Teaching Neijing Acupuncture

Nearly six years ago, I was ask to develop a short series of seminars to introduce the five systems of channels and vessels of acupuncture. I tried in good faith to organize such a series, and the plan ended up including eighteen weekends, most of which were conceived as three day meetings. My continuing education contact at Golden Flower, John, chuckled and noted that I wasn’t known well enough to attract people for such a long series. He concluded, “I wasn’t looking for the ‘master series,’ I just want an introduction.”

I looked back with a firm gaze and said, “Eighteen weekends IS the Introduction; you must want the Cliff’s Notes for the Introduction.”

John’s smile faded to reveal determination, “we can package and enroll a few weekends; just keep it down to a few.”

So, I set about writing a SHORT series to organize and convey the fundamental theory and some key clinical practices for using the five systems of channels and vessels. The result was a four weekend series, which eventually grew to five. I taught that series three times (2010-12), and prepared handouts that grew to nearly two hundred pages. I shared a huge amount of information, including instruction and guidance on using it. It was a massive undertaking, and it turned out to be far too much. By the end of my third time through the series (2012 in Santa Cruz), my participation in the usual information-based approach to teaching acupuncture felt a bit like putting a fire hose into the mouths of participants and turning it on, while inviting them to drink. Although I had tried to fulfill what I’d been asked to do, I finally realized there was a fundamental flaw; I’d allowed the direction of my teaching to be focused by the wrong question. I needed to find the right question(s).

Had I been among a select group of literate Chinese doctors more than thousand years ago facing such a challenge, I would simply have turned to Nèijīng for inspiration. While the texts of Nèijīng are now readily available for purchase, they are certainly not easy to study. My path has necessarily included study of classical Chinese, which is difficult, even for native speakers of the modern language, which I am not. Yet, I’ve worked with experts in classical Chinese who have helped me explore the language of these challenging texts, which were originally conceived only as companions to the oral transmission of teachings. How can one hope to understand them without receiving such practical teachings?

This apparently separate stream of work delving into Nèijīng during the past few years coincided with this quest for clarity around my teaching. I’ve been eyeball deep in various chapters from Nèijīng, both Língshū (which was long known as “Acupuncture Classic”) and Sùwèn, including its classical language and writing style. I’ve considered layers of connotation implied in Nèijīng, reflected on my experience, and frequently recalled seemingly random comments from a couple hundred weekends of classes with Jeffrey Yuen, during more than twenty years. In my search for the right question(s) about acupuncture, and I’ve been particularly inspired by ‘unpacking’ the first chapter of Língshū.

My confluence of many years of experience using lineage-based acupuncture teachings with study of the texts has begun to bear fruit. My experience with methods like the 鑱 (chán, chisel) needle technique from my lineage allows me to understand the frequently vague and suggestive language of the Classic differently from sinologists, even though I depend on them to help me understand the meanings of the characters, grammar and syntax. I believe my sensibilities as a practitioner will allow me to share topics from the classical language of Nèijīng particularly well for practitioners. This seminar grounds study of Nèijīng in experience, by sharing the chán needling technique, which simulates the first needle of Nèijīng, at the beginning of the weekend. We will learn about at least two implied hierarchies of needling, when the ‘small needles’ are introduced in the first chapter of Língshū. Do they remain important: why or why not?

Practicing the chán needling method is a wonderful clinical exercise, which is fundamental to studying Nèijīng acupuncture. The chán is the first of the nine ‘small needles’ introduced in Nèijīng, so it is naturally the first to master. The first chapter of Língshū clearly suggests mastering the chán needle to communicate with the channels and vessels, before moving on to more sophisticated applications, such as attuning points to various functions, as we see taught in acupuncture texts throughout the past five hundred years. Yet, practitioners who begin with the chán needle can deepen their relationships with the entire art of acupuncture.

After participants have learned and experienced this exercise, we will see that much of the beginning of the first chapter of Língshū is a shockingly literal and accurate description of its key principles. Yet, this seminal chapter is not a clinical textbook; while it share standards and values, it does not provide a description of how to practice needling this way. Such instruction was considered the exclusive purview of personal transmission from a teacher. Instead, after a few brief remarks to inspire practitioners to greatness at the beginning of this chapter, its theory and thinking process grows complex. This immediate shift indicates we must be ready to pay careful attention and work diligently to uncover the many layers of meaning in Nèijīng.

