Concentric Circles

Originally uploaded by Hoot Owl

The days are crisp, and the nights even colder. We look up into vivid blue skies in Maine, as the kids head back to school with jackets they won’t need by noon recess. Each day darkness encroaches slowly but steadily, today just a bit shorter than yesterday. I’m almost always in wool socks again, except for mightily-cold toes in the ocean. The leaves are turning vivid reds, oranges, yellows. In this northern climate, the great harvest is coming to its end. We are trundling towards autumn on a crisp cool day, the clankety sound of aluminum snow shoes jostling to the front of the closet, just behind cleats and hiking boots. Mums, pumpkins and root vegetables rule.

Over the past month I drafted a few possible autumnal posts for this blog, touching on the Immune System, the balance between exterior and interior, taking in and letting go. But my writing never lifted out of my intention into a realm all to it’s own. The presence of me loomed too heavily in the words, like a stodgy old professor standing in front of a drowsy class of kids text-messaging under their desks.

And then today, it happened. It turned warmer again and Late Summer sang to me. And I was reminded that we aren’t quite there yet, not autumnal, not metal, not yet. I feel the left radial artery of my first client with my right hand, my first three fingers feeling the hard push of something insistent and ornery knocking on the door as if to say,

Get this Crap out of Here!

My client is a retired man in his 70s with hypertension, a bad-ass attitude, a gentle-side the size of Kilimanjaro, and two competing regrets: to have never found a heroic opportunity for hand-to-hand combat and to have ended up in a marriage that is short on skin-to-skin contact. When he comes in to the office from the world he perceives as hostile, he’s laying down the search for hand-to-hand, and thirsty for some ordinary, professional skin-to-skin. While still feeling the knock-knock of his pulse, I use the forefinger of my other hand to gently touch the man’s left thigh, just above the knee on the inside: Spleen 10, Sea of Blood. This is the point that answers the insistent knocking, and says

Yes, thank you, you found Me. I’m still here. Underneath this crap!

There is no life without blood. Blood is the warrior who travels the kingdom and picks up all the viral, fungal, cancerous enemies and loads them into it’s vessels and transports them away, away, away. Where do they go, these villains?

Where do blood’s burdens go? Lady Macbeth was right. There is only one way to go that is any good at all.

Out, out…!

Lady Macbeth felt so intensely guilty for orchestrating her husband’s death that she imagines the blood on her hands, which she washes furiously. It will not go away. She cries,

Out, out damn spot. Out I say!

I start thinking of Spleen 10 as out-out-damn-spot. The light touch of my forefinger mellows the pulse, which now breathes like a baby. The kind of breath that has new mothers watching, listening, holding mirrors by baby’s nostrils, asking,

is he breathing? is he still alive?

Yes, this is rest. This is alive without the stampeding of the survivalist, sympathetic nervous system. This is parasympathetic. This is down-time. This is being, not doing, and certainly not running. No tiger at the heels here. Just breathe. Just rest. What a treasure trove of nothing. I insert a needle at the exact point where my finger had rested, pointing the needle in the exact trajectory in which my forefinger had pressed ever so lightly, like a feather.

Lady Macbeth’s guilt was a toxin knocking at her psyche, urging her to cleanse her hands. Were she here now, were my fingers on her pulse would I feel that bounding blood bursting at the seams, too full with toxic Crap, craving release of the load? Would a light touch at the Sea of Blood reveal the spirit underneath, in wait, still there, whole and perfect and still, being itself and nothing more? Maybe all the relentlessly scheming Lady Macbeth needed was a good cleansing of the blood?

My client is no Lady Macbeth. Like all of us, I’m sure he has his shame, his guilt, his regrets. They do not, however, haunt him as they haunted Lady Macbeth. He shows no urge to be cleansed, no need to over-wash. But the knocking at the door, the insistent rabble-rousing of his pulse, so quieted by Spleen 10 tells me that his Blood is carrying a toxic overload of some kind.

Blood is in the flowing, blood is in the flesh, blood is in the organs, blood is a whole dynamic interplay of solid and liquid manifestations of substantial nourishment and kick-ass cleansing. Blood is the nutritive aspects of food, and the cleansing potential of a great fire followed by a clean jet-stream of water to wash the debris away. Blood is therefore the best protection we have from the diseases of contemporary society, which as chronic and degenerative, are related to stress, toxins and deep, internal bio-dysregulation.

