Saturday, February 17, 2024

The hidden pathways of energy which flow through us

As five element acupuncturists we often take for granted that the medium through which we work is created by lines of energy running through us, and from the world outside us, connecting all things in an inextricable web of energy.  We take this for granted whenever we do a seasonal or a horary treatment, for we are assuming then that each of us is linked into nature’s energy and will respond to it when we stimulate these points.  But each time we lift a needle and prepare to treat a patient, we will be effecting a similar transfer of energy between the patient and practitioner, and of course through both of them with the cosmic forces which feed us all.


We also need to accept that there is much more going on between us and our patients which underpins our treatments at a deep level, and may determine whether they are successful or not.  This helps explain why exactly the same treatment with the same points on the same element from one practitioner can appear to be falling on fallow ground, whereas the same treatment from another practitioner proves remarkably successful.  What may well differentiate the two practitioners may be their belief in what they are doing.  I learnt that this might be so from a comment from a fellow practitioner some years ago, who told me that he could not understand why the treatments he was offering his patients did not seem to have the same results as mine.  I realised that this might well be because he had told me he doubted the efficacy of five element treatment, and eventually moved on to practising another form of acupuncture.  His spirit which doubted what he was doing appeared to be affecting the treatment his hands were offering his patients.


This was the first time that I began to be aware of the power of the practitioner’s spirit in determining the outcome of the treatment he/she was giving.  The most profound lesson of all that I learned was when JR Worsley told us that he did not really need to light a moxa cone because his fingers warmed the point to the same degree.  Rather arrogantly, I thought I would see if I could also do this, and was amazed when my patient said,”Hot!” as my fingers hovered over a point, with my intention firmly focused on warming the point.  I never repeated this experiment, probably because I saw this as belittling the power of what JR had told us he could do.


Another profound experience of a slightly different kind was when I was marking up the points for a Husband/Wife treatment, and, being very early on in my practice, was concerned that passing energy from Metal to both Water and Wood as part of this procedure, would somehow be harmful to what I thought of as my Metal patient.  (It isn’t, because I would have followed the H/W procedure immediately with the Metal source points.). As I finished marking the points, and hesitated before actually inserting the needles, my patient suddenly said, “It does sound a dangerous thing, that Husband/Wife imbalance which your teacher mentions in his book.”  I sent thanks up to whatever spirit guides this universe, and carried on with the treatment.   I am still in awe of what was happening at some deep level at that moment in the practice room.  It was as though my patient had picked up on my doubts, and somehow felt she must reassure me that the Husband/Wife treatment was necessary.  She had never mentioned before that she had read JR Worsley’s book, and never mentioned it again, but some need in me was being answered by what she said.


Another instance of the power of the forces we engage with when we needle was given me during a possession treatment.  In those days, I think I was not focused enough to clear possession through the Internal Dragons, and so moved on to External Dragon treatment which involved needles in the AEPs (back shu points) of Water.  Once all the needles were inserted, my patient suddenly called out in pain, “Something is hurting me on my back!”.  When I looked, I could see that the AEP needle on one side of the Water AEPs was being dragged under, almost disappearing below a fold of skin, as though the needle was trying to position itself slightly higher than I had placed it.  I tried to remove the needle, but couldn’t, as it was held so firmly held in place.  All I could do was wait and see if the needle’s tug on the skin would lessen, and I could then take it out, which it did very easily after a few minutes.  I realised, too, that the treatment had cleared the possession.  Thinking of this afterwards, I interpreted this as my having marked the Kidney AEP point wrongly on one side, and the patient’s energy had directed the needle towards where I should have placed it.  


Again, this was one of those incidents which made me aware of the forces I was dealing with, and how much a patient’s own energy was trying to support the treatment I was trying to give.  These few examples have convinced me of the power we can unleash if we focus our thoughts clearly on what we are trying to achieve.


