Sunday, December 28, 2014

2015 New Year's Wish

As 2014 draws to a close, signalling the end of another year of my life, I am made increasingly aware of the steady passing of time, like the annual tick-tock of the clock of my life, a form of countdown to its end.  I don’t find this a morbid thought – quite the reverse.  It just sets me thinking about what I still have to do, and gives it additional urgency.  This is becoming all the more pressing since my body is finally admitting to its increasing age, with the gradual diminution of all kinds of faculties I have so far taken for granted, foremost among them my hearing.  This has always been a problem and is beginning now to affect my social life to the extent that I have to consider before joining others how far my struggle to hear what people are saying will affect my enjoyment of their company, and no doubt their enjoyment of mine, as I have to ask them to repeat what they have said.  And then there are my creaking knees, about which the less said the better.

But, and here is the flipside to this, all these physical problems which are after all minor compared with what many people are forced to suffer, persuade me that I have in a way to hurry up and do all that I feel I have to do before my body compels me to a full stop.  Certainly my mind appears to be more active than ever (at least nobody has so far dared tell me if this is not true!), though as all of us notice as we grow older, our memory, particularly of names but certainly not of faces, begins to suffer.  My sister, two years older than me, told me recently that she wanted to pack in as much travelling as she could “whilst I still can”, and I, too, want to do as much as I can whilst I still can.  But the big question is not travelling, which I am continuing to do quite happily (off to China again in April for my 7th visit), but what to write!

The book of my blogs, to be called “On being a five element acupuncturist”, will appear in bookshops in January, and I want to organize a book launch for it, as a way of celebrating its completion but also as a good pretext for inviting many people from my days as Principal of the School of Five element Acupuncture with whom I have lost contact in the years since I closed the school.  I hope the reception room at our Harley Street clinic will be large enough to hold everybody.  But after that, what?

I feel bereft without the project of another book to work on.  Blogs such as the one I am writing now certainly help me formulate my thoughts, but I ask myself whether I have anything left to say about five element acupuncture, or is it more about life that I need to write?  (And as I ask this question there flashes through my mind an odd thought about the way the Fire element walks which was stimulated by watching Rory McIlroy, the golfer, in a re-run of some of the highlights of the Ryder Cup this year on TV.  Remembering this is prompting me to write another blog about the elements.)

At midnight on New Year’s Eve each year I make a pledge to try and complete a further aim which I set for myself for the coming year.  I now only have about three days between now and the end of the year to discover what this year’s wish will be.  Will I manage to do this this year or not?

Happy end to 2014

I like to end my blogs of 2014 on an optimistic note.  And what could be happier in an age where people seem obsessed by ever more useless consumerism than to hear of the generosity of people towards those consigned to the bottom of the pile.  In London some of these are eking out a living selling the Big Issue on the streets.  I have my own familiar group of Big Issue sellers for whom I keep a stash of coins ready in my pockets as I walk around London, but I found myself in an unfamiliar part of town walking past a seller I had not seen before.  As he smiled at me, I asked him whether his takings for that day had been good.  “No, “he said, “it seems that everybody is just hurrying past to do their Christmas shopping.  But I must tell you about two lovely things that happened to me a few days ago.  One of my regular customers came rushing up to me on his way to fly off abroad for Christmas, and pressed a £50 note into my hand.  And not long afterwards, another person gave me £20.  That was my lucky day, wasn’t it?”

And I, too, was the surprised recipient of other people’s kindness.  In one of my favourite coffee shops, I decided to give myself a pre-Christmas treat of various goodies, and then asked for the bill.  The waitress said, “I don’t think you will be needing that,” and returned, not with my bill, but with a Christmas card from all the staff with my name on it.  I don’t know how they found out who I was, because I usually pay with cash, but I must once have paid with a credit card with my name.  And they refused to let me pay for my little feast.

