Saturday, June 25, 2011

“Protecting oneself from the eternities”

I have spent the last days re-reading one of my favourite books, The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim. If you haven’t read it, and want to emerge from the last page smiling and at peace, then do. It is a beautiful, heart-warming book. (And the film they made of it, surprisingly, recreates this warmth and beauty wonderfully.)

And, as usually happens when one reads, up popped some words which echo so much that I feel expresses my wonder at the depths and awesomeness of human life.

“She pulled her wrap closer round her with a gesture of defence, of keeping out and off. She didn’t want to grow sentimental. Difficult not to, here; the marvellous night stole in through all one’s chinks, and brought in with it, whether one wanted them or not, enormous feelings, - feelings one couldn’t manage, great things about death and time and waste; glorious and devastating things, magnificent and bleak, at once rapture and terror and immense, heart-cleaving longing. She felt small and dreadfully alone. She felt uncovered and defenceless. Instinctively she pulled her wrap closer. With this thing of chiffon she tried to protect herself from the eternities.”

Perhaps we can never truly protect ourselves from the eternities, nor should we. We should be awed by them, often frightened by them, but always, always acknowledge their presence.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Meetings with remarkable people

I am fortunate to have had that part of my life, the part into which five element acupuncture burst like some spray of stardust, its second half, illuminated (not too strong a word) by two remarkable masters, both of whom, in their differing ways, moved my life onwards in a different direction, but to me, looking back now, somehow in a pre-ordained way.

The first was JR Worsley, the second now is Liu Lihong. The first led me deep into a world of the spirit which has informed my acupuncture practice ever since. The second has only just appeared over my horizon, but is just beckoning to me from that vast region of the physical world which is China, and from that vast region of the spiritual world which is Chinese thought embedded deep in its past, the thoughts of the Nei Jing, of Lao Tse and of all the long and ancient lineage of practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine.

I started my acupuncture studies because I was curious to understand the profound reactions awoken in me by my own treatment. I only encountered JR Worsley late on in my studies, but my further studies with him, his visits to my practice and my many visits with my patients to consultation days with him deepened my understanding of his profound contribution to moving acupuncture forward into the modern world and widening it to encompass the psychological insights this modern world has provided. He represents the first stage of my encounter with acupuncture.

The second stage starts after I closed my acupuncture college a few years ago, and this was followed by a gap in time before the next part of my acupuncture life began about a year ago. It was then that I met Mei Long, a young Chinese acupuncturist practising in Holland, and my acupuncture path moved forwards in a different direction, this time towards China (see my blogs of 1st June, 2nd August and 8th Nov 2010). Mei has now completed her translation of my Handbook of Five Element Practice into Chinese, and it is now in proof form (it looks beautiful), awaiting an introduction to be written by Liu Lihong.

And here we come to my second important encounter, that with Liu Lihong, which took place at the Rothenburg Conference a few weeks ago. Having written a seminal book, Reflections on Traditional Chinese Medicine, which Mei tells me is a bestseller in China, he is determined to bring back to traditional Chinese medicine the spirit which has drained from it, and sees five element acupuncture as representing that spirit in the field of acupuncture (he is a traditional herbalist). He is encouraging me to come to China once my book is published over there, which should be in the next few months. So as one door closed upon my life as a teacher in this country, the next, beckoning me to continue my teaching in China, now opens for me. My acupuncture life has indeed been fortunate to have been blessed by two such important encounters with remarkable men.

Finally, lest anybody should think that it is only men who have taught me the great lessons of life, these encounters were preceded by one which brought to an end the first half of my life, for this part of my life was illuminated by the insights of a very great woman, Anna Freud, Freud’s daughter. She died just before I encountered acupuncture, and she would have been delighted to know the direction my life took not long after her death, for she was always encouraging me “to do something big”. I think I now dare say, a little hesitantly and I hope with due humility, that I have now done what she would have liked me to do. I am sure that without her encouragement I would never have dared do what I have done or write what I have written, including this present blog! Nor would I have been ready to accept the challenges my life has offered, and might instead have been tempted to turn my back upon them as I would have done in earlier days.

