Welcome to The Me-First School of Global Healing

A blog dedicated to exploring the experience of healing in all domains

July 3, 2020

Living the Elements: Fire


Summer is a time when it is safe to blossom, because all danger of frost is past. What a relief! We can shed our protective layers, and stand in the open, to see and be seen as who we really are. Summer is the time of extended light and warmth, and this is the basis of its capacity to invite us into the openness and exposure that allows us to create fulfilling connections.

The gift of Fire is lightness of being. Humor, playfulness and the ability to be silly are crucial to the health of Fire. Fire understands that in order to be truly sane, you have to be a little bit crazy — and not be afraid to let that show!

Between social distancing and social injustice, it can seem like this particular summer is not an easy time for joy and connection. Actually, the ability to show up with love in the midst of chaos is exactly what is needed right now. The energy of summer supports us in unabashedly refusing to let anything shut down our capacity to make connections and create fun in even the grimmest circumstances. How else can we come through our difficulties still healthy, still able to love and laugh?

I’d love to hear from you: Are you listening to, looking at, or reading anything that moves and heals and awakens your Joy this summer? Please share in the comments section below. I’m always up for more healthy Five Element nourishment through the arts. Meanwhile here are some of my favorites, just to get you started.

Song: The Beatles – Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

I love this song for its happy “faux reggae” upbeat sound that raises the heart rate into buoyancy, yet prevents Heart qi scattering with its genuine, heart-felt joy in the enduring bonds of loving connections. A great example of the transformation from Joy to Propriety!

(For more about Joy and Propriety, see our Intro to Fire CEU.)

Song: Janis Joplin – Summertime

What would summertime be without Janis, without her utter Heart Mediator vulnerability, like a fully open flower in the sun, wind, and rain? Summertime is our teacher for what it feels like to be truly open to each other, capably of deep intimacy, able to share in the nakedness of love.

(For more about intimacy, vulnerability and the Heart Mediator, see our Heart Mediator: Love Beyond Betrayal CEU.)

Song: Pete Townsend – Misunderstood

So silly! And funny… And sad. So Small Intestine. Ah, the lament of simplicity for the love of a really complicated personality! Do we want to connect—or don’t we?

(For more about the fascinating and complex patterns of the Small Intestine, see our Chinese Herbal Treatment of the Small Intestine CEU. You don’t have to be an herbalist to get a lot out of it!)

Image: Chihuly Boat

I can always turn to Dale Chihuly, especially his boats, to cheer me up. All that glorious color and light! I feel a child’s joy and delight. Does it raise your heart rate when you look upon this wild, chaotic extravagance? Can you think of other art that speaks to your Fire Element?

(For more about the relationship between joy and chaos, see our Heart 6-7-8: Sovereign in Life CEU.)

Poem: Mary Oliver – Peonies

Oh, for a Heart Mediator like a peony! God grant me the courage always to love like that, with passion and intimacy undeterred by the shadow of death.

(For more about love undeterred by the shadow of death, see our Heart Mediator 7: Love and Ghosts CEU.)


This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers

and they open —
pools of lace,
white and pink —
and all day the black ants climb over them,

boring their deep and mysterious holes
into the curls,
craving the sweet sap,
taking it away

to their dark, underground cities —
and all day
under the shifty wind,
as in a dance to the great wedding,

the flowers bend their bright bodies,
and tip their fragrance to the air,
and rise,
their red stems holding

all that dampness and recklessness
gladly and lightly,
and there it is again —
beauty the brave, the exemplary,

blazing open.
Do you love this world?
Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?

Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
and softly,
and exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,

with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
their eagerness
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
nothing, forever?

Add your favorite Fire/summer Five Element resources in the comments below. And for a more in-depth experience of the Fire Element, join me at the Summer Fire Retreat later this month.

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June 19, 2020


Why a Healer Needs to Consider Race

Too often, “I don’t see color” is translated as, “I don’t want to hear about racism.” The white person who said these words might not have meant it that way at all—but it is important to be aware of how we are coming across in a context where there really are a lot of white people who just do not want to hear or know about racial pain.

Those of us who are white healers supporting BIPOC clients do need to take some extra steps to signal clearly that we are ready to listen, and ready to have our awareness stretched beyond our own lived experience, into domains of experience that we haven’t known.

We also need to take extra steps around being able to listen to these differences of experience without defensiveness, and without needing to explain, theorize, or otherwise “fix” someone else’s analysis or point of view. If a man felt free to explain to a woman how she should feel about facing sexism every day, or to tell her that it was really the same for men as for women, this would be invalidating.

With the best of intentions, it is still better just to listen and learn from those whose experience is different than our own. When we make it clear that we are not assuming that we are all the same, we open space for others to speak more freely. This is important in the treatment room when there are differences in skin color, so that we hold space that is clearly open to what we do not know.

Another place where white healers need to take extra steps to make welcoming space for BIPOC clients is in our ability to hear painful material that may trigger us. The reality of racism is very hard for an open-hearted white person to hear. It’s incredibly painful, and may trigger our own feelings of helplessness, shame, vulnerability, and rage. We may not know what to do with all of these feelings inside of us—which is often why we try to keep these topics outside of the treatment room.

Fortunately, humility and honesty are still the best policy.

we-repeat-what-we-don't-repairWe can say, “What you are telling me is so powerful and painful that I am shaking inside. Can you please give me a moment to center and ground myself?”

We can say, “I don’t know if, as a white person who does not share your experience, I am even competent to address your concerns—but I would like to try.”

We can say, “I am doing my best to educate myself about how racial trauma might be showing up in my treatment room—including how my white face might be a trauma reminder for you.”

