CAN Meets Chopin

In light of the recent forum posts regarding CAN’s future, I was attracted to the following story to help me clarify my intention as a CA practitioner wanting to take a more active role in CAN’s evolution.

Throughout the history of classical music, men have dominated the orchestras, especially in Europe. The belief among maestros, music directors, and conductors was that women were of inferior strength, stamina, resilience, and lung power. The shape of women’s lips and their small hands were also accepted as severe handicaps.

When auditions were held, men consistently performed better according to the trained ears of the experts. These experts believed they could under any circumstance objectively evaluate the quality of any performance and tell the difference between music produced by male and female.

In the United States, orchestra musicians eventually organized themselves into unions. At the top of their list of goals were fair auditions. To accomplish this, they started putting screens in between the selection committee and the musicians to ensure that nothing was known about the musician.

Since the screens starting going up in the 1970’s the percentage of women in orchestras went from 5% to almost 50%.

In the Afterword of Malcolm Gladwell’s book BLINK ( from which I summarized this story), the author challenges the reader to think about what we would have done, had we been in charge of creating fairness in this miserably broken system….


–Create complex affirmative action programs for women musicians

–Create elaborate gender bias and social discrimination initiatives at music schools and    orchestral conferences

–Teach women musicians how to aggressively advocate for themselves in auditions

–Approach the self assured Maestros and insist they reflect on their unconscious and conscious gender bias and all the contexts of their experiences in which the bias was cultivated.


Of Course, this is not a perfect example on which to compare CAN and the Acupuncture Establishment.  I put those imperfections aside for a while so I could focus on what CAN’s version of the SCREENS might be.  I also chose to get perspective from some of the revolutionaries I appreciate.

Lisa recently mentioned St Francis in her “Finding Normal” series. If you want to talk about some oppressive structures, classism, and social injustice, St Francis’ seemed to be dealing with a few. Following his illumination, Francis sought to offer people an experience of worship vastly different from what was then the norm. He did not spend a moment opposing and resisting the existing systems or those representing those systems. He instead focused with passionate, single-minded intention on his ideal and vision…. refusing to be distracted by his many detractors.

In an attempt to control him or shut him down, The Pope– under the influence of his fearful advisors– went looking for Francis. The systems found him–he did not have to prod, provoke, or go looking for them. The Pope however, was so transformed by the purity of Francis’ heart and his desire to serve, he bowed to him, blessed his mission, and sent him on his way. The church Francis built attracted those who resonated with his ideal, philosophy and “style” of worship and over time, transformed the consciousness of the masses and many institutions.

At the risk of relying on a worn out role model, we could substitute Gandhi for St Francis in light of his successful direction of a huge impoverished population to manifest independence through the creation of their own sustainable cottage industries. He understood the futility of resisting and fighting the oppressive colonial structures of the British in any conventional way. The energy was directed at building economic independence so that the inevitable political independence would not flop.

Taking his lead from Krishna and Buddha, Gandhi asked each member of the movement not to entertain negative thoughts or actions that polluted that primary effort. He understood that the power of the movement had less to do with how many join but in the consciousness of those participating. He knew that,   ‘One with God is a majority’ (does anyone know for sure who to credit this quote) ….or stated more universally to my liking… dedicated to cultivating impersonal, selfless, unconditional love.  From my perspective, the dedication is the important part not how many times I miss the mark.

Francis and Gandhi understood that it was impossible to cultivate this pure love and hold on to any judgement.. Righteous indignation was for them a momentary stepping stone to propel people into action but a stumbling block if not left quickly behind. It is annoying when onlookers admonish us “don’t be so angry” because it does not honor the value of righteous indignation and our freedom to choose. However, I am not convinced that righteous indignation is where any movement can stay if it desires success above all else.

This was not some ungrounded, woo woo philosophy that Francis and Gandhi were advocating but tried and true practical spirituality in action. These were practical mystics who used these universal principles to most efficiently effect change in people’s consciousness and in the outer world. They saw clearly how reform works and how revolution fails. They could keep their eyes on the goal without defending themselves from, worrying about or pushing against what the “opposition” was doing or not doing.

