Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Interesting insights into the Water element

I have just received from a former patient – all the way from India –the following fascinating insights into how the Water element feels.

She has always been very interested in five element acupuncture, and sees a similarity in approach to Ayurvedic medicine, which she studied for a while. She has been following my blog with interest, and was stimulated enough by my last comments on Fire to send me her own impressions of the kind of pressure Water exerts.

“Water has its surges (like tides I think) but will often feel unsure of its approach even when it is at a high (or communicable) state, even reaching out is filled with uncertainty and hesitation and the fear that the other person may not understand one's intention. There is no intended push (as in Wood) or pull (as in Earth) but just a kind of narrowing of a gap, an attempt to fill up some empty space or distance as water might do in nature itself. But it is done with wariness and the first sign of it not being recognized for what it is is enough to make it draw back and move elsewhere. This is a rather strange tendency and now that I can see it, I try and be less judgemental about people and about my own reactions.”

Monday, August 29, 2011

The energy of Fire

In the past few weeks I have become very aware of the Fire element, particularly as here in England we hardly seem to have had a summer before late summer is in the air, and even, oh horror, so early, a hint of the autumn to come. Perhaps my own Fire element has craved more of the warmth and sunlight it needs to fill it before its season passes, but, whatever the reason, it is at Fire that I find that I am looking with somewhat new eyes.

For what I have noticed increasingly, in a way that I did not do before, is the sheer energy this element shows in all it does, like a spring within it always coiled and ready to be released at each new encounter with the world. It is even there in its smile, an outpouring of warmth towards others, very unlike the timid, passive or more withdrawn smiles of other elements. I don’t think I had realised until now quite how much yang energy is contained in this most yang of all elements, whose season, after all is high summer, the yang high-point of the year.

I think we often regard Fire as being a gentle element, perhaps because we believe that the love that it brings to bear on all things is a gentle emotion, which it so rarely is, just as Fire is far from being as gentle as the impression it likes to give of itself. I have recently been looking at videos on YouTube of famous Chinese people to take as examples close to home for when I teach in China, and this is when I was struck, so unexpectedly, by the weight of energy pouring out in all Fire’s movements. Watching yet again the Chinese pianist, Lang Lang, it is so vividly clear in the way he plays. Through his playing he reaches out forcefully to the conductor in front of him, the orchestra around him and the audience beyond him, almost as though trying to capture them with his joy. I compared this with other pianists I know, some of whom will sit quite still and withdrawn at the piano, so yin-like, as though communing silently with the music and apparently, during these moments of their playing, unaware of the world beyond them.

So if you are a five element acupuncturist and are trying to work out ways of recognising Fire, watch out for the energy you feel coming towards you. And then learn to compare this with the very different energies of those other two powerful elements, Wood and Water. Wood does not try to share anything with you in the way Fire so ardently would like to do, but wants more to force itself on to you. Water’s energetic thrust is much more elusive, being apparently so gentle at one moment, and then, like flood water, sweeping you aside in its rush to survive.

I am always delighted to discover yet again the elements’ ability to surprise me with the variety of ways in which they reveal their differences.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The delight of unexpected words

Yesterday I spent an hour wandering through an exhibition at the British Library of that much under-rated and under-read writer, Mervyn Peake, of Ghormenghast fame. And I give below three lovely quotations of his for those who read this to ponder a little.

I particularly love the first, which echoes why we five element acupuncturists always, always, start, not, as is the unhappy custom now, from the Lung, but from that much more important organ, the Heart, which is numbered One in our Roman numerology of the 12 officials for that very reason.

“To live at all is miracle enough…
…. When every heartbeat hammers out the proof
That life itself is miracle enough.”

....“Neither be afraid of the unorthodox subject nor in finding delight in the contemplation of commonplace things. Anything, seen without prejudice, is enormous.”

....“For it is one’s ambition to create one’s own world in a style germane to its substance, and to people it with native forms and denizens that never were before, yet have their root in one’s experience. As the earth was thrown from the sun, so from the earth the artist must fling out into space, complete from pole to pole, his own world which, whatsoever form it takes, is the colour of the globe it flew from, as the world itself is coloured by the sun.”

Monday, August 15, 2011

An illuminating article by Heiner Fruehauf all should read

I have just read Heiner’s article on Chinese Medicine In Crisis: Science, Politics, And The Making Of “TCM”, which appears in the August 2011 newsletter of his website .  This is an update of his 1999 article with the same title.

I give below his opening sentence and the quotation with which he heads his article:

The latter half of the 19th century and through the end of the 20th century has been a time of great political, economic, cultural, and scientific transformation in China. Chinese medicine, the shining gem of traditional science, has had to endure many assaults in this process, sinking the field into a quagmire where it had to fight bitterly for its own survival. This course of events can be called “The Century When Traditional Chinese Medicine Was Tied up in the Straightjacket of Utter Delusion.”
          –Li Zhichong, Director of Chinese TCM Association, 2002

Heiner writes that his article “is based on the conviction that the traditional art of Oriental medicine is dying – both in mainland China, home of the mother trunk of the field, and consequently overseas where branches of the tree are trying to grow.”

I think everybody who wants to gain a deeper understanding of the current state of traditional Chinese medicine throughout the world will find something to ponder about in this article.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Now China, here I come!

