My teachers told me to spend the first 20 years of my practice studying works by the ancestors. Looking back into history to find greatness is as old as Confucianism. But what happens after you have spent multiple decades reading medical writings? I was then taught to give those books to your students and begin to practice from a different place.
After 20 years, you must practice from inside yourself, from your shen, your intuition. That is when your inner voice speaks louder than those of your predecessors.
We in the West are not as patient as our colleagues of Asia's past. Things change quickly in our culture. Our profession, rather than inching forward over centuries, has moved from obscurity to budding popularity in less than 30 years. Must we wait to rely upon the inner voice? Can truths brought to us on the wings of ancient principles be recognized by the freshman practitioner without being adulterated? Even asking such questions could threaten the trajectory of old lineages.
Brian was 17 when he lay on Janine's treatment table for the first time. He had obsessive-compulsive disorder and had been suffering with it for four years. This is not the kind of disease a 500-year-old Chinese man runs into very often. While behavioral medicine certainly is addressed in Oriental medicine (OM), "trend" illnesses come and go, with wide ranges of occurrence. This particular disease was never a popular one in Asia. But Brian and Janine were going to tackle this thing with all the gusto a desperate patient and a novice practitioner can muster, which is a lot.
Brian had developed strep throat just after diving into puberty. He was growing half an inch each month when the toxic heat invaded, burning his throat and brain. His yin (cooling force) was being used as fuel by the vigorous yang of adolescence and thus, its protective, immune-enhancing capacities were weakened when the toxic heat took over. The following four years consisted of one form of traumatizing treatment after another. By the time Janine got to him, Brian's symptoms had increased in severity several-fold. He was getting worse by the year, no longer attending school and refusing to leave the house or his bedroom for weeks on end.
Janine came to me for help with this patient. We began with the books. What had she read, who had she studied? This must be the first advice taken. But then, I suggested she pretend that what she knew from her differential diagnosis was all there was to know. If there was nothing in print on the OM treatment for this disease, what would she do? With no place to turn but inside herself, what would she find for Brian? Using a neurolinguistic programming technique, I had Janine imagine that her body was Brian's and that the sensations she felt were not hers but his. I urged her to know him from the inside out, so to speak. Once she felt she had information as to Brian's experience, she could verify it with him and potentially use it to find answers within the framework of OM.
The exercise took only a few minutes, but it proved fruitful and Janine had some clear sensations to report. "First, I can feel tension in my stomach and diaphragm and at the back of my head," she reported. "It feels like the only thing I can do is wash my hands to get rid of this bad feeling, so I want to do it over and over until I am clean. Finally, I see a mottled purple color. It seems heavy and thick and I don't like the color very much. It's ugly. I see it in my head." Janine was surprised she had such strong impressions. She didn't know if there was any relevance to them or if they would help her cure Brian. But she took these ideas to him to see if they made sense.
Surprisingly, at his next visit, Brian's mother reported that a brain scan had just revealed a bruise on Brian's brain at just the location of the tension Janine had felt during the exercise. The bruise included minor blood clots that had blocked circulation to a small portion of his brain, forcing the development of new vessels. Also, Brian agreed that he had feelings of tension around his chest. Sometimes he felt he couldn't get enough air (the result of a diaphragmatic spasm, a symptom of liver chi stagnation) and that he had to lift his shoulders to fill his lungs.
Janine had not considered that chi and blood stagnation would be prominent issues to be immediately addressed in Brian's case. She thought it best to initially tonify Brian, so as to address organ and eight extra deficiencies and to increase his capacity to take in data from the outside world. But now, with a 15-minute visualization exercise, she determined that a substantially different approach was necessary. She had found the place our professional ancestors speak from, the intuitive domain that overrides what meets the eye; the collective unconscious of this medicine. The longer you practice, the more you realize there is a wealth of information held in the heavens for all of us to utilize when we are ready. That domain was predominantly used after 20 years of practice, but that duration can be abbreviated.
If we work with the assumption that we all are reflections of the Tao, that we each are integral to life's experience of itself, it would make sense that one individual can tap into the flow to learn about the needs of others. While experience as a practitioner is imperative for cultivating one's craft, accessing information that is flowing through someone else's body is included as part of the "inside place" that senior practitioners work from. There is a transparency to life when one looks beneath the boundaries of individuality. That transparency allows all of us to see through the veil of time and form and tap into life's essential flow, no matter how long we have been practicing.
Requesting Your Help
I am going to be lecturing at the Pacific Symposium this year on bringing acupuncture into the business world. To that end, I am searching for information from any practitioner who is involved with corporate health or is working in a business or hospital setting. Your work might help your colleagues expand into these rich domains. Please contact me at
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