The acupuncture treatment delivers my client with the rabble-roused pulse to a place of no rabble, no scrap and scuffle. He is floating. The warmth of a far-infrared heat lamp beaming at the needles I’ve placed in Stomach 25, Heaven’s Pivot, allow this floating nothingness to be no big deal, a nothingness rooted to the middle of his body. Stomach 25 is the bodily convergence of heaven (qi) and earth (blood); needling it regulates qi and blood and eliminates stagnation. Lady Macbeth stops washing her hands.

My next client has cancer. She’s young and graceful and parries and side-steps and is emotionally ephemeral–darting only briefly in and out of her feelings. This is a condition she knows well, having used it to survive other life-threatening experiences in an abusive family of origin. But today she tells me that she took some steps over the past week to step through the emotional abyss she has jumped over and over for decades. She experienced a deep and exhausting exhumation of buried feelings and it was physically excruciating. The same kind of physical pain that she feels when her cancer cells loaded with chemotherapy swell and swell and explode and dissolve. Such symmetry is remarkable to us both. I feel her pulse.

Knock, knock.

It’s here, too. The little child who is just learning to use the potty holds her pants and stamps her feet when she feels the insistent knock, knock on the door. I touch Sea of Blood and am instantly somewhere else inside, under blood’s burden in the calm beneath the storm.

Here I am,

Says Sea of Blood. Back at the pulse all is calm except for the hard tap tap on the Liver pulse straining under chemo, straining under the presence of tumors some of which are dying off, others which hold on.

Come, Sea of Blood,

I say, bring your calm, to Liver blood. Cancer in the liver? Meet Liver 8, the He-Sea and Water Point of the Liver meridian. Just a light touch on Liver 8, Spring at the Crook, and I know this is the next point to needle today. Together little Spring and Sea of Blood call out,

Out, out damn spot!

Welcome back Gertrude, my next client of the day. I’ve written about Gertrude in the past. You can read about her here. She’s come a long way, but it’s forward, back, forward, forward, forward, back, and so on. She is looking for a house in which to live safely, an uncontaminated house. Her anxiety about toxic exposure is severe, her reactions instantaneous and her ruminating on the many possibilities of exposures and reactions is intense and automatic. But she is not running. Well, not for long. She comes back. Like a strawberry plant she is apt to make a run for it underground and pop up somewhere else, seeking, seeking. But she is beginning to have a sense of her own root, of her Sea of Blood, and she returns to it.

Leaving is good, new shoots are good. Those are Wood element activities in which she feels at home. But autumn is approaching now. The encroaching cold and darkness asks something different of us. We look inward, and those of us with homes begin metaphorically and figuratively to prepare the fireside hearth. Those, like Gertrude, without homes, feel out of sync, short of breath, dry, and cold. This is not a season of seeking outside of ourselves, like the Spring and Summer, but a season of growing repose and reflection. It marks the beginning of an inward journey to that part of our story which is still outside the warmth of the hearth. In health, this season propels us to take inventory and to gather the lost bits of our selves. It is hopeful. It is knowing how far off our orbits we all travel, at least some of the time, and knowing we can return home, where we do not wear masks, and where we are whole even in our brokenness.

Again I take up my post at the pulse, and feel the effect of the light, feather-touch of my forefinger on Spleen 10. Sea of Blood reveals itself here as invincible and inviolate once again. Deep and forgiving of ripples of guilt, shame, anger, fear. Remove the touch on Spleen 10 and a boat of toxins slides under my fingers. The pulse is knocking, hard, insistent, like a can of nails tumbling down the rungs of an aluminum ladder. In Gertrude’s blood there is a boat crammed full of sticky, icky toxins clamoring to be let out.

Let us out or we cannot be held responsible for what we do here!”

But Spleen 10 isn’t enough. The needles in Sea of Blood are drowned out by the voices of Gertrude’s sisters who insist that this whole Multiple Chemical Sensitivity trip is just grief, transmuted into an elaborate maze in which Gertrude wanders, obsessed with her own powerlessness and isolation. To which Gertrude says,

So what if it is!

To which Sea of Blood says,

I cannot be tainted. I am inviolate.

To which Gertrude says,

Then why am I drowning?

