Usually when someone comes to me for acupuncture, I’m not their first stop for help. They’ve tried their doctor, perhaps a specialist, maybe physical therapy, various medications – and they haven’t been happy with the results. Maybe the meds make it hard to function. Maybe the pain is lingering far longer than they’d expected – or hoped. Certainly most feel they’ve had the problem for far too long, and most know very little about acupuncture and how it works.
They come with the expectation that acupuncture (surely, this time, this new thing) will be the thing that will help them. (They’re not alone in thinking this, btw. I think it, too.) They are looking for a cure, and who could blame them? We never deserve the things that happen to us that knock us so out of balance. The tragedy is that we think it is something outside of us that will make all the difference, will cure us.
There’s a vast difference between ‘curing’ and ‘healing’. Broadly speaking, ‘curing’ would mean getting rid of unwanted issues forever. Immobilizing a broken bone until it has set and finished knitting is an example. At it’s best, it’s seen as a linear progression from Point A to Point B. In reality, I believe, there is no such thing as ‘cure’.
‘Healing’, however, can be less direct, less straightforward, a process that is often broader and deeper than ‘cure’. It involves every part of us, all the things we’ve experienced, all the choices we’ve made to the present, all of what makes us who we are, and offers a doorway to the infinite choices and experiences of the future. We are solely in charge of where we go. If we are not happy where we are, we choose people we think will help us, to walk with us as we heal. Sometimes the outcome of healing is not what we expect. We may not be cured of dying, for example, but we may experience tremendous healing as we prepare to die.
We often hear of the placebo effect in research trials. An astonishing percentage (I think 30%, but it probably depends on the study) of people who are given a sugar pill get better, and scientists attribute that to the powerful belief by the patient that they will benefit from the ‘medication’.
There’s another phenomenon that scientists are studying called the ‘nocebo effect’: medications that appear to bring harm to a percentage of people because the patients believe that there’s something about the med that is not beneficial to them.
In both cases, I think, we are seeing the power of the mind and spirit to work toward our own restoration of health. Isn’t it possible, in the case of the so-called placebo effect, that we have found a tool that provides, like a key in a lock, access to our inner strength and knowing that helps us get better? And isn’t it possible that, in the case of the nocebo effect, we reject, on a deep and unknowing level, a medication because we believe it will hurt us – and so it doesn’t work?
I can’t tell you the number of people I see who are in extreme pain, desperately wanting relief, who believe their only hope is a medication they don’t want to take. How can it possibly work for them? If you believe something will harm you (and this includes food, btw, but that’s another blog), you are in conflict with yourself. If you continue to do what you believe will hurt you, at the very least it will not help.
I had a teacher who once told our class ‘We could live on Twinkies if we believed they were good for us’. I love saying this to people and watching their first reaction – at which point I can say ‘You should never eat a Twinkie. You believe it is bad for you, and so it will be.’
Whatever you choose to help you on your journey, make sure it is one that you believe, whole-heartedly, will help you. Under no circumstances should you do something that you think will hurt you. Doing painful things does not build character, it will only leave some inner bitterness and pain that eventually will find it’s way to your outer life.
I believe that we are designed to live healthy and active lives, without decline, until we die. I believe we are constantly adjusting and restoring balance all the time. The problem happens when our resources are stretched too thin for us to recover from some event on our own. It’s like those weighted punching bags we had when I was a child. You could hit them and they’d bounce back upright, every time, until they began to lose air, and then eventually they stayed down until they get more resources – someone blew air into them, filled them up.
(And isn’t it amazing that scientific research is showing that we get cancer all the time, and resolve it all on our own?)
I see acupuncture as a practical, tangible tool (one of many) to guide processes in the bodymindspirit to return to balance. Every point has a job function, and every point has a spirit – meaning it is a doorway to deeper transformation. If I’m doing my job right, the points I choose and the action suggested by them resonate with my patients, and change happens. It’s like I’m saying ‘How about this door for you, would you like to step through, use the tools over there to help you?’ If that means something, the patient steps through. If the suggestion leaves them cold, nothing changes – in an obvious way, at least.
In any case the needle is a tool of the Divine, a way to clear the confusion so that we can find our own way back to health. My job is to simply place the needle that will help unlock an insight that the patient uses toward her own recovery.
We are powerful far, far beyond what we believe – once we knew this to be true and we have forgotten. There are almost an infinite number of tools and paths that help us restore ourselves to ourselves, and we will pick them up and put them down, walk this way until we turn left, all through our lives. The Chinese talked of the Nine Palaces, places we choose to visit and explore in life as ways of personal cultivation. Any and all of them serve us. Isn’t it wonderful that there are so many playful paths to follow, and so many challenging ones, and so many others in between? They all lead us to the same place, in the end – and not only do we get to choose, we are always choosing.
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