There had been no connection to anything oriental in my life until I became a macrobiotic chef in the East West Centre cafe in Old Street, London in 1986. Then things went decidedly oriental from there. The East West Centre offered macrobiotic cooking courses, shiatsu, tai chi and most things eastern. I rapidly learned about yin, yang and how to make a meal look and taste like the five elements, thanks to the crazy head chef and first person to start me on my oriental journey. A beneficial side effect of working there was receiving free tai chi lessons and shiatsu courses. I learned about channels, cupping and moxa. I was 22 years old and I thought ‘that was me’, now I’ll be a shiatsu therapist! But alas, I was too young. Parties, travel and drink still had their part to play.
I ended up back in my home town of Edinburgh making tofu for a business and this connected me to the meditation scene through the person who shared our workshop. He was a dedicated yogi living a monk’s lifestyle in the city. After making fun of his inpromptu meditations on top of the bean sacks once every hour, I eventually became intrigued as to his calmness (in contrast to my disintegrating calmness). I went to the meditation centre and after experiencing an out of the body state after my first session, I became a city monk too. I lived the vegetarian, celibate lifestlyle for seven years in which time I learned and taught meditation, went on month-long retreats to Rajasthan in India and went to places in and out of my mind that I would never have experienced otherwise.
After my last trip to India in 1995 I felt filled with the experience and life lessons I needed from that journey. Now my oriental journey seemed to have concluded and I wanted to settle down, get married and have a ‘real job’. I met my wife Teresa, got married and became a nurse. I found that the nursing course was an attractive option as I wanted to continue the caring, thoughtful side I had acquired and you also got a decent grant! When one of the nurse tutors asked us where we saw ourselves once we had qualified I had an epiphany moment and stated that I would probably be a herbalist or acupuncturist (probably subconsciously remembering my east/west beginnings!). I had never personally experienced acupuncture but was soon to meet it.
When working as a student I forged a most amazing relationship with a motor neurone sufferer. We had tremendous philisophical discussions and I introduced him to meditation. When he began to experience loss of sensation in his limbs he became unable to press the button to open his front door. We decided to try to find someone who could help and I suggested an acupuncturist. That’s when I met the ‘gatekeeper’ to my new profession. Dr Liang was an experienced Chinese doctor and previous teenage barefoot doctor with a very focused and calm demeanour. She charmed us both, used electroacupuncture to return the sensation to my client’s limbs and became my therapist when I strained my back.
As with my initial meditation experience, the first session was a very intense sensation. I felt the original qi in my belly as a giant magnet drawing my hands up in the air to hold the lower dantian. Then followed lots of deep discussions about qi, Chinese qigong masters and Buddhism. After being told I would make a good acupuncturist, I took her word for it and I was on the Northern College acupuncture course about four months later. The final piece in the oriental jigsaw.