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!

revolved side angle

Originally uploaded by Arielinha

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,

We are water made flesh.

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?