So there is more generosity around than there often appears to be on the surface.  I left both the Big Issue seller and the cafĂ© with big smiles on my face.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

The curse of the mobile phone

I have written before about the way in which I think the use of mobile phones and other electronic equipment is having a negative effect upon human interactions.  I am reluctant to condemn all these new inventions because in many ways they are miracles of human invention, but it is hard for me to see their good in a world now increasingly peopled by automaton-like figures peering into their screens with never an eye raised to acknowledge the presence of those they are passing by.

If you become used to allowing the demands of the mobile phone to control your life in this way, I wonder how this will affect human interactions in the long term.  More and more people now appear to be compelled by their insistent ringing tones to give mobile phones priority over everything else to the extent that they allow them to interrupt whatever social interactions are taking place at the time.

I was reminded of this at a restaurant I went to last week, where the owner said that she was quite happy for us to sit on as long as we wanted after we had finished our meal, because she was so pleased to find people who had not spent the whole of their meal shouting into mobile phones, as her other guests often do. She is appalled at the way these telephone conversations are conducted at high volume without consideration for other diners, but said, “I can’t tell people they mustn’t use their phones because I would lose too many customers if I did”.  Recently I heard the story of an irate diner, who, plagued by the incessant loud mobile conversation at the table next to his, had simply got up, grabbed the phone and thrown it into a large bowl of flowers where it bobbed about helplessly. “You’ve spoilt my meal, “he said, “so now I’m spoiling yours”.  I certainly often have a strong inclination to follow suit, but I’m not sure I have this man’s courage.

There appear to be very few people left who would still consider it rude to interrupt a conversation with a friend to answer their phones.  And if we increasingly ignore those that are physically close to us as we respond to the demands of those disembodied voices on our machines, what effect will that have on human relationships in the future?

Why the need, too, for so much hurry?  We have become slaves to these tiny machines.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Yet another beautiful quote

“In every important way we are such secrets from each other, and I do believe that there is a separate language in each of us, also a separate aesthetics and a separate jurisprudence.  Every single one of us is a little civilization built on the ruins of any number of preceding civilizations, but with our own variant notions of what is beautiful and what is acceptable – which, I hasten to add, we generally do not satisfy and by which we struggle to live.  We take fortuitous resemblances among us to be actual likeness, because those around us have also fallen heir to the same customs, trade in the same coin, acknowledge, more or less, the same notions of decency and sanity.  But all that really just allows us to coexist with the inviolable, untraversable, and utterly vast spaces between us.

Maybe I should have said we are like planets.  But then I would have lost some of the point of saying that we are like civilizations.  The planets may all have been sloughed from the same star, but still the historical dimension is missing from that simile, and it is true that we all do live in the ruins of the lives of other generations, so there is a seeming continuity which is important because it deceives us.”
                                                              Marilynne Robinson: Gilead   

I have just read this lovely book, from which I take this quote.  There is much both in the book and the quote that I don’t really understand at first reading, and yet I know that it is teaching me much about life.  I love what she says about our being “such secrets from each other”, and being allowed “to coexist with the inviolable, untraversable, and utterly vast spaces between us”.
It is always such a delight for me to read a good book and discover a new author.  I now find that she has written two sequels to this book over a number of years, one called Home, which I am just starting and the other just published called Lila. 
I am always slightly suspicious of writers who seem to churn out books at rapid intervals, probably urged on by their publishers, and I always feel much more secure when I find that a writer’s books appear at long intervals.  This may be unfair to the more prolific writers, but the long gestation of a book often allows me to savour the deep pleasure of words which have been pondered over, many often discarded over time, and just their essence appearing in the final book.  Too many books I have recently read have just been too long and too what I call “unedited”.  A good editor would surely have pruned much away. 
Long may the Marilynne Robinsons of this world work slowly to bring forth masterpieces such as the one I have just read.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Photos from Nanning

These three photos give a flavour of our visit.  The first shows the group of students in front of the Tong You San He centre in Nanning, with our host, Liu Lihong next to me and Guy Caplan to my left.

