Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The symbolism of symptoms

It is always important to consider where and when physical symptoms appear on the body, and the nature of these symptoms.  If we think of the body as housing our soul, as we should as acupuncturists for whom body and soul are one, then a symptom of the body must bear a close relationship to the soul encased within this body.  I was reminded of this recently when helping a fellow practitioner with one of her patients who had been suffering for six years from a debilitating condition which affected her throat.  Not only did this make speech difficult, but it gave her the constant feeling of being throttled.  She had had all kinds of treatment, but nothing had so far helped.

When questioned about whether anything had happened at the time this started six years ago, it turned out that this was when a very much loved father-in-law had suddenly died.  This man had been very loving and caring, all that her own father, dead many years ago, had not been.  The mention of her father-in-law made me wonder what her relationship to her own father was which had caused her husband’s father to play such a prominent role in her life.  I could see that any mention of her own father caused her a great deal of stress, so probing gently a little more I discovered that he had abused her sexually when she was a teenager, something she had told nobody until now.  Without distorting the facts and the timescale in any way, it was not too fanciful to interpret the loss of her beloved father-in-law as an event which re-awakened the trauma of her abuse by her father and therefore proved the catalyst for the appearance of her throat problems.  It is likely that her father threatened her if she told anybody about the abuse, consigning her to enforced silence, in effect a form of suffocation.  This could be regarded as a possible cause for the appearance of the physical symptom of a throttled voice.

Apart from work on her element (Earth), I suggested that we add a point which I like very much, CV (Ren Mai) 22, the Window of Conception Vessel.  I feel it allows light to shine upon this most important central pathway, and, in her case, was exactly located where she experienced the feelings of suffocation.  I will find out in the coming weeks whether this first admission of the abuse she suffered and the treatment we gave her have helped her fully regain her voice.  As she left, her practitioner told me that her voice already sounded stronger and more normal.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Visit to Holland

A few days ago I spent some time visiting Mei Long in her home near Amsterdam, and looked at patients with her.  I always enjoy these visits enormously for several reasons.  Not only do I hope my visit helps her patients, but it gives us the opportunity to catch up with all the news from China.  Mei has set up a kind of very active web teaching programme, where she and the Chinese students can discuss any queries they have about treating their patients and she can answer their questions.  Whilst we were together, Mei took a photograph of us eating some of the lovely Chinese dumplings she had prepared for me.  This photo then winged its way over the ether to China, where it was seen by a group of students who sent their greetings to us within minutes.  What a wonder is modern technology, about which, despite my managing to work out how to write a blog, I still remain much in the dark.

Because Mei has set up this excellent system of inter-continental communication, I am now planning to send over some of my blogs regularly for translation by one of the students who speaks excellent English.  So far, Mei has occasionally translated a blog she thinks of special interest, but she hasn‘t the time to do more than that, so it will be good to set up a proper translation system over in China.  Even now, though, I am surprised how many Chinese readers read my blog in English, often the fifth highest number of all my blog readers.


Two new thoughts

Maturity is accepting that we have done the best we could and forgiving ourselves for what we now see we have done wrong.

We can’t alter the past, but we can alter our approach to the past.

Publication of the new French edition of Keepers of the Soul

An excellent translation of my Keepers of the Soul, Les Gardiens de l’Âme:  les cinq éléments protecteurs de l’acupuncture by Sylviane Burner, has now been published by Satas in Belgium.  If you are a French speaker or know anybody in France or French Canada who would like to buy a French copy it can be ordered from them at order@satas.com. 
The updated version of the Handbook of Five Element Practice, including the Teach Yourself Manual, and the Simple Guide to Acupuncture: the Five Elements will also soon be published in a French edition by Satas.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

It's alright to change your mind about a person's guardian element

One of the people who came to our seminar last week pointed out that I had changed my mind about Nigella Lawson’s element.  I had shown them a newspaper photo which, I told them, clearly showed the frightened eyes of a Water person.  I was reminded that apparently I had included her as an example of Earth in one of my earlier lists of famous people. 

I always emphasize how difficult it is to pinpoint a person’s element, particularly that of a famous person whom I only know from the TV.  Perhaps, indeed, it is a bit risky of me to make the selections that I do, because I can so obviously only too easily get things wrong.  But somebody has to have the courage to stick their neck out, otherwise novice practitioners would have few examples of the elements to base their understanding on.  I therefore do the best I can, however inadequately I may sometimes be doing this.  My justification here is that I now have 30 years’ experience to draw upon, whilst students have none at all, and as I always tell everybody, we owe those coming after us to hand on whatever knowledge we have acquired.

I hope that most of the examples I give, such as those of David Beckham and Elvis Presley in my Keepers of the Soul, are still valid, but if those reading what I write disagree with me, that is all to the good, because it forces them to study the elements deeply and develop their own understanding.  And in any case, until I treat a person, I am never sure that I have found the right element. 

I think, therefore, that I need to continue doing this, otherwise there would be so few examples to offer those who are unfamiliar with the elements.  It is also good that I offer myself as a living example of somebody who doesn’t mind getting things wrong and admitting to it.  As I have said on many occasions, we all need to be humble enough in whatever field we work to accept that we will get things wrong, and to have the courage to admit that we have.  Perhaps the next time I see Nigella Lawson on TV I may change my mind yet again, and opt for another element.  It should not matter if I do.  And will I mind?  No.  After all, to err is human…..

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Don't ask our patients to reassure us!

We can so easily fall into the habit of asking for confirmation from our patients that our treatment is helping them.  It is not our patients’ job to make us feel better; it is ours to make them feel better.  So we should avoid asking a question like, “How are you feeling now?” at the end of treatment, because this is usually our way of asking for reassurance.

