Chinese medicine is a healing technique that has existed virtually unchanged for thousands of years. Presently, it's facing what I believe to be one of its greatest challenges; namely, the 21st century, where the Eastern and Western worlds are converging.
These are challenges that shake the foundations of both systems, yet they hold out the great promise of a synthesis of the two.
Nowhere is that convergence more apparent than on a luxury liner plying the sea routes of the world. In recent years, some of the great cruise lines have brought the ancient art of Chinese medicine aboard their vessels to keep pace with the growing trend of holistic healing. Many who take a week or two out of their lives to reduce stress, to be more in touch with their bodies, to have time to reflect and perhaps to rehabilitate, have found not so much an alternative, but rather a complement to the only medicine they've known.
In April 2005, I had the good fortune of being the resident acupuncturist aboard a cruise ship - a floating village with all of the comforts and accoutrements this life has to offer. I was given the opportunity to practice what I had studied for the past four years, to travel to exotic ports of call, to meet people from all corners of the world, and to demystify Chinese medicine to a Western audience. Through informative lectures, private sessions and casual encounters, I discussed a new philosophy of healing with the on-board guests.
After several months working on board, dealing with a clientele from all across the world and having the great benefit of seeing many patients in a relatively short period of time, I was able to observe a promising trend. Essentially, people were showing improvement, and in a much shorter time than I had experienced on land. This seemed puzzling at first, especially because I was using such gentle techniques without much herbal supplementation. However, after watching my patients leave the clinic relaxed and unhurried, their main orientation being the calming serenity of the sea, I realized it was more than just the treatments that was yielding such great results. Away from their daily schedules, which in many cases proved to be the root of their problem, they had the time and the willingness to try something new. It certainly was a refreshing change from working with patients in Los Angeles who would leave my clinic to face the pressures and anxieties of urban life.
If Chinese medicine is to survive in the West, there must be a fundamental shift in how the western hemisphere looks at human health. Our society has historically been conditioned to expect immediate gratification, reacting to illnesses instead of working to prevent them. Western patients tend to take a more passive role in their healing, while Chinese medicine requires that its patients take a more active role in their health. The bridge between the two systems is education, which promises ultimately to shed light on a system of medicine that has, for centuries, been shrouded in mystery.
And thus, on the confines of a ship at sea, with a (captive) audience, we are in a unique position to present acupuncture in a way that the patients on board can accept. Our potential for ridding people of their fears and misconceptions about acupuncture is great. The ability to bring real relief to those seeking it, and to put hundreds (or thousands) of people on a new path of healing, is profoundly satisfying. Having acupuncture on cruise ships is just one avenue to accomplish this. It might ultimately prove to be a very important vehicle, literally, between continents and miles out to sea, but spanning them in what is a common pursuit of all humanity: the quest for wellness.