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White caterpillars

white caterpillar

I wrote this piece after my Uncle Dave passed away on Oct 1 2015. He was one of my favorite people. Funny and talented, he had an album of original songs out in the 1970′s, and one of them was even used later in a John Waters movie! As one of 7 kids, trips by myself to visit him and my equally special aunt were always magical to me. He taught me a lot about personal responsibility, trying new things, how to present my point of view better (he loved to argue), among many other things. And he was freaking hilarious. I miss him a lot!

I’m sorry, white fuzzy caterpillar. I know when I confidently put that twig up to the end of the branch you were dangling on, I must have seemed like the hand of God. Like someone who knew things about life. Like someone you could trust. You crawled on, but all I did was deposit you onto another branch, which you climbed and then came to the end of. Again. I tried to rescue you, but you thought better of it. Figured, better to double back where I came from. This stick rescue operation seems faulty. Good for you. Neither of us knows what the fuck is going on! But finding you with my eyes after hearing you rustling in the leaves nearby was comforting to me. So thank you. And I’m sorry I didn’t have better guidance. All I can think of is the question, can your heart get bigger even with this? Yes? Then you are OK.

When I learned that my uncle had passed away I was drawn to the woods and the caterpillar encounter.  He died peacefully in his sleep after a long illness, after an evening of fish and merriment with his wife and his sister, my aunts. It must have been right around when my alarm was going off with church bells. 7:30am. If I’d stuck to my schedule I would have been doing qi gong at that time. But I needed the sleep, I thought. I had been making the drive to Maryland to be with him nearly every weekend the past few months.

My sister was in a different patch of woods in Pittsburgh after learning he had died, and she was also visited by a white fuzzy caterpillar with a black center line. It crawled onto her book and she took a picture and sent it to my aunt while thinking, this is something Debbie would do. We laughed and cried when she showed me the picture and I exclaimed that I was talking to a caterpillar at the same time. We joked that it was Uncle Dave visiting, paused seriously for a moment when we realized he might not find that funny, and then laughed even harder.

I could feel myself starting to grip around that story, wanting to hold onto something as meaningful, lamenting the fact that I’d be doing qi gong at 11pm instead of while he passed on that morning, regretting all the times I hadn’t written, the half-formed thoughts that sparked almost too powerfully in me and then faded away. I felt at the end of the branch, waiting for someone to put me on the real one. You know, the one that I climb that ends in a leaf, or a happy ending, or some epiphany, or something.

Of course I know there’s no real branch. Well, there is, but it’s the one that I’m already on. The one where my uncle dies while I’m sleeping and I’m still OK.

I found out about a week after his death that those caterpillars are poisonous. It came up in small talk with one of my patients. She said something about a friend’s son’s rash that ended up being hand foot and mouth disease. “But you know there are those caterpillars…”

“What caterpillars?” I asked, trying to sound casual.

“Oh, they’re white. Anyway,” she said, going on with the story about her friend.

I didn’t look it up. I didn’t want to look it up. Then later a text from my mom. I just saw on the news last night those cate R poisonous.

OK, time for google.

So poisonous is a strong word. They’re Canadian. They have a defensive chemical in their fur that gives people a mild irritation. Kind of like a nettle sting. In a very small percentage of people there might be a more serious reaction like nausea or vomiting.

I like nettles. I often run my hand through them just to feel the sensation. Jim Duke the famed herbalist used to walk in patches of them to help his arthritic knees. And anyway I am not touching the caterpillars.

I did feel a little silly at first. My uncle’s spirit, ha. But then things reoriented in my mind. Grief can be transformational and it stings. It’s important to me to find grace and meaning even in painful situations. Those caterpillars created a connection. Between me and my sister and my aunt. My sister and her kids. My mom and my brothers.

