Community Acupuncture , Community Medicine, Family Medicine, Ancestral Medicine


Today was one of those days where the thread of experiences I had while needing in the clinic made me well up a little several times.  Today something showed itself in such clear ways that I figured I should write about it, I suspect many of you have had similar experiences, or will.

We talk a lot about how being a punk and CA clinics in general help us to create space, both literally inside the clinic, and more abstractly, inside ourselves.  This space is part of what enables us to connect with many people in a day, for many days each week, for months, and years at a time.  Part of the skills we develop as practitioners comes from being able to connect with people truly, genuinely, deeply even, but also quickly and without dragging (most of) what they bring in with them to the clinic around with us.

Another things we talk about a lot around here are group dynamics; how they enhance the treatments, how much people actually like being together while being treated, napping, healing, and even suffering together.  We’re just as likely to have a “regular” talking us up at work as an enthusiastic new patient, who has finally found some relief from a chronic issue, or is just excited about the peaceful, group nap that they have just discovered can be a part of what they do to keep themselves sane, and well.  So our people are always reaching out to others to bring them in.  But something we don’t talk about all that often is what happens between people in the clinic, strangers, and people who know each other.

So here are a few thoughts on that:

First off, we have a new-ish, most excellent POCA volunteer who comes and takes our recyclables away, every week, mostly on her bicycle. Our POCA volunteer also waters our plants, runs a vacuum some mornings, consolidates and takes out trash, and is just a great person to see around the clinic, helping things run smoothly.  She’s also interested in going to POCA Tech….

While treating her today, she mentioned that she was coming in with her sister, mom, and step-dad this Friday, and that they were all going to see Korben. I just love it when people bring their whole families in, and it’s extra special when they all come in at once… I am imagining the 4 of them all facing one another in recliners, with Korben rolling between them on a stool.  I’m still smiling thinking about it.

All of our clinics treat lots of families.  We have a few sets of sisters, and parents and (adult)children, who bump into each other in the treatment rooms regularly.  It is amazing to me when a family chooses to come in together and all get treated, and I feel a sense of satisfaction knowing that we’re a part of peoples’ family/community-care as well as their individual care.

We also treat a lot of elders, and because of new mobility issues, a particular elder-Sister who has been coming for treatments for sometime, stopped being able to drive to our clinic.  I have a friend, who loves to hang-out with elders.  She has always been drawn to, and having recently lost her mother, for whom she did home care during the last 2 years of her mom’s life, she’s got a bit of extra time these days.  I asked her if she might be willing to bring Sister to the clinic for treatment.  The two of them connected and it’s working out great… my friend is now getting acupuncture more regularly.  Sister is getting acupuncture more regularly again, and there is a budding friendship, a sort of sister-hood if you will, that is coming from their joint journeys to and from the clinic.  I wonder where this connection might lead to for each of them.  They’re both exceptional seamstresses, and I wonder if they might end up comparing patterns or gathering sewing supplies together.  These are my projections for sure, but I am encouraged by the possibility of the connections people make through the clinic reaching further and further out into their lives.

My friend also brings in vegetables from her garden to share with other people who come for treatments on Wednesdays.  We have the veggies in a basket in the front office for anyone to grab.  Today she brought in a basket of hot Portugals (peppers).  The other week it was bags of lettuce, and the week before that, giant daikon radishes as big as my arm!!!  Today, another regular on his way in noticed the basket of peppers, picked one up and smelled it, and began reminiscing about his grandfather’s garden.  This regular, a fairly quiet man of 60 or so, was suddenly animated.  He told Terry and me about the hot cherry peppers his grandfather loved, his grandfather’s small yard and huge garden, the pear tree with two types of pears grafted on it by his father, the fig tree, that his grandfather carefully bent over and wrapped up each winter,  and the figs that tree produced each summer.   There is this mystical/mysterious fig tree lore that I’ve been hearing for years now.  Apparently even though they are not hardy to this zone, you can grow fig trees in New England.  Usually it takes the hands of the most careful and caring tenders.  Usually an Italian or Portuguese, or Armenian grandfather or grandmother two or three generations back.  Anyway, the figs from this man’s grandfather’s tree were HUGE, (he showed us how big with his hands), tender, sweet, green with just a little pink in the center.  I could almost taste how sweet myself.  Our patient lamented that his son might not ever know what a fresh fig tasted like.

I could tell when I pulled up my stool next to him in the treatment room that his grandfather had also decided to come in and hang out for the treatment too.  Rapt in the memories of his grandfather’s house and garden we talked a little more about it…especially the figs.  Later when he woke from his acu-nap—I asked him, “Did your grandfather have grapes?”  “No, but we bought them and made wine..”  He told me about their wine press, the tomatoes they canned, the pickled eggplant, and peppers.  It made me think of my own grandparents who had a cellar full of put-up food. When this man left, I felt his grandfather leave with him, but I also had a sense that they’d both be back.

