For many days I could not think of what to write. I could not even think. I was so busy at work, and then I took a week off to be with my kids during their school vacation. The weather was glorious. The problem was that in my free time, when I might write, or think, I was loathe to do anything but merely be present in the sunshine with my children. But a voice inside worried a bit, and could sometimes be heard in the distance like the peepers singing through the night,
what are you going to write next?
I was adrift in something experiential rather than intellectual. Was this burnout? It was a void. No thoughts. An aversion to thinking. Thoughts seemed too precise and finite and limiting. My mother and husband complained that I was not letting them know what I was thinking or planning. What thoughts? What plans? Was I fully in the moment, expanding into the world around me like a galactic octopus feeling its way across the sky? Or was I merely flirting on the outskirts of forgetfulness? Am I a middle-aged woman with shifting hormones, or crossing into an early dementia?
And then my kids went back to school and I went back to work. My son turned 6. I started attacking the backlog of paperwork in the office. I did another home visit to my 90 year old client.
There was a new bright yellow swallows’ house perched high on an olive green pole in his yard. Daffodils beneath the swallow palace looked pale in comparison, and they leaned away from the wind like the ghost of my grandmother (and countless other old ladies) stooped over shopping bags on the streets of New York.
I walked to his bedside where he was waiting. While he is not bed-bound, even lying there his breath was short and labored. On my way in his daughter had said,
His back is sore, but otherwise he seems OK.
Just outside the window at the bird feeders that I had watched during previous visits, there was one Redpoll, 3-4 American Goldfinches, one Red-Winged Blackbird, and a bunch of Chickadees. The room was very warm, and a humidity control unit purred in the corner covering us with white noise. It was like being in a snow globe. Incredibly quiet, and suddenly floating down and swirling around me, were thoughts of my father and stepfather, each of whom died of cancer in my presence. My father died 10 years ago and my stepfather died 29 years ago (if the timing of their deaths sounds backwards, it’s not: My parents were divorced a long time ago and my stepfather was part of my life from an early age).
My father was a lifelong amateur birdwatcher. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone utter the word, Redpoll, except for him. They used to come to his feeders. I can still hear him telling me over the telephone about his avian visitors. It’s quite possible that I hadn’t seen a single one of these small reddish finches since my father died. My 6 year old is very interested in birds. His favorite movie is The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. He would like nothing more than if we filled the house with parakeets and Blue-headed Conures.
If you’ve read this far, thank you for your patience. The title of this post about acupuncture points, in-between spaces and non-linear time grows out of these rambling discourses on my experiences of late. Like all my posts, this is not a scholarly exposé into the nature of reality. It is merely a chapter in a book written in the language of my experience as an acupuncturist and a collaborator in a life I view as cosmic as well as terrestrial. Let me gather the threads I’ve teased out thus far: it started with a few weeks of hard work, followed by an extremely sunny vacation in which I happily crawled like a galactic octopus in a thought-free void across a celestial/sensory experience in which I was averse to thinking. That led me to the birthday of my bird-happy 6 year old, and then to a visit to an older client where his declining breath, and the presence of a Redpoll and other birds reminded me of my fathers.
When my stepfather died my mother and I had been watching his breath stop and start for some time on the old green-flowered couch. We held his hands. Each time his breath caught in a pause too long, I knew that another breath would come. And then his last breath came and I knew not to expect another one. The knowing came not from observing his body as I had been doing before with the intensity of a dentist at work. When he breathed the last breath my attention was immediately drawn from his body to the air around us. It changed. It expanded. The molecules of the air separated and space expanded. Nothing changed and everything changed. Everything looked the same, and everything looked completely different all at the same time. It was a profound experience of an extraordinary, expansive space emerging from the ordinary. It was like a hidden passageway suddenly made visible. I thought
this must be why they call it ‘passing’.
Time was restored to its ordinary ticking and the molecules of air regained their sober density and closed tightly upon themselves. I looked out the living room window at the large conifer tree that scratched my bedroom window (which was directly over the living room) every night, like a protective sentry. I was not yet clobbered in grief. I was stunned.
Help me remember this,”
I said to the tree, as if addressing my closest friend. Only then did grief erupt within me, seizing me from the gut and causing me to curl momentarily into a fetal position as if I had just been kicked.
About 10 or 15 years later, I was flooded with memories of Hans’ death. I brought them with me everywhere I went. I relished them. It went on for a few days. I spoke to my mother on the phone. She still lived in the same house where Hans had died. In the course of our conversation she casually mentioned that the tree that had brushed up against the house for so many years, scratching on the windows of the living room below and my old bedroom above, had been taken down. A few days before.
This is the world in which I live. Isn’t it fabulous! A world in which trees are friends and time is not marching from point A to B but spiraling upon itself, returning to the same point over again but at a different level. Time is a Jackson Pollack painting, not a John Singer Sargeant.
Flash forward again– I was standing in an overly warm bedroom with the white noise going and the birds outside, slowly running my fingers along the lateral edge of the fibula of my 90 year old client, feeling the meridian there. And all of it came together for me: I understood what I was looking for, crawling the celestial universe of the body for active acupuncture points.
The anatomical landmarks that most of us use to begin our orientation towards any given point are the places on the body where we have attached specific meaning. Bones, tendons, muscles. These familiar structures are agents of movement, thus of ‘doing’. Acupuncture points, in contrast, have no meaning in linear time–they do not take us from point A to point B in space like our joints and tendons do. Acupoints are the spaces in-between. They are agents of nothing–spiraling pools of non-linear time. To take my friend Kimberly Ann out of context, they are the hole in the donut.
George Soulié De Morant wrote,
The word for acupuncture points has not always been the same. In ancient times the ideogram that represented them consisted of the elements “flesh-submission-assent,” giving the idea of “command of the flesh.” …The modern term, used since the thirteenth century, is xue, which means “entry of cavern; hollow…”
To me “flesh-submission-assent,” gives another idea: that of a spiritual being as a co-creative (assenting) collaborator in the experience of having a physical body (flesh). It gives the idea that moving from the more expansive space and non-linear time of spirit into the mortal flesh requires submission, which I understand as a kind of forgetting. Is the task of being human merely to resonate at the frequency of our assenting being, even while housed in this body which forgets our roots in spirit? But I’m no scholar.
If this were true, perhaps, the difficulties we have seen in attempts to align acupuncture to medical models such as the Randomized Controlled Trial (written about here and here), are bound to fail not because we haven’t yet figured out the right study design to accommodate the uniquely individualized approach of Chinese medicine, but because acupuncture is not first and foremost a medical treatment aligned with precise, physical outcomes, but actually is at its heart a spiritual experience that occurs on a cellular level.