My brother texted me a picture of a white caterpillar a few weeks after my uncle’s death. Looks like Uncle Dave is letting his presence known here too. I could see what looked like cigarette ash on the concrete and a blurry caterpillar. I imagined him out back, smoking, sighing and then seeing that bright white and taking a picture with his shaky hands. I started to cry. I’m not sure why those moments of connection can feel like grief. Like my heart is trying to take a deep breath but can’t quite do it. Like I’m walking through fog and can almost feel the sun on my skin.

And yet I am more than OK.

Thank you for reading.

Mystery at the heart of healing

Many people in the modern world believe (whether explicitly or implicitly) in “promissory materialism”, which essentially says that although there are things that Western science hasn’t fully explained, it is only a matter of time before all is illuminated. Rather than seeing the reductionist, materialist scientific worldview for what it is – a worldview, one lens among other possibilities – most see it as the be all end all of knowledge. Reality, in other words.

While Chinese medicine is becoming steadily more and more accepted in America, the risk is that it will be a stripped down technique that ultimately makes it past the gatekeepers of what is really real. As practitioners we have to walk a fine line – able to interface with the dominant paradigm so we have a place at the table, and yet committed to bringing the full depth of our medicine to that table (and ideally, ultimately, to change the whole table!) It’s quite the challenge, because the holistic, relational, ecological worldview that Chinese medicine bloomed out of is what’s needed in our disconnected, materialist world. Not another technique.

Dry needling is the most obvious manifestation of that risk. Acupuncture without the woo-woo, as some claim. But it’s not just dry needling. So many of the things that we ourselves do to “advance” the Chinese medicine profession in the modern world are eerily close to the condemnation of it. Pushing for insurance reimbursement means that the healing we provide needs to be translated into billable, codeable, measurable descriptors. This is a way to “play the game” and make acupuncture more accessible and of course we know that we are doing much more than 97810 for ICD 10 M54.5. But what reality are we creating by participating in the process?

In a similar way, pushing for double-blind, randomized, controlled studies reduces our medicine to a technique that can be repeated, no matter the patient, no matter the practitioner. The huge elephant in the room is that this no longer reflects reality even within Western science! The majority of our assumptions around health – and therefore the practices and institutions and systems in place to tend our health (and vice versa) – stem from a machine-like, physical reality viewpoint. Most people still treat the body and treat health, treat the whole experience of being human, as a mechanical process. And the mind is the mind and the body is the body and never the twain shall meet.

On an acupuncture forum of all places, one practitioner was complaining about another acupuncturist asking her patient all kinds of questions about her emotional life when she was just there for stomach issues. Within Chinese medical theory that statement, “just there for stomach issues” makes no sense. Isolation is the province of Western medicine, whereas with Chinese medicine, nothing can be understood without looking at the relationship between things, and this of course includes all aspects of a human being – physical, emotional, and spiritual.

There are studies that show that a physical issue with the spine does not correlate necessarily to pain and vice versa. This is such a huge revelation (and just one anomaly showing the limits of a materialist worldview among thousands) that gets completely overlooked. We often all still want to know what’s really going on, as if an MRI or blood test is the ultimate truth rather than data revealed by looking through a very particular lens with inherent assumptions.

Perhaps the suppression of other ways of healing and of knowing were almost necessary, although tragic. It’s hard for any culture to hold multiple viewpoints that seem so contradictory, and Western medicine has made incredibly positive contributions to our overall health that might not have been possible without the hyper focus and specialization. But now, we need to find ways to allow for multiple things to be true, to allow Chinese medicine to exist fully in its paradigm without being cherry-picked, and to learn to discern which context is most appropriate for healing in each situation, all while remembering that there will always be mystery at the heart of healing. As practitioners, believing in and articulating the full breadth of what is possible with Chinese medicine, and dedicating ourselves to its deep study, is a huge first step.

Chinese herbs clinic in Maryland

Chinese herbs

UPDATE: Woo-hoo! I finished my 2-year program in December 2017, passed my boards this summer, and am so excited to start incorporating Chinese herbal therapy into my treatments with patients here in Pittsburgh! 