We can also keep in touch with our BIPOC fellow practitioners! This is crucial in establishing a diagnosis, because without being in touch with the reality of BIPOC concerns outside of the treatment room, we do not know how to gauge health. For instance, what does appropriate anger look like in a BIPOC person on the subject of police brutality? What does appropriate fear look like, or grief? Might these healthy emotions be at a different level in a BIPOC person than in a white person?

sad-manIt’s hard to know, with only a white scale of reference, whether a someone’s degree of anger is a sign of Liver pathology, or a completely reasonable response to outrage. If we don’t know what it’s like to be living through someone’s daily life, we might consider them to be a Water-type when actually they are legitimately afraid. If we do not understand the magnitude of a community’s level of grief, we might consider the client to be dramatizing, rather than considering that we ourselves might be out of touch.

It is inevitable that marginalized people are more aware of mainstream perspectives than vice versa. BIPOC people are surrounded by white media and white culture; professional and other affinity groups are likely to centralize white perspectives and concerns. White practitioners, however, are far less likely to be aware of BIPOC perspectives. We need to go out of our way to ask, and to be good listeners to those who speak from outside our frame of reference.

That is why it’s crucial for practitioners with different skin color to stay in touch with each other about events that might be affecting one group more, or differently, than another group. As a community of colleagues, we can serve all of our clients more fully when we are aware of the realities of their circumstances.

birds-breaking-chainsDespite having genuinely good intentions and some level of awareness of racial issues, I am continually amazed by how clueless I am about things that I didn’t even realize that I was clueless about. Whew! It saves a lot of wear and tear just to assume that I am fairly ignorant, like a foreigner in an unknown land, right in the middle of America. Beginner’s Mind is our greatest asset in the treatment room—and that includes opening to how issues of race are affecting all of us.

Join me at one of my upcoming webinars, Whole Heart Whiteness. Although there is no charge for the workshops, donations are accepted.

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June 4, 2020 Healing Moral Injury


Love is Necessary for Healing

Have you ever said or done something that, in hindsight, might have been significantly hurtful to someone? Maybe you realized it yourself, or maybe someone pointed it out to you. That’s a difficult moment. How did you feel, and how did you support yourself through those feelings?

There are many kinds of trauma, but one of the most painful is what is called “moral injury.” Moral injury occurs when we do something that, in our heart of hearts, we know is harmful or wrong—and we just can’t face it. In many ways, it is more difficult to heal our moral injuries than to heal the harm we’ve received from others—because we are more likely to be ashamed of the harm we have done than the harm we have received.

We all make mistakes. We all do harm, and then suffer when we realize it. The deeper harm is done when we are unable to support ourselves through the process of recovering from moral injury. The deeper harm takes root when we shut down instead.

magnifying glassMoral injury also occurs when we witness harm being done to another, and we do nothing to stop it. This includes harm that we have no idea how to stop, nor any direct means to interrupt (for instance watching a video of a harm taking place). The pain of this kind of moral injury cannot be underestimated—it has left many of us devastated and immobilized.

Pain hurts, and moral injury is pain. We don’t like it. When we don’t have supportive resources for moving through it, we tighten up and try to shut it down. Unfortunately, when we tighten and brace against the pain, it is much harder to be insightful about what just happened, and much harder to heal.

man-walking-snowThis is why I have begun teaching an anti-racist version of Whole Heart Connection that I am calling “Whole Heart Whiteness.” It’s been awakening, ensouling, life-giving in places that I didn’t even know that I was half-alive. It feels so good that I want to share it with as many other white people as I can—I want to help other white people move beyond the fear and paralysis that keeps us from healing interracial trauma.

But it does take love. And it does take heart. Luckily, with Whole Heart Connection skills, that’s not hard to come by. Whole Heart Whiteness is an opportunity for white people to learn practices and skills for thinking, feeling, and talking about racialized pain in an embodied, healing way.

I’ve talked to a number of white people about this, and they’ve had a hard time believing that this is real—that healing racism could be a joyous process that leaves us feeling so much better in ourselves.

Here is what one participant said after the last Whole Heart Whiteness gathering:

Except that Thea was teaching it, I didn’t really want to go to the Whole Heart Whiteness workshop. I had a lot of my own pain and struggle going on and could hardly imagine having the capacity to help heal the deeply painful and entrenched patterns of racism, whiteness, and so on. I was afraid of being overwhelmed, of having to do emotionally really challenging work when I was already struggling. I was surprised to find that the workshop was basically the opposite of what I imagined.

I actually received so much healing and support; it was amazing! And I didn’t have to dig deeply into my own pain and suffering to do so. I just sat there, gently present, listening and healing, and somehow, almost magically, I received the resources I needed to be with and transform my own pain. It was incredibly helpful. –Dawn F.

many-candlesAs you can see, this is not about beating ourselves up or bleeding to death. This is about creating a safe and compassionate healing space so that we are able to receive the love where we need it most: in the places that have been ready to heal for a long time, ready to return to ease and wholeness—and healthy change.

Let’s talk more about this soon.

Join me at one of my upcoming webinars, Whole Heart Whiteness. Find the upcoming workshops here.

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May 21, 2020 – Living the Elements: Wood – Springtime!

Living the Elements: Wood



There are a number of different serious blog pieces still in the works, but right now, I really just want to have some community fun. I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite Wood-element art and music.

I’d love to hear from you: Are you listening to, looking at, or reading anything that moves and heals and awakens your Wood element this spring? Please share in the comments section below. I’m always up for more healthy Five Element nourishment through the arts. Meanwhile here are some of my favorites, just to get you started.

Song: It’s Not Easy Being Green by Kermit the Frog

At first listen this might not seem to be your average Wood song, because it begins with a distinct Lack of Shout. When Wood is showing up missing, often all we see is the K’e cycle elements: gloomy Metal and self-pitying mopey Earth. This could easily be a case of blood deficient Wood creating low self-esteem.

(For more about Liver Blood Deficiency and self-esteem in Wood, see my YouTube video SI WU TANG, and my CEU Liver 1: Rising Again)

Song: Tony’s Song from West Side Story

Is this a Wood song, looking towards the future with hope and expectation, or is it a Metal song, with the wide-open receptivity of the Lung, and the Colon’s ability to Welcome Fragrance (CO-20)? Maybe it’s both! According to Heiner Fruehauf, the Lung and Colon can also be considered organs of the springtime, and thus part of the Wood element. In the calendar/clock system, Lung is the organ of first light (3-5 a.m. or the month of February), and Colon is the organ of full daybreak (5-7 a.m. or the month of March: Da-da-da-DUM da-Dum! Morning trumpets)!

