Sunday, March 30, 2014

We all want to be heard

I am off to China again with Mei and Guy in a week.  And as usual before I go, I like to think of what stage I have reached in my own approach to my practice, and what will be the main theme around which we will build the two weeks of our seminar over there.  The title which came to my mind this morning was: “We all want to be heard”.

It sounds so simple, put in that way, but actually it is one of the most difficult things of all for us to feel secure enough in our relationship to our hearer to have the courage to open up sufficiently so that what we say reflects truly what we feel, and therefore what is heard by our hearers is truly what we would like them to hear.  What is so important for a good five element practice is that a patient must feel they can reveal what they are really feeling whilst knowing that what they reveal  is being heard and understood properly.  All too often, even in the caring professions, patients’ words become distorted by hearers’ preconceptions. 

So my two weeks with my Chinese students will centre around the importance of allowing a patient sufficient space and time to feel emotionally safe with us, and ensuring that for our part we do not cast our own shadows over our patients so that what we hear is a distortion of the reality.  When a patient feels that what they are telling us is being heard as they want us to hear it, this allows the elements within them to express themselves freely. When we cloud a patient’s elements through incomprehension, we will not perceive them as they truly are, and will therefore be unable to respond to their needs.  Elements can so easily disguise themselves, and, like snails under attack, draw back into their shells when they feel misunderstood.  And this inevitably distorts our diagnosis.

I will use these thoughts as the foundation for our two weeks in Nanning.  This is all the more important because Chinese culture places no emphasis on the importance of allowing patients to open up emotionally, and Chinese practitioners have to be encouraged to dare take their first tentative steps in this direction.  I well remember an incident from a previous visit to China, when an acupuncturist asked me, “But how do I learn to talk to my patients about their emotions?” 

I hope that after a further seminar with us she will be given some more help on how to do this.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The stresses caused by inequality

I am reading a very interesting book at the moment, The Spirit Level: why equality is better for everyone by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.  It has made me think a lot about the particular stresses of modern life, and whether different countries are subject to different stresses.  Since I am off to China again in a couple of weeks, it has become particularly relevant for me to look at what stresses we in this country are exposed to compared with those of the Chinese.

I am fascinated by the main message of the book which is how much extreme financial inequalities, such as those now experienced in this country, affect everybody, not just the poorest.  I was interested to see, for example that it was noticeable how local communities reacted in different ways in New Orleans in response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, in contrast to the Chinese response to its devastating earthquake in 2008.  In the much more settled local communities in China there was much greater cooperation and help for the survivors than in New Orleans, with its very deprived communities, where looting and violence were the norm.  Sadly, of course, as China, too, becomes an increasingly unequal society, with the rich now becoming the super-rich, the support of a local community is becoming as rare as in this country, where the rich are now holed up in their large houses behind barriers, and the poor hammer at the gates with rage. 

All this increases the stresses of modern life in terms of mental health, alcoholism, obesity, infant mortality, the crime rate and much more, but equally affects those living behind those barred gates to a surprising degree.  This is a terrible downward spiral, encapsulated for me in the headline yesterday in the Guardian newspaper which states baldly “Divided Britain:  Five families own more than poorest 20%:  Handful of super-rich are wealthier than 12.6m Britons put together”.  Such enormous discrepancies in wealth, the authors of this book say, are the direct cause of some of the most complex types of modern illness, called, somewhat wittily, “anxiety disorders”, “affluenza virus” or “luxury fevers”, as the status anxieties that a consumer society fosters in everybody cause increasing levels of stress, unknown by me as a child during and after the second world war, when we didn’t go shopping for ever more tantalizing goods because the shops were empty.

Nor did we feel the lack of this at all.  I remember quite happily listening again and again to the few gramophone records we had, and reading again and again the few children’s books we had, and not feeling deprived at all – rather the reverse.

The message obviously is that where there is satisfaction with our lives, whether we are poor or rich, the healthier and happier we will be.  And the more status stress we cause ourselves by trying to emulate all the acquisitive habits of the rich (their clothes, their homes, their furnishings), the more illnesses we will suffer from.  There is a lesson here for acupuncturists, since our aim must surely be to help our patients live as peaceful and as fulfilled a life as possible.

Do read this book.  It opened my eyes to many reasons for the increasingly stressful environments we live in now, and made me understand why the enormous inequalities we see in the world today inevitably lead to increased ill-health.  We need to strive for greater equality for the sake of the health of all, not just of the poor.

