Saturday, August 13, 2022

22 - 31 Wood's two officials: the Liver and the Gall Bladder

When looking at the yin/yang pairings of the officials within each element, and trying to work out how each expresses this element in its own characteristic way, it is good to visualize the yin official as hidden deep within us, with its yang companion forming a pathway along which the yin official's energy can be drawn up from within the body to the outside.  It is useful here to remember that one of the main reasons why we only tap for Aggressive Energy on the yin AEPs (back shu points) is because the yang officials have this escape route to the outside which allows any Aggressive Energy to be released.  By contrast, AE remains trapped within the yin officials, and needs to be coaxed to the surface through the needles we place on their yin AEPS, since they have no escape route of their own to enable them to get rid of any AE which has accumulated.


It is always good to visualize this difference when thinking of the different qualities which the yin and yang officials give to the element.  The yang officials are much more mobile and active, the yin more static and reflective, a distinction which helps us define their differences a little more closely.  Nowhere is this contrast more obvious than in the relationship of the yin and yang officials within the Wood element.  There is a very obvious difference between how we plan things, which is the Liver's task, and how we then go on to decide which of these plans we will carry out, which is the Gall Bladder's task.  I have always visualized the Liver as taking on the role of a general sitting his tent on the field of action, with his maps spread out in front of him as he makes his plans, whilst the Gall Bladder is the officer in charge of the army deployed on the battlefield, tasked with carrying out the general's instructions.


There is a very clear distinction here between the Liver in his tent and the Gall Bladder actively fulfilling the plans of attack which the Liver has handed over to him.  This is a clear illustration of the yin nature of the Liver compared with the very yang nature of the Gall Bladder.  When we look at our Wood patients, therefore, we may gradually learn to differentiate between these two different qualities, which will eventually help us diagnose our patients as having either the Liver or the Gall Bladder as their particular guardian official. 

Monday, August 8, 2022

22 - 30 The guardian official

It was during a postgraduate seminar at my Leamington college all those years ago that I for the first time dared to share my use of the term "guardian element".  Before that, I used to call it the CF, meaning the Causative Factor of disease, as most people still do.  I have always thought that the term CF has a slightly negative overtone, which JR himself did not seem to agree with.  I remember very clearly him telling us that we should always visualize our patients as expressing the most positive qualities of their element, rather than regarding this element as a symbol of their imbalances.  And I like to hear the echo of the words guardian angel behind my coining of the phrase, because this is how I think of this element.  I see it as a protective force when we live our lives wisely in tune with its demands.


I have now decided to add a companion phrase, and call the yin and yang officials which together create an element our guardian officials.  I am only surprised that it has taken me so many years to think of this.


We know that we are each marked by the characteristics of one element, and that each element is formed of the close association of one yin and one yang official.   These two officials within the element also imprint specific characteristics upon us, making some people of that element have characteristics which are more yin in nature, and others more yang, reflecting the different qualities of their particular dominant official. This distinction further defines who we are, so that a Wood person, for example, will have a closer association with the characteristic qualities of the Liver and another with those of the Gall Bladder, making either the Liver or the Gall Bladder their guardian official.  


It is rarely clinically necessary to diagnose this further level of differentiation.  First of all because it is difficult enough tracking down a patient's element, let alone trying to perceive even more subtle differences within an element, and secondly because we rarely need to move to this deeper level of diagnosis from the point of view of treatment, since we treat both officials equally.  It is, however, interesting to try to recognise the different qualities which one or other official gives us, since this is a way of helping us understand more about the role of the individual officials within the cycle of the elements.


Occasionally, we need to think more closely about this, particularly in the case of Inner Fire and its yang official, the Small Intestine.  This is because we are taught to avoid treating the Heart, the Supreme Controller, more than is necessary.  It is regarded as a sacred organ, and we should where possible avoid interfering in its functioning by treating it.  Instead we should concentrate treatment upon its close yang official, the Small Intestine, making this an exception to the general rule that we treat both official pairings equally.


