I come from a family that would be widely recognized as the forerunner of acupuncture in the u.s., and of “wellness” or what used to be called “alternative” and is now referred to as “integrative” medicine. My mother, according to Candace Pert, even coined the term “bodymindspirit” and the organizing and rallying of my parents is how the many varying traditions of acupuncture came together to form boards and coalitions that enabled the practice in this country to be legalized in almost every state.
The traditions of acupuncture that I practice are largely asian, many of them “preserved” through the translation of historians in europe after communism decimated many of the older texts and usages on the mainland of China. The traditions of wellness not extrapolated from the asian paradigms (essentially observation of cycles of nature as a paradigm working within and without our bodies) are from varied sources: linguistics, the human potential movement, Humberto Maturana (biology of cognition) and repetitive practice- what works- also culled from various sources- small black owned health food stores, a puerto-rican mama, a family tradition of unknown origin, cross pollination with healers who came from all over the world to the school my parents founded.
I am a white woman. We make up a majority of the “wellness” and “mindfulness” industry- and the outgrowths of this industry in the form of leadership, productivity, organizational and psychology/ biology understanding and maintenance of systems are mainly commanded by white men. While there are certainly european traditions of healing and leadership (insert side-eye emoji here!), and indeed I recognize here greek theater as a way to move emotions for healing, I don’t know jack ish about Irish healing traditions. Or Native American ones (another potential ancestry I might claim). Whatever that is, the traditions I have- the ones directly asian influenced- and the ones indirectly- were never “mine” (human potentiality is really a question of zen historically, and linguistic biology- autopoeisis, is essentially an attempt to explain the “observer” recognized in many traditional cultures as a primary requirement for maintenance of wellness in an individual- and thus in the larger society as many of these models recognize the individual as a microcosm of the macro).
I also don’t know which traditions were totally and completely usurped by our (wp) decimation of whole cultures as we enslaved and robbed the black founding members of our nation. And what other traditions we obscured as we put new, less inspiring ones in place to prevent the empowerment available from their traditional internal wellness practices. Meanwhile we too, the “wise” white folk eschewed our own traditions of medicines as vestiges of an “old world.” Until we noticed it was missing. There was a hole. We began to search the world over to hear the wisdom of our bodies again.
Explanations aside I am really aware and intent to change our ignorance of even modern history. One of the practices I currently use is based on a model developed by an acupuncturist and the black panthers (who recognized asian medicine as a self-contained way of delivering healthcare not contingent on the white “system” of medicine that had long experimented upon and subjected our nation’s brethren to serious violation alongside deleterious neglect). While I am grateful to practice this form of acupuncture that supports many individuals to form a wellness community and recover not only from varying addictions* I am acutely aware of the dangers and drawbacks of “delivery of care” by people who look and live like me to communities of color. Acutely aware of the barriers to entry for those who look like the communities we have drawn from to be able to take back some forms of traditional medicines. I am acutely aware that my stretching and breathing exercises, while beginning to find some mainstream traction, are seen as some seriously “white girl shit.” Which is nuts because we stole it. Like it or not, the traditions that I’ve learned didn’t come from my ancestors- more likely than not they came from yours.
I teach alongside my clinical practice- the responses to which are overwhelmingly that lives are changed, relationships transformed. Not one- off but regularly- that the simple practices that I and my family have extrapolated from years of clinical work, teaching and teaching design in acupuncture, herbal medicine and leadership graduate degree programs are profoundly useful in navigating the beauty and difficulties of life on this planet in a body that requires care.
The healthcare disparity in the U.S. is staggering. Black children are given less pain meds because their caregivers (us!!) see them with less empathy. This is not my opinion- this has been measured. Our systems are inequitable and more often than not inadequate in any case. And our attempts at “reform” simply prop up a system that was not intended to deliver long-term care for whole human beings. This itself must change. I know that some of the tools I’ve been gifted through the luck of being born to a white family with a weird way of thinking and strange opportunities can be instrumental in shifting this cultural paradigm. Awareness to our own bodied responses (sometimes confused with “mindfulness” in this current era) is key not only to stop us from inflicting further trauma- but also key to stop the processing of trauma in physiologically and psychologically dangerous ways for our communities (PTSD) and in many cases ensuring that this trauma becomes catalyst for change rather than further detriment.
So I have all these gifts- and workshops in which to deliver- that are filled with white people. Who really mostly have no clue about how they are being in the world with people of color. And no clue how they play a role in the perpetuation of this oppression- like I noted- most of my colleagues have no thought about the fact that our traditions are co-opted- or that their practices may be part of this whack distribution of care.
And these workshops are led by white people-me even- who also have varying levels of wakefulness to our perpetuation of this oppressive paradigm. How do we shift gears?
TO begin I’d like to offer a reduction in barriers to entry: can we have scholarships at least to workshops- so that we can begin to cultivate the leaders within communities to redistribute this stolen wealth? Can we begin to consider these barriers to entry when we raise the bar for entry to our acupuncture profession to Master’s or Doctorate levels ($70-$100k for a family already waaayy behind in wealth accumulation)? For acupuncture or any profession. Can we reconsider the structure of “healthcare” when it was traditionally done as community- family relationships until the last 150 or so years of “modern science” (which conveniently now ignores the modern science of quantum mechanics which tells us that there is no double- blind placebo-control. 70% of people know which group they’re in. And that controls placebo outcomes- which, btw, are 30–40% efficacious, comparable to many meds.) How do we stay awake in the room with each other? How do we even get- and stay- in the room once we’ve acknowledged the false power dynamic that enacts absolutely real consequence?
Who in “wellness” is advocating for the redistribution of wealth beyond donating our time to “underserved” or, as I’d prefer to call excluded communities? How do the holders of power in this field constructively and actively give back our knowledge while avoiding both saviors and condescension- and over professionalizing what was once part of life- why do counselors have the corner on grief? how do we ensure that we are delivering value that is not about us feeling better by giving? How do we enroll black communities in work that we have excluded them from for years? Who am I to even think I can “develop leadership” in a field that has been extracted and decimated by our current cultural and medical powers that be?
How can we consider ourselves practitioners of mind-body medicine when we cannot be but intentionally avoiding this very real issue at the helm of our body politic and our children’s bodies in the street and our colleague’s chest in the boardroom in the name of “mindfulness”? As an acupuncturist I cannot say “all points matter” and provide a useful treatment. I must deliver a specific. Our country- especially our country of color- which I would assert in many ways is a separate country from the one you and I blindly ignore which perpetuates it- is calling out with severe symptoms of distress. Medicine is anything that helps. Who are you to call yourself a healer and withhold your medicine from this illness of white violence?
*(many instigated by either community based trauma- also historically linked to our ineptness as white people to acknowledge our cultural absorption and depletion, or by medically induced addictions- vietnam vets to morphine- heroin to current day oxycodone to heroin- which now that it’s becoming a white suburban problem is finally beginning to be addressed in the mainstream…).