Embracing Uncertainty and Finishing Well

…the three noble principles: good in the beginning, good in the middle, good in the end. They can be used in all the activities of our lives. We can begin anything we do--start our day, eat a meal, or walk into a meeting--with the intention to be open, flexible, and kind.
   Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times

I don’t know about you, but 2017 has proven to be one of the most challenging years for me. My father passed away in February and that event alone pushed me up against discomfort, sadness, and fear in ways that nothing else has.

Like everyone else, I’ve watched daily as our nation struggles to comprehend and adjust to our new political administration. I’ve read the bios of people who have been murdered in mass killings, seen devastating photos of fires, floods, and earthquakes, and often just can’t believe that something else horrific is happening---again--this year.

I’ve treated people who are experiencing nothing short of shock and trauma from these and other personal experiences--some remembering harassment and assault, some mourning their own lost loved ones.

Throughout the year though, LBCA has held me steady and I know that it has been a source of stability for others. My colleague, Nirva, wrote eloquently of the radical acts that take place in our clinic every single day. Indeed, the wonderful moments we experience with patients are a salve, a balm countering the troubles and fears that exist beyond our concrete walls.

2017 has been a year of uncertainty. No one knew what to expect after the January inauguration and we don’t know what 2018 will bring. These are difficult times to be sure. Chödrön is clear: “we can never avoid uncertainty. This not knowing is part of the adventure, and it's also what makes us afraid” (6). I would like to be less afraid, learn to work with discomfort, and enjoy the adventure of not knowing.

As the year winds down, I am thinking about how to finish it well. In any part of a process, it’s important to be mindful at each stage though we tend to gravitate toward beginnings, ignore middles, and rush through or avoid the endings. How will you finish this year well? Being “open, flexible, and kind,” seems like a good starting place.

The Radical Act of Community Healing

As I reflect on this year working with you, I’m not sure I expected to see a space for healing as an integral part of community.  But that’s what Long Beach Community Acupuncture has become for me.  This space on its own is a combination of chairs and concrete.  But everyday, we come to this building and we talk about our pain, joy, sadness, fears, and the desire for balance or release.  These rich conversations breathe life into this old building.  And for these reasons we all have a stake in this community. 

This was most apparent to me in the first month I spent with many of you.  You welcomed me so warmly over and over again.  And you all said the same thing “welcome to our community.”  And it floored me.  Looking at this moment through the lens of my previous career as an urban planner, I know that creating community is not an easy thing to do.  So it has been profoundly important to me to honor and respect that sense of community and commitment you all feel in connection to your health and this space. 

Community acupuncture is so wonderful and it has provided me the environment to extend the values I cultivated in my previous career into this work.  As acu-punks we are committed to providing affordable and accessible care that cuts across race, gender, ethnicity, language, and sexuality.  In this way, we come together to uphold the values of unity, equity, and justice—a radical act. This is what brought me to your community and to this type of practice.

On any given day, I am treating people of all walks of life, from women of color, to immigrants, to men, and limited English speakers, as well as people of differing ability, income, and class.  It is beautiful to see you all lying there in your chairs side by side unified in your healing.  And that is such a significant way for communities to heal.  

Personally it has been such a joy and honor sharing space with all of you over this past year.  I am so happy to be your community acu-punk.  Cheers to the clinic and cheers to another year working together!

Shining a Light

When my husband and I set out for our vacation, we weren't trying to see the eclipse. We were just seeking some solitude in the peaceful National Forests of Nevada before we made our way to Salt Lake City for POCAfest, a gathering of community acupuncture clinic owners and workers.

Being out in a remote area, we thought we might see something even though we were way out of the path of totality and far from crowds. The morning of the eclipse, no one else was in our campground that was shaded by well-nourished cottonwood trees. We made an old-fashioned view-finder to check and see if we could determine any progress of the moon shading the sun.