Over the past year, I’ve been traveling back to my alma mater in Maryland about once a month to delve into the study of Chinese herbs. It’s been a deep, rich, and inspiring experience.

And I am now ready to treat patients in the student clinic there in Maryland! It’s been a long time since my student clinic days (I have been a practicing acupuncturist for over 8 years now) and I’m excited to be in that learning environment again.

Chinese herbs are helpful for a wide array of health challenges including chronic pain, digestive issues, insomnia, anxiety, fertility, colds and flus and much more.  The school dispensary is stocked with high-quality, ethically-sourced herbs, and each patient will receive a custom, raw formula to cook up at home (it’s very simple and most people enjoy the process – it’s good to be connected to the actual herbs!) The Chinese herbal method of creating formulas is nuanced and elegant, like a symphony, where each herb adds to and supports the strengths of the others, and works to restore health and harmony in the whole system.

I have openings on Sundays and Mondays for a limited number of patients through November 2017 (I’ll be traveling there from Pittsburgh.)

Please get in touch via email or phone (412-927-4768) if you’d like to book one of them!

The initial consult lasts 1 1/2 hours and is $70. Follow-ups are 1 hour and are $55. You can also receive an acupuncture treatment during the visit for just $10 more. The herbs are an additional cost and can range based on the formula, generally $25-50 for a 2-3 week supply. Ideally you’d be able to commit to coming at least 3 times. Through the school, I am able to offer two people with lower income greatly reduced treatment – just let me know and I will get you the application.

Maryland University of Integrative Health is located at 7750 Montpelier Rd, Laurel, MD 20723, just off Rte 29 about midway between Baltimore and DC. It’s a beautiful building that you will enjoy spending time in.

I would so appreciate you sharing with people in Maryland who may be interested!

 

My mentor, Bob Duggan – a life well-lived

Bob Duggan

It’s been about a week and a half since Bob Duggan, one of my greatest teachers, the founder of my acupuncture school, visionary, father, grandfather, passed away. Amidst the grief I feel, there is immense gratitude, and a deep reflection on everything I’ve learned from him.

He taught me just how radical getting down to basics can be. If you feel something, where do you feel it in your body? Do you know when you’re tired, thirsty, hungry, when you stop breathing, when you tighten? He knew that we are all one thing, just different densities from breath to bone, as he would say. Our bodies are very wise, and our symptoms are our teachers, if we only listen.

He taught me to be precise with my language. He would always ask, what do you mean? Simple things like saying AND instead of BUT. Saying I CHOOSE to instead of I HAVE to. Reminders that we are often freer than we think we are in how we respond to life.

He taught me that upset is optional. Suffering is not – that is part of the make-up of human life, sorrow along with joy. And yet we can be with the suffering without adding additional suffering. Life is constantly moving. Grief is just as valid an emotion as any other, and we can breathe even with that.

These aren’t just “tips”. Taking on these basic practices is a huge part of what will change healthcare, which right now is based on the premise of fighting death, fighting disease, and having some expert fix you, rather than waking up a person to be their own caretaker in the basic ways and learning how to be with life as it is. I recommend his excellent book, Breaking the Iron Triangle for more about this.

When I was a year out of school, I was struggling to build a practice and on the verge of drowning in existential questions and despair. He took time out of his busy schedule to ground me again in the basics, and pester me about not holding back this medicine that I knew well. He helped me save my life. Now 7 years later, I have a thriving practice where I get to share what he taught me every day. It’s hard to even fathom the gratitude I feel for that.

And I am by no means the only person he showed up for in that way. Countless other colleagues shared similar stories of Bob continuing to remind them of their power, of their breath. Every interaction with him was a wake-up call to a bigger life, and his death is that as well. His teachings will continue to be that.

