Wednesday, December 30, 2015

My year-end stock-take

This is a longer blog than usual as befits the final summing-up of a year.

I always see the end of a year as a time to look back at the months that have passed and to try to fit them into the pattern of my life.  What, then, has 2015 brought me and taught me?

It has brought me much joy, and some sadness, from my family and friendships.  It has brought me introductions to many new writers, many of these in other languages I am familiar with, such as German, and renewed my interest in writers I have enjoyed in the past.  At the end of this blog I am listing some of my favourite reads of the year for anybody who, like me, is fascinated by the written word.

And what has it brought to my calling as acupuncturist?  After publishing my book, On Being a Five Element Acupuncturist, at the start of the year, I experienced a kind of mental blankness for some months.  I missed the feeling of being compelled to write by something inside me.  I continued with my blogs, but could find no central theme around which to build what might eventually become another book.  I struggled with this for some time until one day a friend told me that her son, not an acupuncturist, enjoyed reading my books because they taught him to understand human beings better, and that he was looking forward to reading more about the elements.  Somehow this stirred something in me to life, and I began to write odd bits and pieces, focusing on how I was developing new ways of interpreting my own reactions to the elements. I am continuing to do this, still with no particular structure in mind, but just darting here and there with my thoughts.  I trust that a structure will emerge at some point, as it did with my other books, and that the different pieces that I am now writing will in some miraculous way fuse themselves together into a book with which I will again hope to interest my lovely publishers, Singing Dragon Press.

Moving forward from my personal acupuncture-focused life to my more public life as a teacher, what of that?  Well, increasingly this now works on expanding what I am doing in China.  I have written before of how, much to my surprise, my work appears to have changed direction in the last few years, from an emphasis on helping five element acupuncturists in this country and Europe, to introducing it to China.  Increasingly now my task appears to be to continue adding to what I have so far achieved over there, which is a lot, indeed much, much more than I could ever have dreamt of when I first met my host, Liu Lihong, more than four years ago.  There must now be some few hundred Chinese acupuncturists who have come to our seminars and are venturing to start five element practices of their own.

This year-end also brings news of the Inauguration Ceremony of a Foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine which is being set up in Beijing, with my contribution to this enshrined for perpetuity in a lovely certificate I was honoured to receive from Liu Lihong in April stating that I am a Consultant in Five Element Acupuncture to this Foundation for a period of 5 years until 31 December 2019.  Seeing this date on the certificate pointed me to further work that I need to do in the intervening years.  By the time we reach December 2019, I will, I assume, be well past the age when I will be of practical use as a teacher over there, although possibly still be a kind of five element figurehead to be wheeled out at intervals to remind people of the long five element lineage to which I am heir.

In China there are also moves afoot to translate more of my books (only one, my Handbook, is published in Mandarin).  My non-English-reading students are always clamouring to read the others in Mandarin.  I and my two regular companions, Mei Long and Guy Caplan, during our next planned visit to China in April 2016, will make our presence felt in Beijing to support the new Foundation there in addition to holding our usual seminar in Nanning.

So my stock-take for 2015 has shown me much that I can personally be very happy about.  It does a little to offset the news pouring in from around the globe of all the strife which human beings, alone of all the animals, seem to enjoy engaging in, and all the mostly man-made disasters bringing floods and famine to many parts of the globe.  I like to think, though, that what I can offer my patients, and encourage others to offer theirs, in some small way helps to contribute something important to the sum total of human happiness.

I wish all my readers a fulfilling and happy year to come when 2015 turns into 2016.


A few of my favourite books from my 2015 reading-list (D = Detective story):

Wade Shepard:  Ghost Cities of China
Jill Ciment:  Heroic Measures
Tom Drury:  The End of vandalism
Jenny Erpenbeck:  Wörterbuch (for my German readers)
Alexandra Fuller:  Don’t let’s go to the Dogs tonight
Robert Seethaler: A Whole Life
Elly Griffiths:  The Ghost Fields (D)
Atal Gawande:  Being Mortal
Ann Granger:  Dead in the Water (D)
Kent Haruf:  Our Souls at Night
Vaseem Khan:  The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra (D)
Attica Locke:  Pleasantville
G M Malliet:  Death and the Cozy Writer (D)
Alexander McCall Smith:  The Woman who walked in Sunshine
Robert Peston:  How do we fix this Mess?
Marilynne Robinson:  Gilead
Bapsi Sidhwa:  The Crow Eaters
W G Sebald:  Austerlitz
Magda Szabo:  Iza’s Ballad
Anne Tyler:  Searching for Caleb
Elizabeth Taylor:  A View of the Harbour
Fred Vargas: Dog will have its Day (D)
Anthony Trollope: Is he Popenjoy? 


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Two more interesting quotes

I love collecting quotations which open my mind to new thoughts.  Here are two more, one from the detective writer, Michael Dibdin, and the other from an American author, Vivian Gornick, I know absolutely nothing about.  I don’t think I have read her book, which is apparently an autobiography, but I must have found the quotation tucked away somewhere.  I love the idea of “driving into a vast darkness” when I am reading a book which reveals a new side of human nature to me.

Michael Dibdin: A Long Finish
“You couldn’t be sure of doing the right thing.  All you could hope for, perhaps, was to do the wrong thing better, or at least more interestingly."
Vivian Gornick:  Fierce Attachments
“For Davey, reading was a laser beam – narrow, focused, intent – driving into a vast darkness.”



Sunday, December 6, 2015

Our responses to the different elements

At different times we all display the whole range of emotions associated with the five elements.  One way of helping ourselves become more alive to the differences between these emotions is therefore to think back to any situations which have led us to experience them ourselves. 

