Sunday, February 27, 2022

22-10 Learning to teach at a distance

A surprising effect of being forced into Covid lockdown was my introduction to the delights of recording myself on video talking about five element acupuncture.  I was sitting watching one of the many podcasts that sprang up to help us wile away the many hours we were forced to sit in isolation, when the idea of doing something similar flashed through my mind.  Why did not I, too, start talking to the world out there about aspects of my five element life which people would be interested to hear?  And of course my thoughts then went straight to my Chinese students.  Couldn't I continue my seminar work in this way, but at a distance?


The first obstacle, and one that caused me much bewilderment and my patient son many hours of calm tuition, was how to get me to understand how my i-Pad would record what I wanted to say.  Overcoming my initial reluctance to learn ways of mastering the intricacies of this newly acquired piece of computer equipment took many hours and many abortive attempts at recording myself.  Eventually, though, I succeeded, and pride myself now at my growing skill at this new way of teaching.


Finding the subject matter and working out how long each recording would be proved less of a problem, because all sorts of new ideas are constantly bubbling around in my mind, ready to emerge in the shape of small snippets of teachings, each in turn becoming a short video.  After a few abortive attempts, the average recording time proved to be between 5 and 10 minutes, time for a topic to be introduced and shared, but not too long to bore the watcher/listener.  Gradually I accumulated a long list of videos, and a shape to them started to emerge.  When I noticed that quite a few seemed to be adding something to what I had written in my Handbook of Five Element Practice, this gave me the idea to arrange them in the order of its chapters, making them into a kind of accompaniment to the Handbook.  This set of videos formed the first group of 30 videos or so which which went out on subscription in China about a year ago, and have proved immensely popular.  


To these I have now added a further series, this time for more experienced practitioners, and recently another, together with Guy Caplan, concentrating on long-term treatment for patients, with examples of treatments actually given to patients of each element who have been coming for many years.


These videos have proved a surprisingly fruitful substitute to what we offered acupuncturists at our Chinese seminars, and an excellent way of keeping up our contacts despite being unable to teach in person. I realise that what I enjoy about making the recordings is the knowledge that I will in effect eventually be talking to a real, live audience, which will be all those people who download them and sit in their various homes listening to me talking, much as they might do if I was in front of them in person.  I am always much better at thinking my thoughts through as I put them into words when I feel that my Fire element is engaging with others.


Another project based on these videos is now in train, helped along very willingly by Gye Bennetts in Australia.  My videos could previously only be seen in China, but this will be an excellent way of making them available for the first time to the English-speaking world.  More of this later, when our plans have firmed themselves up further.

Friday, February 18, 2022

22-9 The importance of practitioners knowing their own element

People often think that the most important thing for five element acupuncturists to learn is gradually getting better at diagnosing their patients' elements.  This ignores the fact that we can't do this until we have familiarized ourselves as closely as possible with as many expressions of the different elements in as many people as possible, and, above all, this includes in ourselves.  I don't think this was emphasized as much as it should have been in my own training, nor, I'm afraid, in the early stages of my own teaching.  This was probably because I only slowly realized the importance of familiarizing myself with the elements at the deepest level possible in as many people as possible.  All therapists have a natural tendency to try to detach themselves from the treatment situation, acting often as if they are outsiders looking in on scenes for which they act only as observers, not participants.  This has something to do with the belief, which is still there despite many observations and much scientific evidence to the contrary, that a human being can observe another human being from the stance of an objective observer, in other words, as though from behind a screen blocking the practitioner off from the patient.


And this is a thoroughly false belief, and is patently untrue.  Modern physics has proved beyond doubt that there is no such thing as an objective observation.  Each observer participates in what is being observed, and to that extent affects the person or object being observed in one or more ways.


This is particularly true of the kind of human interactions which form an essential component of the relationships between patients and practitioner in five element acupuncture, where what we can describe as the energies of the different elements coming towards either of them from the other person are accepted as directly affecting the other person's corresponding energies. In other words, an Earth patient will inevitably respond differently to a Metal practitioner than he/she would to a Wood practitioner, just as a Water patient will respond differently to these same practitioners.


Unless five element practitioners are made aware of all the subtle interactions between the elements in both themselves and their patients, they may well misinterpret the nature of these interactions, and therefore often misdiagnose their patients' elements.  If, however, a practitioner is fully aware of their own guardian element, he/she will be much more successful in accurately interpreting what is occurring between the patient and themselves, leading them to diagnose the patient's element much more quickly and more accurately.  As I have always said, the dictum, "Physician, know thyself" is particularly appropriate for a five element acupuncturist.  If we understand how our own element reacts to the people it encounters, this knowledge will act as a strong foundation for our practice.


There are two obvious unknowns which control any relationship between two people.  These relate to how the guardian element of each interacts with the other and influences the other.  If the practitioner is at least sure of one of these unknowns, his/her own element, he/she is halfway there to building a good relationship with their patients.  It then only needs the certainty of having diagnosed a patient's element correctly to complete this necessary first step in establishing a good patient/practitioner relationship. 