Finally, I am always thankful for whatever universal forces hovering above me have helped me in treating very ill patients, when I was given no time to carry out even the most basic diagnosis, since they could not even talk to me.  One such patient was somebody who had suffered a severe stroke, and another who was so severely ill from cancer that she could not speak to me.  I always felt that some hand was hovering over me, guiding me towards the correct diagnosis of these patients’ elements, and the treatment I should offer them.  The universe, I felt, was leading me to help my patients when I could not carry out he usual procedures.


As I have said before, I am not a fanciful person or one who had much belief in powers beyond me before I started my acupuncture practice, but my experiences over the years have taught me that what I am doing with these often rather clumsy fingers of mine can often stir into life some of the profound forces which surround us. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Helpful hint 8: Learning to observe change in our patients

Detecting change in a patient as a result of treatment is one of the skills a five element practitioner has to learn.  These changes can be obvious both to the patient and the practitioner, but some are more subtle, and are perceptible perhaps only to the practitioner.  


I often gauge whether treatment has led to any changes in my patient by the way I feel about them.  They feel different to me, in a way which is often difficult to pin down ,but is quite clear to me.  I see this as proof that treatment is working.  It is when there is no change at all that I start becoming concerned that I am not directing treatment at the right element.


Sometimes we are fortunate, and a patient experiences some clear improvement after just a few treatments.  In other cases, changes can take longer.  Practitioners get better and better at detecting even tiny changes as they become more experienced.  Changes that we should be looking out for are slight improvements, such as a patient talking loess about something which used to obsess them, or holding a practitioner’s hands more firmly as pulses are being taken.


Any change is to be welcomes as a sign that the patient’s elements are responding to the treatment being offered.

Friday, January 12, 2024

A new insight into the relationship of Fire to Metal

 I love it when I get a sudden new insight into an element, or, as happened recently, into the relationship of two elements to each other.  I use myself as the source of many of these revelations, and have always done so.  I’m not sure how far other practitioners look to themselves in quite so studied a manner as I do.  It may, after all, be one of the characteristics of Inner Fire that, in trying to sort out its encounters with the world, it is constantly querying its own reactions to what is going on around it, as I always do.  It may well be that other elements are not so intent on looking inwards to discover an explanation for their relationships to other elements. I just know that everything I am aware of has to be filtered carefully through my own interpretations of the significance of what I am experiencing.

One of these acts of filtration occurred whilst I was planning future work with our Chinese students.  Much of my current teaching in China is now done with my good friend and former student, Guy Caplan.  Together we have developed many quite innovative ways of helping our Chinese students learn as much as they can in an environment where they only have few opportunities to learn in person from experienced five element acupuncturists, as Guy and I had the fortune to do over many years.  To help our students overcome this handicap we have developed many creative approaches.  What has, of course, also contributed to our success in doing this is the fact that much of the groundwork has already been laid for us because of what each Chinese student absorbs from birth as part of their cultural inheritance. 


Their understanding of the elements, for example, is so ingrained in them that I have no need to go through the often laborious procedures with which I try, sometimes unsuccessfully, to help English students to an understanding, not only of the existence of the elements as a philosophical concept, but of their practical and visible presence in each one of us.  Often I have been asked, “But are you sure that there are qualities called elements which we can feel, see, smell or hear?”  Some of my English students could not make the initial leap of faith necessary to allow them to accept the existence of the elements.  I myself never needed to convince myself of the truth of what I was learning because the startling effects of my first acupuncture treatment had confirmed to me that five element acupuncture did indeed base itself on a truth about human nature.   


In China, the elements are symbolic qualities which define all life and determine human behaviour as much as they dictate the cycling of the year from season to season.  Chinese students are therefore already well on the way to an understanding of the basic principles of five element acupuncture.  This is a blessing when we consider that all we can offer them are the few weeks of our twice-yearly seminars.  It is therefore very encouraging that in the 12 or more years of these visits, they have developed so rapidly in their understanding of five element practice that a large group of them is now running their own introductory seminars all around China in preparation for our visits.  


