Monday, March 9, 2020

A call for more five element teachers

It is one of my sadnesses that so few good five element practitioners want to pass on their experiences to a new generation of student acupuncturists.  What I have learnt from teaching in China (see my blog of 31 January 2020) has helped me understand some of the reasons for this, and helped me try to devise ways of persuading my fellow five element acupuncturists to have the courage to follow in my footsteps and in those of other five element teachers.  There appear to be very few people now who are prepared to face what they may think is the daunting prospect of diagnosing patients’ elements in front of a group of people.  People are often afraid of committing themselves to diagnosing an element publicly in case they have to change their opinion later on.   

In all the years during which I have been helping practitioners develop their five element skills, I have tried to emphasize the fact that they should not be obsessed with finding the right element immediately, because this is an impossibility, particularly for novice practitioners with little experience to draw upon.  The speed at which we eventually home in on this element is directly related to how long we have been practising, how many patients we have treated, and with what humility we approach our practice.  JR Worsley always said that we learnt more from not getting the element right than from finding the right element often almost by chance, because we might otherwise assume that our diagnostic skills are more highly developed than they are, and this might lead us to become a bit too complacent.

I can confirm from my own experience that he was right.  I am reminded here of a very humbling incident which took place a few years after I qualified when  I returned to the Leamington college to start my postgraduate studies under JR.  Our class of about 25 was asked to diagnose a patient, and to my horror everybody but me raised their hands for Earth, whilst I was the only one who thought the patient was Fire.  What the others had observed, but I had not, was that the patient was circling round the same point again and again in what she was talking about.  To everybody this apparently pointed to Earth’s need to process its thoughts in a repetitive way, which they all saw as being typical for Earth, something I did not. So why had this bit of learning passed me by during my undergraduate training?  Had I perhaps been daydreaming when this was being discussed, a habit I still have, where I find my thoughts veering off sideways from the main topic under discussion?

I naturally felt foolish to find myself unaware of something so typical of the Earth element after two years in practice.  And yet I have never forgotten this incident.  It taught me to overcome the natural feelings of incompetence which a wrong diagnosis will arouse in us all, particularly as I felt I was so publicly exposed.  I realise, though, that this had the long-term effect of making me less worried than some other practitioners are at accepting as quite normal that sense of utter blankness after first meeting a patient, rather than expecting to experience a blinding flash of recognition of an element’s signature.  And the sooner all us five element practitioners learn not to beat ourselves up if we do not recognize a patient’s element as quickly as we think our years of experience warrant, the better a practitioner we will each become.

I believe that the reason why so many five element practitioners hesitate to put themselves forward as teachers comes from the speed at which JR diagnosed patients, which they either observed themselves as I did over many years, or heard about from those he taught.  He would always insist that we would all have reached the same level of diagnostic skill that he had once we had gained the 40 years’ experience he had.  I’m not sure that this is strictly true, but certainly there was an element of truth in what he told us.  The problem is that his example appears to have cast a shadow over the teaching of five element acupuncture which he himself would have been very sad to note.  When I told him one day that I felt that I did not have enough experience to teach others, he said very simply, “You know more than they do, Nora.”  And I remind myself of these words whenever I lose trust in my own ability to teach others.

I started my own teaching life by giving evening classes before I had fully qualified, and I learnt so much from teaching the little I knew then.  One of my acupuncture tutors who encouraged my teaching told me that as a teacher one should never claim we know something that we don’t.  Again this is something which has stood me in good stead, and I always judge those I want to learn from if they are happy to admit that they don’t know the answer to somebody’s question.  It is the teachers who give the impression that they are all-knowing who I am suspicious of, and I have known quite a few of these.

It is interesting that the Chinese five element acupuncturists I teach are quite happy to change their diagnoses, because I have emphasized from the start that it always takes time to home in on a patient’s element. This has meant that many of them are already quite happy to take on the role of teaching others the fundamentals of five element practice, without the fear I often encounter in acupuncturists in this country.

So this blog is a plea for anybody wishing to spread an understanding of five element acupuncture to as many people as possible to overcome their natural fear and just pass on their own delight in their practice.  They should remember that anybody who has been in practice for even as short a time as only a year knows more than those who have never practised five element acupuncture at all.



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