Thoughts From Our Practitioners

Example of the beauty to be experienced through Traditional Acupuncture

GREAT BELL by Michael Phillips

In the mid-1980s, I had the privilege of studying with a Jesuit priest who was perhaps the most embodied example of a Taoist I had met up till then. Father Claude Larre had been asked to translate classical Chinese medical texts into Vietnamese by local physicians. His native language was French. And he explained all this to me in English.

I think one of the gifts he offered from the stew pot of different languages, cultures and time periods was permission to utilize one’s intuition and experience in translating from the pictographic texts of Ancient China. The elegant, artistic characters suggest subjective understanding rather than a prescribed meaning found in words. The following characters are not the most ancient, but nevertheless serve to illustrate my meaning.

person character This is a character for a person.
person character sky This character suggests a person under the sky or the heavens.
It is up to the reader to intuit the context of the character in relation to what else is written regarding that person. Perhaps it can mean someone is in good spirits. Or that someone is walking under a dark cloud. Or that the mystery of being alive is above our heads. All suggested in the context of one character in relation to another.

Thus, while acupuncture points are most commonly understood in the West to be concerned with physical issues, they are also seen as gateways into the essence of a person. I was taught that there is a continuum that we meet and treat in a person—bodymindspirit—and that we must consider all 3 domains when diagnosing and designing treatment.

I offer this preface by way of expressing that what follows is mostly my own assimilation of insights, others’ teachings and some common sense that applies to the principles of classical Chinese acupuncture.

Let me offer an example with a favorite acupuncture point:

characters great bell Kidney 4 - Great Bell

Kidney 4--Great Bell —is anatomically adjacent to the bell shaped protuberance of the ankle, but metaphorically describes an essential note we are attuned to from birth to death. This image and the point’s location suggest that the steps we take in life are meant to be informed by the unique nature of who we are.

Consider the ongoing wave-like reverberations of a temple bell. Needling this point suggests that a singular vibration resonates within us, aligning us to the mystery we came from, reminding us of our unique note to be expressed and attuned to. Such a note is akin to the idea of genius or djinn, an idea suggesting that we each have a unique gift or quality that, if lived fully, serves us and the world we encounter. The poet William Stafford said it this way:

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

The richness of this idea is enhanced by understanding of the Kidney energetics in acupuncture. The Kidney(s) are related to the water element—the mystery from which life emerges. The depth and the power inherent to water and to each of us. The kidney is said to be a repository (another translation sometimes seen for Bell is Goblet or Chalice) for the ancestral throughline that shapes us--much like DNA at the physical level. But ancestors shaped us with more than physical components. Their lives, their dreams, their challenges, traumas and triumphs also shape the note that is struck on our arrival into consciousness.

character old This is the character for old or ancient.

Underneath, we see a mouth. Above, the number 10. One beautiful aspect of this written language is that it’s on us to alchemize the meaning from these two symbols. Perhaps 10 generations connected by oral history? Ancestors.

So we are on a continuum that threads us from our earliest ancestors to our current life and to our children and beyond. Needling Kidney 4, the Great Bell, can strike the note that aligns us with what’s in our bones, the substance we carry from all those who came before us, as well as our personal, generative power. That can suggest the will to live, to procreate, to keep that thread going, whether through our own progeny or through a legacy that resonates with others.

I hope this example offers something of the richness and beauty of traditional acupuncture!

Update: 2024

May and June are often my favorite months. Comfortable temperature, lower humidity, greenery, blue skies or nourishing rain, birdsong, frog symphonies and lighter clothing, to name just a few gifts. I learned from Chinese philosophy that after the heavens’ manifest gifts to the earth disappear in the autumn, they return resplendent in the spring and early summer offering gifts for us all to savor and finally harvest, share and store in the late summer.

I write this to encourage us all to keep emerging, just as we see new plants come up and out, no matter their surroundings. These past few years have challenged and limited us, as well as strengthened and expanded us, in ways seen and yet to be seen. We have known fear and isolation, discouragement and courage, hope and disappointment. While we may feel that we’ve moved on, we are likely carrying yet to be fully understood consequences of the pandemic and these politically...

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