Archive for June, 2013

Freely vs. Free

Before I started this blog, I posted this on my Berkeley Community Acupuncture Facebook link.  It was received very positively and so I’d like to repost here:

Today, after receiving acupuncture during my donation based shift, a patient asked me why I was “giving away” such amazing treatments for free. Don’t you value your skills? She asked. Don’t you want to demand that others value your skills too? Don’t you want them to show you respect by paying you what you are worth? Then she saw my perplexed expression and then added, oh, I see you are trying to fix the world. You are trying to help people in need because they are lacking. That is good of you. She waited for a response but I was speechless. There was so much off in what she said to me that I didn’t know where to start, so instead, I tipped my head slightly as to nod. She smiled, deposited $5 into our money box and left. I’ve been thinking about what she said ever since.
I do what I do and there is no amount of money that anyone could give me to make me feel that it is an adequate match to what I have to offer. Not $5, not $5000. Because what I have to offer is not quantifiable. What I have to offer is myself and it not only reflects in my practice of Chinese Medicine but how I run my business. It is what has evolved over my 16 years of thinking about medicine and health and how I would like to affect and be affected by the world I live in. It is a reflection of my understanding of health and our connections with one another. My practice reflects my faith in abundance, trust, and connection that is possible in the world that we live in and my faith in the profound healing capabilities of Chinese Medicine. I am taken by its simplicity, its gentleness, its humbleness, its accessibility, its profound depth, its quiet healing. I am heartened (especially in this day and age) to be able provide an environment where 5 complete strangers can lie down side by side to nap, relax and heal together, no strings attached. And I am amazed that day after day, people do come to do just that. That is trust. That is healing.
From this understanding, value and worth take on very different perspectives. It is only because of my understanding of the profound value of what I do that I offer it up freely. Not for free, freely. I am not doing this to fix a broken world or to give to people in need. The world is not broken, what people may or may not need is beyond my comprehension. I am simply doing this because it is the most natural expression of who I’ve become and of who I am.


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A few days ago, I held my son as he was sedated for emergency surgery. I felt his grip on me soften, his body surrender and his being recede into an unknown place. He became so unbearably helpless. My heart hurt as I watched the nurse push his small, listless body off to surgery.

The anesthesiologist had talked to me before putting him under. She carefully laid out the risks before me and then reassured me that it would be highly unlikely–the possibility of death. I responded the way any other parent would have responded. With a nod of the head and a tightening of the gut. There may have been a choice, but really, it was out of my hands. I don’t have control over much at all. The only thing left to do was to trust.

Risks. We all think we want to know about risks so that we can make informed decisions. Because the belief is, it’s a numbers game. We think if we can weigh, measure and monitor pros and cons, risks and advantages, than that intense perpetual fear of not knowing, of something going wrong, of loss, of death, of being abandoned, can be held at bay. This sort of rational decision making is spear headed by the intellect. The intellect trying to control the perceived chaos of another realm, the emotions–the borderless realm of the immeasurable and irrational. It was explained to me that there was no other recourse except to go to surgery. And to go to surgery, one must administer anesthesia. There was no other way.

I sat listening first to the surgeon, then to the anesthesiologist, feeling myself become uncontrollably pulled towards the momentum of what they had laid out, their authority, their beliefs, how things just naturally go in a place like that. In my arms, I held my son, who had already received an IV drip of morphine, his warm body relaxed but so different in ungraspable ways, his lack of fight, unfamiliar to me. He too, against his will, going along with the momentum of the moment.

I sat feeling the dissonance between my own intellect and the confusing ball of emotion inside the pit of my stomach. With two persons, presenting rational competency in front of me, I found myself instinctively holding back my tears to match their rationale. I started posing questions. Is this really necessary? Is there another way? Is anesthesia really innocuous? Can’t you leave him intact? My questions were met with controlled exasperation. M’am, the surgeon responded, I’ve been doing this for over 40 years, trust me. And I thought, yeah, you’ve been cutting people for over 40 years, it’s all you know. You wouldn’t know about alternatives. But instead of responding in that fashion, I decided to do what he asked of me. I decided to trust him. Because in that moment, I knew that the plain truth is that no matter the amount of information I receive, my son was suffering and I felt incapable of helping him. I was scared and I wanted help.

