Most Times It's Not About Physical Pain
The other day, my 64 year old patient came in and slumped in the chair holding back tears. It was unusual for Bernadette (Bernie for short) to behave this way. Normally, she's energetic, upright, ready for the next thing - usually a trip or a new project. Bernie retired a couple of years ago from her job as a top administrator in a public service department. She was always dashing off to exotic places or bounding about helping people. She came to me to address various joint pains that arose from all the exercise and running she did every day. We'd been through a lot together in the past 7 or 8 years including 2 separate hip replacements, a new knee and a couple of foot surgeries. Each time, she went through it like a trooper. Whatever it took, she plowed through to healing.
Today, Bernie smiled weakly and said, "I'm so glad you had an opening. I don't know what's wrong with me. I've got jaw pain and headaches and everything is going haywire. It seems like I have a new pain each week!" This didn't sound like the Bernie I knew. Her symptoms didn't seem to add up given what I knew about her and she has never been a complainer. Of course I was starting to wonder about various blocks and diagnoses, but something didn't make sense.
I let her go on for a few minutes to tell me about her little finger, her foot, her hip. Then, when she started choking back tears I gently stepped in. Placing my hand on her knee and quietly leaning in, I said, "Bernie, tell me what's really going on. This isn't like you. You're not here for your aches and pains. What's happening in your heart?" Bernie blinked at me with big teary eyes, took a deep breath and broke into a sob. "I just want to be USEful! I don't know what I'm doing with my life. I'm busy all the time. I help out at church and organize events but no one appreciates me and I'm tired and feel so, so... without a purpose!" She went on to say that she didn't want to go back to work but that she had so much time and energy but her life was a hodgepodge of helping friends or her church community, traveling, fixing up her house. She was BUSY but had no sense of purpose.
Having a sense of purpose is essential to having a happy life. Bernie was a vibrant, successful executive in her work life. Her work benefited her community in many ways that she could name. She was a mentor to the younger or newer people who worked for her. While she worked, she made all kinds of plans for retirement which mostly involved travel and visiting friends. After a few years of the retirement honeymoon, Bernie started to feel lost. It's not unusual and it can happen at any age or phase of life. We can have jobs or careers and be right in the middle of them and still feel empty and lost. Bernie just happen to feel it at this stage of the game.
What makes you feel purposeful? What's missing? What's full? How do we even FIND a sense of purpose or our soul's purpose? In my practice, I help people get to that by using The Five Elements. Acupuncture is not just for aches and pains. The points and the medicine are actually based in Taoist mysticism and medicine. If you aren't fundamentally happy, peaceful, at home in yourself, your body will find ways to let you know you need to look more deeply. Symptoms are signposts or places where deeper inquiry begins. In Five Element practice, we actually seek to figure out what brings you to life more fully and build on that! It's much more useful and positive than "fighting" a symptom!
There are Five Elements or fundamental movements of energy in all of nature. Because we are also a product of nature, these movements of our life force keep us growing, developing and changing along with life around us. Each Element corresponds with our emotions, the energy of each season, our organ systems and so much more. All together, how those movements of energy happen within us is also what comprises who we are as individuals - the Me that is ME as well as the communion we are with the all of everything. I am unique like a wave in the ocean but I am not the ocean. I am a wave of energy. (So now we're getting out there a bit. I'll reign it in.)
With Bernie, I could ask her, when in your life did you feel charged up? Like - "YES! THIS is what I'm here for!" She thought for a moment and then smiled and said, "When I was mentoring younger women." Purposefulness almost always comes from some level of service or connection with others. We want our lives to matter to people! We want to be remembered, respected, important, loved.
The sense of feeling "charged" and like "THIS is who I am" gives me an idea of which element brings you to life most fully. I want to focus on whatever element or movement of energy that is.
When in your life have you felt like all the pieces fell together - even just for a moment? If that hasn't happened yet, you have to look at your life and what you are creating for yourself. It's TIME!
In my sessions, I may ask questions that correspond to each element that help to clarify where a person sparks to life. For example, a question from the Water Element might be "When have you known your own wisdom?" or "How do you access your wisdom?" From Wood, "What kind of vision for your future jazzes you?" or "Tell me about your plans for yourself." From Fire, "What gives you the deepest sense of Joy?" or "Tell me about something you absolutely LOVE doing." From Earth, "Can you name a time or circumstance where you felt supremely satisfied with your work or your play?" or "Is there anything you do that nurtures you deeply?" Finally, the Metal Element may prompt me to ask, "When was the last time you looked back at your life or even your day and acknowledged yourself or appreciated what you've done or how you've been?" Each element goes to a different sense of energy in us - the stillness of wisdom, the uprising of a vision, the fullness of joy, the settling of satisfaction, the completion of acknowledgement. When you can answer these questions and more like them with great honesty, then you can find where you are thriving and where you need some boost or where you find movement and flow and where you're stuck.
It doesn't help to complain or judge where you are in life. It only helps to take an inventory, create a vision and a plan, change your behavior and follow through on the plan, evaluate how you're doing, let go of what's not working, appreciate what is and keep moving yourself through the whole cycle again and again. In time you will become a master of your own life and life's direction. Your purpose will emerge and you feel more and more full.
Bernie had a lightbulb moment. She feels most purposeful when she mentors, when she can pass on what she knows. I gave her homework to find out which non-profits help women enter or grow in the business world and see if any of their work sparks her. I chose points that reinforced her new sense of direction and purpose: "Great Esteem" so she remembers to value herself and to take up her own space in the world and "Foot Above Tears" so she steps forward into her new vision and doesn't get lost in complaint at what's not working. When she sat up, she felt stronger, more hopeful and determined to create something more for herself. Sometimes we just need to have a new perspective to get us unstuck.