Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Two more quotes about the Wood and Metal elements

Sometimes I come across very appropriate quotations about the elements in books that I read.  I like to collect these.  Here are two more, one about the Wood element and the other about the Metal element, both from a book by Helen Dunmore called The Spell in Winter:

Wood quote:

I was bad at anger;  I’d always been bad at anger.  There was something pitiful in Miss Gallagher which muddled me.”

I, too, have always been "bad at anger".  That doesn't mean that I don't get angry.  I certainly do.  But my anger leaves a strong aftertaste in me which it takes me a long time to get rid of.  It is as though I am ashamed of feeling this emotion.  The "something pitiful" which the protagonist in this book feels is something which resonates with me, because I also tend to find quite legitimate excuses for the behaviour in people that has provoked my anger.

Metal quote:

“You live backwards as if there’s no tomorrow.”

I think this is a very acute observation of some aspects of the way in which Metal people live their lives, looking backwards and judging a past that is behind them.  I think that Wood, on the other hand, would like always  to "live forwards as if there will be no past".

Sunday, December 11, 2016

An attempt to de-mystify the term "possession" in five element acupuncture

There is much discussion going on in China at the moment around the term used in five element acupuncture which in English we call “possession”.  I gather that the Mandarin word which has been used to translate it has all the overtones which the English word has.  I have always felt that this is an unfortunate term, but one that is so embedded in five element practice that I have been reluctant to discard it and seek another, less charged one.  But now, because of the Chinese hesitancy in continuing to use it, it seems the right time to think again whether we need to change it to make it describe more accurately and appropriately the condition patients suffer from.  
I need first to define my understanding of the condition itself before trying to come up with a suitable new term for it.  It will help by describing what is, in effect, the very simple test we use to diagnose it.  Here the practitioner looks very closely straight into one of the patient’s eyes, and assesses how the patient reacts to this strongly focussed look.  In everyday life it is rare for us to stare straight into somebody’s eyes in this way, unless in an aggressive or very loving way.  In the normal course of events such an intense stare becomes uncomfortable both for the person staring and for the person being stared it, so that both will try to break off this close eye contact as soon as possible.  As a diagnostic tool in five element acupuncture, we are looking to see whether the patient does not react as expected, but instead continues to maintain eye contact without any apparent sign of discomfort.  In a non-possessed patient, there will be an almost immediate movement to the eye, a blink or a turning away, as evidence of the natural discomfort felt at being stared at in this way.  In possessed people, however, this does not happen;  the patient continues to stare unblinkingly at the practitioner.
This is the only, I repeat only, fail-safe way to diagnose this condition.  If present, it then requires a specific treatment which will clear it if done properly.  For the actual procedure, I would refer you to my Handbook of Five Element Practice (chapter 7 in the new Singing Dragon Press edition), which describes this in detail.
I have thought a great deal about what can cause possession, and then why the term seems to me to be an inaccurate and therefore misleading description, however ingrained it is in five element practice.  Most of my learning has come from observing my patients, chief amongst which is my experience of treating a young woman many years ago.  She had come for help to enable her to overcome her inability to sit down and eat with other people, having instead always to eat on her own.  She could not tell me when this fear of eating with others had started, nor could she think of any particular reason to explain it.  A few minutes after I had carried out the possession treatment, she said suddenly:  “When my mother went blind when I was 6…”  When I expressed my amazement that she had not told me this before, she was surprised to learn that she had not, adding, “They took me away to stay with my grandmother, and I thought my mother had died.  That was when I started to refuse to eat with other people.”  I realised then that the treatment had unlocked a door to her past which had been closed since her childhood.  I have had similar experiences with many other patients, where the possession treatment opened up some past history which was hindering them from living a full life.
I have come to regard possession as a form of defence mechanism protecting a patient from reliving some overpowering previous experience, a way of shutting themselves off from continuing to experience something that originally overwhelmed them.  When I was studying many years ago, one of my tutors told us that he regarded possession simply as a more extreme form of obsession, a condition in which the patient tries to gain some control over something which has overwhelmed them, whilst, in most cases, still managing to lead an apparently normal life.  In some people, however, such experiences become so overpowering that they cannot be controlled and can lead to serious psychological conditions, such as schizophrenia.
I do not regard possession as being the result of the invasion of some external force which the term might seem to imply.  I see it instead as an internal mechanism which patients develop to help them cope with a very difficult situation which they cannot deal with in any other way.  It is as though they put up a protective glass screen behind which they can hide themselves from the world, but which is often not visible to those around them.  My young patient had been living an apparently normal life, except with regard to her eating arrangements.  Possession should always therefore be seen as an escape route taken by those subject to some intolerable inner pain.
It is not easy to think of a good replacement term which removes the connection to other uses of the term which have a religious or mystical bias.  I am thinking this through carefully, and the only alternative I can think of at the moment is the term “Internal Dragons”.   This is the name given to one of the group of seven acupuncture points used in this treatment.  I remember being told some years ago that the seven points we use could be regarded as seven dragons chasing away seven demons, an image I liked.  This may again come a little too close to the concept of possession as occurring as a result of some invasion from outside, a kind of take-over by an alien force.  However, we can think of demons in much the same way as we talk of a person being subject to the “demon drink”, something somebody brings upon themselves, not something which attacks them from outside. 
It is heart-warming to me that five element acupuncture has such a simple and profound treatment protocol for helping restore to good health people suffering from such dislocation in their lives, and one which can break down the internal barrier that life has forced them to place between themselves and the world outside.  I find the image of calling upon kindly dragons to fight the internal demons which are trying to take control of our patients’ lives strangely comforting.
If I, and others around me, can think of a better term which satisfies the Chinese objections, I will pass this on in a future blog.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

How the elements cope with responsibility

Having written about the Wood element in positions of power in my last blog (posted 5 December), I feel I should turn my attention to the other elements.    Most obvious of all is a very clear representative of the Metal element, Barack Obama (with, standing at his shoulder, one of the greatest statesmen of them all, Nelson Mandela).  I can think of no greater antithesis to Donald Trump than Obama.  Where Trump is impulsive, given to displays of unco-ordinated thought and action, we have in Obama the very epitome of the opposite, somebody who thinks things through carefully, utters no unconsidered word or action, stands back, observes and only then acts or speaks. Trump’s impulsive tweeting would be anathema to Metal.