It is when we are faced with the intensity of these emotions, fear, the suffering of our loved ones and our own, that the truth of our human frailty (not our ideologies, not our critiques and judgements, not our highfalutin ideas about what the best choices are) is revealed. Then we choose how to navigate our impulses between exerting more control over the situation or surrendering. This impulse to control fear often comes in the form of intellectualization–searching for more information, critiqueing, finding distraction and suppressing our emotional, instinctive gut responses to the situation. Often times, we hold on more and more tightly to the illusion of control by any and all means and only surrender when it becomes absolutely clear that we exert minimal control. We don’t want to feel small and weak in the grand orchestration of life, as small and as weak as an innocent babe being wheeled off to surgery. I decided to surrender. So, when he was wheeled off to surgery, I walked back to the waiting area and cried.

Post surgery and back by his side, I looked around me at all the monitors with their flashing lights and numbers, the endless chirping and beeping of various machines, the too sterile floors and sheets and surfaces, the shuffling about of uniformed nurses, some with face masks. Amidst it all my warm, delicate vulnerable babe–breathing, sleeping. Everything around him seemed to be saying, dont worry, you wont die, we’ve got it covered. And he seemed to be saying, yeh, sure–his breath leaving and coming with abandon, surrendering to everything around him and beyond.

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I’ve been thinking about this blog for a long time. I’d start and then stop. My words often felt forced. My expertise, questionable. I wanted to write about health because it seemed the logical thing to write about; I’ve been practicing Chinese Medicine for 13 years now, running a community based clinic for 7. On busy weeks, I see well over 60 people per week. Over the years, the number of acupuncture treatments I’ve administered is probably in the tens of thousands. I’ve supervised and mentored other acupuncturists, taught classes, started up various clinics, assisted countless people with Chinese medicine.

Last week, I attended the graduation ceremony of my beloved office manager and watched her receive the piece of official paper I received 13 years earlier, a diploma for Masters of Science of Tradtional Oriental Medicine. As I sat in the audience, listening to speeches filled with encouragement, I thought about the last 13 years of my life practicing Chinese Medicine. I was taken aback by the feeling inside me that it is still so new. That I am still a beginner, no expert. That it feels exponentially more vast and mysterious than it did to me the first day of school 16 some odd years ago. That on most days, I still don’t know if I know what I’m doing. I wondered how many other seasoned practioners felt as I did or if I was just especially slow at mastery. I wondered what I’d been really up to these past 13 years.

As I was thinking, the ceremony came to a close and all acupucturists were asked to stand and recite the Acupuncturist Oath with the graduating class. I stood and spoke these words:

I promise to follow the way of the Great
Physician, to live in harmony with nature,
and to teach my patients to do the same.

I will strive to maintain a clear mind and
hold myself to the highest standards.

I shall look upon those who are in grief as
though I myself have been afflicted, and I
will respond with empathy.

I shall develop an attitude of compassion,
of benevolence, and of care for all
patients, regardless of their particular

I promise to perform my responsibilities
carefully, thoughtfully, and to the best of
my ability.

Above all, I will maintain a peaceful
presence and an open heart.

Tears had welled up in my throat as I uttered the last lines. I had come to realize what I had been doing all this time. In all these years, I had been trying, without knowing it, to figure out how to abide by the promise I made many (possibly countless) years ago. What does it mean to follow the way of the Great Physician, to live in harmony with nature? How does one maintain a clear mind and what is a clear mind and what are the highest standards? What is true empathy? What is the true meaning and practice of compassion and benevolence? What are my responsibilities? And above all, what is it really to maintain a peaceful presence and an open heart?

13 years ago, I was unable to pose these simple questions, much less to fathom their profound depths. At that time, I thought the meaning was clear and intuitive: stay calm, be nice, be professional–peace, compassion, responsible, right? Not quite.

Through living, practicing and serving– always with a flame of inquiry inside me–I’ve come to understand that a peaceful presence is the ability to accept (not put up with, not accept in order to change) everything the way it is and an open heart is to accept (not try to imagine) that it is always changing. If everything is always changing, life is unending death and birth. Understanding and accepting this (not merely intellectually, but with the whole of our being as integrated into our day to day lives) allows us to live in harmony with nature (everything is nature), and in living in harmony with nature, our natural selves emerge spontaneously. Peaceful presence and an open heart is the letting go of everything we think we know to experience what is here each moment. It is living the perpetual I don’t know and is, perhaps, the opposite of what experts do.

This blog is about what I’ve discovered about health and life through practicing Chinese Medicine. It is not meant merely as an intellectual, philosophical discussion, but at the heart of this is a sincere intent to bridge and integrate spiritual (for lack of a better word) awareness with health and day to day living.

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