They will therefore be pleased to discover that I have made a further step in my understanding of the two elements which Guy and I represent.  I always like to make us living examples of our elements so that they can, if they are attentive enough, gain a deep personal insight into those we display so clearly in front of them as we teach.  These are the Metal element, which is Guy’s, and the Fire element, which is mine, and specifically both the yang officials of these elements, Guy’s the Large Intestine and mine the Small Intestine, the yang of Inner Fire.


I think it is no coincidence that these two officials are so tightly linked together by name, which represents not only their close physical relationship in the human body, but their much deeper emotional relationship. When I realised this, which I did only recently, it made me smile, because it helped explain why the two of us have worked together so closely and so harmoniously over many years.  The physical link, where the Small Intestine joins the Large Intestine, is reflected in the deeper mental and emotional associations.  So I set myself to work out exactly what this close relationship told me about the nature of both elements, and particularly of their yang officials, and how they interact with one another.  Here then is what I consider to be one of my most significant findings.  


We are both extremely sensitive to those aspects of our relationship which our close association over the years has taught us might well be areas of tension or disagreement between us.  I can only look at those which I have personally had to deal with, leaving it to Guy to explain his side of things if he chooses to do so at some point.  I know what he finds disconcerting is my, to him, disturbing habit of suddenly confronting him with having to deal with what is often a series of new ideas which I have come up with in the most fertile time of my day, which is the early morning.  It is then that all sorts of new ideas crowd my mind, and I am eager to discuss them with him when we next meet.  Guy, on the other hand, quite understandably needs time to absorb these new ideas, whereas I have learnt that my mind is quite able to dart from idea to idea quite easily.  Having seen the strain this puts on our relationship, by observing the somewhat startled look on his face as I launch into what I want to tell him, I have learnt to interpret this as a sign that I must hold back and give him time  to absorb each new project of mine at his own speed and definitely one at a time.


I see Guy’s reaction as an expression of his Metal element, and specifically his Large Intestine, which is the Metal official in control of expelling what it feels it needs to discard.  It needs longer than I do to assess new ideas to give it time to decide which it thinks should be kept and which should be rejected.  I used to want him to match my multi-dimensional thought processes, whereas what he needs is the time to work out his response to my ideas one at a time.  This has made me see that one of the Metal element’s qualities is that it needs to work on what is there, on what it is presented with, rather than what it itself initiates.  In our relationship, it is I who tend to initiate, and Guy who tends to work upon the ideas I present him with  In our work together over the years, I now recognise that it has been my task to initiate new approaches to teaching five element acupuncture, and it has been Guy’s to work upon what I have initiated, by modifying it or also quite firmly setting aside what he does not consider to be useful.  By contrast, I am much more concerned with formulating new ideas, but often forget to work out the implications and ramification of what I have formulated.  It is precisely at that point that Guy comes into his own, often with his Metal sword cutting my suggestions down to size or completely rejecting them. 


I also need to remind myself of the place in the cycle of elements taken up by Metal and Fire, because this reflects the focus of their activities, and helps add to my explanation of how well Guy and I work together. Although the elements create a never-ending cycle, without an actual starting- or end-point, we like to think of it as beginning with Wood, as a reflection of spring in the cycle of the seasons in nature, followed by Fire, Earth, Metal and Water.  There is a logic to this, because in nature the buds which Wood displays start the cycle of activity ending in autumn.  Each element in this cycle represents a particular aspect of every activity, just as much of a thought as of a season.  My Fire builds on Wood’s energy as it emerges from Water’s slumbering seeds bringing the cycle to full blossom, as nature shows in the blaze of a summer’s day, before passing this on to Earth to bring to full fruition.  Earth than hands over to Metal to draw meaning and value from all this activity, as autumn draws nature down towards the yin of the year.  I see Guy’s and my relationship in similar terms.




Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Command points: 4 Junction points

Junction points provide a link between the yin and yang officials of an element, and in this way help maintain an element's balance.  They are also used as part of the procedure for transferring energy from element to element around the circle of the elements.

