Reprinted from The Golden Flower Newsletter, 2014.
My favorite chapter of the Ling Shu is certainly chapter 22. In those remarkable passages we read of a highly sophisticated system of channels that treat any condition related to Blood or Fluids. Of particular interest to me is the Blood because it is the Blood that contains the essence of what it is to be human, the memories and feelings of interactions and the universal human emotions: joy, anger, sadness, anxiety and fear. Western medicine is also discovering that the emotions are somehow held in the Blood; recipients of major blood transfusions or heart transplants sometimes report dreams, memories or even temporary personality changes which relate only to the donor. The Luo Channels are crucial in treatment at this stage of human history because we are at a point of crisis in the emotional arena; human emotions are not being properly shared and experienced. I’m old enough to remember when it was common to hear a knock on the door and there would be a friend or friends arriving unannounced, just dropping in to say hello. This could happen every day and certainly happened most weekends. My mother would say a big delighted hello upon opening the door and within a minute the kettle would go on. Everyone would sit and have tea in the kitchen and talk about what was new but also about all whatever was troubling. There would be pats of sympathy, frowns and hugs, then laughs–real human connection. There’s no difference between that kind of interaction (except for the tea, perhaps) and the interactions we must have had for millennia, visiting neighboring villages, and before that, sitting at campsites talking about the children, the hunt, the rituals and the coming weather.
In 1969 we got our first telephone, but it was used very sparingly. People who lived in the neighborhood would much rather drop in for a cup of tea than talk into the big bakelite phone. If you had a major problem or a death in the family, people would come in droves. In cases where people didn’t have family or many friends, the minister, priest or rabbi would show up. There was comfort because people felt connected. The unannounced “drop in” went on for only a couple of decades after that and then it gradually became impolite to drop in without calling first. Gatherings and “catch ups” became less spontaneous. As the culture became busier and busier, as stores began to open on the weekends rather than closing at 12:30pm on Saturdays, these interactions stretched further and further apart. Then the personal cell phone emerged in the 90s and people could have conversations whenever they pleased; they didn’t have to meet; they didn’t even have to be at home. One-to-one meetings with friends were no longer daily events. And now we are in the era of the dreaded text. Texting, while useful, has had unprecedented destructive effects on our relationships as human beings. If it is interaction that makes life worth living, we are doomed to depression if we do not revert to voice, or better: face-to-face contact. I have many patients who say they don’t really talk to their friends any more, they just text. People under 30 don’t even answer the phone. As an acupuncturist, my deep concern is that the Qi of empathy that is exchanged in that normal and precious human-to-human interaction is not occurring; empathy and caring cannot adequately be communicated electronically. As a result we have a densely populated society of increasingly emotionally isolated people. Many people report in the clinic that they feel nobody really has time for them, no time to listen, that they are missing contact, empathy, caring and the human touch. As a culture we now feel is it not only acceptable but normal for many to need the numbing effects of Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Celexa, Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, Ambien and the rest. When I have a patient who is deeply anxious, mourning or deeply angry, I always ask them who they have to talk to with about it. Do they have a buddy? A close friend they can call on? Increasingly, the answer is the same: my friends are too busy; I don’t want to bother them with this; people are too busy to call back…
If the neglect of our feelings becomes chronic, the risk of the Heart becoming bereft to the point of hopelessness causes the Pericardium to harden its shield over the Heart to protect against further hurt. This is a natural response to a situation of emotional stress. Chapter 22 of the Ling Shu explains that the Pericardium Luo Channel is the body’s coping mechanism. It manages stress and emotions, preserves sanity, generates empathy and uses intelligence to rationalize. If there is perceived trauma to the Spirit, the Pericardium Luo forms and begins to fill with pathology in order to protect the Sovereign, the Heart. The Luos work by containing the blood holding an emotion that the body is trying to keep out of circulation. The circulation of that blood is intentionally compromised as the body stagnates it in a vessel manufactured through the process of angiogenesis. During that process, small capillaries are made and can be seen somewhere along the Pericardium Luo Channel. When this happens, the emotions related to the trauma of not feeling connected can no longer be managed. The Heart becomes “heavy” or Heart “pain” becomes felt. The personality changes. Palpitations and anxiety erupt. If untreated, over time the Pericardium Luo empties its pathology (the emotion and the Blood containing it) into the Pericardium Primary Channel and the ability to interact wanes because the emotions cannot be controlled as the Pericardium organ becomes affected. If still untreated, emotional pathology compounds. Further along in the continuum of the Pericardium Emptied Luo scenario is the inability to take a different view of oneself and the world, the inability to experience the pain of another person, and the inability to experience guilt. At the very extreme end of the continuum is self-mutilation, a complete absence of empathy and sociopathic behavior. This is usually accompanied by rigidity of the neck and head.