While I recognize the value of reading Língshū 1 from the beginning, I don’t want to get bogged down with those complexities from the outset. So, we’ll just skip over a few lines this time, and come back to study Língshū 1 from beginning to end, after we’ve ‘unpacked’ the peculiar ideas and worldview of the Classic. This seemingly arbitrary choice to skip those lines is supported by a phrase in the first line of this chapter, which we will discuss during this initial weekend seminar. That phrase can be construed to tell us the key topics of the lines we’ll skip are beyond the beginner. My pedagogical choice appears to align with the texts’ own suggestion for study. The sequence of each day of the seminar is fundamental to the teaching strategy:

Reflect on the Art (術, shù) of Acupuncture, by asking some penetrating questions about our work as practitioners
Learn and experience a new way to do, and thus to understand, acupuncture
Discuss some carefully selected passages from Nèijīng, which are both accessible and clinically relevant

On Saturday afternoon of this seminar, we will see how the needling exercise we learned and practiced during the morning is described quite precisely in selected lines from the first half of Língshū 1. Sunday morning, we will palpate for temperature changes in the skin, and learn a needling technique from Língshū to release superficial cold. The clinical skills we will explore during this initial weekend seminar all focus on identifying and releasing blocks in wèi . Sunday afternoon we will look at some passages from Sùwèn 13 and Língshū 47, which relate to the morning’s clinical exercises and build upon the material we studied from Língshū 1 the prior afternoon.

We will see that the còulǐ (anatomically, the skin) is an amazingly rich terrain for acupuncture. It is MUCH more than just the initial painful stage of insertion, which we learned to penetrate as quickly and painlessly as possible. Indeed, many practitioners choose to avoid it almost entirely, by using insertion tubes with very fine needles. Might we instead learn something important about acupuncture and human life, by learning to work with wèi qì in the còulǐ?

Yet, I don’t blame members of our profession AT ALL for using insertion tubes. I understand the impulse to decrease the pain of needle insertion. We are not taught to work with wèi qì, and especially the còulǐ, when we learn to needle in acupuncture school. What other choice does a compassionate practitioner have, especially when many experience thin Japanese needles inserted with tubes working as well as the contemporary Chinese needling methods we learn? Typical contemporary needling practices, either with or without insertion tubes, skip the concentration of wèi qì at the còulǐ. This oversight is particularly tragic, because it is exactly where the first chapter of Língshū tells us to start!

Might some practitioners and students of acupuncture wish to begin cultivating the art of acupuncture as Língshū suggests? Does such focus generate a substantially different service from the modern Chinese acupuncture we have learned? In a very practical sense, learning to free up wèi qì can allow practitioners to make many of their treatments effective, without having to draw on yuán qì through deep needling with long retention.

I believe we will advance the profession, by going past single-minded focus on finding effective treatments to explore how they work. If a patient’s condition dictates that we elicit yuán qì to make his or her treatments work, doing so well is a wonderful gift. On the other hand, if we can learn to use wèi qì effectively, so we draw on yuán qì only when truly necessary, we will preserve that precious resource. The first chapter of Língshū (line 11.7, included among the handouts for this first seminar) instructs that our treatments will weaken the patient, if we needle very deeply before releasing blockages of wèi qì (with perverse ) to the outside.

Língshū clearly suggests a hierarchy for engaging a patient’s , and it starts with wèi. Alas, the commonly taught modern Chinese needling practice for needle insertion and 得氣 (déqì, achieving the ) fails to recognize the profound nature of this ‘layer’ of an individual’s life. This seminar might be understood simply as a remediation, which introduces this critical first stage of acupuncture. I believe this seminar represents a step forward for our profession, by seeking wisdom from its classical roots.

Rather than trying to organize and convey a lot of theory, most of which is rather different from what we learned in acupuncture school, we start this seminar exploring the practice itself. We will discuss fundamental topics, and then launch directly into the first clinical workshop:

What is acupuncture? What are we doing with needles?
What is 得氣 (déqì), and why is it important? Who feels it? How does it feel?

During this first weekend seminar, I will share about fifteen (15) pages of my renditions from Nèijīng, and we will discuss both the language and clinical application of the text. Most of the theory I’ve tried to teach in the past, derives from working with my lineage’s transmission of Nèijīng, and I now realize one must develop a relationship with it over time. I still use all of it, I’ve simply realized that I can’t lead with that STUFF. If I want to share my understanding of acupuncture, I need to start from the beginning — as a healing art, based on ‘playing with’ the  and eliciting its response.

Important Things to Do!

Hi folks! I’ve been out of touch, but haven’t fallen off the edge of the earth. Well, at least not physically. I’ve been busy…so busy that I couldn’t even stay involved with my website. I tried to start blogging again at the end of 2011, but only posted a few times and went back underground. So, what’s up with that? The whole point of this website is to try to engage people in how I think about Chinese medicine and health care in general. How can I do that, if I don’t even post, or monitor responses? Good questions, and I can’t say I have a good answer. My only response is that I’ve been busy, and until fairly recently didn’t really have much ready to say about what I was doing. Believe it or not:

I’ve been learning classical Chinese, so I can study Neijing as it has been received.