This is why it is important to remember the following:

  1. It takes times for treatment to percolate through, so we should not expect patients to feel an immediate effect. It may takes some days before patients are aware things are beginning to change.
  2. Some people are not sufficiently self-aware to register that things have actually improved.  This may be for several reasons.  They may be reluctant to trust that things can get better, or uncertain whether things won’t just go back to being how they were.  They may also be unwilling to admit to any improvement for fear that we may start losing interest in continuing to see them.
  3. “Feeling better” is a very subjective assessment of how we feel.  As energy starts to return to greater balance, there may be all kinds of reactions as patients get used to adjusting to the changes inside them.  There is often an unsettling time as patients have to learn to cope with what may be strange new feelings.
The only things we as practitioners should learn to rely upon are our own observations of change (or no change).  We should look carefully at our patients as they leave at the end of treatment to see whether they look any different.  And these changes will always be very subtle, a slightly brighter look in the eye, a brisker way of walking, a slightly warmer smile.
I was reminded of this yesterday after I had treated an Earth patient of mine, who came in looking worried and rather depressed, and left looking as if his spirit had received a welcome uplift.  I felt that the person walking out of the door was quite different to the one who came in.  He himself said as he left, without any prompting from me, “I feel much better now”.  This was an unexpected bonus for me, and left me feeling, yet again, what a lovely, yet profoundly simple calling is five element acupuncture.
                                                       *        *        *       *       *       *
For those interested to know what treatment I gave, it was: GV14 (Great Hammer) (5 moxas), AEPs (back shu points) of Stomach and Spleen, III (Bl) 20, 21, (7 moxas), followed by the source points of Stomach and Spleen, XI (St) 42, XII (Sp) 3, (3 moxas).  When he came in, he looked so resigned in a passive kind of a way that I thought his Earth element could benefit from being given a boost from GV 14, Great Hammer, before I did the AEPs.

Monday, December 2, 2013

It's never too late......

I came across this quotation in a book I was reading.  “It’s never too late to be what you ought to have been.”  It was attributed to the writer, George Eliot. 

I like this very much, and it chimes with some of the thoughts I have been having.  We should all live our lives with the thought that today may be our last day, and, if it is, have we been, as George Eliot says, “what we ought to have been”?  So I am asking myself this question now. 

When you have been ill, as I have been (though now thankfully well on the way to full recovery), it makes you re-assess the whole of your life.  For example, the two cancelled trips to China forced me to look again at how I was going to implement my teaching programme there, and how often I would be travelling over there in the future.  And the success of Mei and Guy’s visit without me to shepherd them around has made me realise yet again the truth of the saying that none of us is indispensable.

One thing I must do is learn to leave behind those many regrets we all have for the things not done or done imperfectly (our Metal regrets).  I cannot now undo what I have done imperfectly, but I can undo how I view what I have done.  And I think this is the secret of “being who we ought to have been”. One of the greatest lessons our life must teach us is that we must learn to accept that at any point in that life we could only do what we could cope with doing.  It’s all too easy for other people, looking at us from the outside, to think we could or should have done things differently.  We could not, because at that time that is all we could do.  To accept our imperfections in this way is a necessary lesson to learn, and, once learnt, will surely help us a little further on the way to being “what we ought to have been”.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The elements as filters

I was doing some cooking a few days ago, and poured the cooked spaghetti through a sieve to drain it.  As I was doing this, the thought came to me that each element, like my spaghetti, needs a filter through which life is sieved.  I only have one kitchen sieve, but each element has its own, with its own particular mesh allowing only certain things through.

When our energies become unbalanced, some of these meshes become blocked and can no longer filter what they should. Viewed in this way, treatment for the energy blocks with which any five element practitioner is familiar, such as those for a husband/wife imbalance or entry/exit blocks, can be seen as shaking the sieve in different ways to allow it to filter what has been blocking it.

I think the concept of the elements as sieves with different-sized meshes is a further rather neat illustration to help me understand what I do.  

Monday, November 18, 2013

Publication of the new editions of my books

I am now very happy to announce the publication by Singing Dragon Press of three of my books, Keepers of the Soul, Patterns of Practice  (formerly The Pattern of Things), and The Simple Guide to Five Element Acupuncture.  The new covers can be seen at the top of this blog.
My fourth book, the much revised Handbook of Five Element Practice, is also at the proof-reading stage, and should be available in December 2013.
Details of how to order the new editions of these books are given by pressing the tab above called My Books.


I read in the newspaper this weekend the story of somebody called Freda Kelly who had been secretary to the Beatles for many years and has only just now been persuaded to write about her time with them, something she had so far refused to do.  She sounds a lovely, balanced person and I was very struck by some of the things she said, such as:

“I never wanted to write a book.  I always thought they would want the juice, the argument bit, and I don’t believe in that.”  And, after being persuaded to tell her story by her daughter, “I wanted to make a little film for my grandson … to know what his granny did in her youth.  He’s three.  I want him to be proud.”  And finally:  “I’m not obsessed with money – I only need enough to live on.”

It’s such a relief to come across somebody so different from all those famous people nowadays who think it’s alright to write (or have ghost-written) an autobiography before there is anything in their life, apart from their fame, to be written about.  In my day (such a horrid, but true expression), I thought autobiographies were only written towards the end of a life as a way of the author assessing what has happened to him or her, not as a way simply of making a lot of money.  And I notice that some famous people now write more than one autobiography, as though they view their life from a different enough perspective to make another book worthwhile.  Surely we need some distance from the events in our life before we are ready to assess this in any meaningful way?

I have often considered whether I would ever like to write my own autobiography, and always decided against it for various reasons.  The main one is that I like being absolutely honest and I dislike hurting people, so that I would hesitate to write the truth about important episodes in my life.  I can hardly restrict what I write to people who are safely dead because many of those who knew them are still alive, and may be upset by what I write.