So I am left to consider the remaining three elements, Fire, Earth and Water.  As those who have read my Keepers of the Soul  (Chapter 6) already know, over the years I have always used Tony Blair as an excellent example of one aspect of the Fire element, Inner Fire (Small Intestine).   This side of Fire has a toughness coming from its need to sort things appropriately for the Heart, and will feel that it must refuse to do what it does not consider right to do, and force through what it thinks right.  Whatever our opinion of Tony Blair’s decision about the Iraq war, he was convinced, and is still convinced, that this was necessary, and would not allow public opinion, so vehemently against him at the time, to sway him.  There was, too the added pressure exerted upon him from his association with George Bush (another Wood leader to go with Donald Trump and Theresa May), who drew Tony Blair in his wake.

I think that the other side of Fire, Outer Fire, is well represented by two flamboyant politicians, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, both able to attract supporters by acting the clown and making them laugh, a very different Fire quality to that of Tony Blair.

Fire and Wood are the two strong yang, outward facing elements keen to push themselves forward.  We can contrast that here with Obama’s Metal, with its inward-turning yin qualities.

We are now left with the last two elements, Earth and Water.  Interestingly, what I consider to be the most powerful element of all, Water, does not like to push itself too strongly into the limelight, as befits its deeply yin nature, making it the most hidden of all elements, as it works away in the dark.  The most obvious politician I can think of to show Water’s characteristics is Gordon Brown, briefly a Prime Minister, and yet somebody who for many years attempted to undermine Tony Blair and usurp his position.  When faced with the first opportunity to challenge Blair, though, he hesitated and retreated, only becoming Prime Minister once Tony Blair had resigned.  And as Prime Minister, despite so desperately wanting this position for so many years, he was surprisingly hesitant and uneasy in the limelight.

Finally, Earth, for which, David Cameron, our former Prime Minister, is a good example.  Here is a man at ease with himself, and easy in the company of others, with one of those soothing Earth voices.  Once having made the fatal decision to hold the referendum, he was unable to deal with its consequences, resigning immediately rather than facing them.  Powerful when surrounded by others in power (the yang aspect of Earth), Earth’s yielding yin aspect came to the fore when he lost the referendum, and like Gordon Brown, but for other reasons, he retreated rapidly into the background.  In the last glimpse of him on the Downing Street doorstep he was, appropriately for Earth, closely surrounded by his family.

Some people reading these thoughts of mine will disagree with my conclusions, but I hope what I have written has at least made them think a little more about how the elements, in shaping all of us, shape our politicians in very specific ways.  These may often be disturbing ways, but equally often, I hope, positive ones, too.  After all, South Africa would still be under the thrall of apartheid if there had been no Nelson Mandela.  I hold fast to my thoughts of him as a good antidote to fearing what Trump may unleash upon the world.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The pitfalls of making snap diagnoses

Since all five element acupuncturists know that diagnosing a patient’s element takes much time and is certainly not done in an instant, it is obvious that trying to do the same by looking at the necessarily brief glimpses of politicians and other famous people on television or social media can at best be a rather hit and miss affair, and at worst may lead us to making completely erroneous conclusions.  I remember well that I was convinced that Julia Roberts was Fire, because this is how I interpreted her endless smiling.  I told all my students this until one day, a good few years later, when my understanding of the different qualities of the elements had obviously deepened, I noticed a different reaction in me to this smile.  It certainly did not warm me, but, instead, irritated me with what I now thought was its artificiality.  I realised suddenly that, rather than giving me something, as Fire always tries to do, it was demanding something of me.  Once I had noticed this, I changed my diagnosis from Fire to Earth, and have stuck with that ever since.  This was a good warning to me always to hedge my conclusions about elements with a few question-marks.

So, now being an older and wiser observer of my fellow human beings, I hesitate a bit in offering my thoughts on the elements of politicians much in the news at the moment, but if I don’t add my slice of knowledge to what others are trying to learn about the elements, then I think that is a bit cowardly.  Those of us who have been looking at the elements for many years (in my case over 35 years) have a duty to pass on whatever they have learnt to those with less experience.  So here goes with what I have observed in two politicians very much in the news at the moment: Theresa May, in this country, and Donald Trump, in the United States.

At such a difficult time for the world, I find it interesting and disturbing that the fate of so many people is in the hands of two people I consider to be of the Wood element.  Leaving aside their politics, what is it about the Wood element which makes me wary of this element being the guiding force in a leader of a country (and in Trump’s case in a leader of the Western world)?  I’ve thought carefully about this, and will continue to do so as I observe their words and their actions over the next crucial months.  Here I can draw on the knowledge of the Wood element I have gained through my acupuncture practice.  If we think of the cycle of the elements as describing the arc of a human life from birth to death, then after its period of gestation in the seed of all life, the Water element, life emerges into the open in the Wood element, at its point of birth, and then on to early childhood.  I ask myself whether I want my leaders to express the childlike qualities which the Wood element can often show.

What, then, are Wood’s qualities which will manifest themselves in the positions of power held by a country’s leaders?   It definitely has a lot of strength and stamina, good qualities in a leader.  Its principal emotion is a kind of forcefulness of character which demands that others do what it wants them to do, but it can express itself in outbursts of anger if those around it do not fall in with its plans.  We see this kind of anger very clearly in Donald Trump’s emotional outbursts and also the lack of control which accompanies them.  Wood does not yet have the maturity to rein in this anger if this would be a wiser course to take.  Theresa May, too, though much less overtly Wood-like than Donald Trump, shows flashes of anger if a situation does not please her.  A constituent of hers at a meeting with her said that she became very irritated when questioned too closely.  Observing her on a BBC programme, I noticed that as the camera panned back to her after I suspect she thought she was no longer on public view, she looked surprisingly cross – not at all the bland, controlled persona she had shown us during the interview itself.

