Making ends meet (mind the gap)

An attractive thing about oriental medicine, or any art for that matter, is the beauty of creating something from nothing. Oriental medicine could easily be called “the medicine of nothing” and I believe my teacher Edward sensei once referred to it this way. For example, when I touch- needle a point or watch a cone of moxa burn slowly until it’s hot enough for me to remove I am consciously informed by what is occurring in my immediate environment. I can remove a moxa cone at the point when it is just right (a goldilocks moment), without the recipient having to tell me. This requires practice on my part -yet its an aspect of treatment that I find most rewarding. It’s the little things I practice that encourage me to see the bigger picture that surrounds us. I am certainly not involved in this alone. It is too big for me to even start to understand but I am aware that it tends to include everything and pretty much boils down to nothing…..( emptiness ) I often have people in the clinic who say they don’t have sufficient energy, are tired or feel blocked. When I started out studying this art a while back, had I realised the amount of effort and energy I would have to spend on my studies (and continue to do so!), then I may have had second thoughts (I still have second thoughts!). However, this I was very clear about. It was something I considered worth the investment.


After graduation I was fairly exhausted from my studies. During my daily activities it felt as if my feet were struggling to carry the weight of my body (a common symptom of Kidney deficiency).  I had, in the interim, already decided I would go to Japan to study under a teacher. To try to strengthen myself I started to “experiment” by taking various herbal formulas. Yes, it did work a little bit but even with this, I still thought that I was in fact distancing myself from any real pearls of a good learning experience. It wasn’t really solving the problem within.  As far as I was concerned, this wasn’t the true way. I was in effect shirking my responsibilities as a practitioner. Fortunately my level of enquiry would lead me to some very positive encounters.

A change is as good as a rest…   When I started my training at my teacher’s clinic in Tokyo I would begin my day with a lengthy hour and a half train ride on a packed Tokyo train of which there was no room to sit, let alone stand or, come to think of it – breath! Often, when I arrived in the clinic in the morning, I was already knackered and had a long day ahead of me to complete. Yes, in the beginning it was a bit like that. However, I have a strong sense that it was worth it AND I really wanted to make this experience better for myself and become a better practitioner (which would ultimately be better for the people I was treating). In short, unless I had sufficient energy, then it would be very difficult to squeeze all the juice from this experience.  

Where does it come from?     Energy is interesting. Some claim they can “see “ it. I am personally very suspicious of any such claims however; I believe energy is certainly palpable.  In the classics of Oriental medicine, there are two kinds of energy we consider most. The stuff we acquire- which is related related to our ancestors- ultimately comes from our parents and is said to be stored in the kidneys. This is known as ancestral Ki  (先天の氣)  and is certainly connected with karma. I say karma -because if something is “energetic” then there is no reason why this shouldn’t manifest physically! Even modern science has recently stumbled on this (see below).   The other stuff is what is around us in the here-and-now, and is there for the taking. We get it from food, air and on a much subtle level, via emotional and perceptive experience. This is called postnatal Ki (後天の氣). As I have said above, it can also be connected with emotions.  Having the ability to “open up” an emotion will allow more energy to be experienced. In other words, its already there but hasn’t been experienced. It’s the same with money. You may have a lot of assets locked up in an investment, that can’t actually be obtained until the entity is sold on and “experienced”. However, the potential is there- and of course you must choose wisely what you do with your asset once it’s released.

A modern view..   I recently read something about genetics that caught my eye. They speak about certain aspects of DNA that contain strains of potential disease. This “new” idea is called epigenetics. Scientists are now saying DNA can be influenced and switched on by exposure to certain foods or social or environmental stresses. This they say can trigger diseases such as cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure to name a few. It was previously thought that your DNA was a kind of non-reversible blueprint and therefore if you had the gene for a particular disease, then it would at some stage in your life manifest. My mum recently told me that a couple of years before her sister was born, my grandmother had a hive removed from a nail on her finger which involved fairly basic and painful surgery. When her sister was born, she had a slightly deformed finger in exactly the same finger and place as my grandmother’s surgery. She said this to me the other day, just as I was writing about this and was saying how curious it was..anyway   It’s a great advance because, as you can see, in oriental medicine this idea has been around for a while. When emphasis is placed on self-preservation and longevity, then we can see they had the answers long before scientists began to gaze through electro microscopes and develop non-preventative treatments. It’s important to return to the source, but taking any pill won’t necessarily achieve this, that I’m sure about! However it IS possible to “connect” with this energy.