I was struck by something Mary Beard, the classical scholar, wrote in one of the books of her blogs.  She said that she regards a blog in some ways as being both a diary and an autobiography.  As I, too, am thinking of publishing my blogs in book form, perhaps that will take the place of my autobiography.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The world is one

The world is one, now that everything that happens on this earth is known in minutes by the whole globe.  We are all connected, both in tragedy, as when we see the disaster in the Philippines, and in simple human contact, as an email I received yesterday showed me.

Guy and Mei are now into their second week in Nanning, and I received an email from Guy telling me how things are going (very well, indeed, I gather, to my great relief), and attaching an email he had received from a New Zealand acupuncturist, trying to contact me.  So there was this thread passing from New Zealand to Guy in London, which was then forwarded to Guy in China then on to me, back in London again.  And I am now going to sit down and reply sending a message back from London to New Zealand.  Through this email we have drawn a circle round the world.

This has made me realise once more how apt a description the worldwide web is.  It is both an amazing and a terrifying invention, tightly enmeshing us together, as though we do all indeed live in some spider’s web, exposed to one another in a way no previous generations were.  It links us so closely that it should make the world a less lonely place, and yet it can also distance us from one another, as increasingly we are learning to contact each other, not voice to voice, face to face and eye to eye, but through machines holding each other at bay.

And the desperate now invade our homes as we sit in front of our TVs feeding ourselves from our well-stocked larders, whilst watching poor Filippinos struggling to reach food and shelter.  Do they feel that the numerous microphones recording their tragedies and sending news of them winging through the world lessen their pain?  Or do they feel even more isolated, as though well-fed outsiders are staring at them like visitors to a zoo?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Exciting news!

I am making the big time soon in terms of my publications!  Singing Dragon Press is about to publish three of my four books in mid-November.  From that date onwards I will not be selling any more of my books through the SOFEA website.  As Jessica Kingsley, the Managing Director of Singing Dragon Press, so succinctly put it, I will thankfully no longer need to pack up my own books but can now pass this job on to somebody else to do.

Below are details for how to order the first three books:

(this was formerly called The Pattern of Things)

Simple Guide to Five Element Acupuncture\;

These three books are the same publications as before, but in an exciting new format. 
My fourth book, The Handbook of Five Element Practice, has, however, been greatly revised, and now includes an appendix which is a Teach Yourself Manual for all those who have no opportunity to obtain some formal five element training or find a five element tutor.  I have also updated much of the information about point selection, adding a list of my 60 favourite points.  It is in its final proof-reading stage, and should be published by the end of the year.

You are the best acupuncture textbook you will ever read

Following on from my blog of 17 October about practitioners being sure of their element, there is another important reason for this.  In our lifetime each of us will only get to understand one element out of the five deeply from inside as it were, that of our own guardian element – that is, unless we believe, as I do not, that we change elements during our lifetime.  That being so, we need to use this insider knowledge to our advantage, by studying ourselves closely.
I think we think we know ourselves, but I have found that, even after 30 years of close study of myself and my element Fire, I can still surprise myself with my reactions to a situation.  It is only when I look closely at a particular response of mine that I realise, often to my own amusement, how typical of the Small Intestine it is, and therefore how much new light I myself continue to shed on this aspect of Fire.
Of course, being the Small Intestine part of Fire, and therefore only too happy to sort everything which comes my way, it is inevitable that I will be particularly concerned with constantly analysing my reactions in that endlessly busy way the Small Intestine, the “sorter”, always does, but there is a lesson here for practitioners of other elements.  We are all walking textbooks teaching us in detail about one of the five elements.  By knowing ourselves well, we will therefore gain a deep understanding of at least one-fifth of the five element circle.
So to help those of you who are not of the Fire element, but who would like to understand how Fire, and Inner Fire in particular, reacts to different situations, I will keep on doing what I have done in previous blogs, and give you insights into the busy workings of my Small Intestine.  At the same time I will try not to neglect the other elements, but what I write about these will always be slightly coloured by my own element, and therefore be slightly from an outsider’s point of view rather from the inside.  Those of other elements will have to be their own textbooks for these.
Rather frivolously, I have been thinking how very convenient it would be if all five element acupuncturists could find four other practitioners, one from each of the remaining elements, so that together they can form the complete circle of the elements and give themselves the opportunity continuously to share their personal insights with each other.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Mixing business with pleasure: an example of the Metal element, particularly for those in Australia

I was watching an Australian cricketer talking on TV, and wondered, as I always do, what element I thought he was.  Suddenly I realised that his eyes reminded me of somebody.  “Who was it?”, I thought, and gradually pinned it down to the eyes of that famous English actor, Laurence Olivier, who I had always thought of as definitely being Metal, particularly because of his voice.  So was this cricketer Metal, too?  Luckily the interview was quite a long one and I had plenty of time to watch and listen to him carefully.  And yes, I decided to diagnose him as Metal, a preliminary diagnosis, of course, which was only my first hypothesis, but one that I felt as happy with as I could be after only 10 minutes listening to him and watching his interaction with his interviewer.

His eyes were definitely sad, and had that far-away, serious look I associate with Metal.  And the way he talked, too, was familiar to me as pointing me towards some of the Metal people I know.  He spoke carefully, as if he had been working through things very systematically, and he was keen to answer the interviewer’s questions in as clear and straightforward a way as possible.  There was no attempt to try to engage the interviewer in any kind of relationship, as Fire or Earth might have done.  At the end of the interview I was left with a feeling of having been in the presence of somebody very self-contained.  All of this pointed to the Metal element, I thought.

