Category Archives: Five Elements

My illness is my friend

rock-hole-blue-lakeYesterday I received the news that one of my most influential teachers, Bob Duggan, has passed away. Bob was an acupuncturist but he was also a wellness visionary, seeing ways of bringing health and healing outside the treatment room.

In 1991 I was fortunate to be part of a group of 20 who made up the SOPHIA training in San Francisco. Bob, along with Diane Connelly, Julia Measures and John Sullivan, made seasonal trips from Maryland to teach us about using the wisdom of the Five Elements to support change and healing in all areas of life, not just in the treatment room. My own path owes a great deal to this training. My acupressure courses, my books and my direction in life were profoundly influenced by Bob’s view of the world.

When I received the news about Bob’s change of vibration, I went Googling and found a short interview with him from 2009 which I recommend to you. In it he tells this story:

I’ve practised acupuncture for 35 years now and some 30 years ago a man came back into me and he said, “I never thought asthma would be my friend.” I said, “Charlie what are you talking about, asthma is your friend?” And he said, “Well before I came to you I was in and out of the emergency room, I was constantly on prednisone. Now I pick up the wheezing about three days earlier and if I pay attention I realise I’m overtired, I’ve had too much caffeine, I’m having a fight with my wife. And if I change the life circumstances I don’t ever get an asthmatic attack.” That story has stayed with me. I’ve told it to virtually every patient since then and found that people say to me, “My body’s very smart.”

This reminds me of what I already know but try to forget. My headaches are my friends, my neck stiffness is my friend, my insomnia is my friend. These symptoms are kindly pointing out the ways that my life is out of balance. I just need to investigate and find out what needs to change, whether it is what I’m eating, what I’m thinking, what I’m feeling. Or not feeling.

As a practitioner it reminds me that my role is to support my clients to discover these things for themselves. And that if I simply “fix” their problems and nothing more, then I am doing them a great disservice. If I help them to turn off the fire alarm without finding the fire that triggered the alarm, then the change that the alarm is suggesting will not happen.

Thank you Bob Duggan for your wisdom and guidance. Thea Elijah called you a radical healing provocateur. I hope that you continue to provoke healing in whichever dimension you inhabit.


Gateways to Greater Health

4.5In conjunction with the forthcoming publication of The Way of the Five Elements, I have written a posting for the Singing Dragon blog which I’d like to share with you.

Entitited Gateways to Greater Health, the article looks at the Entry and Exit points of the meridians where blocks in the Qi flow can not only produce difficult symptoms and conditions, but also create blocks to treatment. While such blocks continue, treatment cannot progress. Check out the article at

Meanwhile, here in South Australia summer seems to be making an early entrance. Trees and shrubs are flowering early, spiders are super-active, and my garlic matured a couple of weeks earlier than usual. This means that the Fire Element is moving into the spotlight as the Wood Element retires to the chorus line for another year.

In the next posting I will return to individual points with a look at an Earth point that can help to smooth the transition between the seasons.

Not Knowing

Not knowingWhen we are in harmony with an Element and the Element is in balance within us, then we have access to the positive qualities or gifts of that Element in our lives. The season of winter supports exploration of the gifts of the Water Element. One of these is not knowing.

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We live in a world of unknowns. Nothing is certain. Life is an unfolding mystery. Yet most people try to create a sense of certainty in their lives in order to feel safe. The unknown can be a scary place, so we try to know as much as we can in order to avoid any nasty surprises. However no matter how much we know, this sense of certainty is an illusion. We can never be sure what the next moment will bring no matter how much we try to protect ourselves.

Another way to be that is more real is to become more comfortable with not knowing and to hang out for a while in the unknown. One of the concepts of Zen Buddhism is beginner’s mind. This is an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even at an advanced level. It’s like coming to something as if for the first time. Such a place of not knowing arouses curiosity and interest in the world, making it appear new, bright and fresh in every moment.

We can learn to bring this practice of open curiosity to all of our life. The longer we can remain in the unknown of a situation, the more that the limitless potential of Being is available to us. The Water Element is comfortable with the unknown, with the hidden depths.

The Water Element, as the Greater Yin, is the Element closest to the deepest places within us. It is a gateway to our unconscious, to the Tao and our place within it. As humans we are all waves in the great ocean of the Tao, arising as forms out of the ocean, and falling back into the formless. We are both formless and form, constantly manifesting and dissolving.

As we comprehend this universal truth and begin to have our own experiential glimpses of this reality, we come to realise that nothing can be known, and that being in the unknown is the deepest wisdom. We see that the more certain we are of what we know, the more we are cut off from all we don’t know. As the Zen master Shunryu Suzuki succinctly said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”[i]

When we begin to live in not knowing, we find that we are not taking action, but that action arises anyway. The more we are in contact with the fundamental ground of the Tao, the more we are able to watch our actions arising like waves out of the ocean. We become spectators, marvelling at the unfolding of our own lives.

Staying in the deep Water of not knowing, without the impulse to move to action, allows the fullest transformation from potential to manifestation.

 Not knowing is true knowledge.
Presuming to know is a disease.
First realise that you are sick;
then you can move towards health.

The Master is her own physician.
She has healed herself of all knowing.
Thus she is truly whole.[ii]

[i] S Suzuki, Zen mind beginner’s mind, Weatherhill 1970, p. 21.
[ii] S Mitchell (trans), Tao te ching, Harper Perennial 1992, p. 71.