I am sure we have all at different points in our lives felt ourselves in the grip of fear (Water), longed for some understanding of what we are going through (Earth), become irritated by somebody (Wood), wanted to share our happiness with others (Fire) or retreated into ourselves to deal with some loss (Metal).  At different times we will express each of these emotions reflecting reactions to the different stresses each element is being subjected to, irrespective of what our dominant element is.  We will therefore have at least some inkling of the effects within us of these different emotions.  If we extend this understanding to what we feel a patient of a particular element may experience as their dominant emotion, this will go some way to feeling ourselves into elements which are not our own.  It requires some persistent work to do this in such a way as to give us accurate feedback, but once we recognize how much our work is enhanced by an ability to understand within ourselves the emotional responses of patients of other elements, this will be an enormous help in pinpointing the right element and therefore responding appropriately to its needs.  For each element demands responses which will reassure it that we recognize what these needs are.

It is not only that we all feel more at ease in the familiar company created by our element, and therefore tend to think other people will be as well, we also like to spread our particular emotional sphere around us by trying to draw other people into it on the assumption that this is what these other people want as much as we do.  We therefore live our lives enveloped within a kind of cocoon which our particular element spreads around us, and in which we inevitably seek to draw those who approach us, since this is the emotional atmosphere we are familiar with. 

It is a useful experiment for us as five element acupuncturists to observe our own interactions with others very closely to see what kind of an emotional net we spread around those we meet.  We may be surprised to note, as I was, how often what we are offering others in these interactions is not in fact what they want.  In normal social situations this will not matter too much as we have all become used to accommodating ourselves to whatever the people around us demand of us, and usually manage to shrug off what we find irritating.  In a clinical situation, however, things are very different.  We are not there to demand of our patients that they cope with approaches which disturb them, but to adapt ourselves through our knowledge of the elements to what will make them feel sufficiently comfortable to relax and be themselves.  This is often the opposite of what happens in the world outside the practice room, and unfamiliar as this will be initially as we learn our craft, how successfully we manage to do this will depend upon some persistent work on our part.

Back from my 8th visit to China

I’m amazed to think that I have now been eight times to China.  Here I now sit back in London looking at the group photo of Liu Lihong, Mei, Guy and me, surrounded by the 90 people, practitioners and lay people alike, who spent a very happy, productive week with us, steeped in the elements, and learning how they can be used as part of an acupuncture discipline about which most of them have, until now, heard nothing at all or at least very little.  Obviously not all who come to our seminars are practitioners;   some just attend because they are fascinated by the connections between five element acupuncture and what they have studied in the classics, such as the Nei Jing.  But most want to use what they learn from us in their acupuncture practices, and have to decide at the end of the seminar whether they are brave enough to start incorporating what they have learnt into these practices.  It takes courage to embark upon what is to them a completely new discipline.  With great joy, I was also told that some of them are now teaching others the basics of five element acupuncture, creating a little pyramid of five element practitioners throughout China.

As a very important part of this development, the Tong You San He centre is establishing a new Foundation in Beijing for the study of traditional Chinese medicine, with its inauguration taking place in a few days’ time.  One of its branches will be the study and development of five element acupuncture.  I am honoured to have been asked to act as Honorary Adviser to this Foundation.  Five element acupuncture is therefore spreading its Chinese wings ever wider.



Thursday, November 5, 2015

A reminder not to forget the basics : Windows of the Sky

I had a salutary lesson recently in the danger of forgetting the basics of what I do.  It showed me that it is unwise to ignore the principles that were drilled into me at acupuncture college all those years ago.  One of these concerned when to use the points called the Windows of the Sky.  We were told never to choose these points until we have given our patients at least eight treatments, because we need to be sure that a patient’s energy has been strengthened sufficiently to be able to cope with their effect.  As their name indicates, they are points which are there to open up a window on to a patient’s life.  We were warned that the light pouring into a patient’s spirit as a result of opening these Windows too early on in treatment may shine too brightly for them to cope with the reality flooding in.  The poet T S Eliot says this very well in one of his poems:  “Human kind cannot bear very much reality”.

The treatment I gave my patient this week provided me with proof of this.  Unwisely, instead of waiting to complete the number of treatments we were told we should, I selected these points at the 5th treatment, thinking that since the patient had already reacted so well to his first few treatments, and, as he told me, was “trying to see a way forward” in his life, it would be appropriate to select the Windows to help him do this.  On his return for the next treatment he told me that he had felt very depressed immediately after he had seen me, and could find no explanation for this.  It was only when I reminded myself that this was just after I had done the Windows that I realized that it was likely that giving this treatment too soon had had the effect we were warned about.  Gently talking this through with him, it did indeed seem as if that he had been unable to cope with the insights into his life which these points had presented him with.  I realised then that I should have waited a little longer to select them.

This taught me, yet again, that we need to tread warily when using the Windows.  It reminded me that I should always ensure that a patient’s energy is strong enough to deal with the insights which are one of the gifts the Windows can bring when used wisely.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The elements' different relationships to other people - Part 2

In my blog of 23 October I wrote about the relationships Wood, Fire and Metal like to have with other people.  Now it is the turn of Earth and Water.

There is some similarity between what these two elements want to experience in their encounters with other people, and in each case they express more of a need than we have seen with the other three elements.  Both of these elements enjoy being in the midst of a group, Earth liking to be at its centre with others around it, and Water melding more into the group, each Water person like a drop of water absorbed into the great oceans of life.  Earth will demand more individual attention, whereas Water is most comfortable with safety in numbers.

This picture of Earth surrounded by other people, preferably at their centre, metaphorically echoes the original five element diagram in which the other four elements circle around Earth in their midst.  With Earth the most important thing is that those surrounding it face towards it so that they can take careful note of what it wishes to say.  It is not enough, as it is with Water, for it to disappear into the group, for then its words will not be heard and understood as they should be, an understanding which is a necessary part of its need to process its own thoughts properly.  Processing is, after all, one of Earth’s most important functions.  It takes in, digests and then processes all that comes to it, both physically in the shape of food and mentally in the shape of thoughts.  It then has to pass on what it has processed as physical food worked on by the stomach, and as mental food in terms of thoughts and words worked on by its mind, which it then invites others to hear.