My next client has one of the thickest and most yellow coatings to his tongue that I have ever seen. He is a man of great responsibility who is studious about his obligations. Duty-bound and controlled by the needs and demands of others, he swallows spontaneity, the urge towards freedom and his growing rage, and those three things sit in his stomach and rot.

His stomach meridian is taught in the abdomen, sticky at numerous places on the shin, especially the crater at Stomach 40, as if a glob of phlegm attaches to it from the inside and pulls the skin down into this empty concave morass of swallowed crap. Sea of Blood seems to open up a door inside him and that strong current that was pounding at the door is now flowing, circulating.

There have been other clients today who I will not mention who showed the same striking pulse variations with and without a bridge to the Sea of Blood. Is this confluence an expression of the very real interplay between our bodies and our natural world? As Thea Elijah says,

This is real!

The observations of the seasons and of plants is not beneficial to us because of its symbolism but because all phenomenon–humans, plants, animals, seasons, included–gyrate, resonate, orbit and return on the same elemental trajectories. Maybe this really is late summer in my corner of New England, a time when it is only natural for the flow of Earth points to be especially evident. But why Spleen 10?

Perhaps I gravitated towards Sea of Blood today for my own reasons, not because of any great sensitivity on my own part to accessing my client’s healing. I stumbled upon it, out of my own inner drama and fascination with the Sea of Blood and the healing of my gut.

6 years ago I stopped eating all gluten and dairy because my breast-feeding infant developed severe itchy eczema in reaction to my diet. He remained gluten and dairy-free when he began solid foods. Over the years, either by accident or with intention we tested him periodically to see if the itchy rash returned, which it did. Last summer it took a few months but then returned. I too tested my reactions to gluten and dairy several times after my son had weaned, and always felt that my body was unable to properly transport the stickiness of these foods. This summer my son had no reaction and his good fortune has continued. So I decided to try it again myself.

This time it was different. I had no reaction. I’m now eating breads and yogurt and even cheese. Oh, how I love cheese! This exploration of my body’s resources and reactions has been fascinating. My spleen has been resplendent. And so I am in a very intuitive, sensory and personal understanding of my rich, adaptive, nutritive, and cleansed Sea of Blood. Once overloaded with toxins, unable to handle the heavy-damp, puffed up grandeur of gluten and dairy, my Sea of Blood is now able to feast and cleanse, feast and cleanse. A note to those interested in Celiac disease: I was never tested for Celiac because it seemed more important to immediately cease ingesting what I intuitively knew was hurting my child. (One has to be ingesting gluten to test the blood). Since celiac can be asymptomatic, while still damaging the small intestine, I intend to be tested at some point in the near future. To be sure. Until then, I’m presiding over late summer’s table with one finger on Sea of Blood, and the other hand at the pulse. Can you feel the rising of the Self within Blood, feel the natural state of being blood–quiescent and powerful in it’s depth? Can you feel the quieting of that which has been added, that which is non-self, non-blood, the quieting of the noisy passengers as they clamor to get off?

Out, out!

When the wind works against us

Originally uploaded by chinkon

One month ago I sat on a glider rocker in the bedroom of a 90 year old client. I had just taken his pulse, and put some needles in to alleviate his back pain and shortness of breath. I was taking a few minutes to watch the sparrows and chickadees at the generously stocked feeders outside the window before writing my treatment notes.

The sun shone so brightly, I could barely look directly at the snowy landscape for the glare. I was about to turn my eyes back into the room when, just outside the window, beneath the suet and the sunflower seeds I saw a patch of dull yellow grass. Given a few months time it would be renewed again, becoming green, lush and plump with the rains that are April’s promise. And with that comforting thought, I turned again to thoughts of my client, and his relationship with the coming spring. Maybe he would get out on the rider mower again, releasing that pungent but sweet, just-cut aroma to mingle with the sea-salt air blowing in from the nearby cove.

