Tuesday, September 21, 2021

81. Necessary short-cuts to a five-element diagnosis

I have been thinking a little more about the lack of five element teachers, which I mentioned in my last blog (no.80). There is always a problem venturing in the footsteps of a proven master.  Jung had difficulty in emerging from under the great shadow which  his master, Freud, had cast over him.  All JR Worsley's successors have to deal with the same problem.  Those who learnt directly from JR Worsley himself, and the following generations who were taught by this first cohort, have a natural reluctance to claim to "do a JR" when diagnosing patients, particularly in front of a class of students.  This term was a shorthand for being able to do what he told us was his ability to diagnose colour and smell as he came into the practice room, and follow this up in a very few minutes with sound and emotion as soon as the patient had responded to his questions.


Because we have been asked to diagnose hundreds of Chinese practitioners and patients on our seminars over in China, I realise that I am getting much better at making quick decisions about the elements I am seeing.  I have had to be, in view of the time constraints we are working under - perhaps only a morning to make over 150 diagnoses.  But then I have always emphasized that this is completely the wrong way to make a good diagnosis.  I should be sitting down alone with each of these 150 people in a practice room, and giving them all the attention and time that carrying out a good TD (Traditional Diagnosis) demands.  But as the saying goes, "needs must when the devil (here simply the time available) drives"!  If we (and that includes my five element companions, Guy Caplan and Mei Long) were not to do this, none of these enthusiastic five element practitioners and students would ever have the slightest inkling of their own element, something I consider essential for any five element acupuncturist.  And we know that we are always very bad at diagnosing our own element, for all sorts of reasons, often choosing an element which we long to be!


I have therefore had to learn to do the best that I can, calling these initial diagnoses simply our first hypothesis about the element, to be amended as we get to see things more clearly in the light of how treatment on that element has or has not brought about any changes.  Luckily during these seminars in China we see everybody for a full week, and so have many opportunities of observing closely those whose diagnoses we are unsure about, and then changing these where necessary accordingly.  As I said before, Chinese acupuncturists, probably because of our emphasis on the provisional nature of our initial diagnosis, are quite happy to have their elements changed, happier, I think, than their European counterparts, certainly their British.


Also, if we see examples of possession in the group (surprisingly often, perhaps for cultural reasons), we make sure all these patients are treated before we leave, as this is not a simple treatment for apprentice five element practitioners either to diagnose or to recognize when it has been cleared.


I know that my own 40 or so years of five element studies have helped me pinpoint the elements more quickly, and, I hope, more accurately, but I do wish that more of all those competent five element acupuncturists out there would take a leaf from my book and venture out into teaching.  I always remember one of my wise teachers, Dr Oskar Adler, master musician, teacher of the violin to the composer Schoenberg, and astrologer, author of some fascinating books on astrology, writing how important it was for everybody to pass on whatever they have learnt.  In a lovely quote, he said, "What would have happened if Mozart had not written down his music?".  And Mozart, after all, was almost hounded to his death through poverty and many of his manuscripts only survived by accident.  Think!  We might not now have his Magic Flute or Marriage of Figaro, or hear his sublime piano concertos!


So any of you experienced five element acupuncturists out there, please take courage in your hands and offer up to the next generation whatever you have learnt from your own practice.  Only in this way will any discipline survive, and particularly such a rare discipline as five element acupuncture.


Thursday, September 16, 2021

80. The certainty of uncertainty

 Oh, how we would all like to be 100% certain about things.  In five element terms this would mean that with sufficient experience we would be absolutely sure of a patient's guardian element, leaving no room for doubt.  But that is not how things are, nor should we hope that this is how they should be.  Instead we must learn to accept what I like to call the certainty of uncertainty underlying all human activities, including our diagnosis of a patient's element.

 I am strongly reminded of this truth now because of something which has happened whilst Guy and I are helping put together the latest of a series of courses for Chinese five element practitioners.  In previous courses we have looked at videos of patients and made preliminary diagnoses of their elements.  For this course we are being sent further videos of patients we have previously diagnosed after they have received further treatment either on the new element we diagnosed or on the original element we confirmed as being the correct one.  We are focusing on helping develop practitioners' relationships with their patients and improving their ability to observe the often subtle changes in patients which indicate that they are treating the right element.  


All five element practitioners have to be honest enough to admit when our diagnosis is not yet the right one.  This thought is at the forefront of my mind at the moment because I have just been sent some more videos of a patient we diagnosed a few months ago which have made me alter my original diagnosis.  The patient does not seem to be showing any of the changes I expected to see after some treatments on the new element.  After seeing more videos of her, I am now much more confident of her being of another element.   