I have always found it interesting to note the somewhat confusing messages Water seems always to be transmitting.  On the one hand, as I have said, it has a need in some way to be swallowed up in the whole, to merge itself with those around it, and on the other, it has the quite contrasting, but less overtly obvious need to rise above the masses around it, and thus to rise to the top.  It is known to be the element of ambition and will-power, and just as water in nature exerts by far the strongest force when it is unleashed in storms and tsunamis, so a Water person will tend to achieve whatever it sets its mind to, often pushing aside those who stand in its way, as storm waters submerge all in their path.  Its relationship to others can therefore often seem somewhat ambiguous.  Appearing at ease in the company of others, it can then surprise them by pushing them aside, determinedly and often unobtrusively, in its fight to get to the top.  A Water person might well be the one in an office who, perhaps to others’ surprise, is offered the promotion these others had wanted and expected to be theirs.

And yet, despite this focused struggle to succeed in whatever it does, with little concern for how this affects others and often at their expense, it constantly seeks reassurance from those around it to still the fears lurking deep within it, fear being its dominant emotion.  

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A patient’s comments after his element was changed from Fire to Earth

Here is what a fellow practitioner told me after changing her patient’s treatment from the Fire to the Earth element.  After one treatment on Earth, the patient told her that he 'felt a profound change. Something felt very different'.

I am always delighted when I receive such strong confirmation of the effects of homing in on the right element.  My own patients have used different words to say the same thing, such as “I know who I am”, or “I feel myself now”.  That awareness of self that treatment helps patients to connect with is one of the most moving gifts our practice can offer them.     

Friday, October 23, 2015

The elements’ different relationships to other people - Part 1

Some time ago I had the opportunity to ask several practitioners who were all of the Wood element what was important to them in terms of their interactions with others.  After some discussion amongst themselves they all agreed that what they always wanted was to “engage” with people. Interestingly, two of the definitions given in the dictionary for the word are “to interlock” and “to bring troops into battle”.  Engagement is making some kind of direct contact with another person, and also implies some kind of physical contact, like boxers engaging in a fight.  It represents to me quite the reverse of somebody “walking on by”, which is more the action I associate with the Metal element’s desire to avoid just the kind of close encounter which the word “to engage” seems to describe.  In their description of what they feel most comfortable with, this group of Wood people gave proof of their element’s enjoyment of face-to-face encounters.  They are at ease with meetings with other people which contain some quality of a contest.  Again, we can contrast this with another element, Fire’s encounters, which lack this sense of competitiveness.

What Fire wants of its interactions with others is instead not a contest, but to set up relationships, gifts which the Heart, buried within this element, wants to offer all it encounters.  The challenges which Wood offers those it meets become in Fire’s hands offerings it hopes to give others, ultimately of course the gift of love.  The warm smile with which Fire greets everybody is in itself such an offering, and if this is not responded to warmly in return it will be viewed as a rebuff, a rejection of this gift.  Often we will see Fire people persist again and again with their offerings of smiles and laughter in an attempt to draw some reaction of warmth from the other person.  Wood, in the same position of being denied the engagement it looks for from another person, will simply metaphorically shrug its shoulders and move on, something Fire will find difficult to do, as it will judge the lack of response to its approaches to be a reproach to itself and will therefore try even harder to extract a response.

It is not a response of any kind which Metal wishes for.  Far from this.  It will view all encounters with other people as a test of its judgement.  They are still challenges, as in some respects all meetings with other people are, because they demand responses from each person’s elements, and in particular responses with which a guardian element feels at ease.  Metal’s challenge lies in the area of how accurately it assesses the value of any encounter.  This assessment will also consist in evaluating its own reactions, for all that Metal does includes a high level of self-evaluation, its task being to weigh up all things, itself included, on the scales of some value they assign to them. 

Metal judges itself as harshly, if not more harshly, than others.  And to judge you have to stand back and observe as impartially as you can.  So there is nothing here of the close involvement of one person with another that Fire strives for, or the challenging encounters Wood enjoys.  Instead, there is always a space around Metal which it builds for itself so that it can give itself some distance from which it hopes to view things in as detached a way as possible.  Of course, the degree of detachment and the amount of space depends upon the level of balance within a Metal person.  The more unbalanced the Metal element is, the less it can stand back and observe as impartially as it should, and the more its judgement will then be affected.

And what about Earth and Water, then?  That is for another blog.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Being happy is healthy

The following is an extract from an article in What the Doctors Don’t Tell You (8 October 2015):

Be happy: it could save your life if you have a heart problem

People who are happy and retain a positive attitude also have a healthier heart—and that can be the difference between life and death for people who already have a heart condition.

Positive people are living longer after they’ve been diagnosed with a heart condition, say researchers who tracked the health and psychological outlook of more than a thousand patients with coronary heart disease.

They were more likely to be alive five years later than others who had a negative outlook or suffered from depression.”

It’s good to have this confirmation from Western medicine of something acupuncturists have always known.  The Heart, an official of the Fire element, the element which brings us joy, must indeed be healthier the happier we are. 



Thursday, October 1, 2015

Two laments for the end of an era and one happy thing

I start this blog with my laments.  The little café, Stefano’s, which I would pop into daily on my way to the clinic, and which I wrote about in my blog of 29th March, has now closed and been taken over by what looks like a very much more upmarket place.  I think I can no longer call it a café, but would describe it more as a small patisserie.  And my favourite espresso has nearly doubled in price.  Stefano and his Italian family seem to have been the last survivors around here of a time when small family-owned businesses ran a one-shop enterprise.  Now the coffee chains, such as Starbucks, with their standardized fare, are taking over everywhere, perhaps understandably in view of the rents charged.  Even this new little patisserie has other branches elsewhere in the up-and-coming areas of London.

