Evolving Through Change: Acupuncture as Spirit Medicine
The process of change or “evolution” requires several steps. It’s common to feel “stuck” or “lost” within this process. To change or evolve asks us to let go of the past, including relationships, behaviors, thought patterns, as well as aspects of ourselves we’ve become used to or bonded with. The need to evolve, or the catalyst to do so can come from within, yet it often comes from outside of us by way of changing circumstance, some of which can be shocking and painful.
The difficulties inherent with evolution can often be alleviated or managed through working with a healer or guide. Some healers, myself included, specialize in helping people move through the stages of their lives. Even though we may treat a multitude of physical, mental and emotional symptoms, the essence of our treatments focus on the evolutionary process. Acupuncture as I practice it for example is always rooted in spirit. Whether we are working on symptoms such as low back pain, digestive problems, anxiety, depression, menstrual irregularity, infertility or any other physical problem, it is through honoring the spiritual growth of the person that the true deep healing occurs.
Acupuncture was classically seen as a navigational aid. The core textbook for acupuncture, written in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) was titled the “Spiritual Compass” (Ling Shu). Rooted in acupuncture treatment is the ability to guide a person through spiritual trials that occur within their human evolution. Beyond merely alleviating pain (a treatment in which acupuncture excels), acupuncture helps adjust the mind and emotions so we can move through the changes in our lives in a more smooth, elegant and ideally less painful fashion.
The pandemic and its fallout has left many people feeling anxious, alienated and traumatized. Depression has become a major problem the past two years. Many people, finding their lives drastically altered due to current circumstances have expressed difficulty adjusting, unable to get their lives “back on track.” Many lack the will or the energy to rebuild what has been broken or altered. Or they remain afraid, anxious and distrustful. Some people have expressed feeling almost “paralyzed,” unable to make decisions or take actions to improve their lives.
I think it is safe to say all of us have gone through a collective trauma. Our lives have been so drastically altered and interrupted. Many of us are experiencing PTSD symptoms, some of which are only now revealing themselves. In addition to the collective trauma, most of us have had personal challenges from the fallout of the pandemic. Relationships have fallen apart, jobs have been lost, incomes altered. This is in addition to the loss of life and health some of us have also suffered.
Throughout the pandemic I was surprised to note that I felt mostly ok. I didn’t seem to fall into fear or despair like many of those around me. I felt the need to remain strong for those around me. However, this year following the worst of the crisis, as the world has reopened, I realized I’d fallen into a depression. As I noticed with many people around me, I was finding it difficult to resume my life. I lacked the passion, energy and enthusiasm I used to have. Generating abundance wasn’t as easy as it was pre-pandemic. I seemed to be myself in a state of PTSD and mild paralysis. I was also having disturbance to my sleep and a lot of difficulty with some of the endings in my life. For the first time in several years I found myself unable to fully move on, into the next stage of my journey.
I realized, even though I am a healer I needed to ask for help. I know full well that difficult times bring lessons and spiritual cultivation. But I also know that we often need help digesting the lessons. A boost of energy to fuel the willpower is often necessary in challenging times of change. For this assistance I decided I needed to reconnect with my original mentor: the woman who originally sparked by desire to become an acupuncturist. A woman we used to affectionately call “the dragon.”
During my first re-visit to the dragon (15 years after last working with her!), she activated two acupuncture points that I know very well. Yet these points had a special resonance with my spirit during this visit, awakening a deeper understanding and relationship with them.
The two acupuncture points given to me by “the dragon” were located on the palm of my hand. They are both known as “palace” points, described to be “places of residence” where the “emperor” (a metaphor for the spirit and mind) can rest, reflect and restore.
The first palace point was PC-8 Lao Gong, translated as “the palace of weariness” or “the palace of toil” (depending on the translation). It is a point on the Pericardium (Heart Protector) acupuncture channel. Energetically, PC-8 is a point that clears “Heart Fire”: inflammation that can affect the chest, digestive system, throat, eyes. “Heart Fire” can cause anxiety, palpitations, confusion, depression, manic behavior, digestive upset, inflammation anywhere in the body, even neurological issues.
PC-8 as a “spirit point” communicates with the mind, asking us to look at our lives and assess what is draining our energy and enthusiasm. The term “palace of toil” (Lao Gong is the classic Chinese name) represents an attachment that requires a great deal of energy yet never seems to work out. A lost cause. Something that may be figuratively bleeding us to death. PC-8 asks us to become honest with the reality of this situation. Even though we want something to work, even though we want to hold onto something that has proven to be toxic or draining or even dangerous, we are asked to accept that if we really want to heal and move on we must let go of this “lost cause.” Otherwise we will never move into the next chapter of our lives.
I found it especially poignant that the acupuncture point was located on my palm. Throughout the week, I felt my palm speaking to me, asking me to open up and let go: to stop grasping. It made a lot of sense why such an acupuncture point would be located on the palm of the hand: the tool with which we grasp, hold on and refuse to let go.
The other acupuncture point located on the palm is located on the Heart’s acupuncture channel. This point, HT-8, is called the “lesser palace” (Shao Fu). This point was described to me as relating to lost possessions, usually of a material nature, yet they can also be relationships, status, anything we’ve used to support our ego structure and sense of self. HT-8 asks us to consider that by allowing the place where we reside (our bodies, our lives) to become “less” cluttered and more empty, the greater sense of peace we may find. This points asks us to focus on the freedom and space letting go can bring vs. its sense of loss and emptiness.
These two acupuncture points reset the mind. They are like a “reality check,” but communicated in a soothing, loving way. I had the image of “the dragon” taking my hands which were clutched in fists, stubbornly (maybe even desperately) grasping onto the past. Finger by finger, she opened my fist allowing me let that which wasn’t willingly, organically resting on my palms fall away (or fly away). There was the image of bird in my hands that had been mercilessly pecking at me because I was trapping it. When I could finally open my palms, the bird was able to fly away and my hand could begin the process of healing.