This brings me neatly to another important question, which is how we make our choices about selecting points other than command points, those points which are often called spirit points.  As I have often written, all points should be recognized as having their own spirit, but in general parlance the term appears to be given to any point which is not a command point.  I have often thought that this is perhaps one of the most discussed, but least understood areas of five element practice, precisely because by calling some points spirit points we appear to assume that they have a more profound effect than those that are "merely" command points.  This is a misconception which bedevils five element practice.  In the right hands and with the right understanding command points can effect the most profound treatment of all, whilst spirit points, in the wrong hands and with the wrong understanding, can have very little effect at all.


I see non-command points as being able to offer specific qualities, often associated with the names they have been given over the centuries, which can add to what the officials on whose meridians they lie are there to offer.  Often we may use one point on one of the two guardian officials, rather than choosing points on both, as we do with command points or Associated Effect points, for example.  The selection of non-command points has often come to be regarded as a somewhat mysterious area of expertise, which I think it should not be. Different practitioners will choose different points, often having a long-term preference for a few, usually because they have learnt about them at some point from a more experienced practitioner, as I have done.  Or perhaps a fellow practitioner will tell me about a point they have used, either one I have never used, or, as happens, one I have forgotten about over the years, and I will be glad to welcome such points back into my repertoire of point selections again.  This is, after all, how we widen our range of points, although having observed JR Worsley recommending points for the many hundreds of patients I saw him with I can confirm how beautifully simple were always the treatments he recommended for our patients, suggesting the same small range of points for each element. 

Thursday, August 4, 2022

22 - 29 Earth's two officials: the Stomach and the Spleen

The Earth element has a unique quality which helps define its position at the centre of the circle of the elements.  It is the only element whose yin and yang officials are paired so closely together that part of their meridian pathways run almost in parallel to each other over the upper part of the body. The yin and yang pairings of the other elements spread themselves over the outside aspect of one or other limb (the yang official) and the inside aspect of the limb (their yin official).  This holds true for the two Fire yang officials (the Small Intestine and the Three Heater) and the Metal yang official (the Large Intestine) over the outer aspect of the arm, and for the Wood yang official (the Gall Bladder), the Metal yang official (the Bladder) and part of the Earth yang official (the Stomach) over the outer aspect of the leg.


In the case of the Stomach official, however, both Earth's yin and yang officials combine to run closely together up from the lower abdomen to the chest, where surprisingly it is the Stomach which passes over the breast, having a point on the nipple itself (one for obvious reasons not needled, but nonetheless there described in all the point reference charts).  And surely the nipple can be regarded as the most yin aspect of the whole body, for it is there to draw nourishment up from deep within a mother's body to feed a child.


I have always felt that this helps illustrate Earth's rather ambiguous role at the centre, where it is there to give but cannot do this until it has itself received sustenance.  So I regard its two officials as interlocked more tightly together than any of the other yin/yang pairings.  They are both closely associated with the physical processing of food (the Stomach) and passing on the results of this process around the rest of the body (the Spleen), but we may tend to forget the important role they play at the deeper mental and emotional levels of our being. For they are the powerful controllers of our thought processes.


It is no coincidence that one of the important points on the Stomach meridian is St (XI) 8 Head Tied, a lovely point to help the Earth element release all those jumbled thoughts which Earth people often describe as being locked in their heads.  When the Earth element is out of balance, its imbalance often shows itself in its speech, which seem to churn over the same thoughts time and again, as though, as I like to put it, "it can't swallow them".  And this is how I describe this, because I have noticed that when my treatment releases Earth's blocked energy, often by needling XI 9 or unlocking an entry/exit block such as a LI/St (X/XI) block, and allowing it to flow smoothly again, I have seen my Earth patients physically swallow and immediately stop talking, sometimes in mid-sentence.  It is as though at long last their Stomach officials have cleared the blockage and are now able to pass their thoughts on to the Spleen to carry further.