At the very least, it’s a great energetic portrait of what it feels like when you definitely do not have a Liver-Lung exit entry block!

(For more about the energetics of a Liver-Lung exit/entry block, see CEU Liver-Lung Block.  For more on the CO-St block visit the Five Element Archive for the Exit-Entry Blocks: Colon-Stomach Block PDF. If you aren’t already an archive member, find more information about a membership here.)

Song: Tubthumping by Chumbawamba

The chorus says it all: I get knocked down, but I get up again; you’re never gonna keep me down!

(For more about getting up again when you’ve been knocked down, see CEU Wood: Healing from Trauma, and CEU Liver 1: Rising Again)

Poem: [in Just-] by e. e. cummings

e. e. cummings always feels like a poet of the Wood element to me, with his delightfully arhythmic rhythms and his abrupt creative non-standard punctuation—but here he really goes out of his way to express the spirit of spring.

in Just-
spring         when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles         far         and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far         and         wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and




balloonMan         whistles

(For a more in-depth look at the meaning of Wood in springtime, see CEU Intro to Wood.)

Sculpture: Henrique Olivera

Now that’s a fabulous portrait of what a Liver-Lung exit-entry block might feel like! Kind of like springtime in lockdown, eh? Finding freedom within has been a big theme this year. I look at this sculpture and it inspires me to do some ribcage-releasing stretches and twists immediately.

(For more about exit-entry blocks of the Liver and Lung, see CEU Liver 13-14: Finding Freedom.)

Add your favorite Wood/springtime Five Element resources in the comments below.

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March 30, 2020


The Power of Stopping

We have a choice about how we use this time of immobilization and quarantine, which is in many ways like a winter right in the middle of springtime. In Chinese medicine, Winter is about the evocation and transformation of fear, but it is also about deep revitalization. Over the winter, a while ago, I wrote a piece about “The Power of Stopping” which feels even more apropos now, so I will share it with you:

How does revitalization happen? What is vitality? Where and how is the power of life force gathered and maintained? How do we do that for ourselves? How do we assist others in revitalizing and living from deep, powerful vitality?

child-alone-on-beachIt’s not just about putting down the phone. That is part of the picture. It is true that silence has its use in the revitalization process, but silence alone won’t do it. You could spend a lot of time in silence and just feel anxiety. So the silence definitely isn’t the answer. We’ve all seen that not work. There is something to it, but what is it?

Silence and stillness can lead to the deep power of our life essence vitality when they allow us to STOP. Really stop. Stop, and allow ourselves to do the questioning that only happens when we stop. To do the re-collecting and gathering and questioning, on a foundational level, that we can only do when we really stop.

What Does “Stop” Mean?

There are those among us who… do we ever stop? What would it feel like to halt all momentum? I’m not talking about pause. Pause is different. When you put the CD player on pause you can’t take the CD out. Stop is not the same as pause.

What if we weren’t headed anywhere right now? Try right now dropping into the inner space you’d be in if you knew for sure that I wasn’t going to say anything for an hour. Like facing a blank page:

Now even if you do continue reading, your task is to remain in the place of unoccupied stillness that you’d be in, if you knew that there wasn’t going to be anything else coming. It’s a rare occurrence. Most people would not sit in the silence; most would not simply rest their minds in the presence of the blank page. They’d move on, pick up the phone, looking for a source of stimulus.

hand-up-stopWe live in a very momentum-driven culture. What do you mean, “Stop”? How about I’ll just pause instead? “Okay, we might have to put that on hold. We’ll put it on hold.” I’m hearing that all around me these days… fine, it’s on hold. There it is, on hold. But that’s really different than full halt.

What do you have, after an era has ended, before the next beginning? You have a chance to stop, real stop. Can you stop being an acupuncturist? Maybe you’ll start again. But what would change in your relationship to acupuncture if you weren’t just peddling the acupuncturist bicycle, keeping it going, all the time?

What if, just for the space of a silent half-hour, you stopped being married to whomever you’re married to? You may decide half an hour later, yes, this is authentic to me and I’ll go back to it. But for now, as I sit here, can I stop being married, or stop being mom? I mean quit it, really quit being mom? Quit pedaling the bicycle of all that it means to be my father’s daughter? What else can I quit, right now?

Not easy—terrifying. Think of all the different things that you’ve been engaged in; there’s an incredible momentum in your life of being the acupuncturist, being the daughter of this, the father of that. Can you stop? Stop. Stop.

Lonny S. Jarrett once sent me the link to a fairly obnoxious little video of Bob Newhart. This woman goes into the psychiatrist’s office. She’s talking about all her neuroses and he says, “I have one thing to tell you. STOP IT!” She says, “But I can’t stop. My childhood was this and…” And he says, “NO. STOP. JUST STOP. STOP IT.” The entire healing philosophy is just STOP IT. STOP NOW. STOP.

man-restingNow, there are five elements, and there are many different kinds of healing processes. Earth is really good for those slow transformative healing processes. Wood is really good for those healings that are about course correction and growth. Of primary importance for the Water element healing process is that sometimes, in order for anything to change, you have to get off the bicycle. Stop the wheels. Get out of the car. Lift up the hood, with the engine OFF, and just look at the marriage, just look at your acupuncture practice, just look at the economy, the environment, the state of your own soul.

Sometimes life hands us the opportunity to have a Water element healing, by making us stop. Are we going to take the gift? Or are we going to rush to find some way to patch it back together, ignoring the message of the times?

Just sit there, maybe for a while, yes maybe for long a while. Ask the questions that you don’t dare ask when you’re on the bicycle and have to keep pedaling. What’ll I find out about my marriage? What’ll I find out about my profession? What’ll I find out about…?