Of course you will have to be somebody as keen on cricket as those in India or Australia to track down any interviews with this particular cricketer, but for those who want to have a good example of Metal to add to their library of Metal characteristics look for anything about the Australian cricketer, Ryan Harris, that you can find.  And, whilst you are doing that, if you want a good comparison with the Fire element, you can do no better than watching the Australian cricket captain, Michael Clarke, who is an excellent example of a contrasting approach to being interviewed.

I have always enjoyed watching sport since I was a little girl and we were taken by our father to see many of the events in the 1948 Olympic Games.  Now I can enjoy this from an additional angle, not only from the point of view of the sport itself, but adding to it a bit of spice by trying to work out the athletes’ elements.  This makes my TV watching both an enjoyable and an instructive exercise.  As the saying goes, it is a good way of mixing business with pleasure.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

How important is it that a five element practitioner is sure of their own element?

One of the problems I face now when teaching students about five element acupuncture is that they are all too often unsure of their own element, and this casts a shadow of insecurity over their belief in five element practice as a whole.  I think that this has a lot to do with there being so few five element teachers around now confident enough to make a diagnosis (see my blog of 11 September), plus the understandable reluctance of even experienced practitioners to venture a diagnosis in case they step on the toes of a colleague who may be treating the student.  So there is now greater timidity about moving into the area of diagnosing than there was in the good old days when we all clamoured to have JR Worsley diagnose us with the heartfelt approval of whatever practitioner we happened to have at the time.

Gone are those days and with them is gone the certainty which this led to.  As I have often said, our particular guardian element shapes the whole of our life, including how we interact with our patients.  Not to understand the nature of that interaction is to lose much essential information about our patients and may also cloud our judgement.  It can certainly undermine our faith in what we are doing.

So I plead with all those who practise or are studying five element acupuncture to persist in their efforts to work out what their own element is, and, if they feel their treatment is not supporting them in the way they hoped, to dare discuss this with their practitioner  A practitioner must always listen if a patient, particularly another practitioner, is unhappy with the treatment offered.  As everybody knows, it will always take some time to find the right element, and all of us five element practitioners should welcome any input from our colleagues to help us in any way reach a correct diagnosis, rather than, as is all too likely, feeling threatened.

If a practitioner is unsure of their own element, how effective do we think the treatments they offer others will be, based as they will be on an underlying feeling of insecurity?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Translator's note to Mandarin version of revised Handbook of Five Element Practice

Mei Long has just sent to the Chinese publishers her translator's note to the revised edition of my Handbook of Five Element Practice which is just about to appear both in England under the label of Singing Dragon Press, and in China.  Here is what she has written:

“In the autumn of 2011, my translation of The Handbook of Five Element Practice was published for the first time in China.  This was the first time that people started gradually to learn about what at the time was still a quite unfamiliar school of acupuncture.

In the past two years, Nora Franglen, at the invitation of Professor Liu Lihong, has visited Nanning four times to teach five element acupuncture to students from all over China and the world. During all these visits, I was privileged to be able to assist and accompany her.  It was through such close contact with her that I was able to receive the personal transmission of her teachings which I will always cherish.
Nora has always said that the transmission of five element acupuncture is her calling.  There are, however, only a limited number of students who are able to receive her teachings in China.  And other considerations, such as her age and the distance between London and Nanning, certainly do not make things easier.   In order to help as many people as possible to learn five element acupuncture, Nora therefore decided to compile a Teach Yourself Five Element Acupuncture Manual, which is intended to be used in conjunction with the Handbook.  She has also revised the Handbook quite extensively, adding a whole new chapter relating to treatment and point selection.  The revised Handbook enables us not only to catch glimpses of the beauty of a long lineage and its personal transmission, but also to enjoy the inspiration which illuminates it.   The Teach Yourself Manual, added as an appendix to the Handbook, is quite simple to use, but forms part of a profound level of transmission. I believe that those who truly follow her teaching will gradually start appreciating the amazing beauty of five element acupuncture.”


Thursday, October 10, 2013

What's in a name?

I have often been asked why I call a person’s element their Guardian Element.  And my answer to this is always the same.  When I first learned about the elements and each person’s attachment to one element, we called that element the person’s CF, an abbreviation for the Causative Factor of Disease, coined by JR Worsley.  During my years of study under him it was clear that he regarded the CF not simply as the cause of disease, the place of weakness in the five element circle where illness might strike, but as the focal point for a person’s life, both as regards ill-health and health.  In other words, this element was just as much the causative factor of good health as of disease.

I like to move away from the emphasis on disease implied by the tern CF to a wider and more positive interpretation, and coined the phrase Guardian Element, because that is how I see the element we are endowed with in its widest sense.  When weak it may well cause illness, but when strong it defends us, sheltering us under its wings, like some guardian angel watching over us - hence the term.

But whether we call an element our CF, our Guardian Element or, another phrase often used, our Constitutional Element, matters not one jot, provided that we recognise that our individual character is shaped, body and soul, by that element’s features.  So you can take your pick!


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Making a book out of my blogs

My next project is to re-read my 3 years of blogs, and decide whether they would fit well into a book format.  I have read through about a third of them so far, and am surprised at how happy I would be with drawing them together into a book. 

Blogs are for a quick glance and an even quicker read-through.  They are more in the nature of offering readers a snack, a bite of information, rather than the sustaining meal of a book.  At least this is how I see them.  Since I feel what I have read so far merits as much time spent on it as readers of my books must have done, I think assembling them as a book will not only be enjoyable for me, but worthwhile, I hope, for my readers.  I always feel it is much easier on the eye to page through a book than to scroll down a computer screen, but then, as you know, I am not a great fan of Kindle and other e-books, however practical they may be.

