13 August 2010

Group Qi

I was a loner when I started took up acupuncture, still in my 20s.
I chose to live in lonely, out-of-the-way places with just a few close intimates.

After learning, acupuncture, I looked realized I needed to go where people were.
Moving to the city was a shock. I endured and adapted. Now I love cities, groups, people.
The more the merrier!

This is how it happened: It began with my first day at Hooper Center, the public detox I worked in.

I was extremely nervous or 'edgy,' as the Process Work practitioners say when people enter a new field of experience. I didn't want to be there, but the new school I was at said I was the "low man on the totem pole."

Portland's Terwilliger Bike Trail, 2009

Which I later learned is not a bad place to be.

Nobody wanted to go to the detox. I didn't, since I'd worked in front-line social service jobs. They were the kind staffed by young people with good hearts, who feel after six months they are old-timers--with few who last more than a year. Psych wards, nursing homes, special ed facilities.... They each gave me a chance to re-integrate with the 'populations' who were weeded out during my childhood education, taken away somewhere else. Through the work, I found the psychotic to be gentle, the developmentally disabled as joyous, and the elderly to know the cycle of existence as grand seasons and rhythms of life (even while bound to a wheelchair, living in pajamas).

I thought I was done with all that. But no, the State of Oregon said I needed a few more clinic hours. So I went, barely unable to contain myself with the strange burst of energy (that I interpreted as anxiety). I went upstairs, where Patients were cooly playing pool in their pajamas. When it was time to start, they assembled quickly in plastic chairs in a circle on the shiny blue floor. The acupuncturists went like bees to flowers, quickly putting pins in their ears. At a certain point, the energy in the room formed a circle like the Rings of Saturn.
Saturn, associated with Earth (Stomach-Spleen channels)

The group qi field seemed to coalesce, spin, tilt, and then go somewhere. There was peace and some joy. I was hooked. I fell in love, and returned twice a day--once on Saturdays, leaving after ten years.

I'd pull into the parking lot in my little white truck, sometimes exhausted from the drive in, or the family life of raising young children, or starting a practice. But after work, I always felt better, strangely better.

I commuted alone, along with every single other driver on the road. Nose to tail, we formed a serpent entering the city at rush hour. The drive got longer, eventually creeping up to 45 minutes. Just me and NPR, maybe Nina Tottenburg chirping along.

My little practice near my little suburban home focused on individual patients. Sometimes I wanted to pull up the sheet-rock walls so they could all meet each other: I could see the similar patterns among the patients, who thought they were all separate.

Hooper was changing me, though.

Eventually, I brought a bike in the back of my truck. I rode it to the different clinics in town, sometimes three stops a day. It was like bursting a bubble. It felt so alive to ride, even in winter.

After a while, I offered group treatments to my suburban patients. I called it 'Happy Hour:' between 5 and 6 on a weeknight, drop in for a reduced rate treatment in my waiting room with a small group.

Half my patients went for the idea. Many that did said the slight reduction in price was the sole reason they could continue their treatments. I expanded it to three evenings a week.

Everyone seemed to have a great time. Patients instinctively knew who needed the most help, even though they could not read their charts. They would turn with needles in place and give their philosophy of life or some advice to the person who needed it the most.
I even wound up treating 5 generations within one family--one in utero--all in the same room.

I found that I needed to do only about a third of the number of needles on a patient during a group session than a private one. For example, if a patient needed about 12 needles per treatment in a solo treatment, when they switched to a group treatment, then they only needed 4. 

After about 3 months, it became my favorite way to practice. It seemed to take that long for the qi field to gel on some level. It's strange, but other acupuncturists I've talked to notice the same thing with clinic spaces. They seem to need a little time to coalesce, for the qi to saturate the walls and amplify a healing space. It is palpable.

Despite my enthusiasm, some patients just wanted the one-on-one. I could never predict who would: there was not economic or psychological profile I could discern. So I tell my students to offer both types of treatment.

And to let patients talk! If they want quiet, they'll shut their eyes.

We live in a culture where never before have so many people lived, travelled and worked alone.
Not a bad thing perhaps...we'll find out what it does eventually. Some of my suburban patients led monastic existences with great depth. But even monastics had company.

There was one Frenchman who chose to live by himself in a cave for an entire year as an experiment. He got terribly lonely --it wasn't fun. I've treated patients who were punished with solitary confinement in prison: they were never the same. This raises the point: Why do we lock so many people up in jail in this country? And why do we use 'timeouts' of enforced isolation on children as a preferred mode of punishment?

What I learned was: People need people. We are social animals, like birds. We need to talk -- and be heard, and go through rhythms of life together.

Now I live in the city. I try to see how many days I can go without being in a car. I rode a bike to work everyday last year, and love the connection with other cyclists. We nod and smile and murmur to each other, "on your left, thanks." The car drivers meanwhile look either bored or furious --I remember that. I love living in a family, and wait for the children to come back to roost. Although originally shy, I eagerly await the return of my students in the fall. There is so much to talk about, so many rhythms to go through together.

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