So it will be very interesting to see how these two leaders deal with the inevitably difficult times which lie ahead for them.  It does not therefore surprise me that, as of this date, 5 December, Theresa May has not yet come up with any clear plans for how to proceed with Brexit.  Though planning and decision making are the prerogative of the Wood element, they can easily lead, on the one hand, to over-dogmatic statements (“Brexit means Brexit” being one of them), and, on the other, to hesitancy, if the Wood element is under stress.  And who, in the positions of power which May and Trump hold, will not be under stress in one form or other?  Rather worryingly for both of them, this sense of balance in their Wood element seems rather to be absent, in Trump’s case most obviously so, his Tweets being clear evidence of this.  Theresa May, too, certainly made some hasty, rather odd decisions soon after coming to power (reinstatement of grammar schools and delaying a decision on the Hinkley Point nuclear power station).  One of these decisions (grammar schools) has since disappeared without trace, and she rescinded the other very quickly and rather ignominiously in the light of China’s anger.  

She has said that thinking about what to do about Brexit keeps her awake at night.  Rather amusingly, I see this as a clear sign of the struggles her Wood element is undergoing to keep everything on track as it passes through its horary time between 11 pm at night and 3 am in the morning.  Angry as I am about all the unnecessary expenditure which will be spent on the Brexit negotiations and would much better be spent on care homes for the elderly or children’s playgrounds for the young, I know I will still find it fascinating to observe how what I consider to be these two clear examples of the Wood element in power will deal with that power.



Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Words, words, words!

So many words to read in so many different books and in so many different languages, and so little time to do this in!  I have a large pile of books sitting waiting for me to read – books I have borrowed from the local library (most of them), books I have bought secondhand from Oxfam or on-line, and then (just a few) books I have bought for myself using a generous book token given to me for my birthday a few weeks ago.

Looking at this pile, I realise again, as I have increasingly begun to realise, that I have no chance of re-reading any but a few of the many of my own books filling my book- cases.  Sometimes I look longingly at volumes of Marcel Proust (in French, of course – being a linguist), which are waiting hopefully for me to open their pages again, many, many years after I used them to work on as part of an (unsuccessful) postgraduate degree.  I say to myself that if I decide to submerge myself once again in Proust’s glorious French I will not be able to read anything new for at least a few months – and I don’t want to sacrifice for this the time I would like to dedicate to discovering some exciting new writer who will open my eyes to a new world of words.

The only writers I have regularly re-read in the past are some of the classical authors, such as Dickens, Trollope or George Eliot, and, perhaps considered slightly odd, some old-fashioned detective stories which belonged to my mother and to which I return again and again as they envelop me in a familiar and comfortable world of the past, such as Ellis Peters or Patricia Wentworth.

I now have an absolute font of knowledge about good detective stories.  As for many people, they are my escape into a fantasy world where the good always triumphs and the bad is eventually defeated.  In the real world the opposite often seems to be true, and particularly so now.  In these very uncertain times, I need an escape route like this which goes some way to relieving some of the distress I feel at what is happening in the world outside.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

The filter our element lays between us and the world

The more I try to teach people about the elements, the more I realize that over the years I have worked out my own personal, possibly rather idiosyncratic way of interpreting the signals a patient’s elements are sending me, and using these as pointers to a particular element.  I imagine that all experienced five element acupuncturists must do the same.  None of these pointers will be exactly those other practitioners have discovered, because everything we experience has to pass through the filter with which our guardian element envelops us.  Even though some of the impressions we receive from a patient may have some similarity with those which others will experience, we will each put our own interpretation upon them.

I was reminded of this a few days ago when I ran a seminar with Guy Caplan.  He is Metal and I am Fire, so inevitably we see life through two very different filters.  This was emphasized for me when both of us were interacting with a very lively Fire patient.  As usual, whenever I am in the presence of Fire in another person I relax because I can feel that I am on familiar ground.  So this particular patient, though very much out of control Fire, did not prove a problem for me to treat.  On the contrary, I felt I knew exactly how she needed to be treated, which was in a robust, quite challenging way, my Fire, as it were, blazing away to control her overheated Fire.  Guy, on the other hand, told me that he found her exaggerated gaiety uncomfortable to deal with, and would have taken longer to work out how to react to it and contain it.  We can interpret this as hot Fire threatening to melt Metal, whilst hot Fire just makes me feel, not perhaps always completely comfortable to be with, but certainly not difficult to deal with.

This is why as practitioners we should do all that we can to find out what our particular element is, recognize its qualities, make allowances for its weaknesses, and take all these factors into account when dealing with our patients.  This is not an easy task, because we all have a tendency to think that when we have an uneasy relationship with our patient the fault lies in them not in us.  It is good to remind ourselves at intervals that this is not so.  Often it is the balance of the elements within us, particularly that of our guardian element, which is shaping our relationship to our patient, and perhaps distorting it in some way which we fail to recognize.



Friday, November 11, 2016

A new world order perhaps?

I find it exhilarating – both fascinating and appalling – to be a witness to the enormous events of the past few months, now culminating in Trump’s triumph.  These events are called seismic, because, like earthquakes, they burst out and demolished much of the old political order.  First we had Brexit, and now we have Trump (Brexit, Brexit plus plus as he himself said).  Brexit was bad enough to deal with, and many of us, me included, are still unable properly to deal with it (which is why I now wear a badger proudly proclaiming “Brexit does not mean Brexit”, to be obtained from Joy Gerrard at, who very kindly designed this at my request).

Being appalled by what is happening in this country and the US is, in my view, easy – but to see this as forming part of some kind of important trend in the history of the world is much harder to envisage.  This only became possible for me after I heard Madeleine Albright, the US Senator and former Secretary of State, giving a very illuminating talk on the BBC Today programme yesterday.  Among other things, she said that “the social contract has been broken.  People are talking to their government with 21st century technology,  the government hears them with 20th century technology, and answers them with 19th century technology.”  I interpret this as meaning that there is a huge disconnect between how we are now governed and how we need to be governed in this new world of ours.  And what can be seen as the protest votes of all those who supported Jeremy Corbyn or voted for Brexit or have sent Trump to the White House are all signs of this huge disconnect.