My second lament is for the puzzling substitution in train announcements of the good old-fashioned word “passenger” by the word “customer”.  I wonder who decided that this change was necessary.  Did a group of railway executives with nothing better to do solemnly sit around a table to discuss the merits of the one word against the other?  And why change it at all?  When I hear “passengers” I always thrill slightly to the thought of all those large ocean liners, like the Queen Mary, or indeed the Titanic, or people climbing aboard The Great Western  or the Orient Express.  When discussing the Titanic disaster, is anybody likely to ask, “How many customers were lost?”  The word now only reminds me of the money I paid today for my rail ticket to a much less exotic destination, Sussex.

But to relieve the slight gloom of writing about these two rather sad things, I tried to think of something good that has happened to me, and came up with quite a few examples, none more heartwarming than a little incident that occurred in the street a few days ago.  There was a different Big Issue seller from the usual one outside my local supermarket, and I thought I recognized him from seeing him somewhere else.  He smiled at me, and said, “You may not remember me, but you’re the lady who called to me to come across the street in Bond Street some time ago, so that you could buy a copy from me.”  Now I recalled that this must have been over a year ago.  So he had remembered this small act of kindness from all those months back.  Perhaps too many people treat Big Issue sellers as nuisances, and walk on by, and too few as people, trying hard to put their lives together.  We smiled at each other like old friends, and I walked on with my heart a little warmer. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

How people make us feel

Each day of my practice adds one more day of learning.  Today’s lesson came from something I observed in myself after I had been asked to look at another practitioner’s patient.  Together we agreed that she had been treating her on what I, too, considered to be the right element, which was Fire, but when I was thinking back on this patient the next morning, I remembered that I had remarked at the time, “She’s a rather passive person, isn’t she?”

Something about what I had said jarred now with my feelings around the Fire element.  Was passive a word I would ever use to describe a Fire person, I wondered?  That set me thinking of as many Fire people as I could, including of course myself.  Nobody could call me passive, but then I am Inner Fire, and the Small Intestine is the most active of all the four Fire officials.  But I could think of no Outer Fire person I knew either to whom the word “passive” would fit.  I then thought more carefully about something else which had struck me after seeing her.  I had not felt that she was trying to give me anything, far from it.  I felt instead that she was drawing me towards herself, which gave me now with hindsight the feeling I associate much more with the Earth element.  She seemed to be expressing a need, as though asking something from me, rather than wanting to give me something, so much more typical of Fire.  I told the practitioner of my doubts about Fire, and suggested that she should change her treatment to Earth and let me know how the patient was after a few Earth treatments.

It pleases me that I somehow could not leave things alone until I had traced my unease about the time I had spent with the patient to its source.  This feeling about how we experience being in the presence of a particular element becomes ever stronger with experience, and we should always take note of it.  It can be seen as a form of direct transmission to us of the essential nature of a patient’s element.  

If we interpret this information correctly by examining our own feelings and their response to what is coming from the patient we are well on the way to finding the element.

I always love it when an element declares itself so firmly in this way, even giving me only a slight, but clear hint of its presence.  It may take me a little while to see what it is trying to tell me, but then it always certainly better late than never.


Graham's groan

Today I happened to meet a young man in the street whom I hadn’t seen for a number of years.  I am calling him Graham, because it makes for a good title to this blog, but that is not his name.  We exchanged greetings, talked for a short time and then parted.  As I walked away, I found that his voice was so pronounced a groan that I laughed at myself for not having thought of him as Water before.  What was interesting to me, and what taught me a little more about the Water element, was that the sound of this voice stayed with me for so long.  I could still hear it echoing in my head many hours later.  I almost felt that I was pursued by its groans.

What it showed me about Water was that a groaning voice, unlike any other tone of voice, has the ability to make itself felt in a very persistent way that I had not noticed before.  It seems to me to be a clear reflection of Water’s ability to push through whatever obstacle is in front of it.

I must listen now to some more Water voices to help me learn to recognize this quality in their voices.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Paring away the inessential

I was thinking whether there was one word I could use to describe the essence of an element, that which lies at its very core and defines its specific quality.  And with the word essence the words “paring away the inessential” leapt to my mind, and echoed there for a long time.  I recognised this as referring to the Metal element, and saw that it was appropriate that it was given to this element to be the first to formulate its own definition of its essential quality, and to offer me this glimpse of itself so clearly and succinctly.  There can be no more condensed a definition of an element’s most fundamental nature than this. I feel that the phrase goes to the heart of what distinguishes Metal from the other elements.

It is helpful to think what the word to pare means, and why this is so true of Metal.  Interestingly, we usually add the word “away” to the verb, thus to pare away.  Again this points to a very interesting Metal characteristic, for to pare away is to discard, throw away, get rid of, and this is, after all, the function of the Large Intestine.  To pare away is to remove the outer skin of something, such as fruit, and throw it aside to expose that part which we want to eat.  This action is always done with a knife, and this is of course always a metal knife.  One of the disposable knives in wood or a kind of ecologically acceptable plastic as an alternative to metal which now litter eating places cannot do the job properly, for they are far too blunt.  Only a metal knife can peel away the outer layer sufficiently cleanly, as the element itself does in peeling away the outer, superficial surface of things to reveal the truths lying below.  That is Metal’s task, and when carried out in a balanced way this is what it does all the time.  It forms the last stage of any process, its final reckoning, just as its season, autumn, exposes the skeletons of trees, revealing their essential nature before winter comes to cover them in frost and snow.