Here indeed is a real lesson in humility.  We are using these videos as teaching material for perhaps some hundreds of five element practitioners in China.  There is now no doubt in my mind that we need to change our diagnosis, and it would be wrong to continue with my original diagnosis.  How do I make this change  in diagnosis without undermining my students' trust in what I am teaching them?  This is a dilemma all five element teachers have to face.


This is where my thoughts turned to something I read in Professor Liu Lihong's book, Classical Chinese Medicine, which so impressed me with his understanding of the need for humility in all that we do.  He said that we will all start any discipline by getting things about 10% right, and gradually increase this with practice to 40%, then 50 or 60%, but we never reach 100%.  Traditional Chinese medicine is a discipline based on practitioners' subjective experience, unlike Western medicine, which prides itself somewhat naively on believing that it bases itself on objective criteria. As five element acupuncturists, on the other hand, we welcome the fact that the relationship between patient and practitioner forms a crucial part of all treatment.   There is therefore every reason for us to accept the very human uncertainties which are an essential ingredient of what each practitioner brings to his/her practice.   


So I will be using our approach to diagnosing and treating this patient as a prime example of good five element practice.  I hope that showing fledgling five element acupuncturists that my ready acknowledgement that I needed to change my original diagnosis will encourage them to retain sufficient humility in their own practices. They therefore need not be afraid to admit when they don't get things right straightaway, and allow themselves not to be undermined by this fact.


I often think that this fear of what may be seen as showing fallibility in front of their students by not wishing to reveal that they are uncertain of their elemental diagnoses may be one of the reasons why so few good and experienced five element acupuncturists wish to venture into the world of teaching.  This is one of my sadnesses, for it is reducing the flow of five element teachers to a tiny trickle.  As one of my students said to me many years ago: "If JR is the only person to be 100% sure of his diagnosis, how will I ever get to that point?"  To which I would give the answer JR Worsley gave to a class of us when I was a student at Leamington:  "If you had all practised for 40 years, as I have, you would all see the elements as clearly as I do.  So just wait!"  


Five element teachers have to have enough self-confidence not to mind telling their students that they, too, are human enough to change their minds, as I am about to do on my latest video recording for my students in China.


In my own teaching I have always emphasized that my first diagnosis of a person's element is a provisional one, a hypothesis which subsequent treatment is there to prove or to amend.  Chinese students seem to be quite happy with this and don't appear to be thrown when I change my mind later.  But being human, which means that I do after all want to show that as an experienced practitioner of many years' standing I know what I am doing, I still find it difficult when, as now, I have to announce publicly that I got it wrong!


Sunday, September 5, 2021

79. A potential horror story, with a happier ending (I hope)

One of my lovely sons, after much encouragement on his side and much resistance on mine, persuaded me that it was high time to exchange my old pc computer for an iMac.  And bless him, he actually got it delivered to my home to prevent me from changing my mind.  It lay under my desk in its box for a month or so, until my idleness during lockdown made me unpack it and install it with the help of my son's long-distance instructions.  To my relief, he arranged things so that at all times he could see what was going on on my computer, and help me start learning how to use it.  I tried very hard not to give way to my usual panic at learning about any new piece of equipment, so am now fairly at ease with it, although occasionally casting a sad eye back to what I could do on my much simpler pc.


Gradually over the next few months I have learnt a complicated new computer language, with many false steps and many odd deletions.  But no false stop and no deletion was as bad as what I did last week.  By some mischance, instead of merely deleting one name from a folder on which I invited people to have access to one of the video series I have recorded for China, I apparently deleted all the 20 video recordings (about 30 hours in total).  Despite frantic calls to my son to see whether I could retrieve them they have apparently disappeared for good from my computer.  They include the videos in which I record my life as a five element acupuncturist, from my first days at acupuncture college to my last visit to China, a time which coincides with the growth of five element acupuncture.


At first somewhat disturbed at having destroyed so many recordings about my life, I now realise that it has given me a chance to look at that life from a different viewpoint a few months further on, when I am a little older and the world has turned on, too, in many ways which have been so difficult.  All this, Brexit, Covid, Afghanistan, global warming, all these traumas we are going through have impacted upon me, and like all things, have affected the way I, and the elements that form me, particularly my Fire Element, with its dominant Small Intestine official, have had to learn to adapt.  So I am trying to see this as an opportunity to look at my life again from a different perspective. 

Happy update a week later!


Good news!  I have managed to retrieve all the video recordings I thought I had deleted in error.  I had the happy idea to ask my Chinese friends whether they could post the videos I had originally sent them back to me, thinking this might be a bit unlikely but worth a try.  And now here they all are back at home on my computer.


But I'm still going to record some more thoughts about My Life as a Five Element Acupuncturist to add to the original series.