This reminds me again of what my Indian friend, Lotika, asked me:  “Why do you in the West want to be happy?  We just accept.”  And this is what even the poorest Indians sleeping on the streets do, as I observed them as they smilingly made way for me on the pavements, and pointed out helpfully where I had to go as I stood waiting for a taxi at Delhi station.  I learnt a lot from that.  I could not imagine the same thing happening in this country now.  It is more likely that, in the same situation, far from being offered help, my handbag would be snatched from me.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Today's dummy culture

Why do all babies seem to need dummies now? This question often occurs to me as I watch babies passing me on the street, all lustily sucking on dummies, or as I watch parents shove a dummy back into their offspring’s mouth even when the baby is not crying out for it.  Years ago, dummies were frowned upon;  it was thought instead that if babies cried they should be given the warm nipple with its natural supply of comforting food rather than the unpleasant cold plastic variety which gives a baby nothing, however much the baby tries to suck from it.

I find it interesting to speculate why the dummy has become such a universal accessory to a baby’s life.  It worries me that babies now grow up being sold an illusion, tempted to believe, as the dummy goes in the mouth and stimulates the sucking reflex, that it will provide food, whilst it does nothing of the kind.  It is a bit as though you offer somebody what appears to be a sweet in a lovely wrapping, only for them to find when the wrapping is undone that there is nothing inside after all.  It can surely not be healthy to keep on disappointing a baby in this way.

It is little wonder then that so many people have problems relating to food in their later life, since all eating habits start in childhood, as we know.  In five element terms, this shapes a person’s relationship to their Earth element, the mother element.  The provision of nourishment for her child, which is a mother’s first task, should always be associated with  the love and warmth of being held close to a mother, not the stuffing of a surrogate plastic nipple into a baby’s mouth.

As I watch babies sucking feverishly on their dummies, my heart bleeds for what this is doing to the development of their Earth element, and their capacity to nourish themselves later in life.  And perhaps, too, this goes some way to explain the sight of so many adults streaming along the road to work, all carrying their dummy-replacements, a plastic cup of coffee, as though they, too, have been brainwashed since childhood by the need to have something, anything, in their mouth to suck on.

Just as babies can’t nowadays seem to do without a dummy, so adults can’t seem to do without a cup of coffee in the hand.




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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Encroaching upon the space of others

I am increasingly aware of how people appear to have less and less respect for the space of others.  I am sure this must somehow be related to the increasing immersion in mobile phones as people walk around, which cocoons them in a private world.  In the last few days I have noticed how often people walking towards me in the street, talking on their phones, or, worse still, texting with the undivided attention this requires, have often been so oblivious of my approach that they have bumped into me, or simply expected me to move out of the way.  This is particularly noticeable when it rains, and umbrellas are added to the mix. I then not only have to take avoiding action but have to duck under the outstretched umbrellas of those so unaware of me.

With mobile phones there is increasing interaction with people far away from us and increasingly less with those who are a mere few feet away from us.  This must surely impact upon human relationships, as it does upon the pleasure I take in a simple walk along the street.






Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A talk for the British Acupuncture Council's Annual Conference in September 2014

I have been asked to give the keynote address at the British Acupuncture Council’s Annual Conference at the end of September 2014.  I hesitated a little before accepting, since giving public talks is not what I wish to do now (except in China!), but then I decided to accept because what I have been asked to talk about is my role in the return of five element acupuncture to China.  And that is something I feel very passionate about.

I have to provide a title for my talk, and two have so far occurred to me:  “Five element acupuncture comes full circle” and “The return of five element acupuncture to its roots in China”.  Probably I will decide on a title which brings these two thoughts together.

The real impetus to my accepting the BAC’s invitation is my strong belief that everybody involved in acupuncture, particularly those practising what I call modern Chinese acupuncture, commonly known as TCM, should be aware of how little of the spirit is involved in its practice, whereas how much of the spirit is there in the classics which all Chinese acupuncturists still learn as though by rote.  This leads to a kind of subtle schizophrenia in relation to their practice, where, my Chinese students tell me, no attention at all is paid to the spirit, despite it being so heavily emphasized in classical texts.

I feel the return of five element acupuncture to China is an important step towards bridging this unnecessary divide.  And it is regarded as such by all I encounter in China.  As one very senior regional official told me as I treated him, “We have lost our soul in China.  We need you here.”