Robert M Duggan Tai Sophia Press, US, 2003 Paperback, 93 pages, $12.95 Available from Tai Sophia Institute, Laurel, Maryland, USA: http://www.tai.edu
(Reviewed by William Weinstein, EJOM Vol. 5 No. 2)
‘A good healer cannot depend on skill alone. He must also have the correct attitude, sincerity, compassion, and a sense of responsibility. The patient must also be aware of his or her body in order to recognise signs and symptoms and imbalances.’ Neijing Suwen, Chapter 14. Maoshing Ni, translator.
‘To cure the people is to cure the self. To cure that is to cure this. To cure the small is to cure the great. To cure the state is to cure the household. When we are without rebellion, then we are able to cure, for when things are smooth and flowing, they are complete.’ Ling Shu, or The Spiritual Pivot. Scroll 6, Section 29. Wu Jing-Nuan, translator.
The literati of our society will recall the disaster that struck the two children in Dr Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat Comes Back. To be brief: The Cat in the Hat creates a chaos of red spots in the house that eventually spills outside onto the clean white snow in a cacophony of snowspots, and just when it seems most hopeless, Little Cat Z pops from under the Cat’s hat to save the day. Little Cat Z has a quality apparently missing in his comrade felines, namely, voom, and it is this insubstantial but powerful voom that is needed to return the snow to its pristine whiteness. It can be aptly said that Bob Duggan is his match. Bob Duggan is an acupuncturist and educator with voom, and voom shows on every page of his beautiful book, Common Sense for the Healing Arts.
What does Duggan mean by common sense? As the book unfolds, it seems that he means at least four things, and doubtless more. First, it is an appeal to all of us, practitioner and patient, to use our own good judgment in solving the problems of everyday life, without excessive reliance on experts and institutions. Second, it is an exhortation to learn what we share in common, in the multiplicity of communities we belong to, so that we can work together in each other’s service. Third, it is a reminder that in all our actions we respect the Seven Generations, the parents of our parents’ parents and the children of our children’s children.
The dictionary reveals one more meaning. ‘Common sense’ is the literal translation of the Latin ‘sensus communis’ and Greek ‘koine aisthesis’, for ‘total perception of the five senses’. An essential aspect of Duggan’s view of health, illness and healing – or, simply, of living with integrity and honesty – is the opening of the five senses in order to view the world in its intrinsic beauty. Seeing the world for what it truly is permits us to accept it ‘as it is’, and this in turn permits us to act constructively on the behalf of ourselves and others in a way that respects the cycles of the natural world we inhabit, which is one of Duggan’s central appeals to the healing community.
In its brevity, the book is at once practical and inspirational. All eighteen essays were originally commentaries written for Meridian, the journal published by Tai Sophia, the school of healing arts which Duggan helped to establish in Laurel, Maryland. By titling it Common Sense for the Healing Arts, of course, Duggan means to extend its readership to the healing community in the widest sense, as is reflected in the work of Tai Sophia itself.
It is divided into three sections: ‘Common Sense for the Treatment Room’, ‘Common Sense at Home, at Work, in Society’, and ‘Common Sense in the Healing Community’. The essays each stand alone – the book would be the ideal companion to place somewhere within easy reach when you have ten to fifteen minutes for quiet reflection about our art and our craft as acupuncturists – and are characterised by an economy of phrase, a lovely homeliness of metaphor and, on every page, a relevance that immediately compels the reader to delve further. Taken as a whole, the essays stand as a unified testament to a lifetime of work as a healer and educator.
It is in its own way an indispensable addition to an acupuncture library, although there is not one reference to SP 6 or LI 4.
