Sunset in Maine

Originally uploaded by alternativeperception

I am standing alone on the top of a hill looking West as the sun casts the last light of day through the trajectory of me and my slice of Earth. The light, parallel to the ground, passes directly through my skin, horizontally, a curious parallel energy exploring a like life-form. The light goes into me and comes out of me, the same yet different on the inside and out. I am not thinking, at least not with the left-brain. I am experiencing and becoming educated in a sensory, side-by-side warmth. This is so different from high noon, even more different still from high noon middle of the summer. This is western energy–lung, large intestine and metal energy. I cannot look into the sun, but I am next to it, warmed by it. I am almost under it’s shoulder. Such a good, safe place to be. I am under no obligation to trot into the heat of the day, busily going about my business, for the heat of the day has passed. I am under no obligation to make my way through the dark night, either. It hasn’t yet arrived. This is just this. Dying light. Perfect, albeit extremely transient. And it hits me, how easily one falls from perfection into the passing of perfection. The passing of perfection, ordained by twilight, written into the stars by Autumn, is a birth-right of all beings. I am an acupuncturist and I awoke Monday morning on the hill of dusk.

Having been on the hill, I am changed. It is autumn. Suddenly. Forget what the calendar tells you. It varies every year and in every place. I felt it on Monday, even though it was relatively warm, and weeks past the autumnal equinox. It was last-light-ish. On Tuesday, and again today I am seeing my clients differently than just last week, when Spleen 10, Sea of Blood, calmed the toxic blood of late summer, the garden dregs decomposing, rotting, overfull in the moments before they are recycled into the body/Earth. Now we are all beings with a relative ability or inability to resonate with the passing of perfection. While some can mine the ore-laden depths of its virtue, and remain true to one’s nature, others falter and cry out,

What is happening to me?

There is an upsurge in my practice of people for whom there are no answers, no objective tests that can accurately explain what is going on inside the deepest levels of being. This unrest, this passing of perfection calls some people to a clamoring of exhausted action, much like the growth of the tomato plants that are unable to bear more fruit or even to bring to ripeness that fruit which began it’s growth spurt in late summer but now finds only imperfection in the soil, and in the chill at night. Small green orbs that will never become red and juicy, my clients are standing in front of me, asking me to explain in terms of Chinese Medicine why they cannot express their tomato-ness, and instead have these stilted appendages.

How far from perfection we are!

All I have to offer, really, is love. Love for the tomato-that-will-not-be-a-tomato. Love for the tomato that will always be a tomato even if it is stilted in it’s growth, its development abruptly shortened by the passing of the light, the coldness of the night encroaching quicker every day. Love for the passing of perfection.

Love. And needles. Acupuncture needles.

The connective tissue of the human body is a crystalline lattice, an ordered compilation of planes and trajectories through which bioelectronic information transfers are initiated by pressure, tension and movement. Acupuncture needles initiate pressure, tension, and “de qi”, thereby transmitting through the medium of the connective tissue a directional impulse. And so we ask,

What is the direction we want?

Standing at the side of my clients these last few days, I have been standing on the western hill, absorbing the parallel light of dwindling day, knowing that we are all perfectly imperfect, and in the direction of that knowing is the direction I take.

In school acupuncturists learn the differences between perpendicular, transverse, oblique insertions, between going in the direction of the meridian and going against the flow. We learned to think of the trajectory of the acupuncture needle in terms of anatomy (deep insertions contraindicated over the lungs, for instance), and in terms of component parts (for instance, the first point on the Lung meridian is below the clavicle and the meridian travels in a particular direction down the arm to the edge of the thumb). All of that anatomical, component-oriented information is rational. It engages the rule-follower in us, who says,

This is how to needle Lung 1.

And we do it by rote. Pop the needle in along the same trajectory we used in school under the watchful eyes of our mentors. But each of us must make this our own. So says my favorite teacher of Classical Chinese Medicine, Jeffrey Yuen.

When standing in the twilight on the Western hill– as perfection’s passing enters us like the sun, and leaves us, changed and the same–we are not rational. The left-brain, God love it, sleeps for that moment in which we are the last light of the sun. Textbooks, even the esteemed classics, fade, themselves awash in last-light.

And in that moment, there is only one appropriate needle trajectory in acupuncture. The only direction is a longing for the center, a half-note in an octave, longing to return to the central tone. I’m sure others have other ways but the way I navigate through the central axis of an acupuncture point and find the trajectory which leads the way home is by taking the pulse, and using a light touch with my index finger to explore the energetic brokenness/wholeness that reveals itself as I explore different trajectories. I wrote here about needling Spleen 10 using this method of exploring pulse changes. Try it. Let your imagination go. See if you can come up with what the pulse feels like to you when light pressure on the crystalline lattice surrounding a particular acupuncture point causes a vibration in a particular direction. Is the change you feel more towards “whole” or more towards “broken?”