Yin and yang officials are usually happy to share their energy so to that there is no need for us to interfere with their naturally balanced communication with one another.  Very occasionally, though, one or other official is under greater stress than its companion.  This will appear as a discrepancy between the pulse pictures between them, with either the yin or yang aspect having less energy.  In this case the junction point of the weaker official should be tonified, encouraging it to draw increased energy to itself from its stronger partner.


Some pairings of junction points have very evocative names, such as those for the Outer Fire officials, Inner and Outer Frontier Gates.  Gates are always important points, helping energy move smoothly around the body, as needling these two junction points would do.


If a command point on either an element's yin or yang official is selected, treatment can then be completed by tonifying the junction point of the untreated official so that both of the element's officials benefit.  For example, you might choose HP (V) 8, Palace of Weariness, for its spirit, and add the Three Heater junction point TH (VI) 5 to finish the treatment.


Junction points are also used as part of the routine balancing of energy which forms part of our Akabane procedure.  Where an Akabane imbalance is detected on one official on one side of the body, the junction point of the weaker yin or yang official is stimulated to help it draw energy from the stronger official on the other side of the body.

Command points: 3 Element points: horary and seasonal treatment

Each set of command points also contains points which have a specific association with the five elements, creating a subsidiary circle of the elements. These points lie along the arm and leg in the order of the five element circle.  One of the points will be a Metal point, another a Wood point, and so on.  On yin officials the order of the elements on the arms and legs starts at the nail or first point with the first command points being Wood points and the final command points being Water points, whilst on yang officials the order starts with Metal points at the nail or first point, and finishes with  Earth at the elbow or knee.  The element points add the quality of their particular element to the official they form part of.  A Fire point on the Gall Bladder will therefore add some Fire quality to the Wood of the Gall Bladder.  

The element point of a patient's guardian element (Earth points on Stomach and Spleen for an Earth patient, for example) are the most frequently used of these elements points, because they are selected according to a specific time of day or season.  Treatment for the time of day is called horary treatment (from the Latin word for "hour"), and is based on the 24-hour Chinese clock.  Treatment chosen for a particular season is called seasonal treatment.


An element's element point has a particular resonance, as it emphasizes that element's qualities.  A Metal point on Lung or Large Intestine therefore increases the power of the Metal element.  This is particularly so when the element points of that person's guardian element are selected for horary or seasonal treatment in Metal's horary time or Metal's season, autumn, and doubly so if these points can be needled at the same time both in Metal horary time and in the right season.


For horary treatment, the twinned horary points of the yin and yang officials are needled to time exactly to correspond to that particular official's horary time according to the 24-hour clock by the sun.  It will therefore be impractical to choose horary points for some of the officials whose horary times are at unsocial hours during the night, such as those for Wood and Metal patients. It is much easier to arrange for Earth, Fire and Water patients whose horary times are during practice hours.  For these patients, the time of treatment has to be during both officials' horary times.  For an Earth patient, with Stomach's horary time from 7- 9 am, and Spleen's from 9 - 11 am, XI (St) 36 must be needled before 9 am by the sun (in other words around 8.45), and then there will be a slight wait until XII (Sp) 3 can be needled after 9 am. 


There is much discussion and some disagreement among five element practitioners as to whether we should consider giving horary/seasonal treatments to people whose element has no particular relationship to that time of day or season.  In other words, should we give a Fire person a Wood seasonal treatment in spring.  I have not myself included this as part of my treatment protocol over the many years of my practice, but I know many other practitioners who do.  I think my decision was based on one example of a Fire patient who I gave a Water seasonal treatment to in winter and who told me that she had felt a bit odd after the treatment, but this might have had nothing to do with the Water points but instead related to what was going on in her life.  Perhaps practitioners should do their own research on this to discover how far giving seasonal treatments for any season which is not that of their patient's guardian element appears to support their patients.  The problem here is that I believe that the positive effect of treatment is based on the cumulative effect of a number of treatments on their element, rather than on the effect of a single treatment.   