Perhaps we are now seeing the last dying struggles of the old order, in which the money and power of the elite 1% has dominated over the feelings of inadequacy and abandonment of the remaining 99%.  Seen from this viewpoint, the triumphs of Jeremy Corbyn, the Brexiteers and Trump represent a powerful uprising of those who feel dispossessed and marginalized against an established order which has so far always favoured the advantaged, a sad symbol of this being the mantra of “austerity” imposed for many years upon the disadvantaged in many countries from Greece to this country.

Maybe, then, what we are seeing happening now are the death throes of one world order and the inevitable birth pangs of another hopefully more enlightened one.  It may be fanciful of me to hope that this is so, but hope is what we need when what has seemed to be a dark pall of despair has hung over us for so long.  We need now to hope for a breakthrough to a better world which will build itself slowly on the ruins of the breakdown we are witnessing today.

This is why I like to read the blog written by Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek Finance Minister., to be found at, because he and those working with him throughout the world are endeavouring to make the case for a new world order.  This gives me hope that there are enough people out there not content just to complain about the state of the world but to do something about it. ,

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Thoughts on my return from China

So here I am sitting comfortably once again in my favourite London coffee shop, and feeling as though the past 10 days in China have been like a dream and never happened. This is always how I feel on my return from such a different environment and culture.  I am suffering a bit from jet-lag after our 11-hour flight, but not as much as I normally do, because Guy has given me a tip on how to combat jet-lag.  This is for acupuncturists only, I’m afraid, but consists in needling the horary points of the elements whose times we are entering as we move from one time-zone to another.  It does seem to work, although not every time, I found.  Certainly, after self-needling a series of points during sleepless intervals during the night, I woke this morning experiencing none of the heavy jet-lag I normally feel.

On our flight back, Guy and I enjoyed ourselves mulling over the very happy days we had spent with our students on the two seminars we held, and making plans for what we will be doing at our next scheduled visit in April 2017.  We always say that the seminar we have just completed is our best, but these two truly were the best, because we saw such an improvement in five element practice even in the short time since we were last in China.  I often feel that the enthusiasm and dedication our Chinese students show put our Western-based students to shame.  It is such a joy for me to see how what started in 2011 with a mere 15 students in Nanning has now grown five years later to many hundreds of practitioners throughout China.  This is an awesome achievement, and makes me very proud of all the work everybody has put into developing five element acupuncture there - from Professor Liu Lihong who first invited me, through Mei and Guy, and on to every one of those who have moved the study of five element acupuncture forward to where it is at present in China.

I would like to dedicate this blog to all who made our latest visit such a rewarding one, and in particular Lynn Yang who organized everything so beautifully, as she always does, and held everything together, from the moment of our arrival at Beijing Airport to that of our departure.  I would also like to thank her and Caroline who as usual acted as such splendid translators for us.  And then we owe a great deal of the success of our visit to a small army of helpers who took much of the strain of organizing the very large group of well over 100 acupuncturists into orderly ranks so that they could observe treatments in the practice rooms in small batches.  All of these helpers together made my 10th visit to China such a successful and joyous event.



Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Off to my 10th visit to China

I will be getting on the plane to Beijing tomorrow where Mei, Guy and I will be giving two seminars.  The first will be over 5 days, for about 120 students, nearly all of whom we have not seen before.  To attend this seminar they must first have taken part in one of the introductory five element courses given by former students of ours, a healthy sign of how many acupuncturists over there already feel competent enough to teach others.  The second two-day seminar is for a more advanced group of about 50 practitioners, all of whom have come to some of our previous seminars.

Finally, to round off our visit, on our last day something quite different is planned.  The day will be spent at the Institute of Acupuncture of the China Academy of Chinese Medical Science, a Chinese medicine research institute under the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine.  I an told that it is responsible for 17 research institutes, 6 medical organizations, 2 pharmaceutical companies and a publishing house.  It has been working with the World Health Organization and has edstablished three centres of clinical research into acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine.

In the morning the Institute will be host to the inaugural meeting of the new Five Element Acupuncture Association. This is an umbrella association covering those teaching five element acupuncture according to the principles handed on to them during the seminars we have held over the past five years.  As we know, there is always a risk that some may set themselves up as experts in their field based upon little practical experience, and this is particularly true of acupuncture in China where many thousands of practitioners now qualify from universities of traditional Chinese medicine each year.  The association will be aimed at ensuring that those intending to teach this particular branch of five element acupuncture are qualified to do so. In the afternoon we will be holding a seminar for the Institute of Acupuncture, making this a very full last day indeed.

As usual I am taking quite a few books with me as presents, including children’s books for some of the babies born to graduates of our previous seminars, some more of my books as presentation copies to the various institutes, and, this time, a selection of Monkey Press books which Sandra Hill has kindly donated, and which they are not familiar with over there.  I am also taking a selection of my own books which my publisher, Singing Dragon Press, has asked me to pass on to the Chinese publisher.  This publishing house has now signed an agreement for the publication of translations of my other four books, in addition to the translation of my Handbook of Five Element Practice (the book, which I proudly tell everybody, has already sold more than 20,000 copies over there).  Mei has already translated my Simple Guide, which is now in the process of being published. Translations of the other three books, the Keepers of the Soul (my very favourite book), Patterns of Practice and On Being a Five Element Acupuncturist (my blog book, I call it), are also already in the pipeline. 

So a lot of things are happening in China on the five element acupuncture front, something I feel I am blessed to witness and to participate in.

I will report back further on my return to London at the end of October.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

For simplicity’s sake – another heartfelt plea

Anybody who knows anything about me will know how often I plead for one basic principle of five element acupuncture, which is to keep it simple.  I always hear JR Worsley’s voice in my ear telling us that we really only need 3 minutes with our patients, one to look at them, two to decide on the point(s) to needle and three to say goodbye.  It was said jokingly (or at least I assumed it was), but like everything he said it hides profound wisdom.  The longer I practise, the more I have come to understand this.

As all good five element acupuncturists know, the aim of treatment is to hand control back to the elements within the patient as quickly as possible.  All treatment represents an interference with a patient’s natural energy, a temporary taking-over of control.  We were always told that it is not we who heal our patients, it is nature which does this through the elements which create the world outside and create our bodies and within them our souls.  So if we can find out where a hitch has occurred in the beautiful, health-giving flow of energy round the cycle of the elements, and help reinstate this natural flow, our work is done and we should withdraw from the scene.

