Wednesday, May 27, 2015

How quickly Metal makes decisions

Although Wood is the element which controls decision making, it is Metal which is by the best element at making quick decisions.  It wants to make them all by itself, with no interference from anybody else. 

It is therefore a good element to give advice, because its advice is done in short, sharp sentences, and like any metal object cuts straight through to the heart of the problem

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

An amusing confirmation of my diagnostic skills

As many of you know, I enjoy watching sport on TV, as much for the sport itself as for being another way of observing the elements revealing themselves under stress.  And ever since I was a young child, in quarantine for 6 weeks with scarlet fever, and forced to amuse myself with the only thing available all those years ago, which was the radio (of course then called the “wireless”), I have enjoyed listening to cricket commentaries and now watching cricket on TV.  So imagine my delight when yesterday I heard a commentator describe one of the cricketers, Joe Root, who I had already diagnosed as definitely being Fire, with the words “Root is the heartbeat of the side”.

How nice to know that the elements evoke universal echoes in all of us, not just in those who learn about them as part of their acupuncture training.

If you want to see Joe Root in action, those of you who are from the cricket-loving and cricket-playing countries of the old British Commonwealth, look him up on YouTube, and you will see Fire blazing away.


Beware of becoming too comfortable in our work

All therapist can fall into bad habits over the years, risking becoming careless in what we do.  One such pitfall is that we may become a little bit too comfortable in our work, not challenging ourselves as much as should do.  We may start to forget that each time we see our patient we see a slightly different person who is altered by the passage of time.  The patient before us is not the same person we saw at the last treatment.  We have to understand the need to see them with fresh eyes, requiring possibly a different approach from us.

It is indeed very difficult to retain a freshness of approach to our patients if they have been coming to us for a long time.   Often we are only too pleased to welcome patients we think are doing well, because we feel they are unlikely to challenge us by presenting us with new problems.  These are patients whose treatment we assume to know in advance.  Here we can be at risk of falling into rather too well-worn a rut if we are not careful, thinking that our patients will be as they were before.  Perhaps unconsciously we ignore the possibility that they may have changed in some way, since changes require us to make more effort.  It is much easier, we may think, to continue doing what we have done so apparently satisfactorily before.

And then we may not see, or choose not to see, something in our patient which should be pointing us in a new direction.  A long- term patient of mine, whose treatment I regarded as being simple to plan ahead for, turned up for one appointment not as I expected her to be.  If I had not been alert, I could easily have overlooked the slight change I perceived in her.  She herself volunteered nothing until I probed a little more and discovered that quite a disturbing event had happened to her, which totally changed the direction of the treatment I was intending to give.  Looking back on this afterwards I realized that I had been in danger of assuming in advance that I would find her as I had done before, and might perhaps have ignored the pointer alerting me to a need to re-evaluate the treatment I was intending to give her, which was now no longer appropriate.  We must never assume that we know our patient’s needs of today, since yesterday may have changed them



Monday, May 25, 2015

Getting to know our patients

If you are going to be of any help at all to another human being, as we as acupuncturists surely hope to be, then we have to make every effort to get to know who the person is who is coming to us for help.  And getting to know somebody is certainly not as easy as it may sound.  For each of us can present different faces to the world, having learnt during our life to adapt ourselves to the different people we encounter.  The practice room represents an unknown world, and at first patients will be unsure both about the treatment being offered and the person offering this treatment.  Practitioners, too, meeting an unfamiliar person, will have their own concerns to face in adapting to what is to them also a new situation. 

All this represents different kinds of challenges.  Patients are being asked to reveal something of themselves to a stranger about whose capacity for empathy and ability to put them at their ease they are initially unsure of. They will be asking themselves whether the practitioner is a safe person to whom to show any vulnerabilities, those which all of us may wish to hide from others, but which reveal the true nature of why we are seeking help.  The practitioner, too, will be trying to adapt to the many different ways patients present themselves in the unfamiliar situation they find themselves in.