They also had no interest in refuting critics. When Gandhi was frequently accused of changing the movement’s position, strategy, and focus without warning, he agreed that he was always expanding in understanding and valued flexibility above all else.  After working many years in some rigid social work systems,  this extreme flexibilty is a vital quality for me in any reform I am associated with.  

So getting back to the SCREENS………..If CANs mission is “ to make acupuncture more affordable and accessible by promoting the practice of offering acupuncture in community settings…”  then the orchestral world and the sages seem to agree that the only action needed from CAN is creating and supporting successful clinics.   Over time, the millions of people who benefit from those clinics become CANs version of a SCREEN.

Those in the broken acu-establishment who are receptive to the experience of those millions will see their habitual bias and see new possibilities for the field….the others will not.  As the yogic saying goes ‘ trying to change the ones who are not receptive is like trying to uncurl the pigs tail’. 

Part 2 of this blog… The Return of CAN Meets Chopin

Author: FredW

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  1. hmm

    thank you for the  thoughtful blog, Fred.

    I think you’re making an interesting point about simplicity. That’s what Malcolm Gladwell was getting at with the screens, right? the brilliance of something so direct and so simple. That makes sense to me in reference to the screens.

    The analogy breaks down for me, though, when you bring in St. Francis and Gandhi, because though they were both champions of simplicity, I don’t think you can use their whole way of being as a symbol in the same way. From what I understand about both of them, they were incredibly powerful presences. The British used to try to keep their officers away from Gandhi, because anyone who spent ten minutes with him usually ended up converted. And then there’s St. Francis, who could do the same thing with WOLVES. 

    I just don’t think any of us are quite in the same league. That point is important to me, personally, because one of the things that allowed me to develop the business model was deciding that it was OK to be myself, and realizing I didn’t have to be anything more exalted. I wanted and needed to be myself, even when I was practicing acupuncture; I wanted to treat my neighbors and work in my neighborhood and not have to try so damn hard to be something really special. I wanted to be honest. And honestly, St. Francis and Gandhi are not suitable role models for me because I am just not that good.

    I don’t want to try to be that good. I don’t think those two were trying to be good, either, I think they were just being who they were. I don’t get anywhere, I’ve found, by trying; I usually get places by surrendering. My theory is that St. Francis and Gandhi each surrendered to something, and the results looked different in each of their lives. So far, my surrender looks like a big red fist.  It’s great that St. Francis and Gandhi didn’t refute their critics; sometimes I feel a lot better after a good refuting. Also, I’d say I’m doing well because I haven’t actually smacked anybody yet. If that means that my standards are unacceptably low for a social justice movement, so be it, I guess we’ll have to call this something else.

    There’s this essay I love about Jesus, Saul Alinsky, and clowning — the theory is that when Jesus said, turn the other cheek, etc., he wasn’t talking about being nice, he was suggesting creative ways of making trouble. (Other favorite quotes from that piece: Ridicule is your most potent weapon; a good tactic is one that your people enjoy.)

    I wouldn’t say that the ONLY action needed from CAN is creating and supporting successful clinics, I’d say it’s the primary action. And creating and supporting successful clinics is, itself, not a simple thing. And it’s interesting, isn’t it, that so far, the most successful community acupuncture clinic is one that’s run by a bunch of unsaintly people who love ridicule.


  2. Walking the Walk

    There are times when I think CA will succeed just by walking the walk (which we are doing) and not so much by railing against BA pratices.  I think in a few years CA will be the normal way that people get acupuncture and our clinics will be readily available everywhere because they are based on an economically viable business model.