Good connection- wise encounters with a master of perception.   I often attended Master Tams Tai Chi and Yi Quan seminars in Tokyo. As well as possessing supremely brilliant martial skill, the thing that always strikes me most about him is his ability to be extremely energetic yet extremely calm at the same time. He can switch between the two states simultaneously. What I have come to realise is his energetic gap is much shorter then most peoples (mine included and perhaps 90% of the population- quite extraordinary for a man in his 70s!). So, in order to be relaxed and calm, he had to have sufficient energy to do this and could move large numbers of people with seemingly no effort.   What I often see nowadays is that say in Yoga classes or keep fit stuff, they usually do the meditation at the end. This is almost at the time when the student is tired, so of course they will feel “ relaxed” and can go into a “deep meditated state “. However, this state is only founded on tiredness, or where a certain amount of energy has already been “spent” rather than “saved”. This is ok, and serves a purpose for some. But, you will probably confuse tiredness with relaxation whereby people are confusing the experience with the actual desired result. I think It’s very difficult to change any habits if you continue like this. You will be literally treading on thin ice or performing a balancing act with energy on one side, and little on the other.

A WAKE  UP CALL!   We all live under the same sun and have the same 24hours each day.  With this in mind we have far more potential to achieve things than we truly allow ourselves. The only thing that prevents true achievement is usually lame excuses (I have my own repertoire – I am not much different from most people) Anyway, change requires energy, unfortunately there’s no easy way around it. 1) How / why do we do it? It’s quite different for each person and depends on how wide your energetic gap is (non-physical –v- physical awareness). The wider it is the likely you will make excuses not to do things or continue with destructive lifestyle habits or negative thought patterns*. Sometimes people consume energy mentally by running a race in their mind and reaching the finishing line before doing it physically in bodily form. A useful thing for planning but can hinder any true and meaningful experiences not necessarily related to any particular outcome.     To understand the concept of energy a bit better lets take a look at pulse diagnosis and how we use it in Oriental medicine.   If I told anyone I could “see” his or her energy, I wouldn’t be very honest. Instead, I can feel and “see” your energy by looking at the radial pulse. The pulse in oriental medicine is a lot different from the way it’s perceived in western medicine. We take more into consideration the immediate palpable quality (large, Thin, Rough, Wiry etc.) as well as rhythm and location -whether it’s felt superficially or deep. As a practitioner -pulse diagnosis is quite a difficult achievement and by no means have I mastered it. The reason I say this is because it requires a kind of balance, in which my state is tuned into to everything that is going on around me and of course, I must have a shorter energetic gap to maintain this state of awareness. It can’t be a forced state either, as this wont achieve anything.   What we look for in the pulse is a quality that reflects the actual state of health of the individual being treated. This “gap” is easily palpable. I often feel it in people who have a tendency to depression. Depression’s not actually a bad thing either; rather, I see it as something positive on the part of the individual. It’s a way of looking in towards a void, or reflecting- and can be a very positive time someone is going through. Very often I will not even discuss this, as my role is neutral. You see, a learning experience needs to have reflection and you need to work out for yourself what it is your doing wrong and make amends to put it right. Oriental medicine is a good choice because it provides the body with a very positive blueprint or “image” of good health that replaces an existing negative one. In other words- the perceptual body awareness is heightened and an ideal state of health is achieved through regular or occasional treatment should you desire to do so. Secondly, the fundamental principle behind oriental medicine is connected with the idea of  未病を治す “ which basically means treating the disease before it occurs. 2)Filling the gap. This can be achieved by having really good close friends or perhaps being involved in some altruistic activities. Closing our energetic gap often has more relevance on how you interact with others than actually what you do for yourself. The bottom line is that you wont help yourself much unless you enrich the lives of others first (think about this for a minute). You only have to look at people who have accumulated material wealth; very often-material acquisitions merely mask a true connection to emptiness**. I’m not implying that it isn’t good to have lots of things, on the contrary, its better to look at things as things you need, rather than what you want. Anyway, after you push all the bullshit aside then usually what is left is the “closeness” of a good family life, close friends and good wholesome health. May your day be filled with positive encounters with good energy  flowing through your bank account ( both inside and out! ) *Here is an interesting paradox. If you have sufficient energy then of course you can afford to be generous with your energy and enjoy it. I would like to say that it’s fine to have destructive habits, as long as you have sufficient resilience to counter it and at least learn from your habits. Good health and destructive habits can sometimes exist like hand and glove and in my view there is nobody out there who is perfect and pure. Some of my best friends are excellent sinners! ** As I have been talking about replenishing gaps fear is what drives people away from an experience founded on nothing. Fear is a very powerful tool, it drives the stock markets, housing, politics and indeed healthcare. If there is fear, then of course, people will throw a lot of money into it.

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Illustration by Etsuko Nagahama // Photos by Harumi Urano
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