Recently I have been pondering the relationship between acupuncture and taoism, in particular the meditational aspects which make up a pretty core part of taoist practice. Any number of textbooks can point out the relationship between acupuncture and the taoist obsession with health and longevity but the real goal of the taoist sage was immortality, not longevity. The way to do this was often through internal alchemy, neidan, a deep meditational process designed to develop a spiritual body that would transcend the death of the physical.
During some treatments I have found people experiencing deep states of relaxation and in some cases when practising techniques on friends, gradually exposing them to stronger stimulation over the course of an afternoon or evening, these have managed to become quite intense which has left me wondering if acupuncture has ever been used as a tool for facilitating an experience of deep meditation on the path to enlightenment or immortality. References to such a process seem to be quite sparse with any description of acupuncture for altering the mind usually being in the terms of calming the spirit in order to counter a particular malady. It has left me wondering if it would be possible to develop a protocol for use with acupuncture as an experience in itself without any attempt to correct an underlying condition.
7 Levels of Manifestion of the Soul
One question I am often asked is if I can work with chakras. This is a complicated question as they come from two separate systems of knowledge and while there are very similar concepts in Chinese culture they are not quite the same. Yuen, in his lecture on the 3 Spirits & 7 Souls, describes 7 levels of manifestion for the soul in taoist cosmology which he says more or less correspond to the chakras and begin with the most base, the awareness of existence, up to a spiritual rebirth often depicted as a ethereal foetus erupting from the crown of the head and union with the Tao. Each of these levels has points associated with them to assist people who are struggling cultivating that level. Searching my database of points for “first level”, or “second level” should return the results relevant for each level with most of them being symbolic of the struggle that marks that level of consciousness, the first dealing with our ability to adapt to post-natal life and being points relating to eating and breathing, progressing to issues in meditation, shaping ones life, being authentic and perceiving the divine.
The Eight Extraordinary Vessels
A second set of points that can be used for spiritual endeavors are the Eight Extraordinary Vessels. In general textbooks these are always approached from a medical point of view with a list of symptoms indicating an imbalance and often with a description of the vessel’s function in terms of traditional anatomy and flow of Yin and Yang. Yuen takes a different approach describing the vessels as essentially spiritual vessels which assist us to process certain areas of out lives. This is also echoed by Wang Mu whose book The Foundations of Internal Alchemy draws on alchemical depictions of them as located along the Du channel and being areas that can become blocked preventing the rise of energy along the microcosmic orbit. The indication for both is that experiences not properly assimilated can cause problems in these vessels which then frustrate a person’s spiritual development. Yuen’s descriptions reuinte this with the medical traditions by showing how the symptoms generally ascribed to each one are actually psychosomatic reflections of the issue they have been unable to transcend. This suggests that these can also be used to explore these psychological and spiritual realms in physically healthy people too. Just as in the levels of development described above these symptoms and points are usually describing inner problems using the body as a metaphor such as points on the ankles for difficulty approaching the world, the eyes for issues in perception and seeing clearly and around the waist for problems in processing resulting in us carring a weight of accumulated experiences.
13 Ghost Points of Sun Si-miao
A second series of points dealing exclusively with spiritual concerns are the 13 Ghost Points of Sun Si-miao, the 7th century physician. These points are so called as they were recommended for exorcism of ghosts that may be possessing someone. Possession in ancient China was far more common and less dramatic than we would think today and included anything that seemed to be taking control of our lives from internal or external sources. Quite often the person possessed would not be aware of what was happening and it would be people around them who notice a sudden change in behaviour. Generally speaking they seem to be relating to conditions involving social withdrawal, disorders of movement including sleepwalking, epileptic fits and sudden outbursts as well as the opposite: catatonia, and problems in processing reality both physically in cases of starvation or addiction and mentally in terms of delusions. They are split into four triads for four different patterns of increasing severity so that the first includes restless agitation and by the third we have conditions that would generally only be seen in institutionised settings today. Once again the physical symptoms and points are symbolic of the problems experieced except this time indicating the gradual progression of the unwanted influence, beginning at the peripheries where it would first enter and slowly moving to more central and intimate areas until it control the heart and central vessels.
Putting these two together I can begin to see a structure for developing acupuncture as an experience that can lead to a deeper understanding of oneself. Where you start on this depends on the person presenting with each stage of the process being perfectly possible to achieve without intervention, acupuncture providing a helping hand where wanted. If someone has come to you then they are presumably in need some some stimulation to move them past a blockage in their life, even if they do not really see it so the acupuncturist’s job is to work out where it would most likely be. As a rule people without obvious issues could be encouraged to cultivate one of the levels of manifestion of the soul. If there are some deep seated issues relating to the person’s past or their present relationship to something then the extraordinary vessels will be a good place to start. Finally if there are controlling influences in their life then one of the ghost point trinities should be considered. The important thing with all of these groups of points is that they do not have to be manifesting any physical symptoms to indicate their use although as always the person’s entire condition should be considered when making a decision which approach to take, symptoms being seen as symbolic of their struggle. Another case where any of these approaches might be applicable is in chronic diseases where the best attitude may not be one of attempting to resolve symptoms but to help the person explore their relationship to the disease, understanding that it requires them to make changes in their life and to help them come to terms with what that means. One of the great advantages acupuncture has in all psychological areas is that it enables a person to sort through their own issues with the therapist providing a minimal role: someone to listen, space in which to reflect and a few pointers of which areas to meditate on through stimulating the most basic symbol each of us has to describe our relationship with our lives, our own body.
One final note: I do not purport these to be conclusive or definitive but just a musing on how to choose points for people who wish to use acupuncture in a way that is not aimed at resolving symptoms. Both of these systems can of course incorporate symptoms into their selection and any presenting signs should be taken into account when choosing which system to select but they provide a series of points whose actions are not primarily concerned with relieving disease but rather promoting the path to deeper self awareness, control of one’s life and, if taken in their original religious context, experiences of enlightenment, immortality and liberation.