BM: “I’d rather die than go back to work . . . “
CL: [Laughs.] That’s what they feel like, and that’s what happens. Both strokes and heart attacks are big on Monday. It’s purely because of the perceptual stress that Monday means to people. In everyday life, people understand how emotions interact with their medical problems–maybe they don’t make the direct correlation, maybe they don’t state it in so many words, but they can experience it and see it.
That’s [the reason for] the energetic model that the Chinese developed–because if you take away the material body, what is left but energy? And the energy can be experienced in many ways. It can be experienced in meditation. It can be experienced through t’ai chi; it can be experienced through the [acupuncture] needles; it can be experienced through massage. But it is definitely a real experience.
One thing that’s very hard to get across to patients is that you are more than just flesh and bones: you have an energetic structure. People don’t want to believe in anything they can’t see. I think that’s why a lot of people are skeptical of acupuncture, because they need to see something; they want some kind of proof.
Energy is a very hard concept to prove. On the other hand, people use that term every day–“I have no energy,” “I feel lots of energy,” “I have nervous energy”–and they’re right.
When they talk about energy, Westerners tend to think electrical energy, whereas the human body is more than just a car or a machine that has electrical energy flowing through it. There’s a consciousness involved in that energy.
Unfortunately, Western medicine is still dealing with Newtonian physics and its limited mechanistic world, as opposed to a quantum-mechanics view of the body, which states that there is no such thing as [the] material but only energy.
BM: That sounds a lot like Christian Science: “There is no truth in matter.”
CL: Well, the Christian Scientists are not that far off. A lot of these systems that go back [in history] have a philosophical basis: What is consciousness in a person? Where does consciousness flow from? Where does it go to? Most people believe that consciousness comes from having a physical body with a brain. Whereas the Eastern view is that there is consciousness first, and then the physical reality comes after that. The physical is only an illusion of that consciousness.
We have an illusion that we’re sitting still–but we’re going through space at an amazing speed. We have an illusion that the earth is flat. We have an illusion that the body is made up of flesh and bones. And that’s the way it’s treated now–that it’s a machine that you can take apart and treat with chemicals. I think that ultimately will change, once the more balanced energetic view of the body becomes more popular, both with the general population and with the medical establishment. It’s going to take a long time, because there’s too much invested in the physical-reality view of the world–too much money, too much technology, too many people’s jobs.
BM: Is there anything you wouldn’t try to treat with acupuncture?
CL: I wouldn’t try to treat cancer. I wouldn’t want people to call me a quack.
BM: Do you mean that you couldn’t treat cancer, or that you wouldn’t because you’re afraid of what people might say?
CL: I think I have to be cautious about what I say I can treat and can’t treat. Acupuncture works better for energetic disorders and functional disorders of the body. It doesn’t work well with structural problems of the body. For instance, if you have a bunion, acupuncture may relieve the pain a little bit, but it’s not going to make the bunion go away. If you have a dislocation of the vertebrae, acupuncture can’t help that. If you have a broken arm, you have to have it set. You have to have things structurally intact for acupuncture to work. But you can use acupuncture for just about anything you can treat with a pill. That’s the guideline I’d go by.
I would treat almost anything, except certain disorders that are obviously going to get better with surgical procedures; patients with severe orthopedic problems; patients with severe, acute infectious diseases, which would be treated with antibiotics; and cases of violent behavior and psychiatric disorders. I probably would not treat a seizure disorder.
BM: Like epilepsy?
BM: But you’ve been talking about energy fields and so forth–wouldn’t that be a good candidate?
CL: It is a good candidate, in China. But it’s not a good candidate here, because culturally people don’t want their families to see them seize. That’s what I mean about high expectations. People want no seizures. If they had 15 seizures, and you reduced them to 5, that wouldn’t be good enough. They want no seizures. In China, they treat epilepsy with acupuncture–but they use Western medicine, too.
But you’re right. Epilepsy is a classic energetic type of disorder. It’s a structural disorder too–a structural problem in the brain. A lot of it’s disturbed energetic properties in the brain that can be improved with acupuncture. But I probably wouldn’t treat it, because of medical-legal reasons.
You have to be careful about the medical-legal environment. It’s not good in the United States–it doesn’t matter what you’re practicing. You have to be cautious, whether you’re practicing acupuncture or Western medicine, what you treat and how you treat it. I never make any claims about acupuncture. If a patient says, “Well, what are my chances?” I can’t give anybody a percentage. Everybody’s an individual.
I never give guarantees to patients. There are no guarantees in human life, and especially in medicine. If you want a guarantee, you should go buy a car. I think any doctor who gives a patient a guarantee is being dishonest. They want to lure the patient in. I don’t want to lure patients. I want patients who want to come and try it.
BM: Are you finding any more acceptance among your medical colleagues?
CL: Ahhhh. . . . There’s a lot of books, articles that have been written in the last 15 or 20 years about acupuncture. It’s not well known in the Western medical community, because they’re not interested. Acupuncture has to be better than Western medicine in order to be accepted by Western medicine. But it’s a subjective realm you’re dealing with. When you’re dealing with a broken bone, you can see it in X rays; it’s there. No one is going to argue about it, it’s black-and-white. When you’re dealing with an energy disturbance, you get into arguments about what’s wrong with the person.
One of the things that bugs me is that people ask, “How does acupuncture work?” But they don’t go to their doctors and ask, “How does aspirin work?” It doesn’t bother them that Western medicine doesn’t understand how a lot of its procedures work. When you go to your Western doctor, you’re dealing within the faith. You don’t question your priest. Whereas if you go to an alternative, you demand proof, studies, black and white.
[Some medical critics of acupuncture] dismiss it as a placebo. There’s a placebo effect in any kind of therapy. The placebo effect isn’t entirely a bad thing. It works all the time in doctors’ offices–people feel better when they get a prescription. But acupuncture works in animal studies, so there’s obviously more to it than that.
Actually, if you go strictly by belief systems, acupuncture shouldn’t work at all in the United States, because nobody believes in it! But everybody believes in Western medicine, so it should work all the time.
BM: You make an effective analogy between medicine and religion. Are you making many converts to your faith?
CL: Most of my patients that come in are skeptical. But once they’ve had a good result, then they become believers–and that’s part of the conversion from the religion.
For instance, there’s a guy that I’ve just been treating. The first couple of times I saw him he was very skeptical. He didn’t know if he wanted to have treatments. He wanted a guarantee. He didn’t trust me; he was very scared. He had this problem which affected his nerves and his legs; he couldn’t walk very well. He had plans to go to Europe, and he needed to be able to walk a lot there, so he had a deadline. He wanted to get results, but he was suspicious.
Today I saw him, and he’s feeling better, much better. You wouldn’t believe it. He brought his wife in; he wants to have his wife treated. It’s like he’s converted. People want an explanation of the way things work; but when you have that kind of experience, what kind of explanation do you need?