It is good to remember that the Earth element's emotion is also described as not only "sympathy", which is our ability to experience others' emotions, but also by the word "thoughtfulness".  Being thoughtful has a very positive connotation, for it not only emphasizes Earth's connection to thinking but also its positive association with looking after another person in a careful and caring way. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

22 - 28 The Two Outer Fire officials

If we now look at the functions of the two Outer Fire officials, they both act as protectors of the Heart in their midst, but each with a different emphasis.  Though obviously closely associated with the Heart, they are the only officials to have functions which extend over the body as a whole, rather than being closely related to a particular organ within that body, as, for example, the Small Intestine is to the Heart.  The Three Heater acts as the body's thermostat, keeping it at an even temperature.  Its presence within the Fire element indicates its importance to the Heart, for its function is to maintain the warmth of the blood at a correct level to enable the Heart to pump it to each cell in the body.  It also works hard at maintaining an even emotional temperature so that we blow neither too hot nor too cold in our relationships to others.


Its sister yin companion, the Heart Protector, is doing what its name suggests, acting as physical protection on the ramparts encircling the Heart at Fire's centre.  I see the Heart Protector as patrolling these ramparts, sword in hand, preventing entry to those it feels might endanger the Heart.  I like to think of the Heart Protector asking the Heart, "Is this person safe for you to love?", whilst the Small Intestine asks, "Is this person the right sort of person for you to love?".


Because the two sides of Fire have such different functions, they find their expression in different characteristics which we can observe in the people around us.  Because all four officials form part of the Fire element, they have the same sensory signatures of colour, sound and smell, but I have come to see that the emotional imprint they give to those under their control differs quite markedly.  When I am with somebody who is Outer Fire I therefore feel different from when I am with those who are Inner Fire.  Perhaps I am particularly aware of this because Inner Fire, and particularly the yin Inner Fire official, the Small Intestine, is where the elements have imprinted me with their signature.  And having observed myself closely for over 40 years, ever since I first encountered the concept of the elements, I know that my approach to life differs greatly from that of my fellow Outer Fire companions.

Since each of us is intimately acquainted with one particular element, our Guardian Element and its two officials, each of us is given the gift of understanding how that element manifests itself at a deep level if we work hard at observing ourselves in our interactions with others.  In my case, I feel that I am fortunate in understanding the workings of the Fire element, and in particular of its Inner Fire aspect, the Small Intestine official, from a deeply personal point of view.  I see it as being one of the reasons why my work as a five element acupuncturist developed in the way it did, particularly in relation to my writings and my teaching.  It is the curiosity which underlies the Small Intestine's approach to life which stimulates all my thoughts, and leaves me dissatisfied until I have worked out to my satisfaction all the often puzzling dilemmas my practice confronts me with.


The Small Intestine's task is to sort through its thoughts and emotions to find solutions which it sees fit to pass through to the Heart.  One of the ways I have therefore learnt to distinguish Inner from Outer Fire is often the puzzled look which I notice on my face, and on other Inner Fire faces, as we try to work out what we should be doing or feeling or saying.  In a way, the whole of life can appear a puzzle to me, something I have all the time to unpick and piece together to make some of a  sense, some kind of a whole.  It is why, when I am writing things, as I am now doing, I am constantly correcting and amending what I have just written, draft after draft, until I am quite happy that my words describe the truth of what I am trying to say.  I go through several handwritten and then typed drafts during this process, each draft the expression of the point at which my thoughts have reached, but each beckoning me to do more, often by cutting out extraneous words, sentences or even whole paragraphs, until I am happy with the final pared-down version.


It is often tiring for those with an Inner Fire person to follow the pattern of their thoughts, as these develop by fits and starts.  For example, I often find myself correcting myself in mid-sentence and appearing to veer off sideways to express another thought.


By contrast, Outer Fire people show none of these hesitations, or stops and re-starts.  Their thinking is not hampered by the need to get things absolutely right for the Heart, for they leave this task to their Inner Fire companions.  Instead, they are much more articulate in expressing their thoughts, and therefore in many ways much easier to listen to, and certainly easier to be with.  They have none of the kind of jitteriness I associate with my own relationships to others.  Having the Three Heater as one of its officials, which has the function of maintaining warmth and harmony for the whole body, Outer Fire when in balance can be a very comfortable companion.  it is eager to put the people it meets at their ease, because maintaining warm relationships is also one of its principal functions. 