Well, we don’t know. Perhaps that is why we are not stopping—and don’t want others to stop, either, because it will lead us to the same questions.

How do we develop the skill of accepting, embracing and supporting others in going into the deep questioning? As scary as it is for us to get off the bicycle, we must also face our fears in order to be able to encourage others to stop, too.

Ultimately, don’t we want this deep inquiry from our partners, from our closest friends, from all with whom we engage in bonds of deep trust? Whether it is a pledge of marriage, a pledge of friendship, a business deal or a creative endeavor, don’t we want for others to make promises and pledges to us based only on what they find when they’ve gone down to the bone in themselves?

From a Place of Stop There’s Nothing That Can’t Be Called Into Question

tree-rootsIt’s not nihilism. When done with tremendous love, this kind of questioning revitalizes a commitment by bringing it back to its true root—by making it clear what is dead wood ready to be pruned and what is LIVE down in ming men (our Life Gate Fire or root of life in our depths), ready to bring forth new branches. It’s not an unloving thing to question—although we fear it is—if our loyalty is more to ‘things as they are right now’ than to the longevity that only comes with that stark honesty of winter.

You can see how this might have something to do with vitality and revitalization, because of how much wasteful energy is spent on things about which, if we were to truly stop, we would say, “This is bullshit.” It’s not for nothing that the clock meridian paired to the Kidney is the Colon. It’s a tremendous clarification of where energy-waste is taking place in my life.

When we’ve actually stopped and sat with this marriage, this profession, this way of life, and looked it in the eye, we may come to a sense of, “You know what? This is not true to me.” Or we may come to a sense of, “Yes, yes, yes, this is my marriage, difficult as it is sometimes; yes. Yes, I am the mother of my son, strange as that may be. Yes. As for acupuncture: Yes, this is what I want to do, with all that it implies.” When we are able to say yes to something from that bottom line, it is a fierce and vital yes. Yes. Yes, this is mine. This is my walk. Yes. This is mine to do. That feeling of “this is mine to do” is where revitalization happens. Yes, this is my life, my heart path, my destiny nature.

man-playing-saxThere’s a deep vitality that comes only from having gone all the way down, in that silence and stillness and ability to stop, in order to find the vital “yes” to my own nature and the life that springs forth from it.

I’ll call it love, but it’s that deep “light in the dark” love. It’s love of life, but it’s not necessarily love of what you happen to be going through right now. That may be crap. But especially if what you happen to be going through right now is crap, the ability to live with vitality comes from knowing that yes, this is my life. Yes. Yes.

Having found this yes, it moves through our entire system, through all the layers of our being… it doesn’t live just in our depths; it becomes part of how we process, part of how we adapt. There are other processes; there are other layers. The Vital Yes makes its way all the way to the surface, where winter becomes spring, and a whole new world comes forth.

Want to join the discussion? Find the Perennial Medicine listserv here.

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March 23, 2020


How to Become a Reassurance Expert, on a Me-First Basis

Whew! When those around us are in fear, how can we be most in service to them?

Heroic emotional rescue is exhausting—we may not have it in us to support others when we ourselves are tired, and possibly just as afraid. We need a me-first way of healing, so that we feel better, too, even as we support others.

boulder-on-shoreTeachings from the Water element can give us what we need, to stand like a lighthouse in the storm of strong emotions. These are practices that affect the body, mind, and spirit, and what’s best about them is that you don’t have to master them in order to receive significant benefit. They all work according to what I call The Law of Half-Assed Three Percent—meaning, you don’t have to be perfect. You don’t even have to be good at this. You just need to accomplish a half-assed three percent attempt, and clinical benefits will start to accrue in your body, mind, and spirit. Of course, more is better, but often it starts with just three percent and builds from there.

So what can we do, to practice health in the midst of fear, and bring reassurance to others on a me-first basis? Remember, reassurance does not mean denying the unknown or hiding from potential dangers. It means connecting to our deepest resources so that we can assess our circumstances with wisdom, and respond from deep insight.

For a more theoretical understanding of the transformation from Fear to Wisdom, see last week’s blog. Here, we are going to go over more closely the actual mechanics of the body-felt shift called reassurance—in ourselves first, so that we can offer it to others.

It All Begins with Breathing

man-on-rockEvery time anyone tells me to breathe more deeply and slowly, I get so annoyed. I don’t want to! I always feel initially resistant to this amazingly simple piece of advice, and yet it really does make a difference. I have come to suspect that my resistance is precisely because it is so powerful. It is akin to a small ego-death, to allow my deeper slower breathing to dissipate the momentum of freaking out.

Give it a try right now. Take a deep breath. Now take another, slower. Continue, slowly.

Can you feel the part of you that is fighting it all the way, that wants to forget about breathing and go back to defending your stress-state? I really doubt that I am the only person like this, who on some level does, but on another level really doesn’t want to calm down.

If you are not prone to fighting calm, good for you. If you are prone to resisting some of your own best efforts, welcome to sheepish awareness of the ways that emotions self-perpetuate.

Fear especially can jump up and down inside of us, shouting, “I AM VERY IMPORTANT! FEAR IS THE ONLY THING THAT WILL KEEP YOU SAFE.”

This is false. Any martial artist knows this. Alert calm is much safer, and breathing pro-actively is the first step in ramping down the momentum of unrooting, ungrounding fear in our bodies.

Don’t worry if it only helps a little. Keep breathing deeply and slowly into your low belly. Do not listen to the voices that tell you it’s not going to work, it’s not working, it’s not worth trying. These voices are not from the heart, and they are not your friends. In fact, that is our next topic: healthy and unhealthy voices of fear.

Inner Fear Voices

alligator-crossingOne of the most important practices that we can take on during uncertain times, after starting to breathe more slowly and deeply into our low belly, is vetting our inner fear voices.

We all have many voices inside of us, telling us, “Don’t do this,” or “Oh you’d better do that.” Some of us hear them as clearly as spoken words; for others, they feel more like an impulse or a hunch.