It was quite possible, however, that he would not. Unlike the spinning earth, whose sun-bound rotation promises spring, my client’s physical fluidity and cohesion turns upon the unpredictable axis of aging, from which departures can be swift or slow, gentle or painful. Not knowing accompanies each of us, as friend or foe. The challenge my client would face as spring lurched forward, would be finding the shifting rhythms of his own life-giving fluids. Even as they move with the primordial rhythms of nature–oceans, forests, planets, moon and stars–they also trace a lone trajectory of waning vitality. Some activities, such as riding on a gas-fueled lawn mower, may generate more fire than is safe for his small internal sea. The same is true for each of us. The flow of our internal sea –were we to freeze it in time at any given moment like a snapshot–would consist of a precise wave-form. Perhaps the greatest task of aging is learning with each passing moment how better to gage the quality and resonance of our own internal sea, and with a combination of acceptance and intention, learning how to ride that precise wave-form rather than be taken under by it.

We surfers have an ally in acupuncture. Acupuncture, a non-verbal education in fluid dynamics, schools us in how not to fall off the ride that is right now. It reorients each of us to our own central cores, so that the essence of our experience embodies who we are. The trick is carrying that sense of being in the flow of one’s life out of the treatment room and into the cacophony of modern American existence, which includes for many older adults a long-list of medications for a long-list of ailments that are often not envisioned as a whole (except by specialists in Chinese medicine).

I returned again to visit my 90 year old client yesterday, four weeks after I mused about him on his riding mower. In that time all the snow in the field outside his house had melted, leaving a dull carpet of rough, yellow grass. This time it was not just chickadees and sparrows at the generously stocked feeders but robins and a blackbird, too. The wind blew strongly against the house, and a squirrel climbed onto a ledge outside the window and scratched the glass. He actually seemed to want to come inside, standing on hind legs, front paws scratching. His belly was white, his gray cheek was turned against the glass, and the black iris of his eye darted around.

Wind. It stirs inside us, too. Sometimes it’s a light breeze that motivates us to clean closets and drawers and sometimes it’s a tornado, stirring a rock slide of stones inside our gallbladders. I’ve been experiencing the former, while my 90 year old client got the latter. 10 days ago he suffered a severe pain in the right lower quadrant of his abdomen. After he waited on a gurney in the ER for 14 hours, a doctor said,

“Stones, your gallbladder is full of stones.”

After some debate about the wisdom of operating on a 90 year old man, the surgery was done. He was discharged the next day, and 10 days later, I could not find his liver or kidney pulse without pushing deep to the bone of his wrist. He said his hips were hurting him, a pattern I’ve seen often repeated: the removal of the gallbladder took only the most solid form of the problem out of the body. The energetic problem remained in the meridian, knocking about like an old tin can.

We are all such vast seas of fluid. It’s the water content of our bodies that makes our cells semi-conductors, piezo-electric communicators speaking a vibratory language of signals our western science does not comprehend. And the truth is, neither do we acupuncturists. As I feel for that variable alteration–whether it’s a softness or a hardness, a moistness or a dryness, an openness or a stickiness– that makes a spot on the skin a living, breathing acupuncture point, I am acknowledging that I don’t know, that the only intelligence that matters here is the intelligence of the client’s meridian system, to which I must give my deepest attention, despite the fact that my intellect can not articulate or communicate what it is that I am looking for. I’m only looking for that moment when I know I have arrived. It is not a “what” that I look for, because the “what” changes and can be different things at different times. It’s more of a “what-when” that I’m looking for, a “right here right now” to use the famous words of Ram Dass. Once I have found the acupuncture point (or the acupuncture point disclosed itself to me), and I insert the needle, I direct my awareness to the tip of the needle and figuratively “aim” at the center of that wave-form, looking for that confirmational tug of Qi.

Meridian medicine requires attention to wave-forms that are constantly in flux. Therefore, it is imperative that I make up every treatment as I go along. Of course traditional or classical point combinations are the places I start. But the true art and science of acupuncture lies like a fox in the grass, a shadow of the moment, to be discovered or not. That fleeting opening that appears out of nowhere, if only for a moment before slipping again into the closed places of our habituated lives is what we acupuncturists look for, a new science of the body and medicine of the soul starts in those openings.

Yesterday, as I touched the body of my 90 year old client, seeking under the light touch of the index finger of my left hand, that special quality of liveness in the points, I was struck by the lack of what I sought. The meridians of the lower legs in particular were like oily asphalt highways–slippery, soft and hard all at the same time. But there was no traffic. No palpable wave-form open to the surf-board needle to carry a message to the center of the sea. I felt that my client’s recovery from surgery, despite the dismissal from his doctor’s care, was not nearly complete. His family members thought his recovery was quick, uneventful and complete. I struggled with how to articulate my findings to the family. I wanted to caution them to allow for more recovery, to encourage them to recognize the toll that had been taken on his overall health and the need to proceed slowly but steadily towards revitalization. At the same time I didn’t want to make it sound too dire.