From this viewpoint it can then be regarded as a waste of energy to spend so much time mulling over the actions of individual points rather than trying to pinpoint the element under stress and choosing points relating to that element. Sadly, though, I see too many people doing this.  We can call this “not seeing the wood for the trees”.

There is no doubt that it requires much humility to accept that observing the work of the elements in a human being demands skills which we can only acquire over time and involves much hard work.  For example, I like to tell people that it took me many years accurately to recognize the fear at the heart of the Water element, or that flushed red cheeks did not, as I assumed, point to Fire, but either to Wood or Earth out of control.  (In the case of Wood, it is because it is depriving its child Fire of the warmth it needs, and therefore Fire tries to stoke it up artificially, or in the case of Earth, it is because its mother, Fire, is out of control and passes on too much Fire to its child.  Fire never has permanently flushed skin.  Its colour flushes and then fades again quite quickly.  It often has a kind of blotchy red look.)  It took me a long time and much evidence from treating patients to recognize this and to accept that this was so.

But once we realize that what we need to do is study people as closely as possible wherever we encounter them (TV or cafes are good places to observe the significant interactions which point to one element or another), and gradually to build up a personal filing system of indicators for each element, then practice becomes simpler and simpler.  The mantra, as always, is “find the element and the points look after themselves”.  I don’t think it matters at all if I choose one point and another practitioner chooses another, provided both strengthen the patient’s guardian element.

Monday, September 12, 2016

We comfort eat when we don't get enough comfort from eating

A few days ago I was sitting in my favourite cafĂ© enjoying my favourite meal of the day, which is breakfast – a small espresso with a drop of very hot milk and a fresh croissant to dunk into it.  I was contemplating the world around me, thinking how good it was peacefully to savour the taste of what I was eating, when a thought popped into my mind, which was how important it is to give ourselves the time to enjoy food.

That led me to think how little attention we often now pay to the simple pleasure of eating when we can dash into a coffee-house and grab a quick drink and a bite to eat on our way to hurrying to wherever we are going.  This made me consider what this is doing to our Earth element, our mother element which is there to nourish and support the other elements, and which needs to be nourished and supported itself if it is to do its work properly.  It has to learn how to do this, as all elements do, as they gradually take over the role their mother has taken on in the womb.  I now watch with dismay as mothers stuff bottles into small babies’ mouths in their prams in the street or even in buses amidst all the tumult and traffic noise.  Here there is none of the peaceful enjoyment of feeding time which we should be allowing our babies, and which help their tender little Earth elements to assume their role.   

I wonder how far our lack of attention to the actual process of enjoying the food we put in our mouths, particularly in the early days of a child’s life, is one of the reasons for the sharp rise in obesity we see all around us.  The Earth element can only develop as it should in a loving, caring environment, where it is able to welcome food as something which warms and nourishes it.  It needs this to sustain a healthy relationship to food throughout later life.  If it is denied this comfort because its Stomach official is asked to snatch at the food that reaches it, it will try to hold on to as much of this food as it can, being unwilling to discard what is unwanted because it is not given enough time to process it.   Rather than satisfying it, then, the food that reaches it is tantalizingly snatched away as it is gobbled down in the hurly-burly of modern life.

This may perhaps be one of the reasons behind the success of so many TV cookery programmes.  Do we, through them at one remove as it were, learn to enjoy again, or even for the first time, the delights of food cooked as it should be, as though we are kidding ourselves that this is how we are feeding ourselves?  Is this, too, the reason for the runaway success of The Great British Bake Off, with a mother or a grandmother substitute for the whole country so clearly there in Mary Berry, as the TV immerses us in succulent images of home-baked cakes, so Earth-like a delight?

Somewhere hidden in this, too, may well lie the reason why I hardly pass a person in the street who is not holding a cup of coffee or tea in their hands, often making no attempt to drink it, a substitute for a mother’s nipple if there ever was one, as though their Earth element is sending out a constant reminder to them of its need for attention.

And is this, too, why I so enjoy sitting in a coffee house with my coffee and croissant, a reminder, perhaps, of home and hearth (and mother) all those years ago?

Friday, August 26, 2016

The challenge of treating very young children

In the early days of my practice I was very reluctant to treat young children.  I knew that they could not themselves tell me what was wrong, and without talking to them I was not sure how I was going to diagnose their element.  Everything I learnt about them would therefore have to be filtered through what their parent told me. (For simplicity’s sake I will call the mother the parent, although the same holds true for the father.)  Before seeing the child, therefore, we need to arrange to talk to the mother quietly on her own, and not in the child’s hearing.  Ideally this should be done face to face, rather than on the phone, and certainly not by email.  A private talk will also yield crucial information about the mother’s relationship to the child, and here we have to use our diagnostic skills to discover what exactly is going on between mother and child.

Most, if not all, problems in young children (and in later life!) originate in family life.  The difficulty for us here is that most parents are often unaware of the part they play in this, for, like most of us when faced with unpleasant facts, we are reluctant to admit to our own responsibility.  A parent of a distressed child often has unresolved issues around being a parent which may well be, and usually is, the prime reason for disturbance in the child.  I have some very good examples of this from my own practice which have reinforced my conviction that if only I could treat the mother, the young child would probably not need treatment.  This conviction, and often my experiences of failing to help the child, have reinforced my increasing reluctance over the years to treat young children.    

I was fortunate that I was able to take the first two children I was asked to treat to see JR Worsley.  This was at a very early stage in my practice, when I did not know how I should approach treating them.  The first child was a young boy of about 3, who was said by his mother to be completely out of control.  He would only let his mother touch him, refused to relate to anybody else and had been given a provisional diagnosis of autism.  His mother and I had to drag him kicking and screaming from the car to the practice room, where JR, after looking at him quickly, told me to carry out the AE drain, despite his loud protests, with his mother and me holding him firmly on my lap.  As I recall there was no AE, although I have since often found a surprising amount of AE in even the youngest child. 

