As the title suggests, this is a personal tribute to J R Worsley who died on 2nd June 2003.The following is an extract: "He spoke of the elements and suddenly we saw them as never before, vibrant or dying, creative or useless.... He spoke of the twelve officials in such a way that they became as familiar to us as our friends.... He aroused a deep pity for the distress of illness and gave us a way of understanding even the most disagreeable of people."
In the first months of my practice a patient came to the clinic, gray and bent with the pain of terrible backache. He was a priest. He came for treatment for several weeks without any apparent signs of improvement. In the initial diagnosis JR had confirmed that his causative factor was in the metal element and I treated him accordingly. Being, in those days, eager to 'make people well' and still inexperienced in the power of Five Element acupuncture, I can tell you that had I known how to treat his back symptomatically I would have done so.
One day I entered the treatment room and saw him sitting fully dressed in the corner. My heart sank: 'He's come to tell me he's stopping treatment,' I thought, and yet, with curiosity, I noticed he was looking wonderful, radiant even. Sure enough he said "Meriel, I have come to tell you that I am stopping treatment but I want you to know that acupuncture has cured me. I didn't tell you when I came for treatment of my greatest grief. All my life God has sustained me. In my prayers I always found Him, always felt connected to Him. I didn't tell you that in recent years I had lost Him, lost the ability to pray, and have lived in such pain. I don't know how, but I know that acupuncture has reconnected me. Last night I dreamed that God was speaking to me. He said 'Don't be concerned about your back, I am with you.' My back feels fine today."
He looked marvellous, upright and strong, his eyes shining with light. (For those who are not familiar with the Five Elements, the metal element is responsible for keeping one connected to God. Had I treated his back, the presenting symptom, he would never have got what he really needed).
JR's students all over the world will have thousands of stories of this nature to tell. It is little short of miraculous how many lives he has touched and will continue to touch. It was his absolute conviction and his special gift that he knew there was a way to heal that restored the whole purpose of the soul. To him, any treatment that did less than address a patient's very deepest need was a banal and soulless matter and would never result in true healing. This meant that treatments under his guidance often had the miraculous quality of the story I have recounted above.
I trained with Dr Worsley in 1976 and I can say that, although I did much further training with him, a vivid memory of those early lectures is with me still. In many of us he laid a foundation of inspiration which has never waned. He was an extraordinary lecturer, making us laugh till we ached one minute, and well with tears the next. Immaculately dressed in a smart suit, slowly pacing the stage, short legged, ramrod-straight back, hands thrust deep in his pockets, pulling his jacket tight over his backside, he would speak slowly and deliberately, suddenly swinging forward to emphasise a point. Or he would stand facing forward, his blunt fingertips touched lightly together, until another conclusion flew his hands apart. He would often introduce a lecture of unforgettable pathos with a series of jokes that had us laughing until we cried. Like all great comedians, at times he was deadpan and at others moved to pure slapstick. His antics on stage could be sheer farce, often repeated until his audience begged him to stop. Having reduced us to putty in his hands, the true purport of the lecture would begin.
He spoke of the elements and suddenly we saw them as never before, vibrant or dying, creative or useless. He brought me to a resonance with nature that I recognised inside myself as the deepest truth. He spoke of the desolation of a barren field, of rivers drying up and terrifying droughts. Over and over again he would bring alive the consequences to the body/mind/spirit of fire that burns instead of warming, of earth that smothers instead of nourishing. He spoke of the twelve officials in such a way that they became as familiar to us as our friends. You could see the Official of the Small Intestine failing in his task and confusing pure with impure, or could watch a sick Gall-Bladder Official making sick decisions. He brought us to the solemnest recognition of the pain of a lost harvest, the disgust and discomfort of inadequate or dirty water. He aroused a deep pity for the distress of illness and gave us a way of understanding even the most disagreeable of people.
In the treatment room he adapted himself completely to the patient. To get an accurate diagnosis he would stop at nothing. He made himself stern or gentle, even ridiculous, to get the patient to reveal their deepest dysfunction. One time I was puzzled to see him kneeling by a patient's bed throughout the consultation. Later he explained that her Heart Official was in such a perilous condition she needed this absolute homage. He saw illness with a simple and dramatic clarity and expressed it as simply. He was never obscure. The patient's situation was graphically described - we could see at once the pollution or the emptiness, the distorted growth or burnt out fire - it was both stark and compassionate. His diagnoses were often dramatic, to the point where, I have to confess, I occasionally thought 'Oh, come on, JR', but over and over again he was proved right and the clarity and depth of his insight blew away more of my blindness. His driving message was always to attend to the spirit, anything less than this was a travesty of the healing art. He saw deeply into a patient, to the point where the rupture with natural harmony had occurred, and taught always, and passionately, the necessity of reaching this true level of the sickness.
He knew that his power to heal was always subject to the laws of nature. He was utterly humble in this respect. Like many great teachers he could be frustrating to his students, stubborn, contradictory, evasive, but, even at the heights of rhetoric, one knew entirely that this man knew, to the depths of his being, that he was only a servant, a servant to God and to nature and to the sick. To his scores of demanding students he gave of his best to the end of his days. He never stopped teaching and my guess is that, at this very moment, St Peter is being encouraged to drink a great deal more water!
In his later years I had no classroom experience of JR, although I continued to take many patients for consultations with him. Others will be able to speak more eloquently of those important sessions but I know that he and his beloved wife, Judy, continued to refine his teaching through the work they humbly and persistently did on themselves. Judy Becker was his student in the early 70s and they married in 1991. They worked and played together and were very seldom apart. She will surely carry his mantle for the next generation of students and patients to be enriched by his work. Judy encouraged him into a much richer social life - and much more interesting food! - and through her, I was fortunate enough to see somewhat more of him socially. I feel so blessed that my children, from an early age, grew to love and respect him and that he touched my grandchildren's lives as well. My personal debt to him is beyond words; he gave me my health and my career and, above all, a way to understand and interact with the world that I had long sought.
In these years he and Judy made a beautiful home at Burton Dassett. He learned to cook and made the most delicious jams, chutneys and pies. He cooked with the same concentration and attention to detail he gave to everything. Judy had the ideas and the creative flair and JR painted, again immaculately, furniture, plant pots and even decorative murals. His paintings were bright and charming and had a kind of sweetness that came more and more to the fore as he aged. He and Judy were blissful at this home, always with some new project in hand for the garden or for extending their menagerie of animals, much loved by them both. It was lovely, at last, to see him able to enjoy the life of the countryside he had always described so feelingly.
In his last year, although physically more frail, his spirit shone with light. He seemed at times to be without any barrier at all to the beauty of his soul. One could see, again, the extraordinary clarity, directness and depth of his understanding, tempered now with a greater gentleness. It was beautiful to see him demonstrating now what he had taught so passionately all his life, that the spirit is the ultimate home of all of us.
For his last weeks in hospital Judy was constantly at his side and has described most movingly how those weeks passed. She kept his many anxious devotees daily informed by e-mail of his health and spirits and all over the world people thought of him.
I would like to finish with a few lines from a piece written by Ram Dass and Paul Gorman. It describes a visit from the Dalai Lama's physician to a sick woman in hospital. '...As he nears the door, the woman raises her head and calls to him in a voice at once urgent and serene. 'Thank you, Doctor,' she says, and touches with her other hand the place he had held on her wrist, as though to recapture something that had visited there...'.
Meriel Derby Meriel Derby trained with JR Worsley. She received her Licentiate in Acupuncture in 1976 and then did two further degrees with JR. She taught for several years at the College of Traditional Acupuncture in Leamington in the UK, and works in private practice in Gloucestershire.