Prism glass 1
Originally uploaded by tanakawho

I got into treating skin rashes with acupuncture and herbs because my son developed a nasty, itchy rash when he was only 5 months old, while his only food was breast milk. I intuitively knew that gluten (which can be very damp) played a role, as I had been hungrily devouring the bagels my brother sent from Zabars and not cooking my beloved greens because of the demands of mothering a kid under three, and a five month old, while also working (as an acupuncturist)–I know, excuses, excuses. I knew better, I just lacked the resources or drive to do better. So I got myself off gluten (and back on greens and garlic and rice). I had already been dairy-free for a number of years. And I gave my son Chinese herbs, which I cooked up in my kitchen and froze in ice cube trays. I used a pipette to shoot the watery, warm concoction into his mouth. He got better. To this day, we periodically test him with gluten or dairy to see if he has outgrown this sensitivity, but he has not. I have also stayed off gluten as I had my own problems when I reintroduced it. The body sends such clear messages when it is relatively clear of toxins.

In a macrocosmic way, the clinic “body” sends clear messages, too. What I have to offer, based on experience, energetics, or knowledge makes its way to people who need what I have to offer, in ways I do not pretend to understand. I merely marvel at it. I marveled when people started coming to me for help with eczema, psoriasis, shingles and chronic itching, undiagnosed celiac, and food allergies. I have not helped all of them, but I have helped most of them.

…So ends my (egocentric) lead in to the topic at hand: less ego, more light….

One of my first clients with eczema (after my own son) was an 11 year old boy who also had severe asthma. His parents had both been allergic as kids, with histories of asthma and eczema. But they showed few symptoms if any as adults. This young kid was an athlete and at every game he frequented the team’s snack hut, chock full of junk food. He and his mom weren’t willing to prepare herbs in the kitchen which smells up the house, nor was he willing to drink a bad tasting herbal concoction made by mixing powdered herbs with hot water. He was willing to take tea pills. He couldn’t swallow larger capsules. His eczema was very dry and very itchy. His asthma responded to acupuncture very quickly and his frequent attacks dwindled to zero almost immediately.

But the rash held on, only mildly mitigated by patent herbal formulas I prescribed. I spoke to the mom about my son’s experience, and explored her willingness to control her son’s diet, but it seemed impossible to her at the time. Not surprisingly, they stopped getting acupuncture, stopped taking herbs, and continued with an unstructured diet full of common allergens for atopic individuals. I ran into the mom recently and learned some very distressing news: her son continued to struggle with eczema, and it only got worse. At 19 he became intolerant of almost all foods, and required hospitalization due to severe malnutrition. Mom didn’t seem to remember our conversations about diet eight years earlier. I refrained from reminding her. But I thought about it a lot later, about my approach to people when discussing lifestyle choices. I am gentle and understanding. I don’t expect people to make huge changes right away, just small ones, one at a time.

But this doesn’t work for everyone. It didn’t work for this family. Some people respond better to a stronger hand. This family found a strong hand to school them in the shape of a feeding tube. Could I have altered my approach 8 years ago, in such a way that I would have been able to intervene in this dire course of events? The Worsley 5 Element style of Acupuncture excels at this sort of flexible approach to clients based not on the practitioner’s strength but on the practitioners ability to read the client’s “Causative Factor” or CF, described in terms of one of the 5 Elements. The practitioner then adapts her approach to the client, even in the way she speaks to the client, in an effort to reach through the client’s barriers of self to a deep connection with each individual’s innate desire for healing. Had I reached that deep place with my client and his mom, and fired up their desire to do whatever it would take to heal–even if it meant no more greasy fried cheese tortillas, and Mounds bars–maybe he wouldn’t have ended up in such a severe state of toxic overload. And she wouldn’t have ended up stooped over with worry, overly pale, and herself way too skinny–as she was when she described her son’s condition to me. But I wasn’t able to filter out myself, my way, and approach her in a way that worked for her.

The deeper I get into Chinese Medicine the more I see it as a pervasive intelligence as simple yet majestic as light. The different schools of thought–TCM, Classical, Japanese Meridian, Kiiko, Toyo Hari, Medical, Worsley–are merely prisms, which can refract the light in spectrums visible to the human eye. The important thing isn’t the prism, it’s the light. Each practitioner is also a little mini-prism. What is important isn’t how gentle and compassionate I am “as a healer,” it’s how much light is actually getting through to my clients. Less ego, more light.