I give thanks for having been granted the rare grace of encountering three such remarkable people, each of whom in some way changed or is changing the direction of my life.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A lesson in humility

Without our being aware of it, we tend to overlook the shadows our own element cast over the patients we are treating, and which therefore inevitably to some extent distort the signals our patients’ elements are sending us. We all have one (or more) weak spots in recognizing specific elements, and if we are to be good practitioners we must learn to accept this and take this into account in any diagnosis we make. Mine is definitely distinguishing between Fire and Earth, something I find I have in common with many other practitioners. I see that this comes from the fact that both elements, in their differing ways, need people, and therefore respond to people with some eagerness.

In my case, I have come to see that one of the reasons for this may lie in the interaction between my own Fire element and Earth people and other Fire people, and the way in which my own Fire responds when confronting the needs of these two elements. My Fire need is to relate closely to each of my patients, and I will be tempted to interpret the warmth with which both Fire and Earth will respond to my warmth as though filtered through what I call my pink Fire spectacles. But Earth’s and Fire’s responses differ, as we know. Earth responds more because it is glad to be offered understanding, Fire more because it is happy to bestow warmth upon the practitioner. Both interactions will make my own Fire element happy, but for different reasons. With Earth I am pleased to see that my offerings are being so warmly accepted (we could say, taken in and swallowed), and I will bask in the warmth my Fire patients offer me.

The direction of movement is quite different in the two cases. Earth’s is to move back and take in, while Fire’s is to move forward and give.

I have been thinking a lot about this ever since a fellow practitioner said to me recently, “You know that famous film actress with the large smile? I see her as so typically Earth, with that mouth which you, Nora, have often called an Earth mouth, open like a baby bird crying out for food.” She was talking about Julia Roberts. I was taken aback because Julia Roberts is somebody I rather blithely included in my list of what I considered to be Fire people. Was it possible that my fellow practitioner was right, and was that, perhaps, the reason why Julia Roberts doesn’t actually make me feel warm inside, despite the great smile? So off I went to look at her on You-Tube, and indeed, when I looked more closely and more carefully, what I saw was somebody who demanded something of me, rather than somebody who gave me something.

This reinforces one of my mantras. Never allow yourself to be lulled into thinking you are absolutely certain about a person’s guardian element, but always keep open the possibility that you may be misinterpreting the signals coming from their elements. And always, always, remain humble and ready to learn. The uniqueness of each person is not easily encapsulated within the all-encompassing meanings contained in. one of five words, Wood, Fire…..

Friday, June 10, 2011

All the little relationships the Small Intestine is asked to enter into

A conference like the one I went to at Rothenburg in Germany last week, with its 1000 participants, makes special demands upon my Small Intestine. The little mediaeval town is overrun with acupuncturists, making it extremely likely that the person you pass in the street will be a fellow acupuncturist. This presents a particular challenge for anybody who is Inner Fire, like me, for every contact with another person, however fleeting, offers the potential for a tiny relationship to be formed. Each person I passed in the Rothenburg streets therefore placed a slight strain on my Small Intestine as it asked itself how wide it wanted to open the doors to my Heart, or whether it was wiser simply to look away and not engage.

These constant challenges to my Small Intestine meant that it could never really relax, for if it does so it would feel that it is abdicating its responsibility to protect the Heart. Luckily, the meetings with good friends of mine who were also there helped to lighten the load. When I was with them, all was well, my Heart beamed with joy and my Small Intestine could at last relax. But never entirely, however, for it is such a necessarily restless aspect of Fire, and always has to be on the go, sifting and sorting, sifting and sorting.

In an idle moment I sometimes wish I were another element! And if I had a choice as to which one, I think it would have to be Metal, so quiet and self-contained, so able to cut itself off from people without a second thought. It would have no such problems as I have in deciding who to smile at and who to ignore. But then I know that it, too, will of course have its own different, but less people-centred stresses.