We have other departed guests in the clinic.   One of them has a strong connection to a particular recliner.

Several of our recliners were gifts from our patients that came to us after a departed relation’s things were sorted out.  So we have Rose’s chair, we have Uncle Pat’s chair, and we have Pearl’s chair.  Pearl’s daughter (K) loves it when she can sit in Pearl’s chair.  Sometimes she doesn’t get to for weeks, because, Pearl’s chair, like Pearl did, attracts people.  It is a comfortable workhorse of a lazy-boy variety, so it’s comfortable for different body types and sizes.  It goes way back, and despite the fact that it’s placed in probably the highest trafficked area of the clinic, it still gets used a fair bit.  Pearl, who I also knew, loved people plain and simple.  It’s a shame that Pearl never got to come for community acupuncture.  Instead her chair holds court the way she would want.  Today I treated K in Pearl’s chair, and as I did we literally went from laughing about Pearl, to crying about a friend of K’s who had recently passed on too.  It’s funny to think of an upholstered recliner as a conduit for ancestral energy, but in fact I think that is exactly what Pearl’s chair is about.   Connections between generations is something that a community acupuncture clinic can actually provide.  Amazing!

At its most fundamental level, our health is our ability to connect with ourselves, our hopes and fears, our bodies, our pain, our potential, our families, friends, the people we work with, live near,  and the strangers that we encounter who’s lives may be more like ours than we realize.  We can think of our individual, and community health as the microcosm of these connections, and our human and planetary health as the macrocosm.   These connections are not just linear, but dimensional, moving through time and space, through our stories and our imaginations.  I think about all the babies who have gestated through months of treatments in community acupuncture clinics, of people who have come to say good bye as they realized their lives were ending; the folks we never said goodbye to, and the many, many more that we have yet to meet.  I am so grateful that my work is at this crossroads of so many people’s lives, and that it helps to foster a much needed web of connection, the only real balm for the diseases of isolation, and individualism.

Another part of loving my work is the love of people that it cultivates in me, and I think for everyone who comes in and stays for an hour, a month, or a couple of years or more.  When I worked as a BA acupuncturist my work was about me being an expert, and trying to fix people.  As a community acupuncturist my work isn’t about those things at all, even though I am still sticking needles in people.

Even though my focus is laser-like as I needle individual people, I am always aware as I am working of the entire room, and even beyond that really.  Up till now I’ve thought about group-qi in the treatment room more like shared intention, and it is, but what I realized about it today was that it’s also this net of energy woven together by all of our connections, through our hearts, and minds, to everyone we know, and then some.  And because I depend on the shared energy we all bring to POCA and the community acupuncture movement, I’ve also got all of you to thank for helping the people who come to PCA.  I am grateful for this work, and honored to get to do it with all of you, everyone’s families, friends, neighbors and our ancestors.

Maybe you have a story about all the  great connections between people who come to your clinic?

Author: crismonteiro

I've always thought that I would live to be 100 years old and now that I have an actual idea of what it might be like to inhabit this body for a century I want to be damn sure that Community Acupuncture is around to help me through my days and in the end, on my way. In the meantime, I am passionate about getting shit done, and also having fun.

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  1. I need to go back and read this about twenty more times, as soon as I stop sobbing with a goofy smile on my face. Thank you, Cris, for so beautifully giving voice to the grace that is this work. Big love for all you are and do to create these spaces, inside clinics and in our POCAverse.

  2. Oh Cris. This is so, so lovely.

    And I have a story for you.

    Two weeks ago, a mother and (adult) son scheduled a treatment together. When they came in, the mom said, “do you remember me?” It took me a minute, because I am awful at this, but I did: she had come in about a year and a half ago with her husband, who had advanced Alzheimers’. She and his sister would come in with him and hold his hands, one on either side of him, the whole time he got treated, so that he wouldn’t get confused and try to stand up. He got really good results from the treatment until he started having seizures, then he couldn’t come in any more. She told me that he had died and she said, “You were so good to him.” Fortunately it was a busy night or I would’ve started crying. She said, “This is my son, I’ve been wanting him to come in for a while. He misses his dad terribly, they were so close.”

    Mom and son were adorable together, winking at each other across the treatment room from their recliners. The son said to me, “This is a trip. This is exactly the sort of thing my mom would try.” But he liked it, it helped his neck and shoulder tension.

    After the treatment we were sitting out in the waiting room talking more about his dad, and then he said, “You know, it took me a while to put it together, but I used to spend a lot of time in here. Before it was your clinic. My best buddy growing up, he and his dad owned a print shop…”

    “And this was the print shop!” I yelped.

