Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What I have learnt from my recent visit to China

I always find it reassuring to receive confirmation of the universal nature of human qualities.  This is something we usually take for granted in everyday life. Politicians, for example, assume that those they negotiate with experience the same feelings they do, and are as horrified by the same injustices acting themselves out in far-flung places in the world out there as other politicians are.  We think, too, that ordinary human folk, reading of tragedies such as the recent loss of the airliner or the ferry disaster, will be able to understand the sufferings of the bereaved at one remove.  Unthinkingly for the most part, we assume that what others round the globe experience as suffering or joy mirrors our own experiences of suffering or joy.

Since as a five element acupuncturist my working life revolves around attempts to understand just what makes my patients suffer or be joyful, I am made particularly aware of my assumption of the universality of human emotions when I go to China, from where I have just returned.  I wrote in a previous blog on 30 March, “We all want to be heard”, which was about what I was expecting to be the focus of our seminar over there.  I can now truly say that not only did the Chinese acupuncturists show that they did indeed hear what their patients wanted them to hear, but that their responses to their patients reflected an increasing understanding and ability to respond to their patients’ emotional needs.

There were about 70 acupuncturists at the seminar, of whom half were new to five element acupuncture.  It was heart-warming to see how well those who were now practising five element acupuncture had integrated into their practice what they had learnt before.  The comforting impression I returned with was a mixture not only of deep satisfaction at how many acupuncturists are now treating only with five element acupuncture, but – and this is perhaps the most surprising aspect of it all – how much easier I always find it handing on my knowledge to Chinese acupuncturists than I used to do to my English students.  As I told them in China, “you are all already halfway there compared with European (and presumably also American) students, because an understanding of the elements is deeply embedded in all of you from the day you are born, whilst non-Chinese students have to learn what is initially an alien language from scratch.”  I well remember an English student asking me at the end of her first year at SOFEA, “but how do you know that there are things called elements?”

It is therefore a continuing delight to me to see how much of what I want to convey to others about the wonder of the elements’ presence within all of us is understood by my Chinese listeners almost before I open my mouth to speak.  I notice how relaxed this makes me feel, as though I am wandering in a landscape with familiar landmarks, rather than the often difficult terrain I have had to negotiate over the years as my five element beliefs encountered the surprisingly sceptical opinions of my TCM colleagues.

I am very fortunate indeed to be accompanied on my visits to China by two very dedicated fellow five element acupuncturists, Mei Long and Guy Caplan, Mei from the Netherlands and Guy from here in London.  We have now been together over there twice as a group, and Mei and Guy have also taught there once more without me in November 2013 when I was recovering from my recent illness.  We act as a very unified group, each of us having slightly different roles which complement each other.  It helps that Mei is Chinese and can speak without requiring the help of a translator.  I’m sure this is a welcome relief from the inevitably interrupted communications which Guy and I make as we wait for our words to be translated.  Again we were lucky to have two very good translators to help us, Caroline and Nuha, both themselves acupuncturists, and I noticed this time how many of the group understood more English than they admitted to, laughing at my jokes before they were translated.  I think there is quite a lot of English study going on during our absences.

And there were many jokes.  We had a very happy time indeed, working hard and playing hard, too – many lovely meals out, some Karaoke evenings, and a festive atmosphere as though all of us were enjoying a holiday together.  And this is how I think the Chinese group view their time with us, as one long drawn-out holiday experience.  In a way, I do, too, returning refreshed and stimulated by the enthusiasm and warmth with which we are surrounded throughout our time there.

I am only just getting used to carrying my own bags, too.  In China, I was not allowed to carry anything at all, a small group waiting patiently for us in the hotel foyer every day at whatever time we emerged from our rooms, ready to grab my bags and lovingly accompany us the 100 yards or so to the centre where we taught.  I can’t remember the last time anybody helped me carry my bags in England!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A lovely Picasso saying

I have just come across something which Pablo Picasso apparently said:  “One starts to get young at the age of 60.”

I love that.  I am many years older than Picasso was when he said that, but I quite understand the feeling.  And it sends me off to China today very young in heart, if slightly creaky in body.