It is to Metal people that I find myself turning when I have a difficult decision to make, for I have found that they can sum up the essence of a situation quickly and in very few words, in effect paring away what is inessential in the situation and revealing the heart of the matter.  This is always done in surprisingly few words.  A Metal person when asked for their opinion about some problem is likely to say, “Do this” or “Do that”, or “I don’t think that’s a good idea”, and leave it at that, as though for them the subject has now been dealt with and put to one side, and they want to move on.  It is as though they have removed the outer skin of whatever we are discussing, pared the inessential away, and pointed to its inner core, to what they consider its essence.  I have therefore always found Metal’s advice to be to the point (such a Metal phrase!), as if they are indeed handing over to me the heart of the fruit on the tip of the knife which they have used to pare away its outer covering.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

A reason to write my books

I have just received this lovely pat on the back about my latest book, all the way from Australia:

“I just wanted to tell you how much I have loved reading "On being a five element acupuncturist". Somehow I take more in from words on paper than words online.

It's a gem - not only in terms of giving insight about diagnostic and practice skills but also I find it immensely reassuring and affirming. It's so nice to know that doubts and mistakes are normal and even useful. It can be particularly challenging over here in Australia where there are so few of us trained in five element style acupuncture.

Thank you, Nora!”

I am reprinting it here for two reasons.  The first, obviously, is because it is lovely for me to hear that what I write is of help to others.  The second is that I am delighted that I am helping five element practitioners understand that “doubts and mistakes are normal and even useful."

I have always liked to Descartes’ phrase, which is usually quoted as “I think, therefore I am (cogito, ergo sum)”.  But in fact I prefer its fuller, correct version, which is:  "I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am (dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum)”.  The ability to doubt and therefore to be humble in our thinking is a rare gift we should all cherish in ourselves.  This is particularly so, as I always say, when we are trying to track down the elements.

I could not have expressed one of the aims of why I write more succinctly and more beautifully.  So thank you, too, Lucy, for this encouragement to continue writing.


Monday, August 31, 2015

What simple treatment can do

It is always good to receive confirmation of how effective simple treatment can be.  A friend of mine told me that her husband was feeling so ill and desperate that he could not work and could not leave the house.  He had problems in breathing which several visits to hospital and several kinds of medication had not helped.  Would acupuncture help him, she asked me.  I referred him to a fellow five element acupuncturist, Guy Caplan.

This is what she emailed me a few days ago:

“Treatment seems to be going so well!  Three treatments have not helped his breathing problems but have changed his whole way of being in the world.”

She also told me that a friend had met her husband, and said, with surprise, that he was “smiling with his face”.

You cannot ask for more from such a few treatments.  To be able to “change the whole way of being in the world” for a patient is what all our work is about.

I asked Guy to tell me what treatments he had done so far.  Here is the list:

Treatment 1:  AE drain (none), Husband-Wife, VI (TH) 4, V (HP) 7
Treatment 2:   IV (Ki) 24, VIII – IX (Liv-Lu) block, VI (TH) 3, V (HP) 9
Treatment 3:  CV 14, VI (TH) 3, V (HP) 9
            All points with moxa before needling.

As you can see, the patient is being treated on Outer Fire.  As you can also see, the treatments have helped the deepest part of him, his spirit.  In effect he feels as though resuscitated (an excellent example of the effectiveness of IV (Ki) 24, Spirit Burial Ground). 

This is also a lesson for practitioners not to worry too much if physical problems persist a little longer.  I have no doubt at all that his physical problems will now gradually clear.  If you treat the deep (the spirit), you cannot fail but treat the more superficial (the body).  But of course this will take time.  He has had his physical problems for many years.




Thursday, August 27, 2015

The transmission of a five element lineage

I give below the text of an article I have just submitted for publication in the British Acupuncture Council's journal Acu:

“We are not good at lineages in this country, and we appear to have surprisingly little respect for others’ expertise.  In fact, most of our education system appears to be built, not so much on the idea of learning from those of greater experience than us, but more of teaching students to discover things for themselves, almost as if the hard-won knowledge of those preceding them should be discarded as somehow not so relevant.

I have spent many weeks since 2011 in China, introducing five element acupuncture to what must now be many hundreds of Chinese acupuncturists, and have learnt from these visits how much respect they show the lineage of five element acupuncture which they view me as representing.  This is why, there on the wall of the Tong You San He Centre in Nanning where I teach, I am greeted - each time with a slight sense of surprise - by a large panel of photographs, the first showing my teacher, J R Worsley, the second me and the last showing Mei Long, a student of mine, who initiated my first contacts with China through Liu Lihong, the Centre’s director.  Through his writing he is the person who has done most to stimulate Chinese traditional medicine’s search for its past roots.

For the Chinese, the line of transmission extending back to the Nei Jing, and on through the centuries to reach J R Worsley, then me and beyond,  represents what they feel they have lost, a direct connection to the past.  In the West, on the other hand, we seem to be, if not indifferent to this, then somewhat disinterested in the routes of transmission, as though we are not ourselves quite clear what lineage we are heir to.  This probably stems from the fact that generally both in this country and in China there is little clarity about how to integrate the precepts of traditional medicine with modern attempts to draw acupuncture closer to Western medicine.

The display of photographs which confronts me each time I return to China has made me re-evaluate my own thoughts about the transmission of a lineage, and led me to a new appreciation of what has been transmitted to me.  The way the Chinese view what I bring to them makes me more aware than before of the precious inheritance which has been passed down to me, and which the Chinese now clamour for me to pass on to them.  Here I am, coming from a far-off land, the bearer of an unknown treasure, my knowledge of an acupuncture discipline which fascinates them.  And, most importantly, somebody with thirty or more years’ clinical experience, which is something they value particularly highly.  I bring them a precious gift, the transmission of what they regard as the esoteric knowledge contained within the lineage of a particular branch of five element acupuncture handed down over the centuries from master to pupil.  This has found its way through devious routes to the West and is now finding its way back to its country of origin through me, an inheritor of this lineage.  It is useful to read Peter Eckman’s In the Footsteps of the Yellow Emperor, Long River Press 2007, as the best, and in my view, so far the only, in-depth study to trace these routes of transmission.