When in the presence of Outer Fire, we therefore often feel that we are at a party, happily enjoying ourselves with others.  Inner Fire will express Fire's joy in shorter bursts, interspersed with often anxious moments when it is searching around for clues as to how it should react or what it should be doing.  It is therefore not the easiest aspect of Fire to be in the presence of, often making others uneasy as they try to work out exactly how to react in Inner Fire's presence.


Over the years I have put together these useful pointers to the difference I feel between Inner and Outer Fire that five element acupuncturists may find useful in helping them develop their diagnostic skills.



Friday, July 15, 2022

22 - 27 The four officials of the Fire element: The two Inner Fire officials

In looking at the 12 officials we have to start at the one which is at the centre, the Emperor/Empress of body, mind and spirit, the Heart official.  It is given the number 1 in the numerical order of the officials, extending up to 12, indicating the importance of its role at the centre of the Fire element.  It is the only official not only protected by its yang companion, the Small Intestine, but surrounded by two other officials, the Heart Protector and the Three Heater, which form a protective bodyguard around it.   I call the Heart and Small intestine officials the two Inner Fire officials, and the others the two Outer Fire officials.


The Outer Fire officials are given different names in other branches of acupuncture, but I like to keep to the names which I was taught as a student all those many years ago, the Heart Protector and Three Heater, seeing them as part of a tradition which I feel it is important to pass on.  This is why I insist on continuing to give each official a Roman numeral (from I to XII), which places the Heart, of course, in rightful first place, not, as in other traditions, with the Lung first.


It is important to have a picture in our mind of how the four Fire officials combine their work, before we look at each one in turn.  Together they form an indissoluble unit, each with a very specific, individually defined task, but all working to one end, which is to to protect the Heart and allow it to function as it should.  In physical terms, this is uninterruptedly to pump blood around the body to nourish every cell.  But to do this it not only needs protection to ensure that it never falters, for even the briefest interruption to its work will usher in a speedy death, but that what reaches it, physically in the physical blood, and emotionally in the emotional impulses with which it controls our emotional life, remain as robust as possible.  Here each of the three officials which surround it have their individual part to play. 


It is helpful to think of the two pairs of officials as though linked together in forming the Fire element, and yet in some mysterious and significant way as separate from one another.  One characteristic that they have, which I found slightly odd when I first learned of this, is that, though so closely associated with each other, they remain at a profound level detached from one another.  When studying the concept of energy transfers between elements I learnt that it is theoretically possible to transfer energy between any one yin official and any other around the cycle of the elements, but it cannot be transferred directly within the Fire element between the Inner and Outer Fire yin officials.  It is possible, though, to do this transfer by passing energy from yin to yin of each element around the cycle until it reaches the other side of the Fire element.  In practice I have never seen this done, because the need to take from one aspect of Fire to give to the other aspect is too remote to be contemplated, since both Heart and Heart Protector need to preserve all their energy for the Heart rather than depleting themselves by passing some on.  This does, however, help me to understand that there is a barrier between the two aspects of Fire which acts as a further protection for the Heart.


I have always liked to visualize the Fire element as a fortified castle, with the Heart, a yin official, in splendid isolation at its centre, surrounded closely by its yang companion, the Small Intestine, and the two outer Fire officials manning the castle ramparts, preventing unwelcome approaches to the Heart.  The Outer Fire officials can be seen as forming a protective ring around the Heart and the Small Intestine in their midst.  