Chance had me back at my school last weekend for another class. It was painful, and yet wonderful to be around others who knew him and loved him, sharing stories, and feeling a connection to the community that he created.
He gave so much. What he would ask for in return is for me to give it away, which I will continue to do. I want him to feel my deep gratitude. I know that he does.

For an interview with Bob and Dr. Wayne Jonas, click here.

For information on how you can monetarily support Bob’s vision, click here. Please keep his family in your hearts. Jade, Susan, and Dianne are acupuncturists and powerful waker-uppers in their own right. I want to help them continue his legacy. And Bob had 8 grandchildren, three of whom are especially dear to me. Much much love.

The light isn’t going away, it’s going inside

It’s so easy to be connected to the outside world in the summer. The days are long and warm, people are out and about, there’s often a sense of light-hearted flow even with all the busyness. And then fall comes, and for many people there’s this sense of foreboding. WINTER IS COMING. With cold and ice. And shorter and shorter and shorter days. We wake up in the dark and come home in the dark.

The way Chinese medicine holds this transition is that all the light that was radiating out in summer starts to turn inward. It’s a time to illuminate our depths. To contemplate our life, to see things more clearly, to focus on what really matters. It’s a reminder that we have our own sun burning in our hearts all the time. Yes, that big outer sun is delicious – I notice a lightness in my mood on crisp sunny fall days. But overcast days have their own sense of beauty. They are a soft reminder to look inside. And the fall is a whole season dedicated to that.

The lungs and the large intestine are the organs associated with autumn. They are all about receiving, finding the gems, and letting go of what’s not needed. There’s a reason people feel drawn to clear out this time of year. It’s the natural movement of the season.

Many of my favorite acupuncture points speak to this process of turning inward, letting go, and finding the light inside: receive light, warm current, returning current, cloud gate, narrow passage, illuminated sea. Needling these reminds the body and the spirit of the importance of space and time and quiet and slowness.

We all need it, individually and collectively. Here’s to giving it the value it deserves this fall!

Healing is WILD

Healing is Wild

Healing is noticing the green plants and feeling the green places ripe for growth in yourself, and knowing they are the same thing.

Healing is being curious enough about the pangs your body makes to want a real change, not a duct-tape solution.

It’s noticing that your heart is actually aching for a real life, aching for you to slow down, to stop, to turn inward, to see.

But slowing down feels like death, so we just keep going. We don’t even have time to have a proper cold with bed rest and soup. We take dayquil and keep going.

Where are we rushing to anyway? Maybe the best insight of our life will come while we’re sweating out our sickness alone in our bed.

We aren’t machines and yet we want healing to be linear. And fast. And easy. We want to have a specific concrete problem that has a specific concrete answer. And then get on with life.

But healing is WILD! That miraculous force within you that knows how to knit bones back together and awaken your heart is a wily wild beast. It’s mysterious and unpredictable.

It responds best to healing interactions that have depth and texture and shape and flavor. That ask it to dance rather than command it. Interactions that have one foot firmly rooted in the unknown and that leave room for transfiguration. That attune us to the deeper vibration of the universe.

There is a whole symphony of body intelligence that can be activated in so many different ways that wouldn’t be considered medicine by the mainstream.

Of course a poem, a song, can heal. How could we have forgotten this? We are songs. We are poetry.

An herb invites our bodies to a fuller, richer conversation. Tiny acupuncture needles loosen old patterns of pain and constriction.

The universe is trying to come through us. In a real healing interaction, we dissolve and reform. There’s no guaranteed outcome but it’s always more whole than before. We are harmonized to a deeper rhythm.

The Western light of truth
leaves no room for healing
that takes place in the dark.

And yet dark, quiet places are where everything comes from. We need more of those in our lives and in our hearts.

Please be courageous enough to feel your longing and discontent, even when if feels like it will tear you apart and you want to just call it a sickness, a problem. Sit with it, be curious. Resist the urge to pathologize it or give it a quick fix. Allow the space and quiet and time for that longing to lead you to a real life, a life with big vistas where grace grows on trees. And maybe things are upside down but they feel more right than anything else ever did.