It is important to discern between the voices of health inside of us and voices that are not healthy. People who have overcome addictions, or learned anger management, have learned which voices inside them are coming from health; and which are important just to recognize, and then let go.

Our breathing can be a very good litmus test for healthy or unhealthy fear voices. If a fear-voice inside of you is making you breathe more shallowly and quickly, and it feels as though it is pulling you upward, out of your feet, that is not a voice of healthy fear! That is anxiety, which is useless. You can tell that voice, “Thank you for sharing,” and then dismiss it.

Don’t worry if it comes right back. Thank it for sharing it again, and dismiss it again.

If, as you listen to the voice, it brings you into deeper breathing, with a greater feeling of weight as you connect with the ground, that is a healthier fear voice.

Note that sometimes, our healthy and unhealthy fear voices are saying the exact same thing! Follow only the healthy fear voice anyway—because it is better for your body, and because where it leads next may not be the same at all.

Stand with Weight

tree-rootsUnhealthy fear uproots us, propelling us into unhealthy actions and decisions. This is why remaining rooted is important. This is why we are breathing into the low belly, and why we are staying in touch with our feet. Check right now, do your feet seem very far away? If so, that is s sign that you are in your head. It’s time to begin settling. Let’s do it together.

Please stand as you read this. As you breathe into your low belly, see if you can allow your full weight to settle, like a big boulder in a field that no one would even think of trying to move because it is so heavy.

person-standing-in-grassLet your feet rest firmly on the ground with weight equally distributed on both the back and the front of your feet (toes and heels). This is very important for calming the nervous system in times of fear. Putting our weight on the front of the feet is the position for movement and action; if we do this when there is no action to take, or while we are still considering the healthy course of action, this will just cause useless anxiety. Giving more weight to the heels is the position for stability and rest.

Also notice: are your knees unlocked, so that your pelvis is solidly supported? Many people unconsciously lock their knees, making it very difficult to be rooted and grounded.

Sinking into the pelvis, and empowering the pelvis, is essential. One of my favorite ways to do this is to pretend that you are wearing a utility belt with a lot of tools on it. You don’t even need to know what they all are—they are your as-yet-undiscovered resources. Who knows what amazing tools you’ve got on your utility belt?

man-standingConsider practicing with an actual utility belt. I’m not kidding; I’ve suggested this to many people who were having anxiety and lack of confidence, and it can be life-changing. Buy or create a make-shift tool belt, and walk around the house wearing it. Hang a bunch of “tools” on it—it doesn’t matter what they are—kitchen stuff, whatever. The feeling of the weighted utility belt on the hips, sinking the pelvis, changes a person’s posture in a very specific way. Some studies have actually shown that this postural change raises testosterone levels. Walking as though wearing a tool belt really tonifies a person’s Water element, and helps transform fear to wisdom (also translated as “basic life know-how”). Try it.

And pass it on! Many of us have family members or other loved ones who are seeking reassurance and support at this time. If you are with someone else, it is helpful to imagine yourself and the person to whom you are talking as being heavy enough to have settled at the bottom of the ocean together. The utility belt is like a diver’s belt, allowing us to drop and settle.

Sitting with Weight

We can keep our utility belt on when we sit and sit with weight. Have a seat right now, and check: How tense is your butt? Let it go, at least three percent, and maybe much more. How much tension do you really need in all of the muscles in your whole body, in order to stay in your chair? How much can you truly delegate to the chair itself, and allow yourself to be supported? Are your feet in contact with the floor, drawing strength from it and resting in deep stability?

woman-sitting-on-logWhen sitting, don’t cross your legs! Be aware that your feet and other people’s feet have “tree roots,” and are communicating through these roots that go deep into our common ground. This awareness is an important part of creating a sense of security in our connection with others, even when we are alone—perhaps especially when we are alone. When our roots are connected, then even when we are alone we are not isolated—we are connected to the shared roots of life.

Keeping our feet on the ground will not remove all anxiety from our lives, but it will allow it to release and prevent the tension that builds up in the pelvis when our legs are crossed. From an electrical perspective, extra electrical charge is held by the Bladder meridian, which grounds through the heels. Keeping your heels on the ground allows this extra electrical energy, often generated by fear, to flow into the ground. Consciously allowing that “buzz” to drain out through our heels is very helpful—and remember, even if it is only a three percent reduction of buzz, that’s worth it. Over time, even a small difference makes a big difference for our health.

Helping Others to Settle

figure-meditating-beachOne of the best things about the Me-First School of Global Healing is that it is so motivating for my own health-care. As I sit here alone in my living room, I am deep in practice for the sake of everyone that I love, and even people that I don’t know yet. Every time I catch myself turning into a flustering, clucking Anxiety Chicken, I come back to my practices as an act of love for the whole community. This feels good!

May you find and share unexpected wisdom during these times of great unknown.

Find part three of the series here, The Power of Stopping.

Want to join the discussion? Find the Perennial Medicine listserv here.

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March 16, 2020


Water Transformation of Virtue:
Fear (Kong) to Wisdom (Zhi)

In Chinese medicine, there are Five Elements, each with a particular capacity for emotional disturbance. The Water element’s emotional disturbance is fear. Each element also has a virtue that is developed when we bring that emotion back in service to the Heart. Water’s returning to the Heart is called the Transformation of Virtue from Fear to Wisdom, via reassurance.

What is fear, what is wisdom, what is reassurance? They are physical states, and thus to understand them, we need to work through the body.

Fear (Kong) 恐

sharkFear is the acute awareness of the unknown in its rawest state. People who do not have a significant Water element tend to ignore what they don’t know: “Hey if I don’t know, it doesn’t matter.” When we don’t think about what we don’t know, how much easier it is to get to sleep at night! But it is not as easy to acquire the subtlety of wisdom.

A person who has strong Water in their constitution often can’t help but be aware, all the time, of just how much they don’t know. Where is your family? How are they? What is going on in your spleen? Anything mutating lately? We don’t even know what’s going on in our own bodies! We don’t know what’s going on in our best friend’s mind. There are so many areas of unknown. It is important, and we don’t know.