I like to call the Small Intestine the Heart's secretary, with a wastepaper basket at its feet, rather than the weapons I visualize the two Outer Fire officials holding in their hands to protect the Heart.  Its principal function is to select only what is appropriate to pass through to the Heart, and to discard the inappropriate by passing it on to the Large Intestine to expel from the body.  In physical terms it does this through its work upon the blood, but in five element acupuncture it also has what we can consider an even more important role, which is to sift for any impurities at the deeper levels of mind and spirit.  This makes it one of the busiest, if not the busiest, official of all, since it must work tirelessly at every moment of the day and night to prevent what might have passed unchallenged through the outer defences of the Heart Protector and the Three Heater from gaining direct access to the the Heart.


22 - 26 The Twelve Officials

There is one important aspect of five element acupuncture which distinguishes it from other branches of traditional acupuncture, and that is the importance it places not only upon understanding the qualities of the different elements at all levels of the human being, but also those of the organs which together create the energies of these elements.  We call these the 12 officials;  they carry out the instructions of the elements of which they form a part, always one yang and one official to each element.  The Fire element is the exception here, its dual function giving it two yang and two yin officials.  Each official has a specific function, and together they cover the complete range of human experience.  They therefore not only represent the physical organs familiar from any conventional medical textbook, but, appropriately for a system of medicine which claims to treat the whole person, they each also have additional qualities which extend to the deeper areas of human existence.  Each physical organ, as well as having its familiar physical function, also has a specific association with the different mental and emotional aspects of life represented by the element of which it forms part. 


This is something that needs to be emphasized, because it is easy to think only of an organ's physical function.  In five element acupuncture we give each official a much more important role in maintaining health than simply treating physical symptoms.  Each treatment is potentially a way of restoring physical, mental and emotional health at one and the same time, something which anybody wishing to practise five element acupuncture needs to understand.  This branch of acupuncture is one of the few systems of medicine which combines an ability to restore health to the physical body whilst at the same time addressing problems which have their cause at the deeper levels of human life.  It is, of course, possible to use acupuncture as a purely physical system of medicine, but if we do so we are doing it a disservice by ignoring its potential to help restore emotional balance.  It is surprising how easy it may be to concentrate only on the physical attributes of organs whilst forgetting that it is often their deeper functions which lead to all manner of imbalances. 

Thursday, June 30, 2022

22 - 25 Are there coincidences in life?

One of my next writing projects is to add something about the 12 officials to what I have written about the elements in my Handbook of Five Element Practice.  I have been asked to do this by one of my five element students in China, who is now teaching her own students and tells me that they seem to find it difficult visualizing the 12 officials as anything apart from as organs of the body.  So I am now thinking more carefully about expanding my ideas on the elements to cover the officials in more detail.  This morning, therefore, I had just written a few paragraphs about the Fire element's four officials, emphasizing the central role of the Heart, and put down my pen to do what I always do, which is to pick up a book I'm reading to give my thoughts a little rest.  Imagine my surprise, then when I experienced this lovely serendipitous (beautiful word!) moment, when the first words I read were the following:


"Zen said his piece and left as soon as he could, fearful and depressed at this reminder of the primitive, messy plumbing on which all their lives ultimately depended.  It didn't seem remotely surprising that it should break down without warning.  On the contrary, the miracle was that it ever functioned in the first place.  In growing panic he listened to the thudding of his heart, felt the blood coursing about the system, imagined the organs going about their mysterious, secretive business.  It was like being trapped aboard an airplane piloted by an on-board computer.  All you could do was sit there until the fuel ran out, or one of the incomprehensibly complex and delicate systems on which your life depended suddenly failed."    (From:  Michael Dibdin: Cabal, an Aurelio Zen Mystery)


What a lovely coincidence, if coincidence it is, that I just came across this the moment I laid down my pen.  I think our bodies are indeed "incomprehensibly complex and delicate systems", for this describes beautifully how we should look at the work our officials are faced with at every moment of the day.   


I always think it is a miracle that this body of ours, a miracle of evolutionary development, functions at all, for it is always at terrible risk of breaking down by reason of its very complexity.  it is fortunate that we have devised many ways of helping us maintain as great a balance as possible so that we can live good and fruitful lives, none more so, I am glad to say, than by turning for help to five element acupuncture.