Some Thoughts About Points and Needling

I am preparing to teach a class called Needling From the Heart, and of course, I have my Whole Heart Acupuncture series coming up (with extra clinical mentorship on the Mondays), so the nature of acupuncture points is very much on my mind. Acupuncturists treat points with needles, but we all have acupuncture points, so this is a thought piece for everyone.

What is an Acupuncture Point?

An acupuncture point is a place of communication with deep eternal realities that transcend our individual lives. They are also, on an individual level, repositories of lies and contradictions, obfuscations or discouragements or puzzlement (or horror or agony) around the thematic content of the point.

worms-eyeview-of-well The points are like a well; at the bottom of the well is the deep truth about life. Floating in the well, layered on top of the sweet water of truth, are little round pictures of first-grade teachers saying, “NO,” or old girlfriends leaving; there are pictures of cold, dark nights, pictures of jeering faces, all stacked up in the point like debris.

This debris accumulates as we live, because inevitably something happens, and the experience from the outside world appears to demonstrate a “truth” about life which contradicts or calls into question the easy, graceful, simple, eternal truth in the point. The image or vibration of the life event (or rather, our interpretation of the life event) moves through our system like a small coin—or a shower of small coins—until it falls into a slot or acupuncture point that “fits” the shape/vibration of the coin. Thus, the points accumulate the debris of life. The debris begins to clog the well so that the water of the truth can no longer be found.

Often, I use the metaphor of a bell that can not ring the note of truth because it is clogged with this same life-debris. As I understand it, what I am doing when I am needling the point is contacting that deep truth and ringing that bell. The needle is the clapper in the bell. Ring! Ring! Let the note peal forth through the kingdom!

When I touch that deep note, what happens is very similar to what happened when I used to turn on the faucet to start my son’s bath: formerly motionless tub toys start to float and agitate around in the chong. I see the same thing happening in the points—the little round pictures of “life experience” that we have taken into separation inside ourselves start floating up—rising up—and may be felt—but more importantly, if we are paying attention and doing our work well, may be cleared.

What Happens When We Needle a Point?

There are many things that may happen when we needle a point. I’ll describe it as a continuum between Nothing Happening and Everything Happening.

How does nothing happen? A person picks up a metal tool and sticks it, a foreign invasive object, into another person’s body. We can argue semantically whether this is really “nothing” happening, but it certainly isn’t acupuncture. This may be why I’ve heard so many people say that acupuncture only works on people who believe in it. I routinely contradict this by saying that it’s been working very effectively on racehorses for years. It’s not a placebo. Those racehorses don’t “believe.” Likely they have no conscious opinion on the subject whatsoever. They just respond.

On the other hand, a conviction of disbelief—especially when accompanied by distrust—may limit or in some cases completely obstruct our ability to contact the qi of the acupuncture points. Acupuncture is a consensual modality; we make energetic suggestions only, and the client may override or simply make themselves energetically unavailable to our puttering and poking.

In other words, our relationship with the client clearly matters to our efficacy as practitioners. How we approach the point—or the particular energetic aspect of the universe represented by the point—also clearly matters.

When I needle a point, I am an active agent entering the point with an agenda: to touch the depth of the well where the deep truth lies, to be the clapper that rings the bell of life, so that the accumulated life debris can rise up to be seen, to be felt, to be cleared. I am only able to be this active agent to the extent that the client is a receptive agent. Moreover, it is not simply the client as a whole who must choose to open to my insertion. It is the particular aspect of my client which is in need of the needle’s reminder which must trust me and be open to the entry of the needle.

How Do We Contact the Depth of the Point?

Who am I and what is the needle? Under what circumstances might a point open to receive me; to receive the needle; to receive the deep truth inside ourselves?