In this country we often forget how precious the legacy of the past can be, tending to take this past for granted.  To the modern Chinese, deprived for so many years as they have been of much of the history of traditional medicine through the traumas of the Cultural Revolution, anything which helps them trace this past is a gift to be nurtured.  Even though all practitioners are brought up on rote learning the Nei Jing, they are aware that they have lost many of the connections between what is in these old texts and their practice of today.  In their eyes, the branch of five element acupuncture I represent makes these connections clear to them.

To the Chinese acupuncturists that I teach, therefore, five element acupuncture embodies a spiritual tradition which they regard as lacking in much of the acupuncture now taught in China, and connects them to a past which they feel they have lost.  Its emphasis on ensuring that so much attention is paid to the spirit is something they respond warmly to.  It echoes what they have learnt from the Nei Jing, but is something which is ignored by the TCM they are taught in their acupuncture colleges.   

To witness the joy with which they greet all the five element teaching I offer them is to raise an echo within me of a similar joy that I experienced sitting on my first day in the classroom at Leamington more than 30 years ago, and learning about the Fire element with the Heart at its centre.  It seemed to me then, as it still does, and does, too, to all my Chinese students, that to base an acupuncture practice upon treatment of the elements was to state a natural truth about life.  Learning from the Chinese approach to their past, I can now see more clearly than ever that I, and every other five element acupuncturist, form one link in the unending chain stretching from the earliest days of the Nei Jing down the years.  This path of transmission passed to the West in the 20th century and is now coming full circle on its return to its birthplace, China, in the 21st century.  This is indeed an inheritance to treasure."


Thursday, August 20, 2015

The different kinds of spaces Earth and Fire feel comfortable with

Here is an amusing little observation I made during my morning’s breakfast excursion to a local café.  It was quite full, and I tried to find a table as far away as possible from anybody else.  The place gradually emptied as people set off for their day’s work, until all that were left were two people at one table and me at another.  A woman then came in, looked carefully around her for quite some time, before firmly seating herself at a table a mere few feet next to the one occupied by the couple.  I was amused when I saw this, thinking that the last thing I would have done would have been to settle myself so close to the few other customers at the café. 

I then realised that she had made her choice for exactly the same reasons that I had made a completely different one.  We were, I thought, both following the dictates of our guardian element, different as these were. 

I assumed that she was Earth, mainly from her colour, and because she was quite at ease sitting in such close proximity to other people.  Earth likes being surrounded by people, almost irrespective of who they are.  I, on the other hand, am Fire, and Fire only wants to move close to others when it feels really comfortable in their presence.

It is by observing these tiny differences in human behaviour that we learn more and more about the elements.  This morning’s was another interesting little insight into the differences between Earth and Fire for me to ponder on.  Thus do we continue to learn.


Saturday, August 15, 2015

How sad it is.....

As I get older, leaving many years trailing behind me, I am aware that nostalgia for the past creeps up on me more frequently than it used to.  There are so many things now which are different from what they were, and though some of these differences are undoubtedly good (though here I have to stop and think hard without for the life of me being able to come up with even one example), many more appear to my ageing sight to represent losses which can never be made good.

A small, apparently insignificant, but to me important, example of this is something which happens every morning.  As I make my way out to pick up my newspaper and indulge in my early morning coffee in one of the many coffee shops around here, I step over the wet pavement outside the front door of a block of flats, and exchange good morning greetings with a young woman who is busily washing down and sweeping the front step and pavement outside clear of any rubbish.  She laughed when I told her that this piece of pavement is probably the only one now in the whole of London where the age-old practice of making sure that the pavements outside our houses are kept clear for passers-by by their owners still takes place.  Now we leave all that to the road sweepers.

And just as we leave it to others to clear the pavements outside our houses, so we now leave many other things to others, without concerning ourselves with whether in so doing we are making others’ lives harder or more unpleasant.  I notice that if there is something like a cardboard box in the middle of the road, nobody crosses over to push it to the side away from the traffic.  I remember my father stopping our car regularly, and getting out to remove some rubbish or a large stone to the roadside, because, he told us, “A bicycle or motorbike might not see this when it gets dark, and come a-cropper.”  The present reluctance to get involved extends to people stepping over any obstruction on the pavement, often at some inconvenience to themselves, rather than pushing it aside to the gutter.  Let alone how very rare it is for somebody to lift up a bike which has fallen over blocking the pavement.

It seems that more and more people are reluctant to put themselves out in any way, as though walking round obstacles is always preferable to removing obstacles.  Is this increasingly selfishness, inattentiveness (everybody talking into their mobile phone – or taking selfies!) or a fear of litigation, in case their actions cause problems?  Whatever, as they say, it seems to me to be a sad indictment of modern life that less and less people are concerned for the wellbeing of others and apparently more and more engrossed in their own.

But am I merely another example of an older person saying that “things were better in the old days”?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Worrying the well

I have just watched an excellent and important programme on BBC TV (BBC2, 12 August 2015: Dr Michael Mosley: Are Health Tests Really a Good Idea?), which you can catch up with on BBC i-Player.  As its title indicates, it looked in depth at the value of some of the many tests well people undergo, and queried how far many of these were necessary.  Importantly, in view of the enormous costs of providing health care for an increasingly aging population, it asked whether the vast amount of money allocated to these tests, which are overwhelmingly directed at the still well, would better be spent on treating the already ill.  The conclusion by two very eminent physicians, one from the United States and the other from Britain, summed it all up beautifully.  Surely, they said, it is better to direct resources at where help is needed, which is when a condition has actually revealed itself, and not spend so much on recommending tests for the well whose results are often uncertain, if not downright misleading.  The case of mammograms, in particular, was examined here.  It was pointed out that they often lead to needless, harmful and unnecessary interventions (a figure of 9 out of 10 mis-diagnoses was given).