JR diagnosed the element as Wood, and told me to follow the AE drain with the source points on Wood on the left side only.   To my surprise, shortly after the treatment, the young boy suddenly fell quiet, turned his head to look at me and kept eye contact as I walked away, something he had not done with any of us before.  I interpreted this as the Wood element diffusing his terrible sense of anger.   From then on, for the few treatments he continued to come to me once a fortnight for the simple five element command point treatment JR had recommended, he would run happily to greet me as though he enjoyed his treatments.  Nobody would then have diagnosed him as other than a normal little boy.

Sadly, however, I was only allowed to treat him a few more times. JR had pointed out that I should do possession treatment on the mother, luckily a patient of mine, something I had not yet noted, but very shortly afterwards, the mother abruptly stopped treatment for both herself and her child. The child’s father, who was very happy with my continuing to treat his son, explained his wife’s decision to stop treatment by the fact that she was very disturbed to think that I might think that she was the cause of the child’s problems, something she denied totally.  He himself could see that she was much too possessive of the child, but could do little to persuade her to allow me to continue treating their child.

I had similar experiences with two other mothers, both of whom, though ostensibly wanting help for their young children, refused to acknowledge that there was anything in their own attitudes to their children which might be contributing to the problem, and both quickly discontinued the child’s treatment very early on despite quite clear evidence that it was helping.

Of course, other practitioners may have had happier experiences of treating children than I have had, and their experiences may well be with less complex mother-child relationships than mine have been.  I’m sure, too, that much can be done to help young children deal with whatever problems, psychological or physical, they come to you with simply by trying hard to diagnose the element by means of any information you can glean, then doing an AE drain and basic five element treatment. 
I am happy, though, that I can finish this blog with a rather lovely story of the successful treatment of a young child, though I never saw the child or inserted a single needle.  A patient of mine had an 18 month-old daughter who had suddenly started to suffer from asthma.  Could I do something to help, she asked me.  With some of the unhappy experiences I had had in mind, I was at first reluctant to do so, but then I put on my five element hat, and asked myself.  “Why would a little baby develop asthma?  Why would its Metal element be in such distress?”  Metal, being the element of our relationship to our father, I asked whether anything had recently changed at home, particularly in relation to the child’s father.  She told me that he had joined a golf club, and was now away from home for much of the weekend.  Before this, the whole family had had happy weekends doing things together.  I talked through the needs of the Metal element with both father and mother, and suggested that the father should make every effort to be with the child as much as he could, perhaps sacrificing some golf for his child’s sake. This was rather a long shot on my behalf, and I wasn’t very optimistic that this would help.
To the father’s credit he did this, and even I was surprised when the mother told me that, after a few weeks of increased attention from the father, the child’s asthma started to improve, and eventually disappeared altogether.  And this without the need for any medication, or any needles.  Here both parents had enough insight into family relationships and were open to listening to advice, something which is unfortunately rather rare, as we know.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Thoughts on the Fire element and other elements prompted by watching Usain Bolt and others at the Rio Olympics

Usain Bolt is, of course, pure Fire, at the moment the most visible example dominating our headlines.  Watching him interact with the crowd has added to my knowledge of Fire, and made me think more of what it tries to offer those around it.  So here are some more of my insights.

Fire wants to share its smile, its laughter, its thoughts.  If you watch Fire’s eyes they are always looking directly in the eyes of another person when they are talking or smiling or laughing to make sure that their speech, their smiles or their laughter are being received by somebody.  You could say that Fire regards them as gifts they want to offer others.

All elements can talk, smile and laugh, but their interactions will be directed outwards in different ways because they come from a different space within them, created, as everything we do is, by a particular guardian element.  Wood wants to command attention, point something out, Earth wants to ensure that all within hearing respond to it, for it likes being at the centre of a circle, not demanding one to one attention.  Metal, true to its natural desire to observe and judge life from a distance, will tend to keep many things to itself, saying the minimum that it thinks needs to be said, often choosing to keep its thoughts to itself, unless actively asked to share them.  Its smiles and its laughter are more like brief flashes breaking out, as though disturbing its preference for silence.  Compare, for example, the quiet celebration of joy that Jessica Ennis (Metal, I think) shows at winning with Usain Bolt’s tumultuous one, where he draws the whole world around him, spectators and TV audiences alike, to help him share his joy.

Finally, there is Water, always last in my list, because it is such a mysterious element and so difficult for me to pin down, with its often rather hysterical outpourings of speech and emotion, which are more likely to make us step away rather than drawing us towards it, because it makes us feel unsure of what we are experiencing and how we should be reacting.

I use a study of myself, as Fire, more than of anybody else in trying to fathom the secrets of what Fire wants of life.  Thinking of Usain Bolt, as I was this morning, I realised that my need to share my thoughts appears in the urge behind my teaching and my writing, particularly of my blogs and now in my Question and Answer Facebook sessions.  And I want to share my thoughts immediately, almost unable to wait until I have somebody with me, either in person or through social media of some kind, with whom to share them.  I can’t not share, just as Usain Bolt can’t not smile. 

Hence this blog.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

How to approach treating a patient with breast cancer

From a five element perspective, the onset of any illness or imbalance of any kind should be interpreted as being the result of some blockage in the balanced flow of life-giving energy round the cycle of the elements. There are many ways in which energy can become blocked, the simplest block being that between mother and child, where for some reason the mother is prevented from passing on enough of her good energy to her child, treated by needling the tonification points.  Another form of energy transfer is that between the grandmother and grandchild elements, bypassing the mother element because the grandmother has more energy than the mother to pass on.  And then there are all the other forms of blocks, such as Entry/Exit blocks, and the three major blocks, Aggressive Energy, Husband-Wife and Possession.

The important thing when treating somebody who comes to us with a serious condition, as in the case of breast cancer, is not to think that we have to approach treating the patient in any way differently from the way we approach every new patient.  We need to go through the same steady first steps of treatment: trying to diagnose the guardian element, checking for any blocks, beginning with an AE drain, and then concentrating our attention upon strengthening the element we have chosen as much as we can.  With a specific diagnosis, such as in the case of breast cancer,  we should also think carefully about which particular meridians flow around and through the area of the body where problems are occurring, here the breast, and consider which potential blockages might be occurring there which have led, may potentially have led or may in the future lead to symptoms appearing.  In the case of breast problems I always needle the points used to clear blocks between Spleen and Heart (a XII-1, Sp-Ht block), and between Kidney and Heart Protector (a IV-V, Ki-HP block).  I do this even though my pulse readings may not necessarily indicate these blockages are there, but because needling these points can be regarded as a preventative measure.  This will encourage the good flow of energy around the affected breast, and will thus help prevent future blocks occurring.  In addition, since pulse interpretation is such a highly skilled art, I never like to rely entirely on my own pulse reading skills.