Typifying the essays is what the author himself refers to as his ‘humanbeingness’, expressed from ‘the heavy density of my bones to my thoughts – that least dense aspect of one’s self, which, without any physicality, can touch another.’ The topics range from having dinner at ‘a delightful restaurant in Baltimore’s Little Italy’ and dealing with the subsequent grief on learning that one party at the meal has died at the World Trade Centre on September 11, to his awe at viewing grizzlies and moose in a trip through three national parks - creatures blessed with a wisdom majestic in its silence - and how watching them leads him to feel ‘the pain of living in a modern world removed from the common sense so available’ to animals learned in the intricacies of the forest. He suggests that this common sense ‘has been removed from our lives by modern education.’
This pairing of an experience in nature with an analysis of our existential dilemma as men and women in the modern world illustrates an essential aspect of the book, intentional or simply intrinsic to Duggan’s approach to his own life and work, as a tribute to two people very dear to him, mentors who have influenced him as a person, a practitioner and a thinker.
One was J R Worsley, Duggan’s first acupuncture teacher. Duggan is clear about J R Worsley’s influence on his life. J R Worsley insisted on the patient’s ‘humanbeingness’, to borrow Duggan’s term, as more essential to healing than the accumulation of technique: one lesson Duggan specifically mentions is J R Worsley’s exhortation to ‘envision persons as they would be when whole and well in themselves.’ Duggan devotes one essay, ‘Seasons and Symptoms – Our Teachers about Life’, to the cycle of the five Elements and the cycle of the seasons to elucidate his teacher’s insistence that paying attention to these essential rhythms of nature enables us ‘to come to life more fully.’ We develop symptoms when we lose touch with these rhythms, symptoms being ‘messengers’ that, when heeded, teach us about ourselves and the world in a way that leads back to wholeness and healing. Learning to listen to the messengers is the joint task of the healer and the person seeking health.
Naturally, looking at nature requires really looking. J R Worsley underscored this concern in Talking About Acupuncture in New York, writing that most people do not take the time to look at the world around them. The eureka moment comes when you can actually say of two blades of grass, ‘My God, they are not the same! Every blade of grass is different.’ It takes the honing of all five senses to bring the natural world into focus.
In a touching essay entitled ‘Fuzz and the Art of Living’, Duggan argues that what ‘holds life together [is] life’s love’, or, in the words of physicist Hans Peter Dürr, ‘life’s ‘fuzz’. To Duggan, ‘love is our stability’, just as J R Worsley once wrote, in Acupuncture. Is It for You? that ‘the single greatest thing that every human needs ... more than anything else in the world, is to be loved, and to love.’ Duggan shows that he has absorbed this lesson, writing of his patients that by his ‘willingness to be available and at risk with them’, he ‘will tend and support them in bearing up and carrying on in the face of life’s difficulties.’ This loving promise is no idle one; on at least forty occasions Duggan has offered patients a bed in his basement should they need one. (No one has accepted to date - the offer of an alternate home sufficed to help them find their true way home.) Again and again in these essays, Duggan emphasises the importance of our relationships and of the communities we live in, the communities that support us.
Bob’s other teacher, and friend of fifty years, was Ivan Illich. Originally a Catholic priest, Illich developed a critique of society that at once asked how we can achieve justice and live life authentically. An impediment to both of these goals is the development of modern institutions like schools and health care systems whose very existence creates obstacles to the aims the institutions purport to achieve. As an example, Duggan writes about the ‘iron triangle conundrum’ of health care in our country: ‘when we increase quality and access we increase costs – and that’s not acceptable. If we reduce costs, we must either reduce quality or reduce access – also not acceptable.’ Here is a member of our community who is not fearful of stepping outside his clinic into the maelstrom of modern health care policy.
The modern world, in Illich’s view, has moved from an essential understanding that enabled our ancient progenitors to live in peace with nature and thus with their inner selves. ‘To the primitive,’ Illich wrote in Deschooling Society, in a commentary on the passage from the agrarian society of the countryside to the classical Greece of the cities we are more familiar with, ‘the world was governed by fate, fact, and necessity. By stealing fire from the gods, Prometheus turned facts into problems, called necessity into question, and defied fate.’
