Bandit & the Spirit of Acupressure


Tom Wilson, Ph.D.

"Look carefully in an animal at a spirit alive;
every flower is a soul opening out into nature;
a mystery touching love is asleep inside metal;
Everything is intelligent! And everything moves you."

From "Golden Lines," Gérard de Nerval, 1854
The spirit that lives in animals moves me. I am in awe at the intelligence inherent in nature that opens possibilities for physical, emotional and spiritual healing. And I continue to be surprised and delighted at the role acupressure can play in awakening that intelligence by simply touching a being in distress. Unfortunately, our modern world devalues the natural intelligence of animals and their deep emotional and spiritual lives. If we do not see animals in their wholeness, how can we help them? In the lines quoted above, the poet tells us to “Look carefully.” The answer may simply reside in seeing who they really are as the key to healing.

In January, I received a call about a female Siberian Husky named Bandit who was suffering from severe digestive problems and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), along with diarrhea, physical weakness, weight loss, listlessness, and fatigue. She was not eating much and had problems keeping food down. She also exhibited a lot of nervousness and anxiety. Bandit's condition was serious, and she had not responded to conventional veterinary medications.

Acupressure and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) take the approach of balancing all of the body's systems through the meridian system and its related organs. With TCM's Five Element Theory we have an approach for addressing causes and symptoms as well. Clearly, digestive problems indicate Spleen Qi deficiency—not enough digestive fire to get the vital nutrients from the food into the blood. Deficient fire leads to a damp condition in the body. This deficiency in the Earth Element (Spleen-Stomach) can adversely affect the Metal Element (Lung-Large Intestine). In Chinese Medicine, it is said that when Earth creates dampness, Metal stores it, which may relate to the IBS and watery bowel movements. The Spleen also needs warmth from the Kidney. The anxiety and fear that attend Bandit's condition point to stress, which weakens Kidney's ability to warm the spleen. Accordingly, carefully working with the Five Element Theory gives us a kind of “chop wood, carry water” approach—that is, we trust the ancient wisdom of TCM and see what happens.

In working with Bandit, I also wanted to address the spirit, knowing that when the spirit rises, physical symptoms seem to naturally abate, and often dissolve. Believe me, though, when I say that I was not exuding confidence trusting in TCM. This was a very serious condition. I just put my hands on Bandit, put my head down and went to work with hope, trust and a prayer. I quickly found that she didn't like me holding points, so I used Tui Na (Chinese Massage), a more active modality based on TCM. Bandit loved Tui Na. All the stroking, grabbing, pressing, and different techniques for imparting energy with the hands helped shake her up and out of some of her anxiety and depression. Tui Na also allowed me to do a little “sneak-upressure”— that is, active work with one hand with Tui Na, while the other hand quietly holds an acupressure point. Bandit's guardian and I used the almond flower essence to address Bandit's anxiety, and made some adjustments in her diet to help rest her digestive system.

I worked with Bandit once a week for the month of January. The first three sessions followed a consistent pattern in her receptivity to the work. As I said, she liked the active nature of Tui Na, but not the holding of acupressure points. In each session I was able to work with the meridian system, the Five Elements, and some potent acupressure points. Bandit would let me work for a short time, move away for awhile, then reengage. She also liked to work outside in the back yard, often getting up and going under the porch for a time and then re-emerging for more work. As I look back on these first three sessions, I sense that the work was efficacious for her, but that she was trying to convey that we were not hitting the mark. Perhaps it was more a case of not yet having found the mark.

When I look at my work journal, I see that I got the first call from Bandit's guardian on January 8th and the last session was on January 30, 2009, the day of seeing an aspect of Bandit's spirit. When I arrived that day, Bandit was sitting at the front door waiting. She knew I was coming. I have learned that when animals are waiting for you, they have become more active in the healing process. Something in them has changed. Usually, Bandit would be off in another room when I arrived, and we would have to ask her to come into the living room to work. But, there she was, waiting for me. While I was taking my shoes off, Bandit went to the center of the living room and lay down on her side.