This is when I heard the very telling and hard-hitting phrase, which underlines exactly what I think is the wrong direction in which the machinery of health is heading, and that is that “we are worrying the well”.  Once we are given the slightest indication that there is a slight query about any test result, none of us will be able to forget this, and it will continue to haunt us.  As I said in my book, The Keepers of the Soul, “One of the many areas to be re-assessed is the Western reliance on statistics. The trouble with statistics is that they are illusory.  They appear to be based on scientific fact, and offer scientific validity, but they have no meaning whatsoever in the individual case.  If a test is said to offer a 60% probability of establishing that a person is likely to suffer a heart-attack, am I in the 60% category of the sick or in the 40% category of the well?  No-one can tell me this, but human nature being as it is, all 100% of us are unlikely to sleep easily at night with such a statistic hovering over our heads.  And yet we may never fall ill.”

And again, “Once in hospital hands, we often find they never let us go, for one test or another, imperfect as all tests must be, may surprisingly often yield a slightly ambiguous result which demands a different test or a further check-up later on, leaving us forever waiting for what we anticipate may be a dreaded result, as though shackled to a permanent pathological prognosis.  This is a depressingly frequent occurrence, for no doctor appears to dare sign us off for fear of future repercussions.”

I will leave it to the lovely British doctor in the programme to confirm what I so deeply believe in.  We are frightening well people”, she said.  And what I particularly liked was her conclusion.  “We are seeking technological solutions to existential solutions.  We all have to get old, we all have to die, we all have to lose people we love.  We are devoting resources to worrying the well”.   It is rare for anybody in what I call this medicalized society, particularly a medical practitioner, to state this so clearly and so baldly.  Modern society is in danger of adopting a mind-set which devotes too much time to searching for pathological symptoms instead of concentrating upon nurturing the valuable aspects of our life, and accepting the natural course of life, which may or may not include illness, but will inevitably conclude in death.


Monday, August 3, 2015

We are all discoverers of hidden truth

I have just come across the phrase “the discovery of hidden truths” in a video of Liu Lihong, my host in China, on the website .  Once he was introduced to five element acupuncture, Liu Lihong very quickly recognized that here was a hidden truth which he wanted me, as an inheritor of this lineage of acupuncture, to return to China, where up to this moment he felt it lay buried.

I love the expression “the discovery of hidden truths”, because I think it reflects something very fundamental about human nature.  We can all be said to be discoverers of hidden truths, those which lie hidden within each one of us.  The older I get, the more aware I become of these layers of hidden truths within me, and constantly surprise myself by the fresh discoveries about myself which life forces me to make even after all the many years of living which I trail behind me.

Today, for instance, this phrase stimulated another thought.  Could all our lives be said to be lifelong attempts to discover more and more who we really are, where the “hidden truth” of ourselves really is?  Can we, indeed, ever say that we know ourselves completely?  Here another quotation, this time from the Bible, springs to my mind:  For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

Perhaps, indeed, we always peer "through a glass darkly" at life, with only occasional glimpses of all that lies within us, all these hidden truths which age reveals only slowly to us.



Thursday, July 30, 2015

Hot desking

What a very odd term this is, some of my readers may say.  It is one I heard for the first time a few days ago, but is apparently one used by all modern office workers.  It appears that it is very common now for those working in offices to share desk space with others.  Presumably the term has something to do with keeping an office space warm for another person.  Office workers are now peripatetic; they are asked to wander around each day looking for a desk on which to put their laptop and, presumably, also any personal belongings they have.  They stay there only as long as they need to, placing their things for safekeeping in a personal locker before leaving work.

I was told of a senior member of staff who had worked from her own office all her working life, but who now had been told that she, too, needs to take part in this daily scramble for desk space.  She is appalled by this, and feels totally uprooted.  Where can she put the photos of her family with which she likes to surround herself as she works?  And does she have to get rid of her pot plants which she tenders so lovingly each day?

I wonder what the thinking behind this is, apart, presumably, to save space.  If desk spaces are freed up when people are out of the office, I assume this makes it possible to cram more people into ever smaller spaces.  But what may be the human cost of learning to view your office, not as a place where you establish a second home (your own desk, your own things), but as a public space available to anybody?  Has anybody calculated that?  I wonder whether anybody has thought to measure the comparative job satisfaction of having a familiar against an unfamiliar, ever-changing place of work?  Would it not be as though every day you have to search for a new home which you have to try to make your own?  From a five element point of view, what does this do to office workers’ Earth element, the element which so strongly wants to make every place where it rests its home?

This reminds me of a patient of mine who came to me because her ankles had suddenly swollen so badly that she could hardly walk.  After enquiring carefully about what was happening when this trouble first appeared, it apparently coincided with when she was promoted and moved to an office on her own.  Aware that she was Earth, and therefore, as are all Earth people, is happiest in the company of people, viewing her fellow office workers as a kind of work family who surround her, I asked her whether she liked this.  It turned out that she hated working on her own in this way.  With my knowledge of the Earth element prompting me, I asked whether she could move somebody else in with her.  She was not sure whether this would be possible, but then, as often happens, the fates intervened.  The management wanted to rearrange office space and asked her whether she minded sharing her room with two others.  Of course she agreed.  Very soon after this, and with the additional help of treatment on the Earth element, the swelling on her ankles disappeared.