Of course, both of these factors, a correct diagnosis of both practitioner 's and patient's elements, are difficult to establish unless there is an opportunity for students as often as possible to obtain the help of the most experienced five element practitioners around.  This is where I realise that I was particularly fortunate, as were my students, and I took as much advantage of my good fortune as I could.  For I trained at a time when JR Worsley was still teaching at his Leamington College, and also established SOFEA at a time when he was still available to give all my students the benefit of diagnosing their elements and diagnosing the elements of as many of their clinical patients as possible.  I would encourage them all to arrange to have a diagnosis from him, and would also arrange for him to come at least once a year to the school clinic to diagnose students' patients.  In doing this, I felt privileged to think that I was giving them the best opportunity I could to observe a master practitioner at work.  Looking back, I can see that there could not have been a better start to their five element practice if they chose to take advantage of it.      

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

22-8 The difficulty of recommending other five element acupuncturists

I am often asked to recommend the names of other five element acupuncturists, particularly those who trained with me at SOFEA, or those who have received their training at the Leamington college under JR Worsley.  I am always reluctant to do this, unless I personally have experience of the practitioner's recent work, because I have sadly found that even SOFEA students who graduated after three years of totally focused five element training often seem to have been persuaded later to add TCM to their five element practice.  I always suggest that those looking for a five element acupuncturist should make their own enquiries, and should rely on word-of-mouth recommendations as to what type of acupuncture the acupuncturist they are thinking of going to is now practising.  I know that this is a bit hit and miss, but I think it is better than looking at lists of what are said to be five element acupuncturists, only to find that they combine their treatments with other forms of acupuncture.  

We are now, I'm afraid, rather a small group who can call themselves pure five element acupuncturists, rather than the much larger hybrid group which combines it with TCM.   In my view, as you all know, this is to the detriment of five element acupuncture. But then I have often been a lone voice crying in the wilderness about this over the years.  


A deep knowledge of the elements only truly comes by working with them year upon year in our practice.  I have always regarded those practitioners who have the courage to stay with the elements as being on the right path to understanding them as five element acupuncture demands, rather than immediately turning to something taken from TCM when they are uncertain what to do.  It is certainly not an easy discipline to learn, but its rewards are life-long.  

Saturday, February 5, 2022

22-7 How I see the future of five element acupuncture in China

One of the things I had to learn as I started teaching in China was that I had to be quick at adapting to the different conditions under which acupuncture was taught and practised in our two countries.  I made the mistake of not acquainting myself more closely with this, both before I travelled, which I could have done through my association with Mei Long, the Chinese-trained acupuncturist in the Netherlands, or soon after I arrived in China.  Perhaps beginner's luck favoured me, and perhaps, too, I would have been daunted by discovering what was often a wide gap between what I had experienced in the UK and what my Chinese students had to deal with.

I realise now, after my 10 years of experience there, that it is absolutely inevitable that, as with the development of all disciplines through the passage of time, the teachings will change as they pass through different hands.  But this will be particularly so as they pass from country to country, as five element acupuncture is doing now.  I think I see my task as ensuring that the fundamental essence of what I was taught by JR Worsley, and what I have wished to pass on through my 40 years of practice and teaching, should stay true to what I have always recognized is a profound truth about the human condition.  This was formulated more than two thousand years ago by the ancient Chinese, set out in their traditional texts, such as the Suwen, and now practised under the name of five element acupuncture.  This is now a long, unbroken tradition which continues to offer profound healing, and is particularly relevant for a 21st century which manifests deep levels of distress and conflict.


It therefore heartens me to discover the large numbers of Chinese acupuncturists now studying five element acupuncture.  The five element bud which I brought with me for the first time in 2011, and which started to open up with just 10 or so students, is now, 10 years on, a flourishing branch on the great tree of acupuncture.  In the last two years about 800 students a year have attending preliminary five element courses organized in 23 cities in China and Singapore, with an estimated 400 - 500 practitioners practising five element acupuncture throughout China.  I was recently told that there were now over 5000 five element students on the Tong You San He five element database.  This is heartening recompense for my 10 years' work.


With China's re-emergence as a dominant world power, it is also appropriate that this profound healing discipline should gain fresh impetus in the country of its origin just as its practice sadly started to fade in the West.  I like to describe my visits to China as representing hands stretched from West to East across the world.  It is lovely for me to feel that the future of five element is now safely back in the hands which first released it to the world those thousands of years ago.



Wednesday, February 2, 2022

22-6 Further small insights into the elements

I am surprised by the number of viewings my last blog about the Wood element received.  The question of when we choose to use "I" and when we extend it to "we" to include other people seems to have struck some kind of a chord.

Oddly, too, I have just had another little insight into the Wood element to add to the last one.  The phrases "no opportunity ignored" and "an opportunity missed" floated up in my mind, as being another way of describing Wood's approach to life.  I think it sees life in terms of the myriad opportunities it offers. like to visualize these opportunities as little buds sprouting aboveground in spring.  Many of these will be trodden underfoot or eaten by birds, whilst others, many fewer, will blossom and grow to become flowers and trees. 

I don't think that I, Fire, see life as being made up of an accumulation of opportunities, either missed or accepted, as I believe Wood does. 

And finally, this made me look at how Fire differs from Wood, and helped me come up with some other descriptions of the elements:


Wood likes to live in the future

Fire likes to live in the present

Metal likes to live in the past


But what about Earth and Water then?  I think both have something which is much less focussed on one particular time.  Earth, after all, is the centre of all things, and Water's reach extends everywhere and underlies everything.  I always think of Water as having something timeless about it, whilst I think of Earth, cocooned in the centre, as being part of all the seasons.  This was one of the former ways of ascribing a particular time of the year to Earth.  According to this, instead of being given the rather odd season of late summer, Earth was given a small slice of time at the end of each season.