There is a great skill in helping a patient overcome their natural reticence at opening themselves up to another person.  We have to learn ways of convincing our patients that we are a safe repository for self-exposure of this kind.  We need to know what kind of a relationship with their practitioner our patients feels comfortable with, since for each person this differs.  Some, with a trust in human nature, will assume that anybody in the guise of practitioner will be worthy of this trust.  Others, at the other end of the spectrum, will take much longer and request much greater evidence from their practitioner that the practice room is a safe place before lowering their defences.

The initial encounters between patient and practitioner are therefore delicate affairs, requiring great sensitivity on the practitioner’s part to all the little signs we give out indicating where others must tread warily when they approach us.  If practitioners do not pick up such signals, we are very likely to act too clumsily and effectively silence our patient.  Here, as with all things, a knowledge of the elements comes to the practitioner’s aid.  For each element demands a different approach from us.  And as we get better and better at analyzing the complex nature of each approach, this will give us increased insight into what may well be our patient’s element.



Sunday, May 24, 2015

The legacy we leave behind

Every time I go to China I am reminded of how important the Chinese regard the transmission of knowledge from generation to generation.  For there on the wall in the centre where we teach I find a photo of JR Worsley, and hanging next it one of me, then of Mei and of Guy.  Our hosts regard us as the guardians of an inheritance of traditional acupuncture which is now no longer part of the traditional medicine practised in China, and all the more lamented for its absence.  And we, as inheritors of this tradition, are therefore warmly welcomed and deeply revered.

Here in the UK, and I suspect in the West in general, it is rare for such reverence to be accorded to those, like me, who have many years’ practical experience.  I am made aware of this each time I return from China, when I compare the number of practitioners wishing to learn personally from me, a very small group now, with the many who crowd into our twice-yearly seminars in China.  What is there about us in the West that we appear to be somewhat arrogant about how much we know and somewhat indifferent to how much we really still need to learn, whilst to the Chinese the acquisition of knowledge is a much sought after privilege?

I am also increasingly worried when I notice how few five element acupuncturists there are here in the West (and by implication also therefore in the future in China) who are prepared to go out and teach what they have learnt, something I find myself repeatedly pointing out.  And here I am talking only about those acupuncturists whose five element practice is not altered by the introduction of TCM concepts, as occurs unhappily nowadays all too often.   I am also concerned about how much of what I have learnt I will in turn pass on as my own personal transmission of this legacy.  Am I doing enough myself?

I always remember what a very wise old Austrian astrologer and musician, Dr Oskar Adler, wrote.  He said that we each have a duty to leave behind for others whatever we have ourselves learnt, however small and insignificant in our own eyes this might appear.  So I am always alert to the need to encourage any who are now practising five element acupuncture to have the courage to hand on whatever they have learnt to those coming after them.  There are, unfortunately, so few who want to do this, probably because they think they have to emulate JR Worsley who would diagnose people’s elements within a few minutes of meeting them.  Most of us know that it will take much, much longer to diagnose the elements.  This has never worried me.  As JR always reminded us, “I have been doing this for more than 40 years.  You will be able to do the same when you have practised as long as I have.”

In the meantime, I try to encourage experienced five element acupuncturists to take their courage in their hands and think about teaching others.  In my case, I only dared to start doing this because I was asked to run an evening class on acupuncture.  At first I was reluctant to accept this challenge, since I had only just qualified, but as JR told me later when I discussed my doubts with him,  “Remember, you know more than they do!”.  And another tutor of mine reinforced this by telling me, “When you teach, never pretend you know more than you do.  If you are honest and say that you don’t know the answer to a student’s question, tell them so and they will respect you for that.”  I myself never believe those who always seem to find an answer to everything, whilst I do believe those who tell me they don’t know what the answer is.  These I trust for their honesty.

So to any five element acupuncturist out there keen to pass on their knowledge to those with less experience than they have, I say, “Please do so, whatever your doubts.  After all, we badly need you.”