A Water person can’t help but be aware of that critical unknown. When it is felt in the body, this awareness is called Fear: a gut feeling of being quite aware of how much I don’t know—especially what I do not know that really matters to my health, to my safety, and to my peace of mind. The emotion of Fear (or bodily-felt awareness of the unknown) is what opens the door to the Transformation of Virtue for the Water element: a journey from Fear to Wisdom.

jellyfishFear is the entry-level of the awareness of the mystery—usually the most physiologically disadvantaged version of awareness of the mystery. How fear manifests can be incredibly various, and these manifestations give rise to the various disharmonies of the Water element. There’s a jibbering agitated kind of fear, and there’s the elevator shaft of doom kind of fear. There’s quivering jellyfish, there’s frozen, there’s peeing on the floor. I can get all revved up and say, “Oh my gosh, I have to be incredibly smart, incredibly clever, and never be caught without my utility belt on so that no matter what the universe throws my way, I will have a tool for it.” This kind of fear keeps us in turbo-overdrive. Attempting to reach an unattainable certainty, we never rest, and develop yin-deficient patterns of disharmony.

A more “collapsing” fear can lead to a sense of deep dark emptiness: “I’m doomed, I’m doomed, doomed!” But notice, even ‘doom’ is an attempt to escape the unknown. Doom gives us a sense of certainty. Feeling like ‘I’m doomed’ can, paradoxically, be a relief, because it’s an escape from the endless uncertainty. Being doomed, you don’t have to wonder about all the unknown possibilities… But it is a form of fear that leads to immobilization, usually in the form of sinking, collapsing, not even trying, or being frozen. These are the yang-deficient patterns of disharmony.

What all the different kinds of fear have in common is a relationship to the mystery (all that we don’t know) that can impact our health very, very badly, and there are many kinds of fear. In Chinese medicine, we refer to them as different patterns of disharmony. All kinds of fear can make us ill. All kinds of fear could lead to virtue when brought in service to the Heart, at which point fear becomes a path to wisdom. It’s not what kind of fear that matters. It’s what direction the fear is facing: towards the heart, towards itself, or spiraling out into the darkness.

Wisdom (Zhi) 智

turtle-underwaterPotentially, our awareness of the mystery brings us into progressive empowerment, rather than exhausting us. Only those who have awareness of the unknown are capable of the journey into the sustained awe that leads to wisdom. Wisdom is not knowledge. Wisdom is not data. Wisdom is not a smarty-boots thing. The Tao Te Ching says: “Every day in the pursuit of knowledge, something is added. Every day in the pursuit of Tao, something is let go.” Wisdom requires a journey of listening to the silence, in the darkness, with Heart.


In the Five Element tradition, how we aid the transformation from Fear to Wisdom is by giving reassurance. Reassurance is not saying, “Oh, it will be alright.” That is a symptomatic treatment for fear.

close-up-of-waterFor example: sometimes before teaching a class, I feel fear. I think to myself, How did I get myself into this? What made me think I could teach this class? If I voice that out loud to others, they usually say “Oh, you’ll do great!” or some other such utterly meaningless and unhelpful utterance. I think to myself, Yeah, giving that kind of reassurance will help you sleep better at night. It doesn’t do a thing for me. I call this response “symptomatic” because it’s another way of saying, “Oh, don’t face the unknown; never mind the path to wisdom. Just ignore the unknown; then you’ll feel fine.”

Maybe that symptomatic approach works for a moment. If you’re convincing enough, authoritative enough, sound enough like God, with a deep booming resonant Water voice, you may erase the mystery and give the person whom you are “reassuring” a sense of certainty, just for a moment. But it won’t last.

Reasoning with the fear, saying to yourself and others things like “It’ll be okay, you’ll see” or “Trust your karma” or “You just need to learn to trust” is worse than useless. What is needed is a physiological shift, not a mental shift. A person can change the inner narrative in their head, but that’s like changing the lyrics to the song without changing the music. If I’m not changing the feeling inside me that’s humming like a refrigerator because my adrenals won’t stop trembling in the dark, then the change of inner narrative hasn’t actually helped. Our intent, on a me-first basis, is to invite a shift from physiologically harmful ways of having emotions to physiologically beneficial ways of having those same emotions. Not by denying our feelings, and not by talking ourselves out of them.

jellyfishBecause often, we don’t have that luxury. We can’t ignore how much we don’t know; it is still impacting us, and others. When the waters of fear are rising all around us, we all need to learn to give only real reassurance, on a “me-first” basis. Even if you are not practiced at this, you’ve got that capacity, and you will feel so much better when you begin to use it.

Reassurance means helping people who are experiencing fear to get comfortable with not knowing, so they can stay right there in the dark and listen. It’s not about sitting tensely in the dark going “What was that?” but staying in the dark until we become adapted to it. Then we begin to navigate the dark like a native of the night, moving through the shadows with much greater ease.

Many of us have had the experience of having the lights suddenly go off, and we can’t see a thing—until we just quietly stand there for a while. The more I’m not fighting the darkness, the more I’m relaxing into the darkness, the more I am at home in the darkness, and the more I find my way around in the darkness. Things gradually show themselves to us in the dark when we are willing to spend time there.

blue-blurIf we sit in the darkness with Heart (which is very different than sitting there in Loss of Heart), something slowly begins to emerge out of the dark that comes without any definitive sense of having the answer, but with a sense of having identified something that feels right for us. We know that this is the next step on our path, even if we do not know exactly where we are headed.

The function of reassurance is this: to offer support to the act of faith required to sit in the dark until we are equally aware of what we know and what we don’t know.

What do we need to do, and how do we need to be in our bodies, to reassure? First of all, it’s not primarily about what we actually say to a person. The words that accompany the message may be useful for the mind, but what I want to see is a shift in people’s bodies.

