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:  Wรถrterbuch (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.