Apart from horary and seasonal treatments, we enter a complex area of five element treatment when we consider whether we should select other element points, such as a Metal point on a Water patient, or an Earth point on a Fire point.  Leaving aside the fact that some element points are chosen as part of tonification or sedation treatment, I think it is not advisable to think that it might be useful to add some Metal to Water points for the Water patient, or more Earth to Fire for the Fire patient.  This requires great insight to pinpoint whether the Water patient would indeed benefit from more Metal, or the Fire patient would benefit from more Earth, because this is a very subtle area of diagnosis.   During our training we were strongly advised just to use the element points for tonification or sedation and for seasonal or horary treatment, and for no other reason.  This is the advice I am therefore passing on here as it is what I have always done.

Command points: 2. Tonification and sedation points

Element points are used both to tonify and to sedate the energy of a patient's guardian element, and are chosen as a frequent alternative to source points.  Tonification is selected as treatment when our pulse-reading tells us that there is more energy in the mother element of our patient's element than in the element itself.  It is then preferable to draw energy from the mother element to the guardian element by needling its tonification points rather than its source points, since this is a way of spreading energy evenly between mother and child.  We should remember that the aim of all five element treatment is to balance the energy so that it flows smoothly from element to element.¬

When we decide to use a tonification point, we select the element point of the mother element.  For example, the tonification points for an Earth patient will be St (XI) 41 and Sp (XII) 2, the Fire points on Stomach and Spleen.


It is much more usual for the guardian element to reveal its imbalance as weakness rather than by showing an excess of energy, which is why tonification rather than sedation is overwhelmingly used in five element acupuncture.  If there is any excess energy in the guardian element it is also likely to be dispersed through the standard procedures that we use to clear blocks.  The initial check for Aggressive Energy may show that some pulses seem to have excess energy, but the AE procedure encourages this excess to disperse through the needles to the outside air.  A Husband-Wife block may reveal excess pulses on one hand, and in the case of Entry-Exit blocks the exit points of one meridian may show that they are retaining a build-up of excess energy which is prevented from releasing itself by passing it on to the adjacent entry point.  These are just temporary signs of blocked energy, and each of these blocks can be cleared, not by using an element's sedation points, but through specific procedures.


For the the purposes of five element treatment, I think we need to ignore the category of sedation points, and concentrate instead on the frequent use of tonification points.




Monday, November 27, 2023

Command points: 1 Source points

Source points are probably the most important group of points of all those we call command points (see Chapter 6, pages 84 - 98 of my Handbook of Five Element Practice).  These all lie on the arm, between the fingers and the elbow, and on the leg, between the toes and the knee.  If we were to stretch our arms and our legs out, as in the Leonardo da Vinci cartoon, these points would be on the two extremities of the body, on our legs tethering us to the ground beneath our feet, and on our arms as we reach up to the heavens above our head.  We can see them as forming a protective ring around us, sheltering our energy, before the meridians draw their energy to the main area of our body.

Each set of points contains the following: a source point, a tonification point, a sedation point, a junction point, and five different element points.  Some of the officials also have other points such as entry or exit points which are not considered to be command points.


All points other than command points can be regarded as in some senses interfering with a patient's energy by manipulating it in some way.  The most important feature of command points is that they are regarded as being the safest points of all, because they have what is described as their own in-built safety factor.  They are therefore selected to complete each treatment and bring energy back under the patient's control.  They are always used together in their paired yin/yang relationship. 


The most important points of all these very important command points are what are known as source points.  For the six yin officials, these are the Earth points within the circle of element points, whilst the six yang officials have no equivalent association with an element point.  A yin source point can therefore be seen as drawing upon some of the energy Earth adds to whatever guardian element treatment is directed at.  In other words, this additional Earth quality provides some of the centring which is Earth's particular quality. It is probably also the reason why I choose to needle a yang command point first, before a yin command point, starting with the left side and then the right.  It is as though yang command points offer the external support which all yang officials bring before we delve deeper within to access the deeper, more internal qualities yin officials provide.