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?”

Just the title of this post has my heart racing with excitement — at times like this I marvel at how I, of all people, became such a geek.

It’s no surprise that medical problems run in families just like body types, the shape of one’s nose, and the color of one’s hair. But could genetics be simply an expression of an overwhelmed system? According to the 5-Channel system of acupuncture as described by one of the greatest living teachers of Chinese Medicine, Jeffrey Yuen,
that’s exactly right. During one of his many continuing education conferences, which I attended, Jeffrey Yuen said genetic tendencies towards certain diseases can be thought of as a particular type of pathology that one or more ancestor was unable to resolve within his or her 5 channels, and which therefore descended into the next generation. The way I understand it, the 5 channel system of Acupuncture is the only medical paradigm to understand a mechanism for how genetics can be trumped by internal or external environmental factors.

It’s recognized in western medicine that people with a genetic predisposition (genetic markers) for a particular disease may or may not suffer from that disease in their lifetime. But how or why that expression remains latent or becomes manifest is not understood. The 5 Channel system (particularly the Divergent Channels) provides a way of understanding the mechanism of latency. I’m no Jeffrey Yuen, and would not attempt to teach (or even report more deeply) on this subject. If you’re an acupuncturist, get thee to a seminar taught by this amazing teacher. His teachings resonate for me so deeply because my own experience as an acupuncturist has shown me, time and again, the wisdom of pathology.

From my experience as an acupuncturist, I believe that early warning signs of a distressed system are the wise pathologies of an intelligent being. With a little training anyone with the capacity of self-reflection can learn to be a better listener and a more active responder to the wise direction of our own pathologies. Many of my clients who continue to receive regular acupuncture after a medical crisis has been averted do so because they feel that the experience of acupuncture makes them more receptive and responsive to the lessons of small pathology which the body uses to school us in how to take care of ourselves.

Small examples of what some of my clients have learned from their own experiences: eczema is related to food allergies, back pain is related to intestinal problems, acne and migraines in women and girls is related to hormonal changes. There is one more complicated example of the wisdom of pathology which involves a young woman diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis.

She came to me for acupuncture after receiving a diagnosis of autoimmune hepatitis from a doctor of natural medicine. She was looking for help to restore the healthy functioning of her liver, which according to liver function tests had not been functioning well for at least a year.

What unfolded was an example of something I wrote about in an earlier post (The Number One Problem in American Healthcare: No one is Listening). By sitting with this woman for as long as it took (about an hour and a half) I learned a great deal of important clues from her medical and family history. The first thing to be revealed that perked my interest was that she had had one episode of severe eczema on her hip about one year ago. She had been given a topical steroid and it “went away.” I put that in quotations because I believe that while the rash may have disappeared from the skin, the problem went deeper, and found another post from which to stand on its soap box and scream, look at me, look at me. The new post? Her liver. I immediately shared my son’s story (gluten free because gluten intake results in eczema, whereas abstinence from gluten means no rash), and the stories of others I’ve worked with (including a 12 year old boy who would not explore dietary triggers to his eczema until he became unable to tolerate almost all foods and had to be treated in a hospital for massive food intolerances at the age of 19). Her response was immediate: “That’s interesting,” she said, “my sister was diagnosed with Celiac disease when she was 2!” Bingo. I told her of the tendency of diseases to run in families and urged her to get tested.

Unfortunately her doctor was misinformed about Celiac, and didn’t realize it ran in families, and counseled her against the test, reiterating that she had autoimmune hepatitis. Celiac disease doesn’t cause liver disease, he said. Luckily this woman is someone who feels comfortable thinking outside the box. I shared with her my own belief that the body’s intelligence should not be underestimated. Celiac disease goes undiagnosed and is misdiagnosed so often (average time between sickness and diagnosis is something like 10 years!) because the “typical” celiac presentation (diarrhea, malnutrition, weight loss) is perhaps not so typical afterall, rather just one way that the illness sometimes manifests–just so happens it’s a way that western medicine thinks is sensible for a disorder effecting the small intestine.

So, she got the test. Positive for celiac. After being on a gluten-free diet for a short time her liver function tests returned to normal. Which, for me, is proof enough that when it comes to an autoimmune disease (such as celiac) anything is possible. When dealing with autoimmune disease, the whole concept of cause and effect is turned upside down and shoved down the rabbit hole. A does not lead to B–it might lead to C, instead. We need a paradigm, such as Chinese Medicine, that can enter a dialogue with the bodymind from any one of many multi-faceted entry points, a paradigm that can contemplate multiple correspondences between organs and multiple relationships between functioning parts and whole systems. Western medicine is great at what it does. But it doesn’t particularly shine in the world beneath the rabbit hole.