The only other book of blogs I have read is that by Mary Beard, called It’s a don’s life.  She has written some interesting things about the advantage of a blog in the shape of a book which have encouraged me in this particular venture.  I will make a final decision when I have read all my blog posts.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Five element acupuncture on the move in China

I am delighted that plans are well-advanced for Mei and Guy to go Nanning again in November, and however sad I am that I can’t accompany them this time I am so happy that these two former students of mine are continuing with my work over there.  One of my worries has been that my recent illness has made it impossible to give the regular support for our students in China that they need to strengthen their five element understanding, so that a visit from Mei and Guy takes some of this burden from me.

We still receive encouraging news about our students’ continuing progress over there, and, as evidence of this, I give below a lovely email which Mei has just received from one of our students now practising five element acupuncture in Beijing. 

She thanks Mei for her encouragement, and goes on to say:  “ I have some good news to tell you; at the beginning the people in charge of our clinic didn’t allow me to practise 5EA, so they only let me treat those patients who couldn’t be helped by other means (herbs or TCM acupuncture). After 2 months, they saw how amazingly 5EA worked. Then I was allowed to practise 5EA. On top of that, they start charging much more for 5EA than other acupuncture. And very often they hand me the difficult and complicated cases. This is, on the one hand, stressful to me, being so young and inexperienced; on the other hand, I think people start to recognize and accept 5EA since it has proved its beauty.”

I’m so glad that five element acupuncture is now recognized as helping “difficult and complicated cases”, and is even being charged at a higher rate, presumably because it is seen as offering a better quality of acupuncture!


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

How sad that there are now so few pure five element practitioners

What a pity there are so few people now in this country or elsewhere in the world, it seems, who are just practising five element acupuncture as we were all taught it by JR Worsley.  In other words, these are people who base their practice on directing all their efforts at strengthening one element which gives each person their particular direction in life.  So many people now, it appears, mix this approach with all kinds of different add-ons, such as Japanese acupuncture, treatment of syndromes, herbs, Tuina or ear acupuncture.  Each of these can have with their own quite valid approach to balancing a patient’s health, but, when added to treatment on the guardian element, dilutes what we are offering by confusing the elements.  It’s a bit as though we are speaking one language with the elements, and then throw in the odd phrase in another language.

There are not many people now, it appears, who have the courage to attempt to pinpoint a patient’s element and then simply strengthen it by working on points on its officials.  Perhaps it sounds too simple just to concentrate on an element’s command points, with the occasional spirit point added to strengthen it.  And, then again, practitioners are often in too much of a hurry to achieve what is realistically much too quick a result, and reach too soon for other tools, instead of waiting and letting the element chosen do its work slowly and steadily.

The more we practise, the more we will find that we will be quick to recognise the subtle changes which take place when a patient’s element is fed with what it needs through its own points.   It still amazes me how quickly some slight thing about the patient will show an immediate, if sometimes tiny, response to treatment which my senses can perceive in some way – a slight change of colour, a relaxing of tension somewhere in the face, an easier relationship with me.  It is as though a different person gradually emerges as they take the tiny steps which lead from imbalance to balance.

So to any practitioner out there attempting to find their way in the profound world of the elements, I will say again, as I have said many times, learn to have the courage to rely on the patient’s element to restore health, and give yourself enough time to find that element.   Just because JR Worsley, with 50 years of practice, could home in on an element very quickly doesn’t mean that we, who have many less years’ experience, have to do the same.  It always takes time and steady practice finally to be satisfied that we have found that particular patient’s element.  There is never any need for hurry.  Patients are only impatient if they sense our insecurity.

But to end this blog on an optimistic note, how good that there are now hundreds of practitioners in China eager to learn this approach to their practice.  I was heartened to hear that one of our Chinese students, now practising five element acupuncture in a very large practice in Beijing, has so impressed people there with the amazing results she is achieving that they are very keen to find more five element practitioners to teach the other acupuncture practitioners there.  So the East is now recognizing what the West has started to discard.  It is a sad irony, but let us hope the East in its eagerness to attach itself again to its five element roots has again something to teach the West here.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Explanation for this gap in my blogs

My readers may have noticed that it has been quite a time since I posted my last blog here.  This was unfortunately forced upon me by an unexpected stay in hospital as a result of a sub-dural haematoma of the brain.  Thankfully I am now much restored, and, to general relief, including my own, my brain is unaffected.  I have been told that all that hard mental work I have been doing trying to learn Mandarin and updating my books for re-publication by my new publishers has helped to keep it active, and has actually benefited my recovery.  So roll on my next Mandarin class!
I have been advised, though, to cut back on my travels for the next few months, something I was at first reluctant to agree to, but have now come to see as sensible.  So this has brought to a halt my next planned expeditions to Beijing and Nanning for the time being, as well as one or two shorter European trips.
In whatever happens to me I always try to see the lessons life is teaching me.  Quite apart from having to deal with the after-effects of my illness on my body, the most difficult thing for me so far has been to acknowledge the fallibility of this body, and accept that I will need to take it increasingly into account as the years pass and weigh more heavily upon it.  It has made me aware, too, of how lucky I have so far been with my health, and how fortunate to have managed to do what I have wanted to in relation to my acupuncture work.  Most importantly it has given me the opportunity to spread my love of five element acupuncture as widely as I can.  More of this in my next blog.




Friday, July 12, 2013

The Bookshop Strikes Back

This is the title of a little book by the lovely American writer, Ann Patchett.  It tells the heartening story of how she and a few friends decided to open up their own bookshop in Nashville after their two small local bookshops were forced to close.
Her booklet describes the often daunting steps they had to take towards the achievement of their aim.  As she says in her final words: 
“If what a bookstore offers matters to you, then shop at a bookstore.  If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read the book. This is how we change the world:  we grab hold of it.  We change ourselves.”
I found this booklet in my local Daunts bookshop, just after blogging about The Power of just doing Stuff by Rob Hopkins (see my blog of 7 July).  I suggested to them that they should put the two books together in a prominent position in their shop, as Daunts, too, is one of the few independent bookshops in London.
So for any book-lovers out there, I suggest you grab her little book, which is published by Bloomsbury and costs a mere £1.99, the cost of a cup of coffee, and far more nourishing to the soul!