    “Yeah, it used to be full of big machines. The printing presses were huge.”

    “I know,” I said, “there are these cement slabs under the marmoleum, the floor is two feet thick in some places so they wouldn’t fall through. And there are these gigantic electrical outlets. I’ve always tried to imagine…”

    “But it’s a sad story, ” his mom interrupted. “He died suddenly when he was in his early thirties.”

    “They worked hard and they played hard,” the son said.”One night there was a party, everybody was drinking, they asked him to go buy more beer and the driver of the car was reckless. The car rolled and he died instantly. After that his dad moved the shop. And I’ve never been back here since, until tonight. It’s good to remember him.”

    The clinic felt full of invisible connections, that night. Thank you for writing this.

  3. Wow- amazing connection, not just to WCA but to previous tenants in the building… so much sadness and loss, and yet planted here in the present moment with life moving on, there is a sense of enduring, like those thick cement slabs.

  4. Beautiful, Cris! Our clinic is in an old medical building. Many of our patients remember getting treated here as kids, and some worked here as nurses or administrators. I’ve been told that our suite was the emergency room, and the suite below us, which now houses a martial arts studio, was the morgue. The cycles of life have played out many times over within these walls – healing, pain and suffering, death, new life. I never thought about it in this way before, but we’re just carrying on those cycles in a new way. Lots of ancestral energy around here. Thanks for writing this.

  5. Cris, your blog also reminds me of my analogy of the treatment room as a cast-iron skillet. A cast-iron skillet is a highly useful, sturdy object that gets better with time and wear and requires no special handling. In fact, you’re not even supposed to wash it. You cook something in it – sometimes your meal is great and sometimes it’s crap – then you just wipe it off and keep cooking. It gets “seasoned” the more you cook in it and therefore becomes more useful, because corn bread cooked in a seasoned skillet tastes way better than cornbread cooked in a clean one. That’s why I’ve never liked to burn sage in our treatment room or cleanse it energetically in any way. Everything that has ever happened in here – good and bad, healing and death – it doesn’t need to be washed away. It all collects into layers of seasoning.

  6. Alexa I love your skillet analogy. The sage thing has come up a couple of times in recent conversations, and “protecting” myself in the treatment room. I agree that that the seasoning is there to make sure things don’t stick. I never feel icked in the group setting, but I often did in the BA setting.
    There is just so much more energy flowing in a group room, it would actually flatten me if it stuck.

    Our old space was in a medical building that a bunch of our patients remembered as their childhood dentist’s office, and not that fondly. I think that initially it may have impacted their fear of acu-needles, only to come undone by their sense of peace and quiet from the acu-needles. Hey- I can hang with the scary child dentist memory, especially if it is followed by some space for that memory to dissipate into a million other thoughts and memories, like the blackened seasoning on the cast iron pan.

  7. Alexa, I wish I could like your cast-iron skillet comment more than once.

    Cris, thank you so much for writing this. The connections in, between, and throughout all of our clinics are so amazing.

  8. I had a patient come in today who hadn’t been in for a few months. One reason she came back (besides the pain she’s in which had gone away from the last series of treatments) is that her old dog, a golden retriever, who is dead now the last five years, comes and visits her when the needles are in.

    Yeah I was crying.

  9. beautiful manifestation of community last night – patient with a small business complained to me about needing to hire someone for her office because she and a couple of her employees are having health issues, needing surgery, one of her employees had to go back to France, where she can get free healthcare for her cancer… reception volunteer desperately looking for employment, as she recovers from a health issue and runs out of unemployment / disability benefits in a month or so. hooked those two up – they talked for about 1/2 hour in the waiting room and parted with hugs – problem solved, no fuss no muss, no messy craigslist vetting. both of them privately told me afterwards how excited they were about meeting each other. the patient added as she walked out the door – wow, this place really provides all you need!

  10. Thanks, Cris. This is so very beautiful.

    I had a referral from the other side last week. A new patient came in and introduced herself, saying “I think you know… knew my sister, D.”

    I felt a kind of melting-compression when I heard her name.

    “Yes, yes. Of course. She gave me that plant just before she died.”

    We proceeded through the treatment, and I asked after the young daughter of my former patient. Her aunt said she was “Okay, adjusting.”

    “And D’s husband?”

    “He’s dealing with lymphoma.”

    We just looked at each other for a moment.

    As she left she asked me for a cutting from the plant. Now we share it.

  11. Did you realize that you posted this on Dia De Los Muertos?

    So, earlier in the day, before reading this, I had been praying to my departed grandparents, because that’s what I do this time of year.