To Illich and to Duggan as well, the modern world is engaged in the same struggle, epitomised by our exchanging open-ended hope for narrow, focused expectation. ‘Hope, in its strong sense,’ Illich wrote, ‘means trusting faith in the goodness of nature, while expectation ... means reliance on results which are planned and controlled by man. Hope centers desire on a person from whom we await a gift. Expectation looks forward to satisfaction from a predictable process which will produce what we have the right to claim.’
Following his teacher’s example, Duggan writes that we ‘must’ learn ‘the distinction between hope and expectation. With hope, we can hold the possibility that what is may be different; at the same time, we can avoid the expectation that it ‘must’ be different. Rather than setting up opposition between the present and the future with our expectations, we can live in the fullness of hope.’
Problems, to Illich, and by extension to his student Duggan, are the province of institutions rather than the individual. Illich asserts, and on the evidence of these essays Duggan would likely agree, that our dependence upon institutions simultaneously limits our personal responsibility and ensures that we almost always will be denied a satisfactory solution.
To pose a problem, Duggan writes, is ‘to call necessity into question’, to set up an opposition, to deny the Oneness. We thus err, in Duggan’s terms as set forth in these essays, by not accepting life ‘as it is.’ We foolishly attempt to defy fate – the natural rhythms of life guided by the five Elements – by creating institutions that insulate us from life’s realities in the misguided belief that we can achieve authenticity or happiness with institutions as our intermediaries. But our deepest lessons – true education or a healing encounter – occur as a ‘gift’ from another person, not in exchanges among people and institutions. This book, as a summation of Duggan’s life and work up to this point, reflects the gifts he has received from his own teachers.
In several essays, Duggan lays down sets of principles for being a person with integrity, for accepting life ‘as it is’, for living with ‘the rich possibilities’ that lie in paradox, for being a healer. Underlying all of them is the wisdom of John of the Cross: ‘Live life as if everything depended on you. Pray as if everything depended on God.’ By this he means that we must, as practitioners and as human beings, be as aware as we can of what is within our scope of action and what is not, taking responsibility for the former and accepting with humility the latter.
In particular, he always asks us to seek the large view in everything we do, to embrace all Seven Generations. And ‘when we encounter opposition – when the One shows up as Two’ do we ‘remember that opposition signals a lack of understanding, that problems can become opportunities, that symptoms teach us’? The key to healing, Duggan reminds us again and again, is always to be found within the individual looking to heal, not in the healer.
The ancient texts of our tradition explain why Bob Duggan is an acupuncturist with voom. The healer in the Suwen must have ‘the correct attitude, sincerity, compassion, and a sense of responsibility.’ In addition, the patient ‘must also be aware of his body in order to recognise signs and symptoms and imbalances.’ Throughout this volume, Duggan demonstrates his sincerity, compassion and sense of responsibility, in the treatment room, in community with others, and in society, and he exhorts all of us to open our senses so that we can recognise the signs and symptoms before imbalance becomes illness.
Duggan challenges us to find ways to live in harmony with the natural world and to undertake the important task of healing society and its institutions. The Ling Shu reminds us that ‘to cure the state is to cure the household. When we are without rebellion,’ – in Duggan’s words, when ‘we dwell for the sake of each other’ in the Oneness – ‘then we are able to cure, for when things are smooth and flowing, they are complete.’
To select what seems important in this book means omitting what is equally important. Read for yourselves what makes Bob Duggan a true leader in American acupuncture.
Note: This review was originally published in Meridian Times, Journal of the Acupuncture Society of New York Summer 2004 and is reprinted in EJOM with kind permission.
William Weinstein William Weinstein is the former Interim Director of Clinical Training of Tri-State College of Acupuncture. He has been a participant in an innovative acupuncture in labour study at Lutheran Medical Centre, a community hospital in Brooklyn. He is editor of Meridian Times, the journal of the Acupuncture Society of New York. He was last published in EJOM in 2000 and 2002: ‘The Virtual Centre: Reflections on Mark Seem’s Body Mind Energetics’ and ‘The Healing Space: My Transition into Acupuncture.’