If there is already any surgical scarring around this area, the points should only be needled on the healthy, unaffected side, since patients are warned against needling near the scar tissue.  Correcting the good flow of energy through a meridian on one side of the body will also help correct its sister flow on the other side.

For further information about how to diagnose and treat blocks, I would refer you to my Handbook of Five Element Practice which discusses each block in greater detail.  I have also written two other blogs about entry/exit points, one on 14 December 2010 and the other on 22 May 2012, and a blog about treating a patient with terminal cancer on 27 Feb 2013.

In addition to my blogs, the last chapter of my book The Pattern of Things (now published by Singing Dragon Press under the title of Patterns of Practice), entitled Afterword: Healing in Death, is my tribute to the courage of a terminally ill cancer patient of mine, and offers a good description of how I approached treating her in the last year of her life.

Needle retention

One of the questions I was recently asked on my Facebook Question and Answer sessions was about needle retention.  The questioner asked whether there was any difference between manipulating the needle and then leaving it in place, which I interpreted as referring to our five element sedation technique,  or removing the needles immediately after needling, our tonification technique.  This made me consider carefully what the effect a needle left in the skin has.  It is fairly simple to me to understand that when we stimulate a point and remove the needle we are then handing back to the patient’s own energy the task of continuing the effect the tonification needle is intended to produce, without any further interference from the acupuncturist (and I use the word interference advisedly).
But what is actually happening when the needles are left in place, and, as sometimes happens, are stimulated again at intervals?  In effect, any needle left in a point continues to activate this point in some way.  Sedating a point will therefore draw energy away from the sedated meridian for as long as the needle is inserted.  In this case, the acupuncturist continues to treat (to interfere, as I call all treatment) for as long as he/she decides to leave the needle, or more usually the needles, in.
It is interesting that in all the years that I worked under JR’s supervision or watched him work with others I cannot remember a single occasion when he said that we should sedate rather than tonify an element, except, of course for an AE drain and for Possession treatment.  But for these two treatments the needles are never manipulated whilst in the skin, just re-positioned if we feel they are not in the right place or threaten to fall out.  I have always interpreted the minimal use of sedation in five element acupuncture as a sign that the initial AE drain on all patients at the first treatment draws away any excess energy from the relevant elements in the patient, leaving us to do what is then needed, which is to stimulate deficient energy, i.e., to tonify and boost the flow of good energy between the elements.
In other forms of acupuncture, it seems that sedation of points by leaving needles in place forms a major role in treatment.  I wonder, though, with sedation of this kind which may well calm and pacify energy, what is then done to boost it?

Monday, July 25, 2016

"1 of the 48%"

I am still reeling from the result of the referendum.  And I don’t agree with many people’s passive acceptance that “Brexit means Brexit”.  It certainly doesn’t, or at least only if we, who so violently oppose cutting ourselves off from Europe, tamely accept that it does.

So I am on a personal mission to fight what I consider to be the good fight.  I have bought some badges supporting the EU, one of which I now wear proudly everywhere.  It says “1 of the 48%”, and has already provoked an argument from a “leaver”, but also much support from others.

And then I make sure that I buy a copy of the New European, which calls itself a “pop-up newspaper”.  It appeared within a week of the referendum, and gives a very healthy European slant to the news.  Originally, they said that there were only going to be 4 weekly copies, as a brief protest against the referendum result, but we’re on to copy 3 now and people are buying it, so I hope it changes its mind and carries on.

I also heard Paddy Ashdown talking on the Andrew Marr programme yesterday morning about a new group he and many others are bringing together called MoreUnited ( ) which, as he put it so persuasively, is there to give voice to the voiceless, those who don’t want to belong to any political party, but feel fervently that Britain should not cut itself off from its international roots.  It wants to campaign strongly against the idea that we have to go along with the idea of Brexit, rather than ensuring that we continue to fight against it.  So that’s another cause I decided to support.

And finally, to my own surprise, as somebody who has always been a floating voter, not attached to any particular party, I have thrown caution to the winds and have joined the Liberal Democrat party, because they are the only party who has said that they will base their plans for the next election solely on fighting to remain in the EU.

So it’s been a politically rather hectic few days for me, my pro-European feelings strengthened even more by the terrible events in France and Germany.  This is surely not the time to withdraw into an isolationist shell, as though we are trying to tuck ourselves out of sight in this corner of Europe.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Treatment of alopecia - another satisfactory use of a CV/GV block

A fellow practitioner, Jo Banthorpe, invited me to her practice for a day in mid-May to help with the treatment of some of her patients.  Before I arrived she warned me that she looked somewhat different from when we had last seen each other because she had developed alopecia, and now had large bare patches on her head.  She had therefore shaved her hair close to the skull to make these patches less noticeable.  I have Jo's permission to write about this.

During the day with her I asked her whether she had had treatment for a CV/GV (Ren Mai/DuMai) block, or had even considered this as being the cause of the alopecia.  I told her that over the years I had successfully treated several patients with alopecia, each having been told that there was little Western medicine could do to restore hair growth.  In each case clearing a CV/GV block led within a few weeks to the gradual re-growth of the hair.  I had been encouraged to select this treatment because I felt that such a drastic depletion of energy causing severe hair loss of this kind could only be the result of some serious energy block.  This obviously pointed to a CV/GV block.

I cleared this blockage on Jo during my day with her and awaited the result.  You can imagine how happy I was a few days ago to receive an email from her telling me that she was “delighted to report that my hair seems to be growing back! ” And “I don't think it was growing back before we did CV/GV, in fact I think I was still losing it but more from the hair line at the sides.”   She enclosed some photos of the back and side of her head, clearly showing the re-growth of hair.