Neijing is the oldest and most fundamental pair of classic texts about Chinese medicine, consisting of Suwen (Simple Questions) and Lingshu (The Spiritual Pivot). They are amazingly important, and I’ll have a lot more to say about that during the coming weeks and months. It’s a BIG topic, and learning classical Chinese alone is challenging. It’s a difficult language – for several reasons, which I will discuss when I share the fruits of my current researches. Yet, I’ve also found many jewels in the chapters that I’ve studied carefully, and can now confidently say that studying the text in conjunction with clinical practice can be a journey into awesome and previously unknown potential. Oh, my! Well, I’ve been writing about that for a long time, and will certainly do more in the future. I’m thinking of a blog piece right now on that topic, but won’t wander off now.

Learning classical Chinese — YIKES, and I don’t even like languages! Why would I subject myself to such an project? I’ve learned a wonderful oral lineage of Chinese medicine, which I’ve always known was based on Neijing. I’ve organized and taught a short series of seminar introducing acupuncturists and students to the wonders of the channel complexes, consisting of fives systems of channels and vessels rather than just the usual ‘primary channels.’ Isn’t that enough? Well, apparently not, as my opportunities to teach wither on the vine. I’m sure a large part of the problem is that I haven’t had a clue how to market what I do, and the organizers I’ve worked with haven’t ended up being particularly successful attracting participants. Well, among other things, that’s all changed now. I guess we’ll see who wants to study Neijing, and what it has to say about Chinese medicine.

But, why did I take this on myself? Surely, there must be others who are better prepared suited to this task! Aren’t there? Please? Well, I guess not. Wait a minute, you might say. There are other translations – of both texts. Yes, that’s true, and likely a good topic for an entire blog posting. My conclusion about my need to do this work myself is based on my experience with this work. Study of Neijing relies on two important prerequisites:

  1. A high degree of literacy in classical Chinese: I am blessed to have the able assistance of Sabine Wilms, Ph.D. Sabine did her doctoral degree in history; her dissertation topic was the writings of a Chinese doctor named Sun Simiao (581-682), which of course required her to learn classical Chinese. Her period of concentration was indeed fortuitous, because while Neijing was originally recorded during the western Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 9 CE), the earliest recovered versions of each text date from the early Song Dynasty (960-1279), and we know the texts underwent extensive editing by Wang Bing (c. 710-804). She has studied specific language and usage during the period of time that Neijing was edited – before the texts we have received, and has had to study older sources for her historical research, so can help me decipher its mysteries. Most importantly (for me) – she has an open mind with an inclination toward recognizing the import of lineage. She has been willing to help me rise from illiteracy (of classical Chinese) to be able to study the texts, and do my own translations with notes and commentaries. This has been a gift beyond measure (for me), and I hope at least some in my profession will think so as well.
  2. Clinical Experience based in the concepts of Neijing: While contemporary Chinese medical doctrine is based on material selected from several chapters of Neijing, it has excluded many other topics found in the classics. In short it has been edited down for clarity, as the classics are riddled with obscure and even contradictory ideas and information. During the long history of Chinese medicine, various authors have selected material from Neijing that supports their ideas, which is actually pretty easy to do, because there are so many ideas in those classics that are only vaguely woven together. It leaves A LOT for the reader to interpret and understand, and in so doing develop a thinking process that will allow them to discern the subtle dynamics of life within individual patients. It’s quite a marvelous text, which CANNOT be fully understood outside the context of practice.

So, what makes me think that I can do this, even with Sabine’s help? Well, I certainly couldn’t do it without A LOT of help! Frankly, I don’t think anyone else could, either. My help has come in the form of the oral lineage I’ve received from Jeffrey Yuen. I’ve written a bit about Jeffrey before and likely will again. At this point I’ll simply note that he leaves a lot for his students to figure out, because classical Chinese medicine is an awakening to seeing the dynamics of life rather than a body of doctrine. Of course, Neijing includes a lot of information, much of which is new to most practitioners and students. However, that is not the key distinction between Neijing and contemporary approaches to Chinese medicine. Another BIG topic, which will grow more clear as I share my current research. Stay tuned!

I’d love to see some interesting and insightful material about Neijing in English, so I guess I’ll just have to give it a try myself. I have sufficient practical knowledge of the 經絡脈 (jīngluòmài, Channel Complexes) that I can START studying Neijing. I’ve already learned that there are other practical applications of (at least parts of) Neijing out there, and that discovery has been very exciting. I had the pleasure to finally meet Susan Johnson, L.Ac. last year, when she showed up at my series in Santa Cruz. After just a few minutes of talking with her, I discovered that the material she has been teaching for many years from her lineage (from Master Tung), while very different from modern TCM, derives from Neijing. She then pointed out to me pointed out to me a very important principle concerning application of material in Lingshu, chapter 5, which I had not yet clarified for myself and Jeffrey never mentioned. She was so excited that the things she knows in her bones derive from that chapter, and I was excited to be so enthusiastically received.

