The Maine coast is one of my favorite places in the country. I make my home here. This past winter seemed to last forever, giving pause to our devotion to this spit of earth. However, winter finally gave way to a stunningly beautiful spring and summer. Our devotion was renewed. Sometime in July, after a string of hot, dry days I noticed a sensation of heat in my lungs that came and went. Every once in awhile it seemed hard to draw a deep breath. The tip of my tongue was suddenly home to a cluster of red dots, the sign in Chinese Medicine of some lingering pathogen in the lung. I started to draw a connection between the poor air quality here (due to the winds of the Midwest carrying coal plant emissions and other pollutants our way), ozone warnings and the seeming surge of subtle lung issues in clients visiting for other, non-lung-related reasons, and the shadow of lung-heat I discovered in myself. I started asking myself the same question for every client who came through my door: How are her lungs? Is there a subtle sun-burn of the lungs (the American Lung Association description of ozone damage), a sub-clinical, incomplete murkiness to the exchange of gases that happens with every respiration in a toxic world?
At the ocean’s edge one day, my breath immediately deepened by the lap-lapping of the waves upon the sand, I closed my eyes and began a mental inventory of the acupuncture points on my upper torso. My mind was drawn to several points that were tense, rigid or gummy. As my mental eye probed the points, the rhythmic sounds of the tidal waters resonated within my body. If you’ve ever heard someone tune a guitar string using harmonics you’ve experienced the musical relief that arrives when a harmonic overtone slides into place and two strings reach a harmonic resonance. The ocean acted as my harmonic mentor, and I could feel the alignment of my internal waters with the ocean’s intelligent tone as I sat upon that lap of beach. Stretching began from somewhere deep inside me, a longing in the channels to be freed from the interference of stress and toxin (from which no one is exempt in this highly chemicalized culture).
When I moved into a stretch that was just right to expose the murky waters of an acupuncture point, I used my fingers and my breath to open the portal and release the stagnant flow. Lung 1, Gallbladder 21 and 24, Small Intestine 13. Spleen 21. A day at the water, a day at the office, a day at the water, a day at the office. Such is the rhythm of my summer.
I carried the rhythm of the ocean with me when I returned to the office the next day. I could not help but feel the pulses of my clients as manifestations of this oceanic fluid, and to navigate across the terrain of their meridians like a sailor or surfer looking for the best configuration of forces to access the heartbeat of the ocean that lives inside each person. As Emilie Conrad says in Life on Land, and I paraphrase,
Consider these three examples of fluid resonance in the upper torso that has been unduly restricted by the compressing, rigidifying and gummy influences of stress, toxins or grief.
Pamela. I felt her meridians as if feeling for the rising and falling tide within a single drop of water. Where does the crest of her wave pattern reside in this moment, where the receding ebb? Her tissue felt nonfluid to the extreme. There was a tightness in the entire liver meridian from foot to rib. And the rib cage itself all the way to the clavicle seemed immobile. She is a breastfeeding mother, with a small, healthy preemie daughter. She nurses amid much scrutiny from self, doctors, and others of the child’s daily intake. They are all a-swirl in questions…how much did she get?….is that enough?….what if she doesn’t grow? Preemie culture is like a higher anxiety version of the already high intensity environment of any new family in a medi-technical landscape.
The constant scrutiny and attention to minute details (while in a blood deficient state post-partum) has dessicated her liver meridian and the entire rib cage which sits upon it like a stick-figure rider upon a wooden horse. My goal during treatment is to find the minute oceanic, tidal resonance that flows inside her thoracic cavity, to open the dams that are starving the rib-cage and making the job of milk-production so much more difficult than it need be for this stressed-out breast-feeding momma.
Gertrude. a 65 year old woman with Environmental Illness. She has a metallic taste in her mouth, burning in her head and sinuses, and floating stools. She lost everything, including community as she left her mold-infested home and began wandering in search of a clean environment and detoxifying treatments. She must remain isolated as much as possible from the onslaught of fragrances and chemicals that are found in any human company. She sniffed out my office before setting up her first appointment.
I like her immensely. She’s an archetypal cowboy. In another life we could have ridden horses into the Western frontier, slept under the stars, foraged and hunted for our food, and protected one another from unscrupulous men. The intercostal tissues of her ribcage are also too hard, condensed. Where is the buoyancy of breathing flesh? How can the lymphatic system do it’s job in this environment? It’s like trying to run sap through a particle board instead of a living maple. I work on the same goal, loosening the energetic stillness of the ribcage. Opening the lungs, the heart, the lymphatic system, making space for the body’s fluids to resonate with the ocean’s cleansing biorhythms. I know a deep grief lies buried here.
Maya, a 62 year old woman whose healthy, vibrant partner died unexpectedly two years ago in a winter accident involving cold Michigan waters and thin ice. She described the fear of grief at work in her body, tightening her breath, her shoulders, lodging in the once flexible joints of her knees with wisdom and self-acceptance. She described the busy-ness she worked at for the last two years as a means of staving off the sense of her own drowning, her psychic parallel to the physical experience of her beloved. She proclaimed her readiness to stop the busies. She radiates peace, a beautiful woman steeped in love like a good cup of tea is steeped in the finest leaves. Her love story continues in the patience she has given herself to heal slowly and at her own pace.
As I suspected the pulse of her lung was depressed, and the gall bladder meridian had a strangle hold on her torso. The meridian system is brilliant. When grief threatened the lungs, the gallbladder and liver meridians battened down the hatches, and kept determined, wooden eyes on the rigors of the daily schedule, freeing the body to go on living, in the comfort of the known and recurring obligations of job and chores. This wise woman has more than survived a tragic love story. She has gestated herself for two years and now stands poised for birth, with a glad heart to welcome the butterfly she is becoming.
There are many acupuncture points both distally and locally that open the chest, nourish the lungs, clear heat and toxins, disentangle Qi from grief’s constraint, and engender fluid. I don’t think of these actions as attributes of points on paper, but as attributes of the living flesh. One must touch the points, feel their resiliency or lack there of and choose the points that are appropriate at that time. The point that feels wooden needs nourishment and a wood point on the same meridian will help as well. The point that feels dessicated needs nourishment as well, and perhaps the water point on the same meridian will show it’s own degree of need. Common local points that if constrained will impair lymphatic flow and respiration are Lung 1, Gallbladder 21, all the intercostal Kidney points, Liver 14, Gallbladder 24, Pericardium 1, Spleen 21. Distal points are so diverse as to be difficult to narrow down for the purposes of discussion, but certainly points on the arms and wrists, and lower legs corresponding to or in relationship with the meridians to which the active local points belong.
As I immerse myself in this work over the course of a hot, muggy, summer with ozone warnings as prevalent as the sun, I am aware of the synchronicity of both illness and healing that occurs in my office. If someone new comes through my door this summer without these subtle challenges to the lungs, I would be surprised. It is not an encouraging sign that one of our most tree-filled states in the country is unable to detoxify the chemical products circulating world-wide, released into the air by industrial processes and our dependence on fossil fuels. I am ending this summer by reading the book by Jared Diamond called Collapse, How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. We as a society have not yet chosen to succeed. How much more time do we have?