Acupuncture for Syrian Refugees

Update: THANK YOU to all who made my mission to Greece possible! I am so grateful for the support I was able to offer for people who are in a tremendously difficult situation.

On Nov 16th I’ll be joining a team of Global Outreach Doctors to help with the SYRIAN REFUGEE CRISIS on a small island off of Greece. Thousands of refugees are arriving by boat…6,000 in just the last few days. Their MEDICAL contacts on the ground are indicating cases of drownings, resuscitation, hypothermia, dehydration, emotional distress. Please DONATE, SHARE and SUPPORT our team. I am hoping to raise money for plane tickets and acupuncture supplies. Anything not used to support this mission will be donated to Global Outreach Doctors. Thank you so much for your support!! I am exhilarated and grateful to be able to use my skills in this way.

Click here to be connected to my fundraising site through YouCaring.

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The Fullness of Summer

Summertime at the Nuin Center

(originally shared with my newsletter last summer)

I was traveling back from a picnic last weekend with my friend and her 5 yr. old daughter. A quintessential summer gathering – good food, a trampoline, hot sun, the works. It was fun, and this little girl was worn out but still hungry for all of it. She remembered suddenly that she’d left her half-eaten strawberry shortcake at the party. And then she proceeded to cry for 30 minutes.

Now, the easy thing is to just see the ridiculousness in it. It’s just cake, right? Come on, kid, take your favorite song lyrics to heart and let it go.

But there’s a part in all of us that doesn’t want things to end. That is afraid of missing out. That gets a little overwhelmed by the heat and activity of summer. And my heart went out to her.

It’s not all on the surface in a meltdown like it is with kids, but maybe it shows up for some of us as insomnia. Or a hatred of winter. Or an addiction to sugar. Or fear of death. Or habits that feel good superficially but don’t really feed your soul. Or just good old-fashioned anxiety.

There is so much abundance in summer – from the variety of vegetables in my CSA, to the events on my calendar, to the energy I feel when I wake up in the morning. Mostly this is a good thing. The heat is expansive and there can be a sense of light-hearted joy.

But sometimes we can feel burned out or hyped up from too much going on, and yet afraid of missing out if we turn down an invitation or leave a little space in our schedule.

Remember that cool summer mornings, fireflies at dusk, and afternoons spent in hammocks (or on acupuncture tables!) have their gifts to offer too. Those moments of rest and reflection allow us to experience the fullness of summer without the frenzy.

Look at the bees. They definitely earn their busy adjective, but they never seem stressed. As my friend Veronica said, they always look like they are having the best day ever.

So I encourage you to have a cool drink and a long sit somewhere in the shade.

I hope you have a wonderful holiday weekend. And if you cry a little when the fireworks are over on Friday, I won’t tell anyone.

By:

Your Roots are on the Inside

mountain view

Around this time of year I start imagining what it would be like to be buried in the ground. Now that sounds creepy, but I don’t mean in a macabre-death-vampire way. More like a cute, hibernating groundhog way. Or a sleeping tulip bulb way. I picture myself totally protected, warm, and enveloped, able to draw in all the nourishment I need.

So without actually sinking down into the dirt for an extended period of time, what are other ways I can give my body what it’s longing for?

I can get a massage and pretend that I’m clay, being reworked and remolded.

I can get acupuncture and sink into the blissful half-sleep/half-awake place that the needles engender, letting my body and mind reset.

I can meditate, my still body and crossed legs a metaphor for absolute rootedness, tending the soil so new things can bloom.

I can eat my roots! Nature is sending its energy deep into them this time of year. Eat them and the power is mine too: Carrots, parsnips, beets, rutabaga. And I can make tea from roots too – ginger is a favorite. And add astragalus to soup stocks. And cook with turmeric.

