Poetry in Practice

Once, when a client asked me: “Why did you become an Acupuncturist?” I immediately confessed, “Because I always wanted to be a poet.” A bit enigmatic, perhaps — but it was one of the truest responses I could give.

Indeed, poetry springs from my experience with Qi – the vital force of life itself – and the intricate, quantum cosmology of the natural world that is Chinese Medicine. As I serve my patients, I am called to connect with and to speak about Life’s deepest essence: the invisible currents flowing within and around us; the seasons of the year; cycles of birth, transformation, death and rebirth; blood, bone and breath — throughout time, the subject of bards and poets.

Over more than 2500 years the accumulated wisdom and clinical experience of East Asian (Chinese) Medicine is proving its relevance ever more today. Never having separated the body from the mind and spirit, its consistent message of holism goes far beyond what most Westerners anticipate. Its methods for reawakening and preserving health have the capacity to gradually restore in us an internal harmony so often lost in modern culture – and too often beyond the scope or capability of conventional Western physicians.

The Ancients not only possessed the exceeding clarity to discern the energetic anatomy of meridians and the relationship of organs to each other through palpation of the radial pulse – but also understood the way in which our bodily rhythms flow with the movement of stars in the sky and the seasons of the year. They saw the human being poised between Heaven and Earth, a microcosm of the universe, the meridians flowing through us as streams and rivers course through Mother Earth. Likewise, we have our tremors, our volcanoes, our floods, our sunny days and dark nights, our rainbows.

Clinically, this is significant because a deep understanding of the philosophy and classical energetics of Chinese Medicine enables a masterful practitioner to transmit much more to a client than the mere stimulation of an acu-point. As I guide my needle to the vibrating locus of a point, I am aware of the generations of practitioners who stood at innumerable bedsides, like myself, and focused their entire attention and intention on these same portals of Qi — knowing and calling them by their various names: Gate of Hope, Spirit Storehouse, Gate of Destiny, Greater Mountain Stream, Very Great Abyss, Celestial Connection, Dark Gate, Encircling Glory, Bright and Clear… For just as these inherent characteristics might be eclipsed by trauma or illness, the points provide gateways to our inner landscape and the very foundation of healing. As this happens, my patients often experience not only the natural sensations of acupuncture, but frequently feel emotions or old recollections come to the surface and then whoosh – they shift, and may clear like clouds… their dysfunctional patterns have the opportunity to re-configure, and life shows up differently: better.

In other words, there is much more to Acupuncture than the insertion of a needle. It is not a procedure – but a process of coming to life more completely, of moving with Nature to restore harmony and wholeness and the ability of the spirit to soar. This is the traditional way, sometimes called the “inner tradition” of Chinese Medicine. We are taught that it is the highest caliber of care a doctor can provide – and that this level of practice will elude the doctor who is insufficiently “awake” in their own being.

For the patient, each treatment session provides an opportunity to be seen fully, a way to come home to oneself and one’s higher capacities. Health becomes more than a passing grade on laboratory tests, and is demonstrated as the ability to develop healthy expressions of virtue —  propriety, benevolence, deep listening, respect, reciprocity, compassion. This provides a higher order of healing, even while attending to the mundane issues that also arise.

Symptoms, customarily viewed as disparate pathologies in allopathic (Western) medicine are seen through the Eastern lens as signs that together point to distinct “patterns of disharmony” in an individual. The discordant chaos this produces may become pervasive, as we find in chronic disease, and over time can create predictable effects in the body, mind, emotions and spirit.  Signs and symptoms not typically considered relevant to an allopathic physician may be valuable clues to me:  a person’s craving for certain tastes, the content of dreams, features of the tongue or abdomen, persistent habits, the sound of the voice, unique or strange perceptions, emotional tone, and more.

Just as poetry captures the essence of an experience through an assemblage of words, the puzzle pieces of a diagnosis and treatment plan assemble in my heart and mind as a unified picture — and become a way to speak to the chaos and lead it back to balance, to Oneness.

I know that healing is occurring when my client begins to see him/herself anew — when the bewilderment of illness shifts toward discovery of the meaning behind the experience of dis-ease — engendering a quality of comfort or peace, regardless of the condition of the body. As I apply my skills to what I perceive at the root of the disorder, while doing what I can to ease suffering, I assist the patient in seeing that they are whole and complete, at every stage of the journey. It is not just a treatment: it is an act of love.

I encourage you to explore this new way of thinking and seeing our human experience. I invite you to utilize its healing wisdom for preventive care and personal growth, as well as for illness and crisis. May your discoveries bring you closer – each day – to the poetry of life.

This piece was adapted from one I wrote in 1999, which appeared in “The Comprehensive Guide to Alternative Healing,” Tucson, AZ. After an additional twenty-five or so years of practice, I wouldn’t say it much differently!   ~CA