Community Joy, Disappointment, and Sobering Reminders

March was a new record for CommuniChi – 418 appointments. It took two years and two months for that crop to ripen – maybe stuff just naturally grows slower here in the wacky northwest. Spring officially arrived a few weeks ago, but it was snowing as I made breakfast this morning and prepared for my morning bike ride to the clinic.

It’s been a wild week. First, the interview with the TV crew, which has only heightened the surfing bonanza. After tomorrow, we will be somewhere between 125-130 appointments for the week – also a record. My esteemed partner Serena is out of town, so I had the pleasure of treating 24 patients today. Working a 9 hour shift isn’t something I recommend on a regular basis, but the experience has it’s own beauty – reminding me of long solo crossings in a sea kayak many years ago: You are exhausted when you finally step out onto the sand, but there is also a certain exhilaration and heightened state of concentration which allows deeper insights into the life around you. Here are a few of these glimpses of deeper truth into the oneness of community acupuncture from today:

I’ve been noticing that ever since we reordered 4000 business cards and I rearranged the card holder, more of the cards are disappearing…quickly! The business card holder is a piece of bamboo cut in half, and inside, I put 3 stacks of cards with about 30 to 40 cards in each stack. The holder sits on a table outside our office, in the hallway of the Latino center, so people can take as many or as few as they wish without feeling any self-consciousness of “I’m taking to many”. I think in the last week, about 75 cards disappeared. I think the cards cost us slightly less than .10 each. So that’s 7.50 for 75 potential customer referrals, or 1/2 the cost of one $15 treatment.  I think I know one of the people who took some. She came in for the first time a few days ago, and was back today, with a gleeful smile telling me how she had arranged for three of her friends to make appointments.

CAN clinics are full of these kind of stories. It’s great to be successful as an acupuncturist, making a sustainable wage, but even better, is the feeling of being useful to your community, such that people are regularly getting excited about health and wellness. 

The disappointment comes in when old friends who become aware of your success, try to imitate what you are doing, but miss some key points. I imagine things must be getting tighter and tighter in the boutique acupuncture world. 8.5% unemployment nationwide – the highest level in a quarter century. Belt tightening is the corporate buzz word of the day – even as the elites strategize to restore the greed infested, collapsed U.S. banking system into something not too different than we had before. Check out “A New Way Forward” if you are interested in participating in a nationwide demonstration on April 11 to stop that nonsense. But I digress….

Boutique acupuncture has to be hurting. Benefits are being cut, premiums are rising. People have less money for the mediocre acupuncture benefits which managed care companies generally offer. Certainly those without such benefits are not going to pay the $65 and up out of pocket for any length of time, and we all know, acupuncture usually does not create instant miracles. Very few of the 5+ million people out of work right now across America are going to pay $650 for a course of ten treatments, to say nothing of those needing on-going care for deep chronic imbalances. Heck, even if they get their jobs back, most people aren’t going to pay that kind of cash.

As David of Circle CA playfully joked on April 1st – why not simply raise prices? Huh? That’s where I just don’t get it with my friends. Wanting to get in on a good thing and embrace the Community Acupuncture model, they still want to charge high prices some of the time for special procedures? They fail to see how that undermines the loving confidence that regular working class people – like my gleeful patient above gushing about how she referred 3 friends to us – will have in that kind of business. The fearful transparency of such a business decision – I’m talking about setting up a hybrid – will be obvious to everyone, except the propietors.  Oh, they might fool some people for a while, and they might even succeed as a business (though I know more than few experienced leaders of our community betting against it). Regardless of whether their numbers are good or bad, I feel disappointed that I cannot share the full joy of my community acupuncture experience with them. They are still my friends, but there are more walls of misunderstanding separating us, than with those who really trust the CA model and don’t feel compelled to cling on to something which no longer works – at least for more and more ‘punks. (Why would they be embracing CA if their prior boutique practices were rosy?)

Henry David Thoreau once wrote three words which is of great relevance to all community acupunks: “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” Running a hybrid practice would seems to be the epitome of complexity – and a good way to emotionally, and psychologically tire oneself out to the point of being confused about one’s inner motives.

Onwards in my day. Later in the afternoon, spring had returned, and great billowing white clouds floating in blue were being admired by people in the starship “CommuniChi” from their recliners on the forward deck, facing the double high windows. I heard the familiar tinkle of our tiny chain, alerting me from the bridge that someone had entered the reception bay. A friend of a friend had come for treatment. Somehow I felt a strong bond with him immediately (wish I could do that with every sentient being). He told me that he was a recent graduate of a local school. He was seeing about 2 people a week and trying to figure out a better way. I decided to cast some potent CA seeds, even spending ten minutes in conversation, helping to till them in a little bit. He had worked on farms studying organic agriculture, so instinctively I knew that he understood the process of transformation. I loaned him a copy of “The Remedy” to read and plowed in one last seed of advice: “If you are going to do Community Acupuncture, you can’t be half-assed about it. There’s a lot of nuts and bolts stuff to learn for sure, but first and foremost, your heart has to be in it 100%”.

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="https://www.acuwithoutborders.org/" 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="https://www.communichi.org/" 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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Responses

  1. .

    nice jordan, thanks for the post. one strange thing i have been noticing amongst students at my school along these same lines of lots of hybrid talk is an acknowledgment of the current financial climate as their motivating factor for wanting to do a CA clinic. i wonder though if this is going to bite them in the ass in the end if they arent commited to this model regardless of the fact that private acupuncture is now REALLY unaffordable for most rather than just unafforable. i guess my hope is that they will succeed as a CA clinic, and then not see any reason to ever switch to a private practice if and when the economy ever does turns around.