A new client comes to see me. It’s always such an honor. In the first few minutes, she is showing me a funny side, a self-aware side. Now she is hiding how deeply it hurts, that thing she laughs about on the wei, surface, level, as if it were something breezy like a scarf she holds up to the wind. And it is–this end of it, the end that she shows me–the wei level of it. It’s funny, self-aware, breezy, colorful, and we laugh and smile about it together. We have formed an alliance about the wei-level of her uneasiness. I used to think the superficial level was less important than the deeper layers, but I no longer think so. It’s a doorway into what is. Although sometimes this wei-level doorway is not the best door to enter because it can be a place of personality, charm, and fascination. Like most humans, I can get lost there.
The other end, of course, the deeper end of personality’s colorful scarves is the distress of a soul. The other end, wrapped around her heart, is what she wants unraveled. Even when I am liking my client and her scarves so much that I forget that a shift towards health is not a pretty scarf, I vow to remember the importance of unraveling it.
The ying level of it is wrapped around this list-maker’s heart filling up what should be an empty void of big Shen with lists– with precise and particular details of what she should be doing during each and every moment of her day. These lists of obligations and responsibilities are elevated to biblical proportion. She follows lists like some people follow a religion or a guru. She is a self-proclaimed perfectionist. She smiles. She feels as if she does what she does for some entity looking over her shoulder, not for herself. This clear self-reflection from her warns me to consider three fundamental questions: First, is there an entity attached to her shoulder? A gui (ghost)? Second, will I make the mistake of collaborating with the pretty, scarf-wearing, colorful, laughing persona instead of with the faceless soul who is magnificent sans scarves? And, third, is the entity the personality, the pretty scarf?
Who is the client? Who called me and asked,
Please! Let’s unwrap this together?
Her smile implies,
It was me. I’m in control here.
And the laugh she wears like armor around the soft tissues of her upper torso adds emphasis. Yet, I touch the concave emptiness of her hara, which is why she has come to see me.
Breathe here, all the way down. Put your breath in your abdomen. Feel your breath deep inside you.
She looks surprised, as if she has just realized:
Yes, I have an inside. A core, a place deep inside me that is in communication with the world…even when I myself feel nothing.
I will see in these first few sessions how easily she can visit shen in her belly. Can she inhabit her abdomen? Can she hang with the blood/shen of the uterus, ovaries, and zang-fu? Or will she resist the deep, fear the blood, feel hurried as she races outward to the outer edges of the scarf which she holds in her hands, and on which she has written all the organizing lists for her day. She is a hand-person, someone who does, performs, makes lists, keeps things in order. Let’s see if she can sink into her abdomen, inhabit herself, the one who simply is. If she will sink and be and, perhaps stop smiling, just for a moment to acknowledge her unsmiling self, the self she is here to serve…. .
She is still smiling. It has been a few sessions now and I have no idea what to do. The needles have asked her repeatedly to inhabit the abdomen, to fall off the page of her appointment book into the timeless river of blood that she is. Still, she lies with her eyes open, the knowing smile upon her face. Who is she smiling at? Me but not me. She is just smiling, constantly. And her blood pulses remain obscure, hidden. Acupuncture will not be enough in this instance.
After a treatment or two I realized that I was aligning myself with the smiler not the hara. I had been distracted by the scarves and the way she smiled, knowingly, as if we were sharing a secret. But as I realized my first mistake, I made my second mistake. I shut down. I said to myself,
Don’t go there, where the smile leads. Close your mind to the smile and go deeper.
But I was only half right. I was right not to follow the smile into the world of everything fine and cheerful. But going deeper, following the hara, can never occur with my own mind closed. I do my best work from an empty mind, not a closed one. I work best when I am paying attention. I had made the mistake of thinking of her constantly smiling self as false, as a pretender, like a poor immigrant claiming to be a descendant of a Romanov… . So I dismissed her smiling claim as a delusion. But of course, as soon as I dismissed who she presents her self to be, I was no longer paying attention. Dismissal kills attention. Instead of dismissing her smile, I will accept it as a younger sister. I will honor the younger sister, and tuck her lovingly in bed so that older sister will emerge from the middle. Like the alien that bursts out of Sigourney (as Ellen Ripley) Weaver’s abdomen in ALIEN, it won’t be pretty. Older sisters are so often guardians of little sibling’s pain.
I can’t explain how not-knowing flows into knowing or how knowing fails to announce itself or explain itself or otherwise leave a trail which we can follow and learn from. But it’s true that sometimes not-knowing flows into knowing and sometimes knowing fails to announce itself or leave a trail by which we can reconstruct how we came to know. And it’s also true that sometimes I might as well be following dust floating on a ray of sunshine because I’m getting no closer to the light.
It’s winter here in Maine. Even though today is warm and rainy, and yesterday’s snow has melted, tonight’s deep freeze is coming and tomorrow we will awaken to 2 inches of ice–if the storm predictions are correct. So I have to ask myself, why did this Fire person with the constant smile choose this contracted, inward month to make repeated visits to an acupuncturist for a jump-start to ming-men, the gate of vitality? Because that little bit of winter in her hara was easier to ignore in the summer? Or maybe, winter is more congruent with her true self and the smile, the fire, the joy is a mask. Maybe winter’s movement towards healing means that directly treating the abdomen will be less effective than emptying the bladder meridian of its hypervigilance. Maybe sinking into the abdomen has been impossible because of the false fire running through her bladder meridian, encasing her in perkiness. Maybe this is an example of the intelligent body imitating what it needs (fire) but doesn’t have. While I’ve been pumping energy into the abdomen, it’s been leaking out the back shu points. Close the holes first. Then fill the bucket.
The first thing I will do next time she comes is feel the water points on the fire meridians, and the fire points on the water meridians, and do what seems indicated in that moment…