Monday, July 8, 2013

Andy Murray - Water!

What a Wimbledon final!  Quite apart from the tension and the high levels of tennis from both players, it was good for me to see the Water element so triumphantly in action.

This is what Andy Murray said about his own achievement:

“I don’t expect to ever have a harder game.  The points were unbelievably hard but it was something I wasn’t going to let go.  This is what I have been working for all these years and once I felt I had it in my grasp I wasn’t going to let it go.”

Such very Water words!

And you can have no better example of a groaning Water voice than Murray’s.

I think Novak Djokovic is Fire.  He is even able to smile quietly if things aren't going right. So whereas Fire has quenched Water several times before, in the end Water managed this time to extinguish Fire. 

There are still those two other great tennis players out there ready to engage in the battle of the tennis courts:  Rafa Nadal, Wood, and Roger Federer, Water, like Murray.  And of course Ivan Lendl is pure Metal - detached, still, judging things from a distance.

As you can see, I like to pretend to myself that I am developing my diagnostic skills as I indulge in my love of watching sport! 

The Power of Just Doing Stuff

I have just read this lovely illuminating and inspiring little book by Rob Hopkins The Power of Just Doing Stuff – How local action can change the world, and recommend it for anybody at all interested in developments which help people in their own communities.  Read it and be heartened that there are good things happening on a small but significant scale all round the world.

You can order it from the Guardian bookshop at the reduced price of £6.74 instead of £8.99 www.guardianbookshop.co.uk, or support your local bookshop and order it there, and in so doing do your little bit to help your local community.





Saturday, June 29, 2013

Further burdens upon Inner Fire

There are an almost unlimited number of outside pressures upon us exhorting us to be what we call politically correct (pc).  Those of one aspect of the Fire element, Inner Fire, like me, are particularly burdened here, since it is my Small Intestine which has constantly to find a way of dealing with these pressures.

I wrote in a previous blog (26 May 2013) about one of these pressures.  There are many others I have to deal with during the course of a day, but none so tiring, because so apparently insignificant, as what happened this morning.  This may seem to be a frivolous example of the Small Intestine at work, but, like everything our guardian element insists that we do, is also a very significant illustration of that official’s work.  So any practitioner reading this should take note, because it is only through understanding the load each official  bears as it attempts to do its work for the good of the whole that we learn to help our patients.

So to this morning’s tiny incident:  I feel very strongly that I must support my two small local newsagents, one at each end of a long street, at the centre of which, and closest to where I live, is a Tesco’s.  (This comes under the politically correct heading no 1, which is “Support your local shops”.)  I have a weekly subscription to the Guardian/Observer newspapers. (This comes under politically correct heading no 2, which is “Keep buying newspapers to save them from the threat of the internet”). 

The problem arises if 1) it is the weekend, as today, or 2) I am in a hurry, also as today, when it would, of course, be far easier just to pop into the Tesco’s just over the road.  At the weekend, one newsagent opens late on a Saturday and is closed altogether on a Sunday, and the other only opens for a few hours on a Sunday morning, so I have to remember to get there before it closes.  So today I set off virtuously on my long walk to one newsagent, forgetting that it was Saturday and not yet open, turned to walk back towards the other end of the long street, passing the doors to Tesco’s on the way.  I spent (or at least my Small Intestine spent) the 100 yards or so of this walk towards Tesco’s debating whether I would or would not succumb to laziness and pick up my Guardian there, or whether I should continue for another 5 – 10 minutes up to the other newsagent.  Giving myself the excuse that I was in a hurry, I gave in and popped into Tesco’s.  Each time I look at today’s Guardian now I feel a slight twinge of guilt.

To some people, this dilemma, which acts itself out surprisingly often, is a ridiculous waste of energy, but try to tell that to the Small Intestine. If it feels something is wrong - here supermarket chains crushing small shopkeepers - it has to do something about it, even at the cost of all the apparently unnecessary heart-searching that it has to do (and remember the Small Intestine's function is to advise the Heart to do what is right).

During the course of a day, there are many other similar examples of the dilemmas I am faced with.  These include things such as: should I buy a pint of milk from the little café I like to support but at a higher price than from Waitrose, which, as part of John Lewis, is an acceptable supermarket to buy from;  or does my little dishwasher use more water than if I wash my plates by hand;  or should I avoid walking past my usual Big Issue seller because I have just bought a copy from another one further up the road, and will he therefore think I have abandoned him?

Not to mention, should I buy my books from my small local bookshop, rather than Amazon, or, a further dilemma, through the Guardian bookshop?  Which needs my support more, the local bookshop or the Guardian?  Or should I not buy the book at all, but order it from my local library, which also badly needs my support?  (These come under pc headings nos 3 and 4, Support your local bookshop, and Support your local library.)

Oh, the burden upon my Small Intestine of trying to do what is right! 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The rewards of teaching in China

Mei has just forwarded me the following heart-warming email from one of our Chinese students.  I am passing on the flavour of what this practitioner said in her own words below:

“Today I treated a CV/GV block, and up the pulses raised! And our heart, me and my patient, was on the wings of joy. Really I can’t believe this, that the illness which has made him suffering for years will be indeed conquered by this tiny little needle?

He was very satisfied and his wife even moved to tears. Thank you so much for bringing our old treasure back to home!  Such a huge contribution.”