  3. not saints

    i am with you, lisa. i cannot take the pressure of the impssible standards of actual saintly beings, nor have i found them to be practical, in fact i think it can be very isolating and dangerous. i guess i have too much painful personal experience with cult personalities.

    another thing: there are many spiritual traditions that use anger and other strong negative emotions for transformation. my main teacher’s teacher, a brilliant tibetan lama was like that. he was a drunk and womanizer. my teacher tells a story about him being really late for a speaking engagement, arrving drunk, then (before he came out to give his teaching) asking a senior student to come on the stage first and to say something to antagonize the (already really pissed off) audience. this was the energy he liked working with. i only know his work through his books (he died young of liver failure) but he is one of the most practical, sensible teachers i have ever encountered  in my life – he is someone who never hid his flaws and also understood the western  / american culture really well and was able to present his teachings in an accessible way.

    i agree with you on CAN’s primary goal / task, but the more i do this, the more i see that we have to keep stirring the emotional soup of this profession. we have to question and correct wrong assumptions, clarify our purpose and philosophical standpoint over and over; we have to be our flawed selves to the core (which means sometimes we are pissed off), and dong this is not separate from creating and suporting successful clinics.


  4. Hey Fred!

    It’s great to see you blogging here, thanks for your thoughtful post!  A few thoughts:

    Setting aside the issues of sainthood, and the informative
    history of powerful organizations (like the Catholic church) assimilating or
    co-opting what they could not quash, what struck me about your post was the
    part that read:

    Would you do [x, y, or z], or would you just put up the

    My first thought when I read that was: “all of the
    above!”  After all, the unjust conditions that supported orchestras having only 5% female
    musicians in the past exist outside the audition rooms as well.  The conditions that lead to unequal access
    to healthcare (as well as to health in general – lack of access to safe working
    conditions, fair wages, locally available fresh produce, clean air, etc. etc.)
    exist outside the doors of our clinics, no matter how much we try to remediate
    that inequality inside our clinics. 


    I agree with the basic idea that nothing succeeds like
    success, and that creating and supporting neighborhood clinics is CAN’s most
    important task.  But I think we need to
    work on many fronts to make that happen, and we need to have different modes as
    well (including, as you say, righteous indignation) – we need to do “all of the
    above.”  And I think that’s at least
    part of the reason we’ve been as successful as we have so far.  I would love to completely ignore the
    current acupuncture establishment, but the fact is that they set the time &
    money requirements to enter the profession excessively high, which means that
    we will either run out of acupuncturists before every neighborhood has a CA
    clinic, and/or the punks running those clinics will be so indebted (not to
    mention exhausted from all that schooling!) that their chances for success are


  5. yes, and…

    I love that you stress “all of the above,” Nora!  In working to disable systems of oppression it is so important to support any and all tactics available.  Not to say that we have to engage in tactics that we dislike, but that we can do what we love to do, and allow others to follow their own calling.

    Everytime I read about Ghandi, I remember that as much as he did to help end English colonialism in India with non-violent non-cooperation, it was the German army that really destroyed England’s millitary capabilities and led to the end of that most obvious phase of colonialism.

  6. Thank you!

    Thank you Fred for the gentle reminder that arguing does not reach the goal. Actually it can be a distraction from the goal. I really appreciate your voice of reason. I whole heartedly agree with your position.

    Do we need to name call or point fingers to achieve our goal of bringing acupuncture access to the masses? Typically rage leads to war, and a lot of ugliness before peace emerges. Yet many great sages were able to by pass that step and take a straight shot to peace. They did it in a way that was completely accessible to all human kind. It was not special, it was not extraordinary or unattainable. It was an example. We can choose to follow that way.

    Yes ,I’m offend that my sliding scale clinic is labeled “BA” or worse yet “Humiliating”. However, my patients are happy and getting wonderful results. I’m sure CA clinics have a similar experience. So why remain offend? It doesn’t change my practice.

    So without provoking, I just ask that CA members consider focusing on their movement without labeling or judging other methods. Some people have offered a more kind label of PA. That’s great. Any change is appreciated. I’m happy to offer the same approach of non-judgement to a CA clinic. Maybe I don’t practice that way, but if it works for you great.

    Again, thanks for the wise words my friend.

    Take care,
    Jennifer Flynn