A few reflections on the practices that influence my practice of acupuncture…
Before I was 30 I loved spinning kicks. It was the loss of vision, I think, the inability to track my movement through space with my eyes that I liked so much. Without clear vision there is nothing so clear as the sense perception that rises from the belly like a cyclone. With the extension of a side-kick added to that spinning momentum the boundaries between self and target find each other effortlessly, like rain finding a puddle.
To create the same sensation my dojo friends and I would play a game we called ‘drunken monkey.’ Two of us would stand facing one another, and we would begin turning around, faster, and faster. Someone would call the count,
One, two, three, go!”
(in Japanese, ichi, ni, san, hut!”). On the word go we would stop spinning and move drunkenly towards one another, blurry-eyed and low in our stances, and we would spar. We’d get in a few moves in that altered state before our eyes would dominate again and our vision would climb at least in part out of the belly and into the head. We would try not to lose the sense of moving from our center, following the inevitability of our movements and of our partner’s movements. Sometimes we’d get in the zone and continue sparring with eyes that were clear but not dominant. When we could sustain it, it was a real high. That state of being in which eyes are open but not dominant is a state of heightened awareness. We called it ‘soft focus.’
My martial arts practice made me feel like a kid in a new world. Even training full-out for 10 years, obtaining black belts in two styles, and teaching others did nothing to change that feeling of exhilaration, awe and appreciation for something beautiful and larger than me. I may have been strong, flexible, eager and possessed of a fighting spirit, but still I gawked at the edges of this world aware of how little I understood it. What if I walked around every day with my mind in my abdomen, with the heightened kinesthetic knowing of a ‘drunken monkey?’ I did not then nor do I now glamorize blindness as some sort of guaranteed entrance to higher perception. But there’s a fine line between using one’s visual abilities to one’s benefit and becoming stuck in the way one sees. Drunken monkey was the 2nd experience in my life to teach me that my eyes (read ‘way of seeing’) could actually lessen my access to energetic intelligence.
The first experience was when I was in high school and I had a recurring dream that I could not open my eyes. I would strain to get my lids to open but as I did so my eyeballs would roll back in their sockets making it impossible for me to see anything, and causing me to strain even harder. These dreams left me with a strong sensory-memory of the physical struggle I engaged in while I slept.
A good friend of mine, June Wolfman ( may God bless you, wherever you are) suggested that we go up to the cliffs. They were rocky precipices on the Hudson River with a view of the George Washington Bridge. There was a good bit of woods between the road and the cliffs. She offered to blindfold me up there and lead me through the woods. Kind of her, eh? In fact it was brilliant. The point was for me to let go of my panic around not seeing, to give into the blindness, to retrain the sensory-memory from one of physical struggle to one of relaxed acceptance. It worked. Something new opened in me. In some ways puberty had turned me into a removed observer rather than a participant in my own life. After walking blindfolded in the woods I embarked on a long journey home to myself.
The process of discernment which led me to study the traditional healing arts of Chinese Medicine was tied up in my martial arts practice, went further back to the blindfolded walk in the woods, and those things carried me through the years of overwork and over-study that characterize medical school . ( I’m amazed at the intelligent reflections of my friend Eric Grey who is in his last year at NCNM and blogs at Deepest Health. I am only now, 10 years out of school, able to reflect on my evolution as an acupuncturist and to write about this magnificent medicine).
Some of the things I bring from the martial arts to the acupuncture table (literally) are stance, breath, soft focus, and that kinesthetic abdomen-driven falling into the point like rain into a puddle (or spinning side-kick to its target).
I don’t kick anymore. Nor do I spar. But I still practice soft focus away from the office in two forms of movement practice. In the first, I practice belly rolls, undulations and circles, hip drops and shimmies. I follow my belly’s movement to it’s inevitable resolution into a flow of more movements, letting the belly lead, not the mind. I’m older, wiser and fleshier. Belly dancing suits me now more than sparring.
Rosina-Fawzia-Al-Rawi, in her book Grandmother’s Secrets, wrote,
We dance to become one with a rhythm that was here before us and will remain after we are gone.”
It stands to reason that dancing makes me a better acupuncturist. The most profound difference between Chinese Medicine and Western medicine is that Western medicine has not evolved a theory of health, or a way of identifying parameters of wellness, except in terms of absence of disease. On the other hand, Chinese medicine from the start has had a theoretical understanding of health as a balance of energetic forces, and a methodology to gauge minute alterations in that balance. I believe that the balance we know as health is
…a rhythm that was here before us and [that] will remain after we are gone.”
If we are lucky–if we are healthy–we get to ride that wave. It almost makes me want to take up surfing. From spinning kicks to belly rolls to riding under the breaking curl of a wave…What do you think? As for my old bones braving the cold Maine waters, that’s why they make wet suits, eh?
The 2nd movement practice I engage in to heighten the sense of moving with a soft focus from the center of my being is harder to describe because it is something new and experimental and collaborative. It involves a collaborative listening, following, leading, empty space, a group of people, martial arts and dance. Our focus most recently has gone so soft that we are motionless, but we wait. We wait for the pulse, for the rhythm, the knowing to take hold of one of us, or all of us, which will move us to the next level of understanding. We are patient, aware of an abundance of time in which to let the underbelly of our undertaking to surface. It feels luxurious to be in this place. We have watched our weekly meetings focused on collaborative movement (drawing on martial arts, dance, and spiritual practices) devolve into motionless stillness. A pregnant pause. We have no idea how our shared intention will evolve. I only know that this practice, even as it seems to have ceased to be, is evolving, and that the stillness in its wake is part of my evolution as an acupuncturist.