Everybody interested in the future of five element acupuncture will share my delight that it is now making its way back to China, carried first on the wings of the Chinese-language edition of my Handbook of Five Element Acupuncture, which will be in Chinese bookshops in a week or so, and then by my own presence in China. I have been invited over there at the end of October by Professor Liu Lihong of the Clinical Research Institute of Classical Chinese Medicine attached to the Guangxi College of Traditional Chinese Medicine. He is a colleague of Heiner Fruehauf, who many of you will know as the author of the very important article Chinese Medicine in Crisis (Journal of Chinese Medicine No 61, October 1999). You can also see Professor Liu talking to Heiner on the website Professor Liu encouraged Mei Long, a Chinese postgraduate student of mine, now living in the Netherlands, to translate the Handbook.

I will be flying first to Chengdu, then to the Guanxi College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Nanning to teach a group of acupuncturists there for about a week. I will then fly on to Beijing to give a seminar at the large international conference which Professor Liu is organizing. He regards this as a very significant step in the important programme of re-introducing five element acupuncture to China and re-attaching Chinese acupuncture more firmly to its traditional roots. (Heiner’s article is a very good introduction to the background to this.)

It is a great honour to have been invited by him and to have been recognised by him as an important contributor to his work.

(You can also read a fuller background to this visit in my blogs of 1 June, 2 August & 8 November 2010 and 16 June & 7 July of this year.)

At the same time I am continuing my translation for Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallée of her 101 Notions-Clés de la Médecine Chinoise (101 Key Concepts of Chinese Medicine), which brings together many of her teachings of the classics of Chinese medicine over the years. It forms a fascinating companion to my own recently-started studies of Mandarin. I feel it is important that I can at least greet and thank my hosts in China in their mother tongue! As a former linguist, I have always felt it was a pity that I did not have enough time to study Mandarin in depth, and am happy now to be able to remedy this, with the incentive of my China visit spurring me on.

On the domestic front, it is also good to have news of the phoenix rising from the ashes of CTA in the form of the Acupuncture Academy starting soon in Leamington, appropriately the birth-place of five element acupuncture training in the UK. I have visited their new premises, and wish the Academy every success as it launches its innovative new course. Dublin, too, is going to have its own five element college. It is good to be able to report good news of this kind for five element acupuncture, both here and in the wider world, at the end of a difficult year on the acupuncture front.

More blogs about my visit on my return from China.

Zaijian! (Goodbye!)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

We can only cope with what we can cope with

As I get older, I hope I get a little wiser and also a little more tolerant of my own inadequacies. And one of the snippets of wisdom this year has taught me is contained in a mantra I now say to myself, “We can only cope with what we can cope with”. It’s no good our being cross at ourselves or at others for doing things which, at the time or with the benefit of hindsight, we know are not wise things to do or to have done. It is difficult enough working our way through the stresses life presents us with without adding to them the weight of too much guilt when we feel that our actions have been misguided. I think it is therefore good to get used to telling ourselves that that is all we could have done at the time.

It is a particularly useful lesson for me as a five element acupuncturist, because understanding what any particular patient can cope with is another one of the subtle ways of tracing the imprint of an element. When we realise, for example, that Metal cannot cope with the sort of things Fire can, or Wood with what Earth can, we are on our way to understanding a little better what makes the different elements tick.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The art of asking the right questions in the right way

Since seeing a new patient for the first time last week I have been thinking a lot about what is the right and what the wrong way of saying things. Twice I found myself asking a question awkwardly or saying something clumsily, but realised this in time, and quietly re-phrased what I was saying in a way that satisfied me.

The first time was when I asked my patient, “Are you happy with your life?”, and realised immediately that this was not the right way to frame the question. I then changed it quickly to, “How happy are you with your life?” Thinking back on this, I realise that my initial question gave my patient only the option of saying “yes” or “no”, either reply being unlikely to reflect the truth, since nobody is either truly only happy or only unhappy about all aspects of their life. Such a black and white question makes it easy only to respond with a black and white reply, leaving no room for all those grey areas in which we live our lives most of the time, sometimes happy, sometimes unhappy, but never either of these all the time.

The second time was when my patient told me that she was going back to Ireland to see her family for the first time in 4 years, and I found the words, “How lovely”! How exciting for you!”, coming to my lips, before I bit them off in time, and asked instead, “Are you looking forward to this or are you dreading it?”. My first question was like one of those meaningless interchanges we litter our social life with and which mean absolutely nothing, such as, “How are you?”, “I’m fine”. It would effectively have closed the door on any hope of hearing how my patient actually felt about seeing her family after such a long time. Why had she left it so long, after all, if it was an easy relationship? Ireland, unlike Australia, is easy to travel to.

On such little shifts in the way we frame our questions and responses to our patients often hangs the development of a good or tricky relationship with our patients. I still myself remember the time when a friend told me that she was surprised that I had reacted as I did to something that had happened, and said, “I can’t understand why you didn’t…….” That effectively stopped me from telling her anything more about myself, because I felt I was regarded as a bit odd for being as I was. Instead of being offered an implied criticism, what I would have responded well to would have been to have been asked why I did what I did.

And we must make sure that our engagement with our patients, too, gives them the freedom to tell us truly why they did what they did and felt what they felt. We must never assume we know the answers to this. Only our patient does.