Some people say acupuncture is a placebo but actually placebo is part of almost every kind of medical or therapeutic treatment dynamic. So we know it is an important factor for effective acupuncture just as we know it is important in a GP’s surgery or hospital.
Although I would contend that acupuncture is not only a placebo there are still many different views about how and why it actually works. Some people might even say that you don’t need to know and the fact that it does is enough. But a discussion can potentially help us to understand our own role in the process and thereby improve our effectiveness. The purpose of all the stories and observations I quote in my blog is to emphasize the diversity and range of acupuncture practice. What these very different experiences and styles show is that all the practitioners have something in common, that they are committed to their chosen method. It is this commitment that gives them the confidence to be acupuncturists.
So it seems that the type of acupuncture is unimportant, it’s the practitioner that makes the difference.
There appears to be no real verifiable evidence that any acupuncture system works better than another and you will always find exceptions to any rule or standard you try and establish. It also seems that many of the assumptions people make are open to question. We assume for example that extensive training followed by many years in practice will make you a better acupuncturist. I have seen lots of evidence to confirm this but I have also seen evidence to flatly contradict it. I remember one occasion when a student practitioner took on a patient who had previously been treated by someone well known and with a big reputation. Despite their lack of experience and status the patient preferred the student and got better results with them. This suggests that the patient/practitioner dynamic is critical for acupuncture. I have observed similar situations many times and have even seen students get their points in the wrong place and needle them with nothing approaching the correct technique, only to have the patient declare that its been the best and most effective treatment they have ever had. This probably also explains why a recent report on employment prospects said that therapists are less likely than most to lose their jobs to technology. I’m convinced that what makes acupuncture effective is the therapeutic relationship, confidence in the theory, the sensing of Qi and above all the practice. Acupuncture is a way of being first and a learnt system with skills to practice second and I believe that to some extent you could say the same about many other medical practices. This is not to suggest that what we are taught and what we can learn from the experience of others is invalid but that we need to put it into context. Its purpose is as a catalyst or a tool to allow us to bridge the gap between ourselves and the people we think are separate from us. My observations also suggest to me that methods that work well and resonate for some people do not work so well for others, just as some people like one practitioner or style of needling and others like another. Unfortunately since acupuncturists are trained to believe the theory is real they can tend to think that their particular brand or style is superior and therefore produces more effective treatment. Occasionally this can even lead to almost cult like behaviour if people are susceptible and needy of that. The acupuncture still works but such thoughts can take practitioners out of the moment where they are in practice and into the ego. Consequently acupuncturists have a reputation for being opinionated and there is even an account of someone being murdered for speaking his mind in China. Through the years I have heard many people including some very good practitioners make all kinds of ridiculous statements, here are some examples:
“You cannot treat gynaecological conditions without using herbs”.
“Only five element acupuncture is able to treat emotion”.
“It takes one month of treatment to regress for every year an illness has existed”.
“You cannot be safe and effective with acupuncture unless you study for three years”.
Self-limiting beliefs like these get in the way and I discourage my students from accepting any of them. We need to strike a balance between the things we need to believe and when to let them go. If people wish to make statements like these they should be expressed in first person to reflect their own reality i.e. “I use herbs to treat gynaecological conditions”. If there is one thing I have learnt in 25+ years around acupuncture it is that as soon as you are certain about anything it will be contradicted. Although all beliefs are ultimately just thoughts that we use to control our doubts and fears they are still powerful stimulants to energy. If you think that acupuncture can cause or promote cancer then for goodness sake don’t do any. But if on the other hand you think you can help people with cancer then there should not be a problem. I’m intending to argue that ultimately all beliefs and good intentions are actually limitations. But it is a bit difficult to practice acupuncture in the usual way without them, so I suggest we just bear this in mind for now.
Spiritual teacher Adyashanti says that a person who is truly enlightened is one who really “knows that they don’t know” what is real. In fact none of us do but we have been indoctrinated into believing that a uniform and shared reality exists outside of ourselves. To be enlightened would be to end that illusion and the dream of a life where we are separate from anything. To be truly in a state of not knowing would be to have no concerns over thoughts of past or future. This would be to be free of a time bound reality involving a life and death and even taxes. We go through life thinking that we know things but what do we really know without question? Most of us think and believe with absolute conviction that we are the product of an evolutionary process on a planet spinning around a Sun. But we are basing most of that conviction on what we have been told rather than our own experience and is our reality not only as real as our conviction that our beliefs about a world of any kind are real? Such strong convictions become especially difficult to question when shared by many others or when they form part of our culture or religion. Take for example the strongly held and collective belief of most of the scientific community that homeopathy cannot possibly work and is a load of rubbish. When you ask for justification for this assertion you get a lot of stuff about the placebo, double blind trials, known criteria and sub molecular solutions. They really think they “do know” and they are not in the least bit interested in what people who use homeopathy actually say. Wikipedia calls homeopathy pseudoscience because it does not adhere to scientific method. But scientific method is still only another belief that exists in the minds of scientists. What the scientific case ultimately boils down to is that since lots of people share the same story about the nature of reality it must be true. When you point out that religion does this too they deny any similarity and will come up with all kinds of reasons why science is not a faith or a belief system. They just don’t understand that reality is personal and that it is a product of our own creation. You can’t get them to contemplate the absurdity of the view that it can exist without us or the impossibility of ever proving it. No one knows any reality other than their own so how are you ever going to prove to someone else that the world you perceive is the same as theirs? Such a world simply does not exist! This means any “fact” is only a statement of opinion advanced from a position of separation. There is nothing wrong with that and it may be a valid opinion and one that makes sense to others, but it is still based upon only one level of perception. If anyone wishes to make any judgement of this kind they need to ask themselves how real their underlying assumptions actually are. Homeopathy does work because people say that it works for them and their children and this also applies to acupuncture. If we wish to argue against that we are doing so from a position of arrogance, as if saying we are the only one to know God.
So I can see what Adyshanti is saying when he says we don’t know anything we just think we do. We think things and through that thinking and our experience we create a reality that we call our life. But it is actually a self-created dream or a story born of our thoughts and our individual experiences. We may think that we know who we are but true authenticity only starts when we stop thinking. We are so habitually addicted to this thinking that we assume we can’t stop. But it is possible to change or even suspend our thoughts and to try that sometimes might free things up a bit. For example, you might like to consider the suggestion that all theories and traditions about anything, including Chinese Medicine are in fact part of the dream as well. We are making it up as we go along just as people have always done. Ultimately nothing is certain except the moment now and it’s as well to remember that when you are poised with a needle effecting an acupuncture treatment. This applies if you have 30 years experience and it applies in the same way if you graduated last week. Acupuncture is focused on the moment because putting a needle into a point does give that clarity. The real purpose of acupuncture theory and training must be to bring you to a point where you can come to a stop. In that moment there is no intention or desire, no dreaming, no thinking and you can “be” in what is sometimes referred to as the “hologram of consciousness”.
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