Just last week, Susan complained that it had been SO LONG since she had some ‘juicy’ Neijing to read. I shared a couple early drafts during my series in Santa Cruz last spring and summer, but quickly learned that openness is probably counter-productive. While I’d like others to join me in the process of reading the text (I include the Chinese), nearly everyone seems to relies on my translation. I get that, and it imposes a high degree of responsibility on me. I can’t share pieces that I’m working on with others, until I’m clear on the translation. While I do the translation, I also prepare “translator’s notes” that discuss various issues of language critical to the translation. Some of those would not be necessary for people fluent in classical Chinese, and I believe they will all help practitioners understand the text more fully. Well, that’s already a lot of work, but Susan has told me that what she really enjoys are my Commentaries, which discuss how I understand each chapter, based in my experience working with my lineage teachings. Alas, I’ve decided to work on translations and notes of a group of chapters to publish together as (a first volume of) a Neijing ‘reader’ or anthology, and only then focus on writing their interrelated Commentaries. Round Two!

So, I’ve been busy choosing and working on that first group of chapters to prepare for publication. I’ve learned to not share any translations until I feel confident of them, which will likely mean going over them with Sabine for a long time. We’ve worked on about ten chapters, and I think I’ve chosen most of a first collection. My own ‘rough’ translations of most of the rest of Lingshu and selected chapters of Suwen are improving, which allows me to search for themes around which to gather each collection of chapters, as this is intended to eventually be a series. Yet, I still seek her input on classical grammar and certain usages. The language of Neijing is difficult; Sabine has even complained about a few of the chapters we’ve done being very hard, so one can only imagine the steam streaming out of my ears as I’ve worked to figure them out. As we get the language straightened out, I make a list of line-by-line ‘comments’ derived from my practical understanding of the philosophy of Chinese medicine, based on my two decades of work with the teachings of my lineage. Those individual comments will eventually be woven  into an essay of “Commentary” on each chapter. It’s a BIG project, but as the old Chinese saying goes, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”


Wonders Never Cease!

Many chapters of Yijing, the famous Classic of Changes, invoke individuals to persist. “Perseverance furthers,” the classic reads, and indeed the constantly evolving nature of the universe brings (nearly) all things forward at some point. My key questions seem to be:

  • How to draw attention to ideas that had long been hidden and are now widely ignored?
  • How to stimulate this process of unpopular ideas coming forward?
  • How to stimulate people to pay attention to some ideas that challenge dominant theory and practice of Chinese medicine?
  • How to shift the discussion about Chinese medicine away from information and back to personal cultivation of insight?
  • How to facilitate discussion of philosophy and contemplation as valued methodologies for refining one’s knowledge of Chinese medicine?

Often, it seems some random circumstance, event, or action by another person impacts my path, and I continue following my inclinations. So, here are a new opportunity to share the amazing world of classical Chinese medicine, and a new focus that fills out my work:

I’m pleased to share that Five Branches University has decided to partner with me to provide a weekend introduction to classical acupuncture. The whole story leading up to this weekend offering is surely much to long to share, but I can say there is a big difference between barely being tolerated and being embraced. Thank you, Alexandra Polk, for being inspired to support my efforts to enrich the acupuncture profession with my commitment to deepen our understanding of this healing  practice. I’ve written many essays during the past several years that have helped me develop my unique understanding of CM, and have selected a few that seem the best preparation for participants in those seminars on my Introduction to the Channels and Vessels page. Or, simply peruse the archive of my essays.

Perhaps as strange, at least to me, is the newest focus of my overarching project to articulate the classical wisdom of Chinese medicine for contemporary people. I’m starting to do my own renditions of excerpts of Huangdi Neijing (黃 帝 內 經), the fundamental Yellow Thearch’s Classic of Internal (Medicine), into English. I hope to blog more soon on both the challenges of translating the ancient Chinese medical texts of Suwen (素 問) and Lingshu (靈 樞), and especially some of the interesting things I’m finding. It has indeed been a revelation. My work to understand Neijing has its roots in my many years of working with the oral lineage of Jeffrey Yuen; my interpretations of the text began many years ago with some relatively superficial issues I found in many translations, such as including the work “organ” when the text mentions either the 五藏 (five zang) or 六腑 (six fu). This was only one example of a systematic “static” or “physical” bias I’ve found embedded within most modern interpretations of Chinese medicine. While I could discount such distortions in my own mind, and continue my practical work with acupuncture as inspired by my studies with Jeffrey, I had no idea how rich the original Chinese of these classic texts could be. I’m learning now!

A Luddite Praises Computer Technology

I’m slow, but I’m not (completely) stupid. Twenty years ago I started studying the symbolic nature of Chinese written language. The was a nice text of the etymology of Chinese characters that had been translated early in the 20th century by Weiger that I started using. I learned a lot from that process, but it was slow and cumbersome. I decided to focus more attention on studying and working with the clinical practice of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, rather than devoting the amount of time needed to learn classical Chinese. Hail, the rise of software — in this case the excellent work called “Wenlin,” by scholars at the University of Hawaii. Their software  transforms an exceedingly cumbersome process into an eminently manageable project.