I can take a hot bath and just pretend it’s the ground and I’m a bulb (this feels reeaaally good).

I can practice yoga, feeling my feet firmly planted and my breath in my belly through all the poses.

I can devote a whole day to solitude, not checking my phone or email or Facebook or twitter or… Just peace and quiet.

All of these things are medicine. Our bodies and minds will ask for what they need in a multitude of ways. Sometimes it’s numbers on a lab test. Or chronic pain. And sometimes it’s in the bizarre longing to be buried in the ground. If we listen deeply we can find ways to respond to the requests.

We’re inching closer to winter, that great incubator, every day. Take care of your roots and be surprised by what can bloom in the spring!

By:

Acupuncture + Depression: Spring edition

depression stuck energy furled fern

Here it is May 2nd, and I was still wearing a hat on my walk to work yesterday. The pink dogwoods, yellow daffodils, and cheery birds are all saying spring is here, but winter doesn’t seem to want to fully let go.

That dynamic of being almost ready shows up in us too. And it can be painful. We can feel like a furled fern. Or a tightly-wound bud.

This is one of the manifestations of depression within Chinese medicine.

It’s called liver qi stagnation: when part of us wants to grow and expand, but that desire is blocked for some reason.

There’s a time lapse scene in the Imax movie Mysteries of the Unseen World that almost made me cry. It’s of morning glory vines catapulting themselves higher and higher. It’s so beautiful, because we have that same desire for upward growth within us. That holy longing.

And sometimes we feel out of step with it and that’s OK. We can trust that our vitality lies within us like a sleeping tiger. An endless wellspring. Even when we’re going through dark times, we should never give up.

Because healing comes from activating the best part of ourselves, and while we’re alive, that’s always possible.

A richer, fuller, more vibrant life is always possible, even in the midst of feeling unwell or depressed or lost. We just can’t always predict when it will happen.

As one of my teachers said, “it is not a straight and narrow path, but it is the only one.

Bringing ease to where you are on your path is deeply healing.

We’re all trying to create a meaningful life. We have a vision that exists as a feeling, a drive, maybe even at times a desperation. Stepping even one small step (and sometimes that small step is very very small) towards it means being in line with the Universe, which is all about creation. Endless, ceaseless creation.

Tending to our human selves with gentleness, self-care and attention is what makes us ready.

Some steps:

Vow to take care of your body. I did this during a period of depression when I didn’t feel like doing anything. I wrote it down as a promise to myself that even if I didn’t feel like it, I would take care of the basics – good food, exercise, meditation. This is like tending the soil before we know if the plant will bloom or not.

Movement. Taking walks, yoga, qi gong, dancing, tennis. We want to feel expansive and nothing’s better to get us on that path than moving our bodies. Stretch periodically throughout the day (even if you get strange looks from your co-workers!)

Write down your thoughts. Taking some time with a journal in the morning and/or evening can really help keep things flowing. Just write for a few minutes without a particular purpose and notice if you feel freer.

Bask in the blessing. A friend of mine shared this phrase with me. She meant that if you see something beautiful, take the time to really experience it. Being in the presence of beautiful things can wake up those beautiful parts in ourselves. A few things that gave me pause over the past week – a bright red cardinal, the sun shining through a tiny crack in the clouds, an old dog keeping gentle watch over his front yard. Be curious as you go through your day, open to receiving these small blessings. And then breathe them in.

Acupuncture treatment. A series of treatments can be amazingly helpful in connecting you with that endless wellspring. It helps the new you emerge from the winter, from the darkness.

By:

Other posts in the Acupuncture and Depression series:
Building a Fire in Your Life
The Empty Heart

Image source: Peter Stevens

The Nuin Center
5655 Bryant St
Pittsburgh, PA 15206
--
Tue 10-7
Wed 9:30-5
Thu 10-7
Fri 9-5
Mon and Sat hours twice a month
Closed Sun
Phone: 412.927.4768