The second is a little group of us at the Guangxi University of Chinese Medicine in front of the statue of Zhang Zhong Jing.

The third shows Guy and me, with our third speaker, Lei Ming, and our interpreter at our seminar at the University.

Good Wood quote from Anna Karenina

You could not have a better description of the qualities of the Wood element than that from this passage which I came across when reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina in my hotel room in China.

“Spring is the time of plans and projects.  And as he came out into the farmyard, Levin, like a tree n spring that knows not what form will be taken by the young shoots and twigs imprisoned in its swelling buds, hardly knew what undertakings he was going to begin upon now in the farm work that was so dear to him.  But he felt that he was full of the most splendid plans and projects.”

Back from my 6th visit to China

Each time I come back from China, I become increasingly aware of the importance tradition plays in its life and how much less this seems to be true of England.  This was particularly so on this visit when I gave a talk to some 300 students of traditional Chinese medicine at the Guangxi University of Chinese Medicine.  As I stood outside the lecture hall waiting to be introduced, I could hear the students in unison chanting a text appearing on the large screen behind the platform.  I was told that this represented a passage from the writings of Sun Si Miao about the purity and sincerity of the great physician, which they recite each day before they start their classes.  This is much as if medical students over here were daily to recite the Hippocratic Oath.

As they finished and I was led on to the platform, I felt  that I was being ushered into the presence of a long line of Chinese practitioners stretching back many hundreds of years, much as I always feel that JR Worsley stands at my shoulder as I talk about five element acupuncture.  This feeling was made even stronger by being asked to be photographed at the feet of a giant statue of Zhang Zhong Jing (150 – 215 AD), writer of the "Treatise on Exogenous Febrile Disease” which towers over the campus. The sense of a long tradition of traditional medicine is undoubtedly and quite understandably much stronger in China, the country of its birth, than anything experienced in other countries.  And it is now accompanied by a realization of the tragic discontinuity of these old traditions caused by the upheavals of its recent past.

This is why our visits are regarded by our hosts as a heartening reconnection to what has been lost.  Five element acupuncture is seen as a pure form of traditional acupuncture whose roots lie buried deep in the Nei Jing and whose great trunk is now growing ever stronger new branches back in China.

I am so very delighted by increasing evidence of the rebirth of five element acupuncture amongst the many new students attracted to the seminars we have been giving over the past three years.  It pleases me that the group of our first students are now themselves giving preparatory seminars to new students before we arrive so that we no longer need to teach the most basic principles of five element acupuncture, but can each time move on to a more advanced level.

There were 70 students in this latest group, half of them new and half practitioners who had come to previous seminars. Unfortunately Mei Long could not be with us this time, so Guy Caplan and I had to work a little harder.  I was asked how many more new students we could accommodate next time we go, which will be in April 2015, and I said as many as can fit into the new premises of the Tong You San He Centre where we teach.  I understand this to be about 90 – 100.  Since we include in each seminar somewhat hastily arranged diagnoses of each new student’s guardian element, this represents a significant challenge to us.  But it is a challenge which I have learnt we must accept, since to leave a new student of five element acupuncture with no idea at all of their own element undermines their confidence in what they are learning. 

As groups of them line up for us to try and see what diagnostic pointers we can observe to help in our diagnoses, I always tell them that this is a very inadequate form of diagnosis, and not at all what they should be doing with their own patients, but that the time constraints we are working under make it the only possible one, given the numbers in our seminars.  The students are therefore quite happy if later during the seminar, after watching them carefully, we decide to change our diagnosis.  And each of them is given a treatment consisting of an Aggressive Energy drain and source points of the diagnosed element as a further way both of teaching them the basic simple tenets of our practice, and of allowing us to observe the effects of this treatment to help us assess whether we think our diagnosis is correct or not.

We came back, as usual, laden with presents, so that even though I took over a large batch of my books to give to any English-speaking practitioners in the group, and thought I would return with a half-empty suitcase, I was still overweight at the check-in desk!