. And it made me think that I, too, in quite a different area, am professionally active for five element acupuncture, and I "do it because I cannot not do it and be myself."

I also loved the fact that he refuses to join a private golf club, and queues up to play on public courses because he “deeply resents” a sense of privilege. Much after my heart, too, he said that he listens to a lot of classical music, and that if he hears Mozart when he is driving, he goes past his destination until the Mozart has finished, because “I cannot bear to stop Mozart”. What he said about his drug-taking, alcoholic son, so much in the public eye at the moment, was also extremely moving.

Altogether a lovely man. Try and hear the programme which you can download from BBC i-Player if you are in this country.

And if you are interested in a marvellous example of a Fire person, you can do no better than to listen to his laughing voice, an extremely clear example of Fire in full enjoyment of life, but with an acceptance of all life’s sadnesses.