When I knelt beside her, I started to stroke down both sides of her spine to open the Bladder meridian. My focus was on working the Bladder, Gall Bladder, and Stomach yang meridians as an opening sequence for generating Qi. Yet only after a couple of strokes on the Bladder meridian, I was sensing a resonance from Bandit, sensing that I was being drawn somewhere. Instinctively I let my hand move to the left side of her chest and placed my index, middle, and ring fingers of my left hand on Stomach 16, Breast Window. It felt as if I were falling into a deep pool of warm water. Bandit's eyes closed, and her respiration slowed down. She was in a deep place. It was clear that this point was the whole session, that I would simply stay here. This was it. Everything was quiet. Bandit's guardian would tell me later that she too could feel the resonance in the room.

So I stayed with the point, emptying my head of any intention to do anything more or to interpret what was happening. After a few minutes of just being with her, I had a strong sense of her sadness. And even though I did not want to say anything, I found myself asking her guardian, “I think she is grieving for her brothers and sisters. Was she taken away from the litter early?” Her guardian responded, “Oh, yes. And more than that. She had puppies before she was one year old and they were taken away very soon after.”

This is where the psycho-spiritual dimensions of acupressure make their emergence in a session. Psycho-spiritual dimensions are not derivatives of analysis or knowledge, but a felt-sense in the body, an embodied experience felt in the autonomic nervous system and the psyche. There is a knowingness in such moments that have no thinking attached, but only a clarity felt deep inside the body. The journey of all the previous sessions was to get here—to Breast Window, which holds ancestral grief.

On the left side of the body, Breast Window lies in the area over the heart. Everything we had done in other sessions was good work, but it may all have been prelude to getting here. Bandit was deep inside with the spiritual essence of the point. Keeping my index and middle fingers on Breast Window, I instinctively let my ring and little fingers rest on the Kidney spirit points near the midline of her chest: Kidney 23, Spirit Seal; Kidney 24, Spirit Ruins; and Kidney 25, Spirit Storehouse. Kidney and Heart are Heaven & Earth Yin Partners, representing the primal elements of Water and Fire. This was a heart healing, a spirit healing. (On the physical level, we mentioned earlier the role of Kidney in warming the Spleen.) We stayed like this for ten or 15 minutes and then Bandit opened her eyes. There was no longer a resonance in my fingers. We were done.

Bandit got up and went outside and sat in the grass in the back yard. We noticed that Bandit was sitting there watching us. So we went out to join her. She appeared to be very receptive to us. When I knelt to give her a little hug, she started licking me on the face, which she had never done before. And then she started jumping against me, bouncing me around playfully the way wolf cubs play with each other. She was acting like a puppy, but a very big and strong wolf puppy that knocked me over a few times in the next couple of minutes.

This is the heart of shamanic or alchemical acupressure as envisioned by the ancient Taoists: the yin of the body and the yang of the spirit integrating into new ways of transforming or organizing experience. Out of the wounds of her past, Bandit had re-envisioned herself. She had recovered her true nature. She was feeling her birthright, the joy of being alive. And it feels to me as if she went straight past being a Siberian Husky all the way back to her ancestral wolf nature. For our part, her guardian and I had witnessed her grief. We saw her with compassion. We looked carefully at the spirit alive in the animal. We were companions on her inner healing journey.

The IBS and digestive problems are gone. She's happy. Her guardian and I talked about the road forward for Bandit. It came to us simply: let her do what she loves. She's out in nature more. She's playing with other dogs on her walks. Her guardian sets up play dates for her with other dogs. On occasion, one of her playmates gets rough and Bandit gets depressed and withdraws for a time. But isn't that normal for a being with an emotional life? For the ancient Taoists, one does not seek to escape life or find a state of permanent bliss, but to acquire balance, to learn how to ride the waves of experience.

Bandit is doing very well. I have visited her a couple of times, and she always wants to play the wolf with me. Her guardian says she only does that with me, that maybe she thinks I'm a wolf. Well, my animal totem is the wolf, and on occasion I have been known to howl at the moon. But that hardly makes me a wolf. Right?

* * * * *

© Copyright 2010 Tom Wilson, All Rights Reserved

© Copyright 2010 Tom Wilson, All Rights Reserved
P.O. Box 2278 Nevada City, CA 95959-1945
Phone: (530) 913.1309