The process that occurred after the treatment was a week of extreme tiredness, but also filled with a gentle letting go. The PTSD-induced grasping started to soften. I also started to see, feel and accept the fuller reality of the exhaustion I was experiencing. I was forced to stop and reflect. I also began dreaming again, with desire for building my future.
It is important when dealing with trauma to take time to unpack the experience. If we’ve been left in a depression, it is important to honor and feel the feelings. Even if they are uncomfortable. As a wise friend of mine said to me: “let the medicine work; even if it is bitter, even if it makes you feel sick or uncomfortable.”
There is a card in the Tarot called “the tower.” It is the image of a burning building, suggesting that sometimes the only way to fully heal from an experience is to allow the structure (especially the idea fueling it) burn to the ground. The image of the “fire” is also applied to the acupuncture channels of the Heart and Pericardium which are said to belong to the “Element” of “Fire.” Furthermore the points PC-8 and HT-8 are said to be “fire” points located on channels belonging to the Fire Element. Therefore these two points when stimulated connect us with the essence of Fire: to both its generative as well as destructive abilities. Inherent in Fire is the ability to transform. It is the element most involved in alchemy: the fuel needed to change something heavy and dense into light (ie: wisdom and compassion).
The “Fire” is physiological: it is responsible for promoting all body function, as well as passion, desire, curiosity. But if the Fire burns out of control, it can start to damage our life instead of build it.
Within the imagery of the Five Elements there are two forces that help to dispel the dead or dying remnants of the past: Water and Fire. The Autumn, represented by the Metal Element (which governs the organ systems of the Lungs and Large Intestine) show us the process of leaves falling from the trees, drying out. Usually the Water of rain or snow will cause these leaves (the dead material) to wash away and decompose to become fertilizer for the next spring growth. However, it is also common in many cultures to burn the leaves, which also promotes fertilization. Water is allowing time to deal with the past, while Fire is a more active rapid process. As said above, the Fire is important for transformation: the alchemical process of spiritual growth.
Water moves slow, Fire moves fast. I, myself was using the method of Water to deal with the difficulties I was facing. However, the “Dragon” chose Fire. I see this as one of the main reasons to visit a healer during difficult times. A healer cannot take away a person’s “karma” or experience, but they can help fortify the strength and ideally help the process to move faster and smoother.
The purpose of “karma,” (experience) isn’t punishment, but growth. Like the Fire used to burn the leaves in the autumn, the broken down material becomes rich fertilizer for future growth. As we know, between the seasons of Autumn and Spring is Winter. A period of internalization, quietude and deep growth is often necessary before we can sprout again. This is another reason to visit a healer: to help weather the difficulties of Winter: the silence, the lack of activity, the loneliness and even darkness and cold we may feel as we heal and recalibrate.
The Winter season (both in nature as well as metaphorically in our lives) is governed by the Water Element and the Kidney organ system. Water can easily freeze. We can get stuck or inverted during the Winter season. It is necessary to keep the Water moving so that it rises and flows throughout the body. Winter is also a season where fear can prevail. To treat the Kidneys is to invigorate the Water so we don’t fall into fear, despair or a paralyzed frozen state.
The Water will also “control” the Fire: to keep it from becoming manic and overactive. We want to burn the dead leaves, but we must be careful the fire doesn’t spread to the trees and also burn the forest. In our lives when we are dealing with loss or the remnants of trauma, it’s easy to “act out” with alcohol, drugs, sex and other excessive behavior. To manage the Fire-Water balance helps keep this in check, to prevent doing further damage to ourselves as we are “healing.”
Working with Fire helps speed up the transformation process, while working with Water helps ensure we heal well.
The other Elements may also need to be addressed during the healing process. The Wood Element is necessary to provide direction and movement forward. The Earth Element is that which feeds the process though both nutrition as well as nourishing thoughts. To adjust the thinking process, and especially to eliminate obsession, the Earth Element as it expresses through the digestive system must be addressed. As mentioned above, the Metal Element is that which empowers the ability to let go.
Each Element is important for proper physiology and spiritual evolution. But more commonly it is the relationship between the Elements, the interaction between the organs that needs to be addressed by the healer. We often don’t heal quickly or effectively because the Elements and organs lack harmonization and cooperation.
It can be a dramatic experience, a feeling of a major shift when the organs and Elements become harmonized. For example, when the Spleen and Stomach (the Earth Element and energy of the abdomen) are empowered to rise into the chest to Harmonize and support the Metal in the chest (the Lungs and Large Intestine), a great feeling of vitality, protection and order prevails.
When the Water cools the Fire and the Fire warms the Metal, there will be a sense of internal cohesion, sanity, security and sense of self, as well as compassion and loving kindness especially towards ourselves.
Shock, disappointment and trauma often has the strongest effect on the interconnectedness of the Elements. Restoring communication can be a powerful and effective method of treatment.
But in my case, it was the “spirit points” I received that had the strongest effect via the activation of my palm.
I remember that it is important for a healer to also be a patient. Through receiving treatment by my first mentor I was able to experience the depth of acupuncture as a healing modality. I felt the sacredness of the body and the spiritual power of the acupuncture points. I also got to watch and feel how the treatment unfolded over the next several days. Like anything, being a healer can become somewhat route. I know what to do and I do it. But it is helpful to remember through experience how it feels to be treated with acupuncture.
Obviously I treat myself with acupuncture constantly. But there is a power to allowing ourselves to be treated and cared for by someone else. That also is a way of opening up and letting go of grasping. To put ourselves into another’s hands is a form of trust and surrender.