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.
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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.