Making ends meet (mind the gap)

Mind the gap

One of the captivating aspects of oriental medicine, or any art form for that matter, lies in the beauty of crafting something substantial out of nothingness. You could aptly refer to oriental medicine as “the medicine of emptiness,” a term my teacher, Edward Sensei, once used.

Allow me to illustrate this concept: when I delicately place a needle at an acupuncture point or observe a moxa cone burning slowly until it reaches the perfect temperature for removal, I am acutely attuned to the happenings in my immediate environment. I can gauge the precise moment to remove the moxa cone without the recipient needing to communicate it. This skill is honed through practice and is immensely gratifying. It’s the small, intricate details I refine that encourage me to perceive the grander tapestry that envelops us. I don’t embark on this journey alone; it’s a vast terrain that I can barely begin to fathom. Yet, I am aware that it encompasses everything and ultimately boils down to nothingness or emptiness.

In my clinic, I often encounter individuals who express a lack of energy, feelings of fatigue, or a sense of being blocked. Reflecting on my journey into this art, I now realize that had I comprehended the amount of effort and energy I would need to invest in my studies (and continue to do so), I might have second-guessed my decision (truth be told, I still have moments of doubt!). Nonetheless, I had a clear understanding of what I was signing up for, and I deemed it a worthwhile investment.

Upon completing my studies, I found myself quite drained. I experienced a sensation that my feet were struggling to support the weight of my body, a common symptom of Kidney deficiency in traditional Chinese medicine. At that juncture, I had already decided to journey to Japan to study under a master. In an attempt to bolster my vitality, I began “experimenting” with various herbal formulations. While these remedies offered some relief, they felt like temporary solutions that failed to address the core issue within me. It wasn’t the authentic path I sought. In essence, I was sidestepping my responsibilities as a practitioner. Fortunately, my thirst for knowledge would lead me to transformative encounters.

They say a change is as good as a rest. When I commenced my training at my teacher’s clinic in Tokyo, my day began with a gruelling hour-and-a-half train ride, crammed into a Tokyo subway car with no room to sit, stand, or even breathe, it seemed. Often, upon my arrival at the clinic in the morning, I was already exhausted, with a long day of learning ahead. Initially, it was challenging, to say the least. However, I had a profound sense that it was all worth it, and I was determined to enhance my experience and become a more proficient practitioner, which would ultimately benefit the individuals under my care. Simply put, if I lacked the requisite energy, I couldn’t extract the full essence of this invaluable experience.

Now, let’s delve into the intriguing topic of energy. Some claim they can “see” it, a notion I approach with scepticism. Nevertheless, I firmly believe that energy is palpable. In the annals of Oriental medicine, two types of energy hold particular importance. First, there is the energy we inherit, connected to our ancestors and believed to reside in our kidneys. This is known as ancestral Ki (先天の氣) and is intricately tied to karma. I mention karma because if something possesses an “energy,” there’s no reason why it shouldn’t manifest physically. Even modern science has begun to touch upon this concept. The second type of energy is the one available to us in the present moment, obtained from our diet, the air we breathe, and, on a subtler level, through our emotional and perceptual experiences. This is termed postnatal Ki (後天の氣). As mentioned earlier, it can also be influenced by our emotions. The ability to “unleash” an emotion allows us to tap into more energy that was already present but hadn’t been experienced. It’s akin to having assets tied up in an investment, which cannot be accessed until the investment is liquidated and experienced. The potential exists, but wise choices are required when utilizing this released energy.

In a modern context, I recently came across a concept in genetics that piqued my interest. It revolves around certain segments of DNA that contain potential disease markers. This emerging field, known as epigenetics, posits that DNA can be influenced and activated by exposure to specific foods or social and environmental stresses. These triggers, scientists contend, can lead to diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure. It was once believed that your DNA was an immutable blueprint, implying that if you possessed a gene for a particular ailment, it would inevitably manifest at some point in your life. My mother recently shared with me a curious anecdote: a few years before the birth of her sister, my grandmother had a cyst removed from her finger, requiring basic yet painful surgery. When her sister was born, she displayed a slight deformity in the exact same location on her finger where my grandmother had undergone surgery. My mother recounted this to me as I was writing about these concepts, highlighting the intriguing connections within our family. This scientific revelation underscores that in oriental medicine, these ideas have been in existence for a substantial period. When the emphasis is placed on self-preservation and longevity, it becomes evident that these insights predate the emergence of non-preventative treatments in modern medicine. It’s essential to reconnect with the source, but merely taking a pill won’t necessarily achieve this, as I am quite certain. However, it is possible to forge a profound connection with this energy.

In my quest for knowledge and enrichment, I frequently attended seminars led by Tai Chi Grand Master  SamTam, focusing on Tai Chi and Yi Quan, in Tokyo. Apart from his remarkable martial skills, what has always struck me about him is his ability to exude boundless energy while maintaining a serene composure. He seamlessly transitions between these two states. What I’ve come to realize is that his energetic transition is much swifter than most people’s, including mine and that of perhaps 90% of the population – a remarkable feat for a man in his 70s! To be at ease and composed, he must possess ample energy, allowing him to move numerous individuals effortlessly. Nowadays, it’s common to observe meditation practices in yoga classes or fitness regimens, typically conducted at the end of a session. At this point, students are often fatigued, and they may enter a “relaxed” state or achieve a “deep meditative state.” However, this state is primarily founded on weariness or the expenditure of a certain amount of energy rather than its conservation. While this approach serves a purpose for some, it can lead to a misconception, wherein individuals confuse tiredness with relaxation. This, in turn, hinders meaningful change. It’s akin to walking on a precarious tightrope, with energy balanced precariously on one side and depleted on the other.