I always attributed the rather sudden disappearance of her symptoms to her Earth element’s relief at no longer working alone.  Perhaps symbolically her swollen ankles were Earth’s way of immobilizing her, trying to fix a home for her within herself when her actual office home had become too lonely for her.  Once the office had returned to being a comfortable place peopled by others, it could be said that her body could now return to its normal shape, no longer needing to try to find its own stability within itself, which is one way of viewing her swollen legs.  Fanciful though this might seem to some people, I don’t think it is.  Our physical symptoms always in some way reflect what is going on emotionally within us. 

I thought of this patient today, although she came many years ago, because she is further evidence to me of how any environment we are in, office as well as home, will affect our emotional well-being, either positively or negatively.  I suspect office planners rarely think of this when designing how their office spaces should be used. 



Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Wearing people down with Fire's smiles

The trouble with being Fire is that I share Fire’s burden of always needing to communicate with other people wherever I am.  I can do this through speech, of course, but communicating through our eyes is just as, if not more, powerful.  Yesterday the phrase “I wear people down with my smile” occurred to me after I had passed another person in the street, and, yet again flashing a smile at them, realised that they were reluctant to engage with me, indeed looked a bit dismayed at being asked to respond to my invitation.

Each element has its own burdens.  Fire’s are associated with its overwhelming need to relate to others.  I must now think of those of the other elements, and will write more about this when I have done a bit more thinking.  It is far easier to write about what affects our own element.  Imagining oneself in the skin of another element is always more complicated, even if, like me, one has tried to do this for years.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Rats respond emotionally to acupuncture

It's good to hear of scientific proof that acupuncture works, even if only in rats.  In an article in the Guardian (22 July 2015), researchers in the States found that the acupuncture point St 36 reduced “chronic stress-induced depressive and anxious behaviour in animals".

But then we know that acupuncture reduces “stress-induced depressive and anxious behaviour” for many other conditions, not only in animals but, much more importantly, in humans, too.  And also, that it is not only St 36, but many, many other points which do this.

I wonder whether the rats used in the experiment might all have had Earth as their guardian element!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

How to learn whilst enjoying myself

There are many ways to learn, but for me none nicer than to put my feet up in front of the TV and watch sport.  I have a particular affinity for cricket because of what happened in my childhood.  In those days there was no TV, of course, but sport was brought to us through the radio.  I succumbed to scarlet fever and had to be put in quarantine for six weeks to protect my younger brothers, because in the days before antibiotics scarlet fever was considered to be a dangerous illness.  So there I was stuck in a bedroom on my own upstairs away from all the family, and with only the radio to keep me company.  As luck would have it, a famous cricket series between England and Australia was being played, and there were a lot of exciting matches to listen to.  I had no idea about the subtleties of cricket which I was listening to (what was a “silly mid-off”, for example?), but I got hooked, and once hooked this interest in cricket has stayed with me all my life, to the extent that not long ago I went to my first cricket match to experience it at first-hand.  It was only then that I realised just how fast people bowled, and how dangerous a cricket ball could be.

For anybody reading this who may be interested in cricket, and particularly those in Australia who will be aware that we are in the midst of an Ashes series, there is a further lesson about the Fire element which my TV watching is teaching me at the moment.  There has been a surprising turn-around in the fortunes of the two teams, with the English team suddenly transformed from a rather dour, inhibited group of players into a cheerful, expansive (and successful) team.  And what do TV commentators, and I, too, attribute this success to?  To the injection into the team of some new Fire people.  As one commentator said about one of them, “It’s good to see a smile on his face.”  Looking carefully at the whole team, I realised that three of its new members appear not only to be Fire, but a very outgoing kind of Fire, probably with the Three Heater as their dominant official, for they all seem to be what we could call “the life and soul of the party”, a Three Heater characteristic.

So if you can catch a few moments watching cricket on TV over the next couple of months, look out for the following cricketers for clear evidence of the exuberance of Fire:  Joe Root (in particular), Mark Ward and Jos Buttler.  And for Australians reading this, it is worth looking at  their captain, Michael Clarke, who I think is also Fire, but a much quieter Fire, probably with its official the Heart Protector rather than the Three Heater.

Thus do I continue to learn whilst enjoying myself!



Wednesday, July 8, 2015

When words are not enough

A reader of my blog asked me to explain one of the quotations with which I like to litter this blog. This was the line from a book by Elizabeth von Arnim in which she wrote, “With this thing of chiffon she tried to protect herself from the eternities” (my blog of 25 June 2011).  What did I think this meant?  I did not know how to answer her, because I couldn’t myself put into words what I felt its meaning was, or why I felt so drawn to it.  This happens often to me, usually when I am reading poetry, but, as here, novels, too.

This called to mind something I read in a book on poetry by the broadcaster Clive James, himself a very good poet.  He said that he often did not himself really understand what a certain line in a poem meant, but that that was part of its mystery.  I, too, often don’t fully understand the words I am reading, though some, those that I like to write about, resonate with something within me, as if they evoke a deeper meaning than mere words can convey.  This is what the quotation my blog reader asked about does to me, as does another line, this time of poetry, which reverberates deep within me each time I read it.  This is the line from a John Clare poem (see my blog of 29 January 2015), “I am the self-consumer of my woes”. Even though I am not sure what this means, I think that I understand it at a level deeper than words of mine can explain.  And for everybody certain poems evoke this deeper resonance, without their maybe quite understanding what this is.  I like to think that these words reach us laden with some touch of the eternal.

And this also reminds me of Pascal’s words, which echo within me each time I look at the night sky:  Le silence éternel de ces espaces infinies m’effraye” (the eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me).   We could also call these “eternal spaces” the Dao into which we disappear at our death, far-distant spaces which we can regard as terrifying, but also awesome and inspiring.  I think that they must provide the inspiration behind all great art.  For what exalts us inevitably at some level can also terrify us.