Communicating reassurance has a lot to do with settling low in the body; into the pelvis, because as we sit, physically the pelvis is our foundation. Our bones are also an important part of our foundation. They are the heaviest part of our body.

grey-fish-swimmingTo communicate reassurance with body language, we need to settle into our chair with full weight, with a sense of physical density; really give your chair a lot of you to hold up! Let your pelvis be heavy and full like a bowling ball. Let it be wide like the base of a pyramid. Sit as though at the bottom of the fish tank, or the bedrock at the bottom of the ocean, making the dark an acceptable place to be.

We settle and root in our foundations, so as to be able to start working from the place that is infinite. What I don’t know is infinite. What I don’t know will always be infinite! There’s no changing that… Accepting that, can I sit at the bottom of the ocean, welcoming what I don’t know? And through my sitting so solidly in the dark at the bottom of the ocean, can I communicate to the client the solidness of the chair, the solidness of what is contained within us, here at the bottom line or foundation of our being?

bubbles-underwaterThe voice of reassurance sinks down; the sound is a groan, but it’s a powerful groan, the groan of the bottom of the ocean. It’s the groan of the silence that contains all noise, a kind of deep, holding sound. And then, whatever it is that we’re saying (to ourselves or to someone else), what we’re really saying is: there’s an entire ocean of Tao supporting you. Just as this chair that I am sitting in now is supporting me, and just as the place that you are seated is supporting you, we are supported by Tao. The unknown that you sit in the midst of is your resource, and what is inside of you—much of which is unknown—is your other resource. With our voice and body language, we are conveying the message: There is bedrock at the bottom of this ocean; you will not drown in your life.

We are always functioning with that balance of known and unknown. The unknown may be everything outside of us, and even part of what’s inside of us. But there’s also, when we really settle, a felt sense of the life in our own bones, whispering to us.

As an offering for the healing of fear, reassurance sounds the note of a new possibility: the possibility that the bottom will hold. The possibility that the unknown is a resource that bears us forward. Perhaps the unknown may contain something that could hurt us; but it also holds us. And within the unknown, there is what I do know: that I am.

Listen—what do you hear in the silence?

Find part two of the series here, How to Become a Reassurance Expert on a Me-First Basis.

Want to join the discussion? Find the Perennial Medicine listserv here.

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March 3, 2020

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.

Want to join the discussion? Find the Perennial Medicine listserv here.

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February 22, 2020

woman in nest

I’m white.
Racism doesn’t affect me, does it?

I’m going to take a moment to write about a fairly new venture of mine, which I’ve been calling Whole Heart Whiteness. It has arisen in the context of the work I’ve been doing in Baltimore (and soon also in NYC) around healing interracial injury and pain. Most of that work, by invitation, has been with people of color. Now I am realizing how important it is for me to be taking this vital and life-giving work back to white-skinned people.

Whole Heart Whiteness—a version of Whole Heart Connection especially for white-skinned people—is an opportunity to learn body-based skills and practices that allow us to explore important conversations about racism in a healing and generative way.

One of the biggest challenges that white-skinned people usually face in engaging such a difficult and painful topic as racism is that we expect it to be painful. Often we brace ourselves—we get ready for the blow. No matter what your skin color, notice if there is any bracing in your body right now as you read this post. It’s not bad, it’s not wrong—don’t judge it, and especially don’t disconnect from it. Be compassionate with yourself, so that you can begin to settle into heart space.

One of the most important tasks facing us as we engage to end racism is that we need to take some time to create a healing context before we even get into difficult subjects—so that we can engage the situation with our most brilliant and healthy selves.

NASA Earth Rising Over Moon

It starts with making ourselves at home. What does it mean, what does it take, to make ourselves at home together, or even on the planet at all?

We all have different backgrounds, different stories of how we got here. Whether we are immigrants, whether we are refugees, whether we were taken on slave ships, whether we invaded or were invaded, we are a collection of people not feeling at home.

On a very intelligent website called White Awake, there is a linked article about Qallunology, the study of non-indigenous people—their characteristics, habits and cultural patterns. Check it out when you finish this post!

The word “qallunology” is from an Inuit word “qallunaaq” or plural “qallunaat.” A qallunaaq is anyone living non-indigenously. There are many predictable patterns in non-indigenous cultures. They have many predictable characteristics and qualities in common.

Human Diversity

The word “qallunaaq” is not a skin color thing, though loosely it means a white person. There are (a few) white-skinned people who are actually living indigenously and thus not considered to be qallunaat, and people of many colors who are not living indigenously, who are therefore considered qallunaat.

Why is this a useful word? In the same way that speaking explicitly about whiteness helps us realize that we are not generic—only some of us are white—just so, identifying that we are living non-indigenously as part of a non-indigenous culture allows a startling view of what else is possible: “Oh, I’ve been living non-indigenously!” This new awareness opens up a doorway to what we already know inside: “Oh, I could be living indigenously in my own life, in my own body.”

Slatted Wood Pathway

Would you like to take a few first steps together in that direction? It begins with making ourselves at home in our native country, which is our own body. Whole Heart Whiteness starts here, with the experience of home-coming inside of ourselves—and so does Whole Heart Connection for People of Color.

What I discovered while working with people of color to unlearn racism is that so many white people have no idea what they’re missing out on—like for example truly learning what it feels to be at home in ourselves, before even attempting to create home together.

This is one small example of the many different levels of body awareness that are facilitated in Whole Heart Whiteness work and Whole Heart Connection for People of Color. There is so much long-awaited healing that is waiting to be awakened in us. It is crucially and joyously important for us to start learning to make ourselves at home in our own bodies—in order to be competent to engage vitally important subjects like racism.

There are no less than four different WHC classes coming up in the next few months. One is an intro for everyone, and the others are caucused for people of color or white-skinned people healing interracial injury and pain. I am so passionate about the healing that is already coming out of this work; you’ll hear more about it from me in future posts.

Find the White Awake article on Qallunology here.

Want to join the discussion? Find the Perennial Medicine listserv here.