It is lovely for me to see our students over there putting into practice what they have learnt from us, and, as they often tell us, helping so many of their patients to a happier, healthier life.  It is such rewarding, worthwhile work.  Although I hardly need any more encouragement than I already have, this lovely feedback is further confirmation that what we are teaching falls on very fertile ground. 

I am looking forward with delight to my next visit to China, which this time will be to Beijing for a week at the end of September, where a group of very keen acupuncturists awaits Guy and me.  And after that, in November, back to our 5th visit to Nanning, to see how all those many students who have already attended previous seminars there are doing in their practices all around China.

Before that I will be visiting Berlin for the first time, to look at patients with two acupuncturists there (as well as taking a peek at the new Picasso collection in the Berggruen Museum).  And then in August on to Toulouse to meet Dr Marie-Christine Lavier, the daughter of Jacques Lavier, JR’s teacher, to hear what she has to tell me about her father, and to take further steps towards publishing my translation of one of her father’s books which Singing Dragon Press are interested in.

A busy, but happy summer and autumn ahead!


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

My approach to pulse-taking

I have been privileged to receive from Peter Eckman a draft of his latest book which is about pulses and is about to be published, like my books, by Singing Dragon Press.  I love its title, The Compleat Acupuncturist: a guide to constitutional and conditional pulse diagnosis, an echo of Isaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler (1653).  The book discusses in great detail the many, many different ways in which pulses are taken and the many, many different ways in which they are interpreted. 

This has set me thinking about my own approach to pulse-taking, best summed up, I feel, by something I said to those attending my last SOFEA clinical seminar.  In effect I told them, a bit tongue in cheek, to “forget the pulses”.  This is something I often find myself saying to practitioners in an attempt to remove some of the unnecessary burden they feel when trying to interpret pulses.  I suggest, instead, that they should concentrate on looking at the patient as a whole whose pulses are only one of many manifestations of the elements.  I always labour the point that the extreme subtlety of what these 12 pulses are telling us makes their interpretation an art which has to be honed over many years, and like all arts is a skill that is never perfected.

My approach is based upon what I was taught as an undergraduate at Leamington, where the importance of pulse-taking was never over-emphasized.  We were told simply to take as many pulses as we could (100 a month, if I remember correctly), and gradually learn to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the different pulses in relation to one another.  The aim was mainly to detect energy blocks, such as Entry-Exit blocks or those occurring in a Husband-Wife imbalance.  It was firmly drilled into us that pulses never told us what the Guardian Element (CF) was, because even if treatment was directed at the right element, it might well be this element’s pulses which showed the least response to treatment because of its role in shepherding the other elements into balance.

The famous 27 pulse qualities were only mentioned once by JR, almost as an aside, when, as part of what was apparently considered necessary to complete the syllabus, he raced through the different pulse qualities in about 15 minutes with obvious disinterest, ending with telling us, “and that’s all you need to know about the 27 pulses qualities”.  This appeared to be a doorway through which he did not think it necessary for us to pass.

Another occasion with JR had a much more profound effect on me.  I told him at one point that sometimes I felt that I couldn’t interpret anything my fingers were trying to tell me.  He said, “I know what you mean.  I will feel the same, and then perhaps a month later I will realise that my pulse-taking has moved to another level.”

These words of his hover over my fingers as I take pulses even now.  I never wait too long to try and interpret what I feel, and can even find myself talking as I take them, almost as if I want to allow my mind to do its thinking through words so that it sets my spirit free just to feel.  And then I try to add what I am feeling to what my other senses are telling me to help me interpret the signals the patients is sending me through everything they do or say.

What worries me about approaches to pulse-taking is that pulses represent one of the few aspects of five element practice where we ask for a physical response from a patient’s body.  All the other forms of diagnosis are much more ephemeral.  We can’t physically touch a smell, a sound of voice, a colour or an emotion, but we can certainly physically touch a hand to feel a pulse.  And the physical appears to provide a reassuring refuge to which we can retreat if our other senses confuse us and prove too elusive.  I have decided that this is the reason why all novice practitioners (and quite a few experienced practitioners, too!) immediately reach for the hands of the patient lying there on the couch, rather than paying attention to the patient as a whole, as though needing to anchor themselves immediately in the physical.  Sometimes I feel, rather wickedly, that this is a bit like a drowning person grasping a lifebuoy.

Except in the case of blocks, where I always try to add other information to what my fingers may be telling me, pulses play an almost subsidiary role compared with what I learn from the total picture presented by the patient.  So Peter and I, both trained in the same school, but he, unlike me, having received much more extensive training in other disciplines, have arrived at somewhat different points on the scale of the importance we attribute to what our fingers can tell us.  I am nonetheless fascinated by all those other approaches his new book covers, but which I know I may only ever appreciate in theory, not in practice.

 (See also my other two blogs on pulse-taking: The mystery of pulses, 22 October 2010, and Using our two hands, 24 February 2012)




Sunday, May 26, 2013

One of the burdens of being Inner Fire

Oh, the ridiculous unnecessary pressures my Small Intestine official can put me under!  