I’m starting with about a hundred pages of key excerpts gathered and translated by Dr. Neal for his 6-weekend series on Neijing Acupuncture. Excerpt by excerpt, they are like little morsels of classical wisdom, wrapped in a puzzle. I’m discovering that my revisions of Dr. Neal’s translations fall into two main groups, progressing from changes in voice (mine are more active) to substantive changes in the content of Neijing theory I understand being discussed in various excerpts. Everywhere I look in these classics, I find language suggestive of my lineage’s key interpretations. So, raise a cheer for computer technology! I hardly believe I’m writing this, yet this software is clearly helping me uncover the wisdom of 2100 year old Chinese medicine classics. Wonders never cease!

IVAS Rocks!

Thank you all for a wonderful 37th annual conference!

A special thank you to Vikki Weber, executive director of IVAS (International Veterinary Acupuncture Society). It appears that I’ve finally been discovered for my unique contributions to the field of Chinese medicine. Is it strange that these enthusiastic doctors are Veterinarians, and that I’ve never treated a non-human animal? I thought so, and so did my sister-in-law! What do I know about treating canines, felines, equine, or other non-human patients? Very little, yet I was asked to give two four-hour Keynote presentations at the IVAS annual conference in San Diego in September. Why, you may ask?

Well… the local reason is that Vikki read an essay published by Golden Flower Chinese Herbs, who have sponsored my CEU classes for several years. That particular essay introduced the five systems of channels and vessels, and was re-published on this site. It discusses what I used to refer to as “the five systems of channels and  vessels,” and now call “channel complexes,” technically 經 絡 (jingluo). These jingluo provide a conceptual framework that differs from the much simpler modern clinical doctrine of zangfu (viscera and bowels) and primary channels. These channel complexes provide both theoretical and practical advantages, compared to the “standard” doctrine, and Vikki was willing to invite me as an honored guest to the IVAS conference, so her members could learn more about my thinking on Chinese medicine. Filled with enthusiasm about her invitation, I proposed another idea in addition to reworking that essay into a presentation. When I received the contract to officially secure this opportunity, I learned that I’d have to submit essays of at least 6,000 words for each topic. GULP! Well, of course, I ‘bit the bullet’ and committed to writing those essays. It was a great process, and a lot of work!

The larger reason may be that many Veterinary acupuncturist are very cool people, who have “gone to the mountain, scaled it, and seen it’s limitations.”  They’ve all been trained in (western) medicine, yet they also recognize certain systematic weaknesses of that worldview and thinking process for health care. I knew I was among “my people” after I mentioned as back ground my education before I went to acupuncture school. I told them that I’d been in a PhD program at UC Berkeley for two years, where I studied how (western) science prejudices its understanding of the world based on how it asks questions and what it takes as evidence; there was a smattering of applause and a couple hoots. Imagine! They wanted to learn about the ‘weird’ worldview I’ve cultivated during nearly two decades of learning and practicing the Neijing-style of medicine as taught by Jeffrey Yuen.

So, find an acupuncturist for your pets, and you’ll find a doctor who is working to understand the strengths and weaknesses of both western and Chinese medicine. Actually, IVAS is even somewhat broader than that, as many of its members have interests in other approaches, such as osteopathy, Ayurveda, etc. What could be better?

Yeh, so why the delay in posting this blog piece?

It’s a funny thing about the internet — once we publish something, it’s PUBLISHED. I admit, I really don’t know how to think about this opportunity. Will people download a big essay, and engage me about the ideas discussed? Will they respect my attempt to discuss challenging ideas, or simply pick at my choice of language to my target my ideas as “not Chinese,” because they’re not discussed in the TCM they learned. Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot of flack for “embodied spirit,” though it’s my translation for 精 神 (jingshen), which is used extensively in Neijing. So, my ideas differ from the currently dominant doctrine. Are we going to be slaves to the historical forces that created the contemporary doctrine, assuming that newer must be better, or seek theory that is more coherent and incisive?

I’ve devoted many hundreds of hours to writing those papers, during seven months of very hard work — on top of my practice and teaching schedule early this year. They represent one attempt to discuss what I’ve learned over many years.  Am I likely to benefit by giving away that work, or am I simply forsaking the opportunity to publish those essay in some “better” venue? What is a better venue? How democratic has information become? How willing are individuals to evaluate information for themselves? For some odd reason, it didn’t make a lot of sense (to me) to post an announcement of that great event, without posting links to the papers I presented. Perhaps that’s really stupid, but it led me to on it. Instead, I focused my attention toward my primary interest, seeking  to articulate the wondrous world of classical Chinese medicine. I still don’t know the right answer to the question of how best to use this opportunity to publish my work, but I’ve decided to try something different. I’d REALLY like to hear thoughtful comments or questions from people who read these essays. Anyone interested in an Introduction to this approach to acupuncture?