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February 13, 2020

Middle-Aged White Woman

Teaching Asian Medicine

Is it cultural appropriation for Westerners to practice Chinese medicine? How about Westerners teaching Chinese medicine? How about innovating new practices, new perspectives, new Western adaptations or sub-modalities that owe their origins to Chinese medicine?

These are important questions, and they must be ongoing questions. It seems likely that the short answer is that yes, this is cultural appropriation—but then, having made this determination, what is our next step? Surely it is not for all Westerners to stop receiving, practicing, and sharing Chinese medicine. How do we engage that which our culture did not create in a way that is respectful and generative, as a gift rather than a theft?

There are many pathways to explore in this conversation and the most important consideration is that we have begun the conversation at all, rather than taking it for granted.

Below is an article that pertains to these questions. The article is an adapted transcript from an introduction to my Whole Heart Acupuncture series.

Click here for more about the upcoming WHA series

Click here to listen to this post and other posts relevant to WHA as audio

Whole Heart Acupuncture

Welcome to Whole Heart Acupuncture. I don’t think it’s possible to talk about Whole Heart Acupuncture without saying something about the dialectical process that, in Five Element Theory, is recognized as the domain of the Wood Element. In order to understand the dialectical process and the Wood Element, let’s consider the number three, which is the number associated with the Wood Element. The number three is also associated with vision, which is appropriate because this is a visionary attempt.

Close one of your eyes, if you would, right now as you look at these words. Just look with one eye, and then—without moving your head—switch to the other eye. Then switch back. Try it again a few times. Go back and forth between one eye and the other, just often enough to get a sense of how they’re different. Because they are a little different, right? They’re not exactly the same. You’ve got these two different frames, from the two different eyes. Which one of them is correct?

Vision has a particular meaning in Five Element Theory, as part of the Wood Element. We can have sight with one eye, but it takes two eyes to have vision. When there is more than one eye, something amazing happens. We have something called perspective. We have depth perception.

Why? Because this eye sees it this way because it’s here. And this other eye sees it this other way because it’s there. This-eye-here can’t see the view from there, and this-eye-there can’t see the view from here.

The location of the eye gives rise to the view. That view is the sight from one eye: “This is what I see from where I stand.” But vision requires another eye saying, “I am standing over here—and this is what I see from over here.”

I am one eye, standing here. Any other eye, by virtue of standing somewhere else, will see the same creation from a different angle, and therefore see something different. That’s why vision is associated with the number three. There’s my view from where I stand—and that’s one. There’s your view from where you stand—and that’s another one. When they are brought together, what arises is a crazy dynamic dance, a wild creative flow that generates depth perception, perspective, and the creation of a new capacity to see in a visionary way that neither eye alone could see. That’s the new “one” that arises from the two different eyes.

We can go to war over our different views, or we can have a new collaborative creation. It’s exciting. It’s a challenge. It’s also exactly what it takes for me to have the nerve to teach a course on acupuncture.

I do a lot of thinking about what it means to be a middle-aged Western white woman who has been studying Asian medicine for more than 30 years now. It’s been 33 years, so I’m not a complete stranger to this work. But I grew up in the United States of America, so I am saturated with a viewpoint that is not Asian. I have done my best to incorporate an Asian viewpoint in my understanding of this medicine, to learn to see from the other eye, but this will never be more than partial. The first step is for me to acknowledge that partiality, to be aware of my own eye. This makes it possible to engage with the humility and the rightful ownership of making a contribution to a collaborative process.

In simpler terms: I cannot claim to represent an Asian viewpoint. I also cannot claim, about what I’m teaching, “Oh yeah I came up with this myself!” I must give credit to the sources. It would be arrogant for me to claim indigenous viewpoint in my teaching. It would be equally arrogant not to claim over-the-top levels of indebtedness to the origins; that would be pure cultural appropriation. How to engage that line in a creative and life-affirming way, so that in no way do I deny that this is a middle-aged white woman from America talking right now?

The value of this two-eyed awareness is that the moment I say, “I am a Westerner,” I am claiming this as heritage, resource, and responsibility. It frees me to say, “In the presence of knowing that this eye is a Westerner’s eye, I make room for another eye—for its legitimacy, and for it to take up 50% of the dialogue, neither to dominate nor to be dominated. The minute I say “middle-aged white woman” I make room for “not white not woman not middle-aged” by claiming what I am as a point of contrast.

I ask that for all of us, for whatever relationship it is that we have to this medicine, whatever our particular heritage, whatever our particular place of standing right now, to acknowledge openly: this is where we stand; this is where our eye is looking from. We are learning about something that is the result of many, many collaborations, many, many people learning from their elders, who took from various traditions, and then said, “Okay from where I stand, here’s what I bring to that collaborative mix.” Over time, the vision is changed, and the vision is changed, and the vision is changed and changed again.

That’s my introduction to the two-eyed dialectic that this course is all about: An invitation not to be dominated by the material (I am nothing; I have to do everything just as I have been taught), nor to appropriate arrogantly (Who cares what they did with it. I’m doing this with it, and I’ll call it whatever I want).

With or without our inevitable evolutions, it’s hard to know what to call it anymore. Even what we called, “Chinese medicine” is not really entirely Chinese medicine. It’s collaborative East Asian medicine. It’s human medicine that owes tremendous debts to the Asians who did the heavy lifting to work this out. Then a bunch of us Westerners came along and said, “Wow! That is so cool! Can we get in that sandbox and play too? Can we play fair and nice with the toys, not steal, and not bonk each other on the head?”

What you’re going to be getting in Whole Heart Acupuncture is the view from where I stand. My hope is that, at all times, you will never believe a word that I say is true—that you will instead say, “Wow! That’s how it looks from where Thea Elijah stands. Will I take that as the word from the other eye? Does it open my eye? Does it call my eye to a different witnessing, to a different noticing?” This inevitably leads to something new being created.

So, that’s what this middle-aged Western white woman is doing, teaching something that she calls Whole Heart Acupuncture.

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