Perhaps the best way to have explained it would have been to have turned to that rough carpet of grass, it’s liveliness still dormant deep in its roots, awaiting the spring showers and spring winds that will supply the necessary water but keep it from pooling unduly. We all need the same thing. Older adults more than younger, and older adults after surgery even more. We need to cultivate fluidity without flooding. We need golden elixirs in the form of nourishing broths, deep sleep and the pulsing wave forms of the meridians. We need clean water, refreshing breezes and the warmth of the sun.

As I began giving my 90 year old client with the asphalt-like legs an acupuncture treatment, the wind was howling. We were clearly on the cusp of renewal on this small finger of coastal Maine. I put my intention into every needle: may this needle carry the resonant chord of the season into the channels of your body, let it ring true like a harmonic overtone, bringing the rejuvenation of the spring into your body, your consciousness and your heart.

Today it is raining. Tonight I will make soup.

The Iraqi Vet referred by the Veterans Administration for acupuncture for severe headaches, which his doctors believe are caused by high cerebrospinal fluid pressure, has been back in my office a few times. After initially referring him for only 3 treatments, the VA authorized 8 more treatments, and my contact has shown a willingness to work with me to get more treatments authorized after that, if need be. The first time we met again after a hiatus full of negotiating phone calls and mailings to the VA, my client was at a point of extreme pain in which he’d been in bed for three days. He walked with a slow, somewhat wide-based gait, and wore dark sunglasses that wrapped all the way around his face, covering every millimeter of his peripheral vision, even though it was a gray, late winter day.

His voice was guttural. He did not smile. The connective tissue on the outer (yang) sides of his body were extremely tense while the inner (yin) sides were soft. His tongue was pale and scalloped and it quivered. His pulse was rapid and wiry. He preferred the room to be cool.

I treated the palpable imbalance in his connective tissue. My theory was that the increased energy in the yang meridians was forcing too much Qi and heat to his head. The concomitant deficiency in the yin meridians meant his energy lacked the means to flow downwards through the connective tissue matrix, and become grounded. This treatment strategy seems to have been effective. He had mild pressure on his right cheek after the treatment, which he did not think was related to lying face-down in the face cradle, which lasted about a day, but aside from that the treatment triggered a steady, gradual improvement in symptoms over the following 24 hours. When I saw him again about 4 days later, he exhibited some more personality, being somewhat chatty and bordering on (but not quite) cheerful. He had hope. That’s a beautiful thing.

We worked again on the same premise. The imbalance was still present only not as severe, and this time he actually smiled once as he was leaving. My strategy, based on the teachings of Mr. Koei Kuwahara, a master practitioner of Japanese acupuncture and my teacher while I was a student at the New England School of Acupuncture., basically involves returning to palpation frequently, sometimes after every needle is inserted to follow the progress in relieving tension in the yang meridians, and redirecting that energy to the yin meridians. This type of treatment can not be done quickly.

I’ll keep you posted about how this works in the long run.

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.

As an acupuncturist and a gluten-free mom raising a gluten-free child, I have wondered quite a bit about gluten from the perspective of Chinese medicine. Of course, Chinese medicine has no monolithic perspective on gluten intolerance. But I enjoy this sort of cross-cultural musings, and reflecting on commonalities among different aspects of my own experience.  Nothing much came of my musings, until…

…today, while riding a stationery bike at the YMCA, while simultaneously reading a book (I know! Terrible multitasking!), the point of connection occurred to me suddenly and without warning (and me on a bike without a pen): Wu, which translates as non-being is the point of connection between Chinese medicine and gluten intolerance.

If you haven’t snorted, rolled your eyes and left his post (post-haste), bear with me while I try to tease this little insight out into the light of (a now dwindling and snowy) day.

Gluten is a protein in certain foods that makes the food puff up, swell and become sticky.  It’s a primary ingredient in all mass-produced baked goods–breads, crackers, muffins, cookies, pies, etc. as well as an ingredient in many unexpected places:  vinegar, salad dressing, soy sauce, and others.   In metaphorical psychology it is kin to egotistical and arrogant thinking,  to a “puffed up” view of one’s own self-importance.