    My grandmother is the first person I ever heard say anything about acupuncture to me. She started getting acupuncture in Texas in the 1970s. She wasn’t super regular with it or anything, and she had to stop because she got to the point where she didn’t have enough flesh to put the needles in, but she lived long enough to see me go to acupuncture school and she thought that was just fine. The last time I saw her was when we celebrated her 93rd birthday. She held my hand all through the meal and kept asking me who all those other people there were. Good thing the cousins had name tags, cause that helped me learn my relations a bit more while she drilled me.
    Now my grandfather started his career running the one room school house in Copperas Cove, Texas. By the time he was done he had been involved in school administration for most of the South and then in Central America for the schools that the American diplomats sent their kids to. He taught himself Spanish and practiced by talking to everyone he could, to the point that native speakers would try to place his accent and figure out where he was from. Which is all to say that my grandfather was the kind of man who could go from one of LBJ’s bbqs to talking with the janitor at a hotel in Mexico without anyone thinking he was out of place anywhere. He also had a big role in forcing the schools in Texas to desegregate even before Brown v. Board of Ed, just because he felt it was the right thing to do. That made some trouble with some of the good ol’ boys in Texas, but he did it anyway, cause that’s the kind of person he was.

    Yeah, so I was praying to my grandparents, because I miss them, and it’s Dia De Los Muertos, and that’s what you do. And I asked them to give me some help from the other side, cause we’re really trying to get Lents to fill up with peeps and I’m down to try anything, and I know they’d be excited with the work we’re doing, what with the mixture of social justice, acupuncture, and starting a school.

    And then I read this blog.

    And then I got a random walk in, who apparently booked at Cully, but showed up at Lents. Woman in her 70s, real nice. And while I’m needling her, she starts to tell me things, word for word, that my grandma used to tell me. I look up, and maybe my mind’s playing tricks on me, but I swear I looked in her eyes and saw my grandma’s face there. So I tuck her in extra carefully, and think about the importance of hospitality in some spiritual traditions; like those stories about God showing up as a beggar to see how folks treat each other. You just don’t know who all might be sharing that recliner.

  12. One recent one. 9 year old boy gets txs for migraines, which, incidentally have not occurred since starting. He sometimes sits with his mom, sometimes his dad, and sometimes by himself. He’s now VERY relaxed about the whole thing. Clearly feels safe and well loved. Well, this boy falls ASLEEep, like a teenager kind of sleep. Drop edge of yonder sleep. Anyway, getting him up takes some doing, and always attracts the attention of nearby patients, especially the elders. While I try to enter the dark cave of his complete surrender to awake him, older folks’ eyes fall on him, defenseless and dreamy, and are able to take in long drinks of a reminder about our true nature and about specific loved ones. He grunts and rolls over into another position. Giggling and tearing ensue around the room.

  13. You know Whitsitt it did occur to me that it was All Souls Day/Dia de los Muertos when I posted this. I love the Day of the Dead for so many reasons- sugary skulls, papel picado, and of course happy skeletons playing in bands and parading around.
    I was also lighting candles for my dead family- my grandparents especially.
    Andy and I just did a 2-day workshop up in Manch. On Friday night Andy mentioned to me that there would be a real coffin in the room we were using… pretty funny. (It was there from MAS’s POCA Tech Halloween fundraiser last week.)
    At one point we were talking about how with CA we all see so many more people, including the dying. We’re all dying right? But some people are closer to that place than others. One punk talked about an elder she treats who is in pain, and is ready to give up the ghost, and at the same time the clinic has also just become a line to life that this person wasn’t getting to have elsewhere. The patient lamented “that she’d have to come for the rest of her life (b/c she has so much pain), and yet this lament really seems to also be a happy prospect. Andy told a story of a woman he’s treated, for whom getting acupuncture is the only place in her life where she gets touched by another person.
    Many public places are multi-generational, but there is something about resting together that seems to heighten this dynamic in our clinics- like Korben was writing about. All of these things, being together sleeping, with many generations present, welcoming life and healing and death and suffering to the same place, all this with humor, tears, and many moments of grace– there’s so much more to community acupuncture than the needles.

  14. Great post. As I walk through my own personal confusion trying to figure out who I am as a person and practitioner and where I “fit”, this post helps me realize how totally supported, rich, and loving this community is. This idea of personal development and finding community (that my mind/heart has been very “stuck” in) takes so much longer than I ever expected. Glad to know there are so many different voices in POCA, so many examples of connection and ways to be. Thanks for sharing.

  15. What a wonderful thread of stories, experiences. I/We experience them too. Like the woman who’s body is “cancering” who brings her husband so he can get relief from his stress and now their grand daughter for relief of headaches. It is such richness to share in their family’s journey. I have been worrying about numbers and needed this beautiful reminder of where to put my focus. Thanks!