Keynote Papers for the IVAS Conference (2011):

Living Systems of Acupuncture Channels

The World of Dao: Movement in Chinese Medicine

Focus Health & Wellness Educational Symposium

While my domicile remains in Sonora, I haven’t been focused on the local community since closing the Healing Center of the Sierra several years ago. I’ve cut back my practice quite dramatically, so I could focus more intensively on my researches into classical Chinese medicine, and work on various writing projects. Some of those writings are archived on this site, others provide the foundation for seminars I’ve taught and am preparing. I’m working toward drafting a series of monographs; my current focus is the five systems of acupuncture channels, which provide the conceptual foundation for Neijing (Inner Classic) style acupuncture. Of course, it’s convenient that I’m also in the process of writing the handouts that I’ll provide for a four weekend seminar series that I’ll be teaching on the clinical application of those systems.

During the past couple years, a few friends suggested I join another in a long line of local groups aimed at gathering “like-minded people” to provide mutual support and focus attempts toward social change, either local and global. Often the groups I’ve gravitated toward have gathered around healing work or sustainability and green politics; in this case it seems to focus equally on both. Yet, I’m generally much more interested in my own philosophical and clinical investigations of Chinese medicine than I am in group process, so I continued in blissful ignorance of the progress of:

FoCuS — Foothill Collaborative for Sustainability

Yet, about a month ago Sheila Gradison asked me to participate in an Educational Symposium on March 19, 2010. I went to my first meeting about that event on Wed. (12/2), and found engaged and interesting people involved in various aspects of the “holistic health” field. We had a discussion about the topics each of us would like to address during that brief symposium, which touched on the topic of quantum physics (of all things!). I’m reminded that group process has its virtues, including stimulating clarification. After many years of reflecting on my work, that meeting stimulated me to write a few pages of comments on the foundations of Chinese medicine, which even leads many enthusiasts to invoke the results of experiments in quantum physics! My interest in this topic dates back to the beginning of my interest in Chinese medicine; I’m curious to see how others will connect with those ideas.

While quantum physics can be a valuable topic for holistic health practitioners who are attempting to engage (particularly “scientific”) members of the public, I believe it is ultimately a distraction. It can help pry open the minds of people set in their allegiance to mechanistic conceptual models of reality, but it also tends to invite people to enroll in it as the “right” conceptual model that explains how things work. People want so badly to feel in control of their world…

I believe the key point that most holistic health practitioners are trying to make in referring to quantum physics is that mechanistic “scientific” models do not provide the ultimate explanation of the world — that the world, especially the human world,  is much more complex and magical than most imagine. Some people believe quantum physics suggests that there is a consciousness expressed through the “physical” universe. Indeed, they’ve given one type of quark (subatomic particles) a suggestive name like “charm.” While such speculations may amuse us, why do we seek support for the idea that consciousness be included in our descriptions of individual human life from the outset?

Each individual is an embodied spirit. The first task of that embodied spirit is to survive in this world of constant polar interactions. The highest healing work facilitates that process, rather than controlling the expression of distress when there is something awry. We need to study that, and how to support it in disentangling from its blockages and stagnation. Natural medicine is far more (and less!) than the use of naturally occurring products. It is the process of facilitating an individual’s return to his or her own nature — to optimize it’s ability to live.

Busy, Busy, Busy

I haven’t quit blogging. In fact, I have A LOT of ideas I want to explore in this venue. This past month has just been AMAZINGLY busy.I hope to return to blogging CCM at least a couple times per week, even though I have many other things on my platter. In addition to me ongoing practice treatment patients:

  1. I went to San Diego twice in November; the second was to teach a newly conceived one day seminar introducing the five sets of acupuncture channels. It was a big success, and I want to thank Justin Ehrlich and Carrie Denaro for their wonderful help in organizing and marketing the seminar, and the upcoming four weekend series on the channel systems in San Diego. I also want to thank all the practitioners and students of Chinese medicine who came out to listen to some of my ideas about Neijing (Inner Classic) style acupuncture, question both my ideas and their own experience and understanding, and evolve their thinking about Chinese medicine. My heart was warmed by your enthusiastic response to my work to restore the vitality to acupuncture, and look forward to seeing many of you in a couple months when we start the series.
  2. I’ve made initial contacts with a medical illustrator and a publisher about several book projects I’m in the process of developing in conjunction with the seminars I’m currently writing, and the ones I’ve already taught. Those early contacts have been very fruitful, and have taken a lot of time and focus.
  3. Cindy Micleu and I have finalized plans for a new full weekend version of my seminar introducing the Waike (External Medicine) Specialty of Chinese herbal medicine. It will be held next October in Seattle.
  4. Also finalized plans with Golden Flower Chinese Herbs for their sponsoring the four weekend series on the five systems of channels in the San Francisco Bay Area starting in Sept. 2010 and in Albuquerque early in 2011.
  5. I’ve gotten involve in a Health & Wellness Educational Symposium to be held March 19, 2010 in Murphys – near my home in Sonora. While I hadn’t been much involved with the local community since closing the Healing Center of the Sierra several years ago, I’ve been inspired by the planning meeting I attended.
  6. Oh, and by the way, I also got a new roof on my house. The noise…