Yesterday I travelled by train to Salisbury, not something requiring much mental exertions, one would think.  But with every train journey I take comes the moment as I walk along the platform when I have to decide whether I want to head for the carriage with the quiet zone, and opt for a journey theoretically free of people talking loudly on their mobiles, or just sit in an ordinary carriage and suffer.  As everybody now probably knows, I absolutely hate mobile phones, however necessary they have become, not only because of the complete disregard for other people their owners show, but also because they are increasingly cutting people physically off from contact with one another - ironically, because they are intended to do just the opposite.   So do I suffer a journey interrupted by the endless pinging of mobile phones, and forced to listen to conversations I have absolutely no interest in, or do I sit in a carriage in peaceful silence? 
Except it is rarely silent, I have found.  What usually happens is that somebody, finding that there are more seats available here than elsewhere, plonks themselves down without seeing where they are sitting, and immediately switches on their phone.  Then there comes the moment when I look round to see if any other occupant is as annoyed as I am, which they, surprisingly, rarely are.  So I am forced yet again to gesture to the signs on the window, to be greeted usually, not by an apology, but by irritation, with the speaker either hurriedly grabbing his/her bags to go to another carriage or walking through the carriage to the area beyond the door still talking loudly.
And this may happen not once but twice during a journey.  And if it doesn’t happen, then at every station along the route, as new passengers come, in I tense myself for another such encounter.  What an utter waste of my energy!  Wouldn’t it be far better for me, plagued as I am with bad hearing, just to turn off both hearing aids and sit in utter silence wherever I choose?  But I know that when I take my next train journey, I will go through the same rigmarole.
It is on occasions like this that I would love to be any other element than Inner Fire, so that I could allow my poor Small Intestine simply to relax and enjoy the journey, rather wasting so much time sorting things out in such an unsatisfactory way.  But sadly, I often think, it can never truly relax, as it sifts and sorts, sifts and sorts, to protect the Heart.



Saturday, May 25, 2013

Revising my books for re-publication

It has been a very interesting exercise for me re-reading my four books as part of the process of revising them for re-publication by Singing Dragon Press (see also my blog of 8 May).  First, I am happy that they are going to keep each other close company in terms of the design of their covers, because all will now have one of Hamish Horsley’s lovely photos on them, as the Handbook now has.  Anybody who came to Mandela Street or comes now to our clinic in Harley Street will recognise another of his photos, that of the students gathering together on the hillside outside their monastery, which is to go on the Simple Guide.  All four covers now have the same house style.

And beside the covers, there is what is inside them, my writing.  Luckily, and to my surprise, I felt that the only book which needed some work on it was the Handbook, a careful reading of the others confirming that they still expressed what I wanted to say.  The Handbook was another matter, and has made me think deeply about its content, particularly as this new edition is going to include my Teach Yourself Self-Help manual as an appendix.

Writing the manual highlighted areas which I felt the Handbook touched on too lightly, and sometimes even in a somewhat confusing way, and these related to points and point selection in general.  Amending one section had a knock-on effect on other sections, and has often led to a change in chapter order and content.  My poor translators, Mei Long for the Mandarin version, and Sylviane Burner for the French version, will have some work to do to bring the Chinese and French editions into line.  I haven’t yet dared tell my Russian translator, Zare Melyan, about the changes (although if she reads this blog, which I think she does, she will now know this!).  In a week or so I fly off to Holland to sit with Mei for a day and go through the new version with her.

But the exercise has been a very productive one, because it made me go back to first principles, and work out exactly the process by which I translate my well-known mantra of “the simpler the better” into point selection.  After many a redraft as I honed my ideas more clearly, I now have a version with which I am pleased.  

The publication date for the new edition of the Handbook will be the end of the year, with the other three books appearing a little earlier.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Two humbling experiences

I have been very humbled by two experiences I have had in the last month or so, one as I left China, and the other on my return.  Both are heart-warming reminders to me of how fortunate I am to do what I do. 

My Chinese experience came on the last day of my stay in Nanning.  My host, Liu Lihong, wanted to find out how each of the 60 students who had attended our two weeks of seminars had found them.  So we asked each one in turn to tell us.  What astounded me, and I hope pleased Liu Lihong, was the group’s unanimous expression of overwhelming delight in what they had learnt and how amazed they were at the compassion and understanding we showed the many patients whose treatments they observed.  This was a facet of practice apparently totally new to them, and opened a fresh window for them onto the importance of developing a warm patient/practitioner relationship.   

My other example, from the other side of the world here in London, illustrates just this important aspect of our practice.  It comes in an email from the practitioner who has been telling me of her experience in treating a terminally ill cancer patient over the last few months of his life, and how profound an effect this has had on her (see my two previous blogs on 27 Feb and 25 March).

Although she was sad to have to report her patient’s death, she sees her time with him in the most positive light.  With her permission, I give below her description of what the experience has meant to her:

The past months since his diagnosis in January this year have been a real roller coaster for him, both physically and emotionally. Things took a dramatic turn for the worse last Wednesday and I feel so relieved that his suffering and strife were not prolonged further and that he is now truly at peace.

I feel very privileged to have been invited into this person's life. His very obvious Wood CF was very refreshing to me, though not without its challenges to his nearest and dearest.  His thirst for information about his treatments and acupuncture as a whole was a delight and not at all threatening to me - he was extremely open to the whole Chinese medicine ethos and it could be said that he was rather unorthodox in his beliefs and actions, and extremely proud of the fact he was too!

His openness, honesty and need for straight talking could have easily come across as slightly abrasive, but for me it made the whole subject of cancer and death very accessible. At a time when some would feel the need to avoid or skirt around what is a very difficult subject, I felt able to talk candidly to him without fear of overstepping the mark or holding back, in order to say what needed to be said.

You have often said, Nora, how you learn so much from your patients. My relationship with this patient has been a very emotional, memorable and powerful lesson - but most of all, very humbling indeed.”

As with my patient Martine, about whom I wrote in the last chapter of my Pattern of Things, experiences such as those this practitioner had to learn to deal with touch us at the deepest level.  They leave us much changed, and by this change open us up to greater understanding of the needs of our patients. 

Both these experiences, from different parts of the world, remind me once again of the common thread which runs through all of us.  Whatever tribe, race, country or continent we come from, the five great fingers of the elements hold each of us in their grasp, shaping the deepest aspects of ourselves and giving us a common humanity.