Community Acupuncture and the 99 Percent

Community acupuncture has much in common with the Occupy movement. There is urgent need to reform laws and cultural mores which legitimize obscene financial wealth and extravagant indulgence for the one percent. With seven billion people trying to live together on the planet, it is time for the age of kings, tyrants and tycoons to end. It’s not simply a matter of principal, but of human survival.  If we can’t work together to solve issues like climate change, energy consumption, poverty, refugee mass migrations, and health care (all increasingly interrelated phenomena) – then conflict and consequent human suffering are poised for dramatic escalation in our life time, and many think, even in the next few years.

I support the Occupy movement, though I agree with anti-racist activist Tim Wise and others who have suggested that progressive whites looking to build a multi-racial coalition need to continue to educate themselves on appropriate use of terminology and tactics in light of their often unexamined white privilege. Let’s not simply “occupy”, but “decolonize”, and not simply public spaces but, our own minds.

One of my first experiences in deprogramming my capitalist conditioning came in the form of a college psychology class experiment. I was grouped with three other students and instructed in the rules of a game with poker chips of different values and a goal of maximizing our team score.  Immersed as I was in the winner-takes-all mentality of American capitalism and competitive sports, the “collective good” purpose of the game was totally lost on me and I quickly plotted how to beat the other players, succeeding in attaining the highest score and winning the game – except that in the next moment, I suddenly realized to my dismay that I had in fact lost. I had ignored my three team mates who had played for a collective win which I had blocked due to my self-centeredness.

Come to think of it, this winner-take-all mentality underlies a lot of traditional acupuncture practice management – although such brutish thinking is glossed over in various ways – charity acupuncture (highly noble and worthy of praise by itself, but not a universal solution to access), duplicitous advertising schemes, and plain old self-denial (i.e. ignorance) of which I would be the first to admit not to have banished completely from my mind.

This self-centered me-first narrative is deeply ingrained in our human consciousness but hope springs eternal, as evidenced by the current movement’s success in grabbing the attention of the world and shining the light of truth on the destructive illogicality of this delusional thinking. We aren’t just the ninety nine percent though. To borrow the music of the 1980s, “we are the world”. Our happiness and wellbeing is utterly and completely interconnected, though it is also true and urgently required right now that we focus on the disparities between the ninety nine percent and the one percent.

Which brings me back to acupuncture. It’s not just for rich celebrities and millionaires fascinated with holistic health. It’s not even just for middle class people who are fortunate to have some form of health insurance as part of their employment benefits. It’s for working class people looking for drugless pain and stress relief. It’s for people out of work struggling to keep the bank from foreclosing on their home. It’s for people of color, the recent immigrant, the military veteran who’s trying to recover from PTSD. It’s for men, women, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, queers, heterosexuals, as well as monks and nuns.

It’s for Christians, Native Americans, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, Bahais, Jains, Jews, Taoists, Zoroastrians, pagans, atheists, and many more.  It’s for people of all skin colors, all ability levels, all ages and body sizes. It’s for categories of people not mentioned here but who certainly exist.

That’s why I started a community acupuncture clinic, giving up my financially successful insurance based practice so that I could serve all of the aforementioned people who for various reasons – mainly financial, but also socio-cultural – were excluded from the conventional acupuncture business model with its upper middle class price tag ($75 to $250 per treatment) and its sometimes heady air of entitlement.

Instead of being a gate keeper, justifying my professional “boundaries” by clinging to delusional notions of self worth based on expensive fees, I let people pay what they can afford on a sliding scale – $15 to $35 – rejoicing in the number and diversity of the people that my clinic serves 59 hours, Monday through Saturday of every week.

I rejoice at the thought of a room full of people, all experiencing pain relief, rising above the troubles and anxieties of the world, letting go of the mental virus of self-centeredness, even just a little bit, for an hour, moving closer to a feeling of unity with the circle of other sentient beings in the room and throughout infinite space.

river Jordan
Author: river Jordan

After graduating from the Northwest Institute of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine in 1997, I had a hobby practice for a few years before moving to Northern India to study Buddhism. During this time, I volunteered in a local clinic, giving acupuncture to Tibetan refugees and Indian nationals. <p> Returning to the U.S. in 2002, I started a typical insurance based acupuncture practice catering to the upper middle class. In 2005, following Hurricane Katrina, I volunteered with <a href="" target="_blank">Acupuncturists Without Borders</a>, using community style acupuncture to treat trauma victims in a natural disaster setting. </p> Inspired by the power and efficacy of acupuncture in a post-disaster setting, I began to contemplate issues of socioeconomic class. What could be done to make acupuncture accessible to everyone and still provider a livable wage for an acupuncturist? After attending WCA's first conference in October of 2006, I had found the answer to that question. In January 2007, together with my partner Serena Sundaram, we founded <a href="" target="_blank">Communichi</a>, Seattle's first dedicated community acupuncture clinic. <p> As a Buddhist, I believe that healing begins in the mind. As the positive qualities of wisdom and compassion are cultivated in the mind of a practitioner, this...

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  1. Love it Jordan!

    Thank you for sharing that wonderful point of view with such clarity and lack of guile.  I just love that anybody can walk through my doors, and all are equal.