So, please don’t draw any unwarranted conclusions from my absence from blogging for a few weeks. Thank you for sharing links with friends and associates who might be interested in the healing possibilities of CCM. The site continues to grow and evolve. There is now a list of classes and seminars scheduled around the country in the upper right corner of each page, and the blog is coming back to life…

Lessons from the River

My brief hiatus from blogging has come during a Colorado river trip through the Grand Canyon from Lees Ferry to Phantom Ranch. It was a GREAT trip, but alas I wasn’t well prepared with a backlog of posts to publish while I was out of contact! While I was hiking out of the wondrous canyon, it occurred to me that perhaps

the ancient Daoists may have been whitewater boatmen.

They were, after all, the first to counsel “going with the flow.” Indeed, the river teaches very clearly that trying to fight the flow brings only struggle and ultimately failure. Running the river also teaches us that if we pay very careful attention to choose when and where to exert our efforts, we can avoid getting hung up on the rocks. The boatmen all did a great job, allowing me to cogitate that insight within the safety of the boat. It is equally true concerning life (and the Dao), as it is relative to the river.

I’ve returned home for a few days of office hours, then I’m off to San Diego tomorrow for the Pacific Symposium — an annual meeting of practitioners of acupuncture and Chinese medicine. Look for me there, and ask about the one-day “Introduction to the Channels and Vessels” seminar we’re planning for San Diego on Nov. 22.

Teaching the Soul of Classical Chinese Medicine

Give a man a fish to feed him for a day; teach him to fish to feed him for a lifetime!

I’m committed to sharing the wealth of classical Chinese medicine, which I’ve been able to learn through the generous teachings of Jeffrey Yuen. Yet, Jeffrey doesn’t make it easy – The sage is not humane (Dao De Jing, verse 5). Or, in contemporary vernacular – it’s cruel to be kind! Jeffrey is inspired in his teaching, though he’s also assiduously “low key” about the value of his teachings. His teaching style expresses to me that the key to realizing the wealth of Chinese medicine lay in learning to “sort out” the subtle and dynamic factors that guide each patient’s life, and thus discern accurate and inspired treatment strategies.

Patients present their practitioners with lessons and complexities, which certainly don’t come emblazoned on their foreheads. Practitioners are challenged to identify the specific nature and location of pathogenic factors, and differentiate them from the embodied spirit’s intrinsic responses to sustain life. Modern TCM teaches us to classify the manifestations of a patient’s distress, but provides little guidance for unwinding that individual’s entanglement in habituated dysfunction. We’ve been taught to simply treat whatever imbalances the patient manifests. However…

Symptoms and signs express the embodied spirit’s struggle to maintain life in the face of “pathogenic factors” that challenge it.

They exhibit the combined influences of pathogenic factors and the embodied spirit’s reaction it them! I’ve found that the best therapies focus on resolving pathogenic factors, without compromising the individual’s vitality. Indeed, they often stimulate and facilitate the embodied spirit’s intrinsic responsiveness to allow it to function more freely. Can one teach others the inspiration to sort out the entangled nature of a patient’s symptoms and signs, and the willingness to trust the embodied spirit in its sometimes violent efforts to expel factors that have been blocking its healing? Probably not, but Jeffrey and I reach out to participants in our seminars and try…

Try what? In the end, we each have to come from our strengths. Jeffrey has nearly boundless experience, learning through direct contact since he was a toddler from masters who embodied strong currents of classical Chinese medicine. I’ll never match the depth and variety of that experience, but I do have one experience that may be valuable to practitioners and students who want to learn from his enigmatic teachings. I’ve had the experience of having to figure out the mysteries of classical Chinese medicine as an adult. While Jeffrey shares the dynamic and responsive world he sees and challenges his students to awaken to that reality, my seminars provide a little more step-by-step guidance, as I:

  • share my thinking process, and how it’s inspired by specific images and theories of CCM
  • engage participants to entertain the CCM (especially the NeijingInner Classic) thinking process
  • describe how I work through the evaluation of a patient to devise a treatment strategy

I provide lecture notes, because I want participants to engage the ideas and thinking process of classical Chinese medicine while I’m presenting them rather than trying to scribble down a lot of unfamiliar theory and information. I invite questions, because I know the challenge of working through the systematic limitations of modern TCM. I’ve written essays to give perspective participants (and others) the chance to read and “chew on” the perspective of classical Chinese medicine that I’ve learned and cultivated — before they come to a seminar. After attending a seminar, participants will be invited to participate in an online discussion to help them implement those teachings.

