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Reading the Pulse and Finding the Beating Heart

Updated: Aug 5



I rode up in the elevator to the Acupuncture Master Class with some of the attending acupuncturists, many of whom had flown in from distant parts of the world to study with the master teacher who worked extensively with cancer patients. I wanted to become invisible as they chatted away about the class, knowing that they would soon learn that the subject that day was…me.


I was still having a very hard time accepting my tumble from the sunny side of the mountain that was my former life. Surely cancer was not my story. I had cured my husband’s heart disease with diet, obtained a masters in clinical nutrition and was teaching plant-based nutrition to cancer patients when I got my diagnosis. What in the world was I doing on the wrong side of the classroom?


Sorting through these feelings as I tentatively looked for a seat at the side of the room, I was suddenly called to the front for an interview with the teacher before the actual session began.


The first question came too soon: “Tell us the story about your cancer”.


I was at first unable to speak–the disconnect and shame were too great. I wanted to tell them, “I am on the wrong side…I belong with you, the graduate students…something went terribly wrong with my story, and somehow I am now inhabiting the body of the cancer patient.” Their faces were warm with compassion as I struggled to string together a narrative about ‘my cancer’ with a trembling voice, through a rush of tears.


The session itself went by in a blur, aside from the dramatic moment when needles that my body seemed to be resisting slipped right in after I was encouraged to declare “I believe in the ability of my body to heal” (my feeble attempts gaining in strength as I allowed for the euphoric possibility in these words). Then the “lesson” that was me was over, and the students lined up to read the pulse in my upturned wrist for themselves, one by one.


Nothing prepared me for the sweetness and purity of the intimacy that followed. With my eyes closed, I couldn’t see their faces or the clothes they wore–but what filtered through with sudden clarity was the essence and kindness of each fellow traveler who, in turn, arrived silently at my side. And as each set of fingers fluttered to my wrist and paused to receive the mysterious messages of the pulses within, as each warm hand gently squeezed my hand before moving on, I shed the divisions of ‘well person’ and ‘sick person’ that walked in the door with me and descended into the beating heart of the truer world we all inhabited.


Here, in this posture of vulnerability–palms up, half-undressed, tears rolling down the sides of my face–I finally stopped railing against my fate, stepped out of my endless stories, and received a bit of grace.


The acupuncturists were merely following the teacher’s bidding as they filed past me. But for me, the moment felt sacred and transcendent. The unspoken words that I seemed to receive from their warm hands are with me still; they inform my practice and my life.


So to the fellow travelers who find their way to my door, trusting me to ‘read their pulse’ and ‘squeeze their hand’, I hope I will also succeed in passing along the message I received that day:


You are seen.

You are heard.

You are accepted exactly as you are.

And always believe in the ability of your body to heal

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