Living Comfortably in the World: Treating Hypersensitivity with Acupuncture
Life is full of insults, challenges, conflict and rough edges to rub up against. We all want to be happy, comfortable; we want to feel loved, safe and respected. Yet much of the time the “hard knocks” of life can get in our way. Many of us live in a perpetual state of irritation, annoyance or even victimization and vulnerability. These feeling states can chip away at enjoyment and ability to be present for our lives. We spend our time shielding ourselves from experience, people, life. Or we adopt a defensive posture against the world: always ready to fight. Or we just hide.
Much of the teaching of Buddhism and other mindfulness traditions focuses on learning to be more present, open, accepting and available to life and its experiences. Even experiences that don’t feel good. Taoism, upon which acupuncture and Chinese medicine is based, encourages us to see life as a delightful mystery. Buddhism tries to get us to accept that life is filled with suffering. Taoism is more interested in seeing life as an adventure, a game, a magical experience. The third philosophical pillar of Chinese medicine, Confucianism, tries to order life into duties and rituals as a type of “heroic path of the sage”: a person who learns virtue through experience. All three of these wisdom traditions can provide insight and methods for living better, feeling better and creating fuller richer lives. They are woven into the medicine of acupuncture.
In my acupuncture clinic I meet many people who are overly sensitive to their environments. Some they have food allergies. Others have seasonal allergies. Some take everything personally, creating great difficulty in their relationships.
Within Chinese medical thinking hypersensitivity involves the organs of the chest: the Lungs and Heart. But for every person reasons for hypersensitivity are unique. Some of us adopt a defensive posture due to a feeling of inadequacy or vulnerability: we don’t feel strong enough or confident enough to relax. Others are overrun with difficult experiences, traumas and memories that cause us to have a quick fuse that can explode when triggered. Some of us need to be built up and others need to be emptied out.
Working with the Heart and Lungs can be a vulnerable process. It invites us to go into our feelings, to get beneath the anger and irritation, the guarding and hyper-vigilance. We must be sufficiently strong and stable to undergo this process. Often during the acupuncture treatment process focus needs to be devoted to building strength, especially in the Kidneys and Liver so we can better absorb the shocks and changes of life. Working on these organ systems helps us feel more grounded and steady. We may also need to “strengthen the Spleen-Pancreas” which builds the digestive capacity including our ability to manage and transform our thoughts.
Once we feel strong and stable we can begin clearing stagnation in our chest: the material that creates hypersensitivity.
We may come to understand that we have very little power over other people. We cannot always control things outside of ourselves. What we can control and mange are our reactions: the way we behave in response to the world, but also the way we think and feel. This can be a difficult lesson to learn: that we can control and take responsibility for our thoughts and feelings. But first we need to learn to become less reactive. To do this we must sort through and let go of past experiences, memories and stories of victimization, inferiority or superiority, fear and resentment. When we harbor this old material in our chest, it constantly rubs up against the outer world, reigniting the wounds from the past. So we react, and our suffering perpetuates.
The Lungs are the organ system that manage our relationship to the external world. The Liver manages our internal world. The Heart is the seat of our emotions, and many say the seat of consciousness. When the Lungs have become weakened from being jammed up the Liver becomes hyperactive and hot. This is usually the cause of seasonal allergies as well as tendency to become easily angered.
Lung stagnation also jams up the Heart. There is an entire acupuncture channel system which deals with the effects on the Heart and circularity system due to weak or stagnant Lungs. Physical and mental-emotional material begins to collect in the blood vessels and deposit throughout the body: in the joints, skin and Sinews causing a myriad of annoyances and problems.
Our natural state involves the capacity to feel, experience and let go. Moment to moment. This is the natural function of the Lungs, when in health. Yet for some of us we feel too much and lack proper ability to let go. Experiences, sensations and thoughts linger too long, or hit us at too high an intensity. This can shock, stagnate and ultimately weaken the Lungs’ capacity.
Within acupuncture thinking these feeling and thinking states involve a system of channels called “Luo” connecting vessels. They have resonance and similarity to blood vessels. But they act as holding vessels for experiences, thoughts and challenges the body has difficulty moving through, processing and letting go.
To work with the Luo acupuncture Vessels is to go into the minute details of the thoughts, feelings and experiences we’ve been holding onto. They are channels that bring catharsis and illumination, insight and ultimate deliverance from our baggage.
I recall working with a patient years ago who had a very powerful experience with her Luo Vessels during treatment. She had a fatty liver and problems with her uterus, even though she was quite young. She also had a large cyst on her upper back. The Luo Vessels can manifest symptoms of varicosity (broken blood vessels) on the skin; they can also manifest cysts, lipomas and swellings.
We discovered through the course of treatment that there was a lot of mental-emotional material from early childhood that she wasn’t even aware of. Working with the Luo Vessels helped her have many realizations. However her catharsis came out quick! One morning the cyst we’d been working on very diligently for weeks burst open with much fluid release and she suddenly knew what the root of all the problems was about. The cyst went away and so did her uterine and Liver issues.
Chinese medicine teaches that issues, be they of a physical or mental-emotional root can manifest in a myriad of ways. They can cause physical organic dysfunction as with my patient or lead to hypersensitivity. Either way the Luo Vessels can be very effective ways to resolve our issues.