We walked in the dappled light of trees, noticing how the cottonwood leaves reflected and refracted sunlight. Glowing crescents patterned the dirt, George took pictures, and we carried our view-finder, checking periodically but it showed nothing.

We continued our road trip, checking the sun throughout the day, then decided we had simply missed the eclipse. But once we got to POCAfest, four days later, we were talking to an acupunk who works at WCA in Portland. He happened to be in clinic that day and stepped outside to see it; he explained how the eclipse had also created an interesting pattern through tree leaves: shining semi-circles rimmed leaves and created beautiful shadow and light patterns on the ground. Turns out we HAD seen the eclipse, we just didn't recognize it!

It was a happy revelation and as I think of it now, a great metaphor for how POCA has been for me: shining a light on the obvious and not so obvious, and helping me recognize certain truths.

When I first discovered the community acupuncture model, my heart opened wide; it was a visceral feeling in my chest and I knew I had to practice that way in Long Beach. I didn't need to travel to another country to help underserved people, as there were plenty of people that needed help and access to affordable healthcare right where I live.

POCA helped me see and know that acupuncture doesn't need to be expensive to be effective. It helped me understand better how acupuncture works and how necessary frequent treatments can be to solve and manage difficult health problems. POCA taught me how to develop and grow LBCA and it continues to be a beacon for me, reminding me of my own privilege to practice this medicine.

Members of POCA, like Dr. Tyler Phan and Lisa Rohleder, remind me of the hidden histories of this medicine--the elders and activists who have been elided by the formal history of the profession: Miriam Lee, Mutulu Shakur, Ing "Doc" Hay, and Master Tung Ting Chang.

POCA is a constant source of education and enlightenment, advocating and practicing trauma-informed care and creating the idea of Liberation Acupuncture that draws from the practice of Liberation Theology. All of these ideas can be explored on POCA's website from the thoughtful radicals who have developed them.

It's a good tune-up for me to attend POCAfest when I can. This group of fearless practitioners is actively working to improve acupuncture education and the profession at large and it all begins within one's community. The co-operative ethos of POCA acknowledges mutualism: we need our patients as much as they need us. Together we can begin to address the real issues of pain and suffering that occur in our communities every day.

Healing in Community

Many social workers, massage therapists, and psychotherapists I’ve spoken with over the years—like acupuncturists—pursue the healing arts because we need healing ourselves. On February 3 of this year, my father died from cancer. He had been battling the disease since 2013 and was, in fact, diagnosed right around the time I signed the lease to open Long Beach Community Acupuncture.

He lived in Texas, and the distance compounded by invasive treatments from radiation and chemotherapy, to surgery and more chemo have been—to say the least—stressful for me. Living with a cancer diagnosis and treatment is a strange trip of intensity for caregivers and patients; it is a flux of emotions and physical symptoms with good and bad days. These past few years have been delineated by periods of shock and sadness, then those of waiting and hoping for optimal outcomes.

Working in this clinic daily has been a great source of healing for me as well as many others. We’ve given over 19,000 treatments to date. I am amazed at the sheer number of treatments and even more so at how much healing I’ve drawn from this environment. It was not something I expected.

Work that one enjoys is a salutary well. I have been soothed and comforted from treating people over and over; it comes in the form of the brief, casual conversations of our lives as I get the pins in and also in the successes we share in having symptoms improve if not resolve completely.

It was a conversation with a long-time patient that enabled me to take good leave of my father before he died and to appreciate how he had influenced my life choices in ways I could not recognize before. While another patient, who helps me clean the clinic sometimes, encouraged me to visit him multiple times in the final months of his life—not a simple choice as a business owner—but I did. Those last visits created some of my most cherished memories of him now. At the same time, our staff stepped in to cover for me, keeping the clinic open and accessible to patients while I was gone.

I wanted to share this at the time of our expansion of hours because our clinic staff and patients have been such an unbelievable source of support and these changes reflect the strength of LBCA.  It is difficult to estimate the value of a good team but we have one and I am grateful to you all. There is strength in numbers and healing in community.