It was near this end of that spectrum that I first met Jane in the office. She was a 20 year old college student and arrived in winter in a short skirt and T-shirt. As is usually the case with self-mutilators, her slash marks, which she made with a steak knife she kept in her dorm room, were concentrated in the region of GB-37 and ST-40, but she also had multiple slashes at LU-3 bilaterally. The Luo Channels are only treated by bleeding, so when a patient presents like that it’s a glaring confirmation of a Luo diagnosis; they are trying to perform Luo treatments on themselves, sometimes with remarkable accuracy. (LU-3 is not a Luo point, but is a Windows to the Sky point, a window to Heaven.) Jane was unable to make eye contact but willing to talk a little. She said she had come from a household where both parents had been physically present but emotionally absent due to drug abuse. She had been able to cope with that outwardly, but then had a boyfriend who went off with her best friend and that was where she fell off the rails. Her friends were only available to her by text. Nobody came over and gave her a hug or took her out for a walk or to a cafe. Nobody sat and listened or touched. She was essentially alone in her busy college town. Ultimately she had stopped caring about anyone including herself. The Pericardium was so rigidly defensive, her Heart could not open. Empathy was impossible. She now couldn’t connect even if she had the opportunity.
Jane’s treatment was relatively simple. There was a large nodule slightly proximal to PC-6 and several gritty nodules on the Pericardium Channel between the elbow and the axilla. Visible Luo vessels (capillaries) were present on the lower leg around ST-40, the upper thigh around ST-31, the medial ankles, the left thenar eminence, and at the solar plexus. To treat the emptied Luo pathology, PC-6 was bled and moxaed. To treat the full Luo pathology, ST-40, LU-7, KI-4, CV-15 were all bled as were the visible luo vessels on the respective Luo trajectories. The change was remarkable. The Shen returned to Jane’s eyes on the table. She had an enormous, heaving emotional release on the table and then said she hadn’t cried for a year. We repeated that treatment as close to every second day as possible, for 21 days. By the end of the course, Jane was able to smile, to call a friend, to re-engage the world, to care. There was a long way to go, but the blockage to opening the Heart and being fully human with flowing feelings had been removed. Now, a year later, she considers herself “happy enough!” and is embarking on her Masters degree with enthusiasm. I gave her an assignment which she has turned into a tradition in her personal circle: to get together with at least two friends one morning every week. This has now transformed into a biweekly evening potluck sometimes involving 30 people in a single gathering.
As acupuncturists, we are so fortunate to have these profoundly life-changing channels at our fingertips. All channel work is potentially life-changing and profound, but the Luo Channels have the unique ability to release their pathology very easily with the use of a simple diabetic’s lancet. It’s immensely satisfying to look at a cotton ball before throwing it in the trash, knowing that the pathology is right there, liberated from the body.
In the grand scheme, the Pericardium Luo allows a warrior to fight, it allows us to kill an animal for survival, it allows us to suffer great loss without being broken by it, it allows us to recover when someone offers an insult. But for the Pericardium Luo to be enacted because we can’t care about or talk to each other, wounds the human Spirit. As acupuncturists we can turn this chapter of humanity around in a very broad way. Without therapy, without drugs, without excessive time. One of my students is even practicing Luo Channels in Riker’s Island prison in New York City, one of the country’s toughest. The fact that people are leaving prison with more open hearts is profoundly significant. To some degree, the hatred is halted. The cycle of re-incarceration is lessened. Bleeding the Luos is a fast-track way to opening the Heart. More open Hearts means more love demonstrated. More love demonstrated sets an example for more love to be demonstrated, and so the spiral opens from one patient to a broad healing of humanity, and the planet blossoms.
New York City, 2014