This article is also available as a PDF in its published form CJOM, Vol 10, No. 1, Winter 1999 (pdf)

The Needles of My Perfect Teachers

The sacred relationship between teacher and student is a component of Oriental medicine that most of us have not explored. What I was taught in acupuncture school was far too mechanical, and did not inspire me to pursue a relationship with my teachers. I had also spent a year interning with various Bay Area practitioners prior to taking my boards. Some were excellent practitioners, but I did not find a teacher. I then discovered Kiiko Matsumoto and Jeffrey Yuen and began to pursue my studies with them vigorously. I clearly found my teachers, and my resonance with acupuncture.

So many graduates of acupuncture schools think of themselves as "doctors" (I use the term loosely, not meaning an academic title). I believe it takes many years (perhaps 10?) of practice and self-cultivation, to become a true physician, a healer, a shaman, or an acupuncturist. In our pride and arrogance, suffused with left-over pain from school days and the desire to be as good as our "conventional" - Western counterparts, we go out to the world offering it our mechanistic model of medicine only to discover that we are lacking in depth and that we are in desperate need of a teacher. By then it is often too late: we have developed habit energies, entrenched ourselves in careers and styles that are difficult to change.

At a CAAOM-sponsored DOM panel last year I heard seasoned practitioners mourn time and time again their lack of understanding of "energetics" and their desire to deepen their knowledge through studying with a "master."

What a teacher, or a master, gives us goes far beyond knowledge. The true teacher facilitates an opportunity to develop our style, our method of self-cultivation, our resonance with our skills, and our view of ourselves and the world.

I have learned many techniques from Kiiko. I can rattle off hundreds of effective point combinations for various conditions to the delight, or dismay, of anyone who asks. But what I really learned from Kiiko has been her genius in taking Nagano's diagnosis and creating an abdominal palpatory technique. It is the principle of diagnosing through the Hara, not the details, that really count. I learned how the body reflects imbalance, and how one might bring it into balance by attempting to address the oldest trauma that reflects "objectively" in the Hara.

I have amassed literally hundreds of pages of notes on protocols invented by Jeffrey Yuen, some of these have served me and my clients well. I have also learned to translate the Chinese medical jargon of Wind, Heat, and Cold into psycho-spiritual states such as the inability to change, moving too fast or too eagerly toward change, or refusing to move into the world. But more importantly Jeffrey, like Kiiko, has taught me to create the "myth" of the client, to evaluate it energetically, to create resonance with the "problem", and to always attempt to be free of judgement. Jeffrey also taught me to look at the meridians as philosophical statements representing the prerequisites of human life, the more appropriate/healthy paths, and how we can get off those and create disease.

When all the techniques and tricks have been set aside, I seem to learn more from Kiiko when she just stands in front of a patient, seemingly confused, pronouncing "eh" with disbelief, yet always searching for a way to affect change, never giving up. I learned from her Zen-like resignation to not pass judgement and always look into what clients believe are the source of their illness, even when it appears extremely far-fetched. Aside from all the philosophy and unique ways of looking at the disease process, what I got from Jeffrey was the conviction that I could not heal anyone except myself, and that everything else was an extension of my own healing and transformation.

Other spiritual teachers (Thây Nhat Hanh and Rabbi Gedaliah Fleer – like many JuBus I maintain two traditions) have taught me that at the base of all healing are the concepts of space and light, how to create and maintain spaciousness, how to allow the soul to open, and to continuously believe in new possibilities.

What has any of this California-space-cadet-psycho-babble got to do with acupuncture? It has absolutely everything to do with acupuncture.

In the mechanical view of TCM we learned that the Lung spreads and descends the Qi, controls the skin, is paired with the Large Intestine, and is associated with sadness and grief. We learned that the Lung channel starts in the Middle Jiao, goes down, then up, then out to the arm to end in the thumb. We parroted this information and if we were especially diligent we further remembered a branch starting at LU7 going to the index finger. None of it meant much to us, but we then continued to recite the various functions of Lung points according to the book.

A deeper and more cultivated view of the Lung would start with the simple idea that the Lung takes in the world and lets the world out. It controls the breath. That the breath is how we harmonise with the world and the self. We need to allow the wold/breath to come into us, thus we say the Kidney (the self) grasps the Qi. We want to fully take in the world, thus the Lung spreads the Qi. We must allow the breath to fully leave, to let go of what we have grabbed in the world, thus the Lung is associated with sadness, an inability to let go. The Large Intestine is another major organ of letting go, and hence their pairing.

We can now construct the channel. Post-natal life is what creates the breath, and post-natal life is also the result of breathing. Thus the Lung channel must start in the Middle Jiao, the origin/symbol of post-natal Qi. For me it must start at Ren12, the Meeting point of the Fu, because the Lung needs to fill and empty in a manner that is like the Fu organs. The Lung channel must then go down to express the idea of grasping the world and communicating with the essential-self, thus the channel goes down. It moves up and spreads out like a canopy as an expression of the idea that we must also spread the Prana/Qi we receive from the world, to allow the world to permeate us. The channel then goes out on the most exterior aspect of the arm because it is about communication with the exterior world. It ends with the thumb because we humans grasp the world with the thumb. We also assist the thumb with the motion of the wrist and index finger, hence the branch from the wrist to the index finger.

Without mechanical memorization it is possible to derive where the Lung channel must go, based on the idea that breath represents taking in the world, that once we take in the world we must be willing for it to become part of us, but also to be willing to let go of it (or develop a pathology - an inbreath is always followed by an outbreath), and let go of our attachments.

These seem like very simple, basic, yet profound ideas. Most of us require a teacher to show us these basic ideas. Once cultivated into thinking about these issues we can move in any direction we choose. We can then develop resonance with points and we can understand why Jeffrey uses LU3 for deep seated grief (LU3 - Tian Fu - the Celestial Exchange-place is where I can exchange things with the world and let go of my sadness), or why Kiiko uses LU4 to facilitate deeper breath through the diaphragm (Xia Bai – Protecting the White/Metal is how we gain access to letting go of our over-protection which constricts our breathing). We can develop our own understanding of points and channels and create our own unique treatments.

I am not yet a true physician. I still see myself as a technician (no political connotations implied) who is moving toward deeper understanding. Sometimes I approach that higher level of a true physician. That is due to my teachers. When I then hold a needle it represents my wave in the vast ocean of Chinese/Oriental medicine. I am simply a continuation of these great ancestral teachers, starting with the Huang Di and Qi Bo and transmitted through many generations, coming to me through Kiiko and Jeffrey.

I gain the courage to continue, which is to continue in the path of my ancestral teachers, from the knowledge that I am one with them, that we have all struggled to understand life, to translate the various issues of life's vast possibilities into a medical understanding and meridian pathways which we can tap into, that we have all struggled to heal ourselves through compassion and love.

Each time I hold a needle I bow deeply with gratitude to the stream of ancestral teachers who have helped create my way.