There are many layers of possible responses to this question. I have always found that it is easier for me to contact a point on the client—whether with the needle or just when initially point locating with my finger—if I hold the awareness that I am locating and contacting this point not just on my client but in the Universe. It is as though my essential intention is to contact this point or this movement-of-life in the Universe, but I am contacting this life-truth through the client so that they will have the opportunity to contact this deeper-than-self aspect of life within themselves also.

Just so, I find that it is much easier to contact the deeper Universal life-stream of the point through the client if I am aware of myself as Universal Messenger. I often feel physically larger, lighter, and more hollow in those moments. Yes, the needle is in my hand; and this is of no greater and no lesser importance than that the point is on the client’s body. It is simultaneously a dual relationship between client and practitioner, and each of these aspects of relationship has its importance. We are the Universe delivering a message of awakening (yang) to the universe of sleeping hidden potential (yin). At the same time, we are also human and particular, and every message takes on the fragrance of the messenger. At the very least, if the messenger looks scary—or even just like too much of a risk or too much of an unknown—the client may choose not to open the door (of the acupuncture point) to the messenger, and thus will not receive the message.

Thus, our personal relationship with the client is not of ultimate significance to the healing exchange, but it is the context and the vehicle for this deeper exchange, and as such is”incidentally crucial” to our work. Personalities are like a perimeter gate—or potentially a series of gates—which we must be granted permission to enter. If the point is not open or is only slightly open because of this lack of permission, de qi (the feeling of qi moving) is weak, and the sounding of the note-of-life and subsequent dislodgement of pathological patterns is minimal. We can not command the point to open to us; the degree of opening is solely a matter of the client’s (largely unconscious) volition. We can only solicit its opening by asking, and how we ask matters. Much of Five Element training addresses this skill.

The Universal relationship is more of a simple matter: are we contacting the point on the client to its depth, i.e. are we needling in resonance with the latent health which is universal, or with the particular imbalances of the client? Not all practitioners choose to focus on contacting the health at the depth of the point; often we needle into the collection of held pictures, hoping to disrupt and dispel them because it is the pathology that we are most aware of in the client, and thus we make the dispelling of illness the focus in the needling of the point. Clearly this is somewhat effective. What I find to be far more effective is to contact the point’s health, and let the pure note ring out, clearing the pathology in its wake.

The Importance of After Needling

I am most aware of the importance of my role as Universal Messenger just after I have needled the point, as the pictures come floating up out of the point, and as the client is struggling to make sense of the needle’s message now ringing through the body. A great deal happens, or fails to happen, in these crucial after-needling moments as our clients go into healing turmoil, seeking a new equilibrium. The urge for integrity is strong, but so is the discomfort of calling into question old patterns. Everything is up in the air at this time, as old stories, and even more ancient truths, surge through the client. How do we assist this moment?

What I find is that my continued attention to the point and its message after needling makes all the difference as to whether the client takes this opportunity to clear some of the old stories, or most of the old stories, or all of them. Holding the note, I stand as Universal Messenger, bearing witness. At this moment I am often holding the point with my finger, as well as holding the heart of the client with my heart, and just waiting—through the shivers, through the working breaths, perhaps through the tears.

person-making-potteryI don’t rescue; I don’t intervene; I have nothing to add, but I stand as loving witness in the midst of the chaos now breaking open. I affirm with my presence the deep note of life’s truth as the fundamental basis for the client’s new sense of integrity. As with any time of great transformation, a little bit of extra holding as the seasons shift can make all the difference in how much a client is capable of truly changing in a moment.

When mentoring students, naturally significant focus is given to the process of diagnosis. But even the clearest diagnosis is worth very little unless we have the means to deliver healing. Since the source of the client’s healing is already inside of them, our self-cultivation as practitioners must refine our ability to awaken the potential within the points—before, during and after needling.

What if I’m not an Acupuncturist?

Needles are a lovely tool; they are precise and can be wielded with powerful accuracy. But anyone can be an amateur shiatsu practitioner, treating yourself or others with your fingers. Let your heart guide your fingers to discover the wellsprings of truth in your own body or the bodies of loved ones.

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