Check out the new link in the upper right corner of every page — Scheduled Classes. I’m currently talking with three seminar sponsors, including Golden Flower Chinese Herbs — gracious sponsors of my seminars for the past two years, and hope to have more links there soon!

Is Health Care Against Society?

I ran into an old friend at the grocery store a couple days ago. We greeted each other warmly, after not seeing each other for several years. Matt is a medical doctor, specifically a radiologist, who was one of few medical professionals in our small rural California town to accept my efforts practicing Chinese medicine fifteen years ago. At that time, we bonded over our deep concern for the well-being of patients and our scornful opinions concerning the practice of medicine.

Yet, Matt and I were going in different directions. He was pretty cynical about many of his local colleagues, and how they used (and mis-used!) the very expensive technology at the core of his specialty. I learned a lot from him about both the strengths and limitations of medical imaging as part of my specialized training in “acupuncture orthopedics,” and I was searching for an entirely different conceptual framework for practicing health care. We drifted apart as the stresses of our respective lives consumed our attention, even though our souls knew we were “brothers” in our quest to improve American health care.

The focus of Matt’s rapier wit has shifted from local to global. He now believes there are severe systemic flaws in American health care, and declares that only a complete transformation of financial incentives can repair the system. Matt shared his perception that:

The current fee-for-service health care system renders patients into fodder to generate fees (and hence INCOME) for providers

Matt strongly expressed his conviction that our health care system can only be repaired by adopting a national program like the one in Great Britain. His twenty-five years practicing medicine has convinced him that the health care system must be designed with patient welfare at its center! I heartily agree with that perception.

While I may identify different specifics and remedies, Matt and I agree on many aspects of our societal challenges with health. I concur that our health care system suffers because of some very warped incentives, and believe lasting effective remedies must address them. Twenty years ago the “money people” devised “managed care,” which was supposed to squeeze the inefficiencies out of our health care system. Yet, that industry now soaks up more than 17% of GNP, and our health outcomes are poor relative to other industrialized nations, especially when measuring health span. Maybe we can start with several principles:

  1. We must find ways to put patients back at the center of health care, especially identifying specific life changes they can cultivate to promote healing
  2. We must line up incentives throughout the entire economy to support health
  3. Modern (western) medicine doesn’t have a monopoly on wisdom about health — a free marketplace of ideas will optimize our solutions

We can find solutions for our health care crisis!

I told Matt about my blogging concerning health care policy; he shared his small website to spread his philosophy. I suppose he got disheartened or busy with other things, because he hasn’t continued writing new pieces for that site. Matt seemed inspired by the idea of blogging, and I hope he gets invigorated to share his experience and insights about our profound societal health care challenges. While our voices and messages are rather different, I believe that a mélange of caring and concerned health care practitioners will identify the important principles for resolving our health care challenges.

Sometimes, the darnedest things happen at the supermarket!

Practicing Health Care

A few weeks ago, I taught a weekend continuing education seminar for acupuncturists on the channel divergences, which have central importance for both understanding and reversing progressive and degenerative disease. Early in that seminar, I posed the following question, which I believe lay deep in the soul of many health care practitioners:

Do you want to participate in the disease management industry or the art of healing?

Has the idealism to help others, which continues to inspire many young people to enter the health care fields, been overwhelmed by the “scientific” doctrines students must learn and later the practical challenges of making a living? While that idealism appears well beaten-down in most, I believe it continues to smolder in the hearts of many. Can we gently fan those embers with the knowledge that the healing potential of the embodied spirit dwarfs the efforts of scientific medicine to control the expression of pathology?

Modern medicine relies on fear.

Allopathic medicine portrays patients’ bodies as “broken” — in need of permanent physical repair through surgery or ongoing physiological control with pharmaceuticals. Yet, embodied spirits that exhibit various diseases aren’t broken; they’re simply congested with stagnation, which blocks the natural flow of vital function. The symptoms and signs of disease are a cry for help; they are the embodied spirit’s gesture to express the nature and extent of its distress.

While western medicine sets the tone for our health care system, most proponents of “natural” medicine conform to its passive care model. And why not? — it makes SO MUCH SENSE economically. What could be better than selling people on the need to take a certain supplement for the rest of their lives, or come for three treatments per week for the next six months? Excuse me while I price a new BMW.

Practicing Health Care is a Sacred Trust.

People come to health care practitioners with their pains and their fears. I believe our work challenges us to discern the sources of each individual’s suffering, and find ways to stimulate the transformations of healing. Often that takes more time initially than simply controlling the manifestations of distress, but careful work to discriminate an individual’s blocks to healing can pay substantial dividends. The financial value for both individuals and our society of empowering patients to resolve their ailments is enormous. The non-financial value is even greater!