This is yet another example of the drastic improvement in all kinds of conditions that clearing a CV/GV block can lead to.  It isn’t always at all clear from our often inadequate pulse readings that there is sufficiently severe depletion of energy to point immediately to a CV/GV block.  But if in doubt, and there is a persistent deep-seated condition which your treatment cannot seem to shift, then always think of this block. 

I remember quite clearly JR Worsley telling us that if the points for clearing a CV/GV block were on the wrist we would do it on every patient!  Those words have stayed with me for 30 years, and encouraged me to think often of this block and clear it, perhaps receiving confirmation only afterwards, when the patient’s symptoms change dramatically, that there was indeed such a block there.  So all of you out there who hesitate to diagnose this block because you are uncertain of your pulse-taking or feel reluctant to needle some of these points, just do this treatment. The block is surprisingly often there, and if it isn’t, it never hurts to do it.  It’s only like opening a door which is already open.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

A good example of the Fire element

Here are some comments from the BBC Sports Website today about Andrew Johnston, the English golfer, a competitor at the golf tournament at Troon. 
"(Andrew) has delighted fans at The Open with his cheerful demeanour and says he will continue to do so when chasing the Claret Jug on Sunday.
The Englishman high-fived spectators as he walked down the 18th and his one-under 70 left him on five under, seven adrift of leader Henrik Stenson.
Playing in only his second Open, the hugely entertaining Johnston's rapidly growing popularity is down to his unique interaction with the crowds, as well as the media."
"It's been amazing," said the 27-year-old. "It's been such great fun.”
“I guess I'm just a down-to-earth bloke who likes to talk to people. You want people to go home with good memories. I'll chat to anyone from anywhere, as long as they're nice people who are nice to me."
Watch him on YouTube or Facebook.  You’ll learn a lot more about the Fire element after a few minutes of looking at him and listening to him talk.
I think he is Outer Fire (Heart Protector/Three Heater), not Inner Fire (Small Intestine/Heart).  The difference can often be seen by the way each aspect of Fire talks.  Inner Fire, sorting out what it wants to say as it talks, often stumbles or pauses in its attempt to find the right words.  Outer Fire is much more smoothly articulate.



Sunday, July 3, 2016

New direction for my teaching

The same Viennese friend of my family, Dr Oskar Adler, of whom I wrote in my last blog, The disappearance of things (27 June 2016), was the author of several extremely interesting books on astrology.  In them he often talked about life and the destinies life chooses for us and those we choose for ourselves.  One of his sayings has inspired me over the years.  He said that we have a duty to humanity to pass on to others anything we have ourselves learnt, however small and insignificant it may appear to be in our own eyes.  We will never know who may be out there waiting to hear our thoughts, and how these may add something to their life, changing it in some way that we may be completely unaware of.

Many years ago, an acupuncture student who came to observe me in my practice happened to say to me, somewhat frivolously I thought, “I think I learnt more from you in this one day, Nora, than I learnt in a year at acupuncture college”.  However exaggerated this comment was, it proved a turning point in my life, giving me, who was then a rather uncertain only recently qualified acupuncturist, the necessary courage and impetus to think of teaching others.  And that one remark has stamped itself on the last 25 or more years of my life, as I have endeavoured, through one form of teaching and another, to hand on as much as I have learnt from my own practice to as many people as possible.

During these years I have moved on from the first informal teaching of a few students in my practice, to founding my own acupuncture college, where I taught 10 groups of students over a period of 12 years or more, to more postgraduate work, running seminars and visiting practitioners’ clinics in various European countries, before what I regard now as probably my final reincarnation as a teacher of many hundreds if not thousands of Chinese practitioners.

With Dr Adler’s dictum in mind, I have now decided that I need to grasp another nettle, on-line teaching.  I am thinking of running a webcast where I can reply to questions about five element acupuncture that are sent to me.  I should probably have been thinking of doing this long before now, as I know that all the people I teach are completely at ease with their mobiles and their tablets, and are used to the constant interchange of ideas which this allows them.  

I would be very pleased to hear whether this of interest, either through comments posted in the comments section below or on my Facebook page.  

Monday, June 27, 2016

The disappearance of things

I have written before about a very interesting old Viennese musician and astrologer I knew many years ago called Dr Oskar Adler.  I remembered one of the things he would say after a curious incident which happened to me yesterday.  He believed that it is pointless looking for things that we have mislaid, because they really go missing.  You have to leave some time, and then they will re-appear.

I had further proof of this rather esoteric belief again.  Anybody of my venerable age will know that the one object they treasure above all others is the old people’s free bus pass, which allows us to hop on and off buses and in and out of tube trains at will, and gives us the kind of freedom denied previous generations of the elderly.  I always check that I have my pass before I leave home.  This morning, to my dismay, it was not where it usually is, tucked safely away in the front compartment of my rucksack.  I searched for a long time for it, looking into all the pockets of all the clothing I might have been wearing on my last trip outside, but could find it nowhere.

I decided that I should immediately apply for a replacement at the local Post Office, and so headed outside to do just that.  I was standing on the top step of the short flight of stairs leading to the road outside, when I happened to look down.  There on the pavement, tucked closely against the front railings, was my bus pass.  The road sweeper had obviously recently been, because the pavement was swept completely clean, the only object in sight on the ground being this little plastic rectangle in its white cover.  If I had grasped the right-hand rather than the left-hand railings to help me down the stairs I would have missed seeing it completely.

I still can’t think how it got there.  Rationally I could say that it might have slipped from the rucksack as I got out my front-door keys the day before, but I prefer the more mysterious explanation.  My bus pass decided to do one of those disappearing tricks the Dr Adler persuaded me to believe in, and simply took it in its mind to re-appear on another day. 

In the past, when something similar has happened to me, which it has done several times, the time between an object’s disappearance and re-appearance has often been longer, sometimes a few weeks.  And once I found the keys to my house, which I had desperately hunted for for days, hidden away a few weeks later under rubbish at the bottom of an outside dustbin.

I like to think that there are indeed “more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (Hamlet).  This little incident lifted my spirits a little, just a little, from despairing and dreary contemplation of the weekend's political turmoil.