Two visions of transformation

In the few years since the CAN forum has been live, I've noticed that discussions that invoke the reality of classism are often the most heated. While it is not my intention to fan those flames here, I invite my friends and colleagues who use that lens of analysis with more rigor than I, to enlighten me on any blind spots or distortions in my subjective reflections shared here.

A. first came to me as a patient in my private practice in a city 100 miles away from my current community acupuncture clinic. She came twice a week for quite a while, paying $65 per treatment – cash at time of service. 

After leaving that practice and starting a CAP, I didn't see A. for over a year, until one day, she phoned me, telling me she had moved to Seattle and wanted to come see my clinic. I vaguely remember wondering if she would “get it”. Would she understand the difference between private acupuncture at $65+/pop and community acupuncture at $15-$35 in a room full of “strangers”?

She got it! A. is such a delight. She always seems happy when the room is busy and more people are getting acupuncture. And – here's the bit about class….or maybe it is more about the faulty assumptions we ( or rather I) sometimes make about what class a person belongs to…how we put people into boxes. I had always assumed that A and her husband were rich people – members of the upper class.

I won't go into details other than what I've already shared – $130/week on discretionary acupuncture over a long period of time. I also saw that they drove an expensive SUV which probably costs $35,000-$50,000 (I have no idea because I have never seriously considered buying a new car in my adult life).

In any case, I basically had dropped these people into the “rich people” box, based upon very few pieces of information, and this was reinforced when A. began coming to me twice a week again, at the top end of the CAP sliding scale ($35). Then the recession of 2008 hit, and one day, A., in an almost embarassed tone, asked me if it was okay if she payed 'just' $25/tx? I told A. what I tell everyone – the sliding scale is there to make acupuncture accessible. “Pay what you feel comfortable paying on our scale”. We got past that pretty easily and reflecting on this today, I see anew the importance of dismantling this box factory in my mind. 

This is not meant to diminish the importance of understanding class dynamics – particularly for the majority of our patients who pay at the bottom of the sliding scale, who never before had the option of acupuncture treatment until community acupuncture started spreading across America.

(Lengthy aside here: I was going to mention acu-college student clinics, but I just went to Bastyr's website and after extensive surfing around, could not find any posted fees for the general public which makes me think they aren't cheap! The other local school – SIAOM, has their fees listed…”in order to keep their fees low, they don't accept insurance” – $35 in student clinic; $50-$70 to be treated by faculty depending upon the number of observers.). Ouch!

I'm still looking for the middle way. On the one hand, we need to acknowledge the reality of class dynamics, the critical need that exists in the world to make health care truly universal, not dependent upon money, but upon need. There are a lot of class based structures in place which need to be dismantled before that can happen.

At the same time, we need to strive to recognize that on the ultimate level, all assumptions we make are potential ego prisons – for us, and our patients. If we put people in a box, we put ourselves in a box too. There's not much room for healing when everyone is in a box.  To put this in more practical terms – everyone wants to feel better.  True freedom and health are achieved when realize our limitless inner potential, transcending all class dynamics. If our heart-mind is wide open to everyone, that's better than any point prescription in my mind-book.

But these two visions of transformation need to be connected if we wish to practice the art of healing at the highest level. The vision of progressive social change, equality, justice for all (including all non-human species), universal health care, etc. within this world is definitely the path of the saint and bodhisattva. The vision of transcendence and inner freedom, beyond the world of confusion can also be seen by anyone with eyes….and an open mind.

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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Conference Keynote: Breaking the Ceiling

The theme for this conference is “Breaking Barriers”. You know, there are so many barriers to break in acupuncture that it was really hard to choose which ones to talk about for this speech. But since I’ve spent so much time talking about classism as a barrier, I thought it might be fun to shift gears a little and talk about numbers.


  1. ???

    Jordan, I get the sense that you’re posing a question here about classism, but I don’t think I’m understanding it.

    Are you juxtaposing the need to acknowledge class with the dangers of assuming that people are dealing with class in a certain way?

    There’s an interesting point here too, about being wide open to everyone. I think you have to make a distinction between being open to everyone and being able to serve everyone. Because I don’t think we can serve everyone. Some people are going to want things that we don’t have. What people want and need is affected by their experience of class. Yeah, there are some universal needs, but how those needs are felt, expressed, and met —  even that’s a matter of class.

  2. dangers of writing late at night after leading meditation class

    Thanks for your ??? It’s good feedback. In my attempts to reach for overexpansive themes, my writing often needs a good editor to say “what’s the point”?”

    I was using a story line based on my experience with my non-fictitious patient – A – to share my learning process highlighting the dangers of making assumptions based on class (or based on anything). 

    Of course, making assumptions (or inferences) is part of our training as even basic channel diagnosticians…so I’m not saying get rid of all assumptions…but simply to be aware that it is only one layer of knowledge, within a multi-layered reality.

    I agree completely, we can’t serve everyone.  There has to be some shared basis of understanding in order for two parties to work together, and class awareness definitely plays a role in that.

    On a somewhat related note, my father is sitting at the reception desk now, reading a copy of Noodles, and learning how to schedule patients, greet them, etc. He just told me “this is a great book.” He’s 81.