05 July 2010

The Process of Classical Acupuncture

3 Features of Classical Acupuncture


In conventional acupuncture, we have tidy textbooks. They make the information bite-sized and organized.

When we look at the Inner Classic, it is an instant information overload. Other texts such as the Systematic Classic/Jia Yi Jing and later ones help wade in. My annotated spreadsheet (available via email, or on the ISSCA Forum) gives an open source overview of this ancient source text of all Chinese medicine.

The Inner Classic observed that even 2500 years ago, this medicine was too big --and that was pretty much just acupuncture. The development of herb medicine got even more overwhelming and rich.

This is much like our current predicament, where information is increasing exponentially. One estimate is 66% per year.  This will make us either very wise ... or crazy --very fast.

The Inner Classic struggled with this very issue that my students identify: there's way too much to know. The two findings from the Inner Classic in response to this are:
  • No one person can know all of it
    • Much as we'd like either ourselves or some guru to know it all, that isn't going to happen. A ego-balloon deflates, but liberation is just around that corner.
  • Walk in any direction in this medicine, and new discoveries are waiting to be found 
    • Once we adjust to this new reality, a real excitement occurs. We could be coming from a background in biochemistry, psychology, philosophy, language studies, parenting or gardening.... Chinese medicine makes use of all and any type of experience. Meaningless prior jobs suddenly make sense after we begin learning this medicine. 


This is another central conundrum of contemporary experience. 

The Inner Classic recommended the opposite of reductionism--an aspect of contemporary science that is decried by observers. Instead, they advocated treating complex diseases with multiple modalities. For example, acupuncture works better when combined with herbs; Chinese medicine works better with Western than one by itself, etc.
Likewise, the Inner Classic recommended multiple approaches to diagnosis. Using just one feature from the pulse is not done classically: it is always combined with palpating the abdomen, observing the complexion, etc. This avoids an unfortunate contemporary tendency towards overtreatment, both east and west, natural and conventional/allopathic. A single blood test or scan should not dictate a whole series of treatments. CT scans have only a 60% correlation to patient experience, according to one of my teachers, Angela Kendrick, MD. We assume it is one hundred percent. You sitting there may have 3-4 blown disks on an MRI and not know it. A bedridden patient with severe patient may have a perfect scan. Qi is more reliable to know than structure: it matches patient experience.


Group websites flare. Have you noticed how easily misunderstandings and anger can erupt on emails? The political discourse on TV shows is not worth watching. We all find our favorite news sources--Fox or the Times--and hunker down. Layoffs occur without thinking, and workplace democracy is a misnomer. Academic discourse teaches us to "make arguments" and "defend theses."  Civil discourse ... what is that?

Reading the Inner Classic is something else. The Emperor doesn't tell anyone what to do: instead, he asks questions. The responder speaks with appreciation first.

The fact that it is a group discussion at all is startling to a westerner. We are used to one point of view, be it textbooks by one author like Maciocia, or interpreters of God. As one qigong lecturer in Beijing pointed out in 1998, 'God' in Chinese would be imagined as a group, maybe a Ba Gua or a kind of committee. As westerners, there is nothing we disdain so much as a committee!!
(As my friend Mark said yesterday, "I can't get any work done, I'm in committee meetings all day.")
Reading a Chinese text that is fully translated includes commentaries: group discussions all the way through. Sometimes these exist across time, a kind of extended web forum.

It is the power of the collective over the individual, a neglected potential in our society.

The logic from this is profoundly different. One text can have differing and conflicting, unresolved views. No problem!


How to live with vast richness, complexity, and diversity?
Read and work with the Inner Classic, and others of Chinese medicine

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