You have to have a little perspective on Wu (non-being), if you’re going to follow this strange correspondence all the way there. As I understand it non-being (Wu) is a fundamental underlying principle of Chinese ontology, which informs both Chinese philosophy and Chinese medicine.  Ontology is the study of being.  In the ancient text of Taoism, the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu says

All things in the world come into being from Being (Yu); and Being comes into being from Non-being (Wu).

(Chapter 40).  I read something quite funny the other day about the Neo-Taoists (many of whom thought Confucius a greater sage than Lao Tzu or Chuang Tzu).   This is from “A Short History of Chinese Philosophy” by Fung Yu-Lan, a book I bought back in 1978 or 1979 when my high school boyfriend, Jeffrey, and I used to go to Samuel Weiser’s bookstore in New York City.   Years later, after Jeffrey and I lost touch we simultaneously graduated from acupuncture schools on different coasts.  It was a number of years later when we learned of our similar paths.  Here Fung Yu-Lan is quoting the Shih-shuo Hsin-yu (Chapter 4):

Wang Pi [226-249], when young, once went to see P’ei Hui.  [P’ei] Hui asked him why, since Wu [Non-being] is fundamental for all things, Confucius did not speak about it, whereas Lao Tzu expounded this idea without stopping.  To this Wang Pi answered: “The sage [Confucius] identified himself with Wu [Non-being] and realized that it could not be made the subject of instruction, with the result that he felt compelled to deal only with Yu [Being].  But Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu had not yet completely left the sphere of Yu [Being], with the result that they constantly spoke of their own deficiencies.

Fung Yu-Lan adds, “This explanation reflects the idea expressed by Lao Tzu that “he who knows does not speak; he who speaks does not know.” (Lao-tzu, ch. 56).”

But what does this have to do with gluten intolerance?  Gluten intolerance is growing like wildfire.  It’s almost as if this near epidemic is a canary in the coal mine, warning us of a major weakness in our microcosmic system (the body) and in our macrocosmic system (American culture).  We’re too full.  We need more space, more emptiness, less puffed-up-ness in our lives.  One of the basic healing principles of Taoist-informed acupuncture is that proper insertion of the right needles allows a person to recede from the complicated, often messed-up experience of being, and to journey, if only for a short time, into that realm of Being and Non-being.  Just as Lao Tzu said, “reversing is the movement of the Tao,” so too is going backwards to one’s source energy a movement which will heal.

Abstaining from gluten–that which fills, expands, makes sticky and full–can be a similar reverse movement towards an emptiness that is resonant with the deepest origins of being–Being, and deeper still with the origins of Being in Non-Being.  This is an idea that is also resonant with the school of thought in Chinese Medicine which arose sometime during the Jin/Yuan Dynasties (1115-1368 A.D.) with the Treatise of the Spleen and Stomach by Li Gong Yuan, in which the origin of disease is believed to lie in deficiencies of these organs.  It’s also resonant with current nutritional wisdom in which fruits and vegetables are the key to health, and with another fact established by Western medicine:  The single dietary feature proven to be linked with a long life is merely the low calorie diet; In other words, if you experience a little less fullness, you will live a little longer.

There is an acupuncture point a few inches from and on either side of the navel called Tianshu (translated as Celestial or Spiritual Pivot).  This name (and location of the point at the center of the body) reflects the cosmology underlying Chinese Medicine in which the person is the conduit or meeting point between heaven and earth. The relationship between person-heaven-earth is not just a theoretical construct but something that is embodied in the structure and functioning of the meridian system, of which Tianshu, the Celestial Pivot is a part.  The human body is a map not only of personal experiences and relationships but of cosmic ones as well.

Could the growing prevalence of gluten intolerance (including but not limited to celiac disease) be a symptom of something out of balance not only in the afflicted guts of so many individuals but also in the relationship of all humans with heaven and earth?  Is there a connection between gluten intolerance and global warming, massive pollution, depleted uranium and an overall lack of respect for the living planet on which we live?  If there is (and I believe so) then until we are comfortable as a society with reversing these deadly trends (reversing is the movement of tao), then what we eat and how our individual digestive systems react to what we eat, will be the least of our planetary survival concerns.