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Treasure ‘The Missing Piece’

By Sara Calabro

The Missing Piece by Shel Silverstein is profound in its simplicity, transformative in what it reveals. So is acupuncture.

The illustrated story is about a circular creature who feels incomplete because of his wedge-shaped cutout. On his journey to find fulfillment, he feels the sun and rain, meets worms and beetles, smells flowers, swims in oceans, and climbs up and down mountains. He meets various wedges but none are exactly the right fit. Eventually he finds what appears to be a perfect match, a wedge made in heaven. But a few rolls in, he realizes that being “fixed” actually makes him feel broken.

The Missing Piece is generally interpreted as a reflection on love and relationships. However, the book’s message also can be applied to health.

Mainstream medicine is obsessed with fixing things. We’re obese—let’s research diet pills. We’re unhappy—let’s take antidepressants. We have migraines—Botox!

The feverish haste with which we seek solutions to our health problems often distracts us from asking why these things need fixing in the first place. Genes and metabolism play a role in the obesity epidemic, but McDonald’s and high fructose corn syrup play bigger ones.

Taking the time to look at underlying causes of disease, as acupuncture does, helps move us away from the quick-fix, deficiency model that dominates healthcare today.

In the same way simply plugging the hole did not work for our circular friend in The Missing Piece, the Band-Aid solutions on which modern medicine has become so dependent fail to support true health.

Acupuncture does not add or subtract anything. Rather, it takes what’s already there and gets it moving in a new way. It dismantles the environment that allows symptoms to flourish.

Approaching health in this way is beneficial not only because it eliminates symptoms instead of suppressing them, but also because it’s driven by positivity. While biomedicine tends to isolate and emphasize what’s lacking, acupuncture prioritizes what is working over what’s not.

The intent of acupuncture is to help people get in touch with their overall experience of illness. From an acupuncture point of view, being sick or in pain is merely a reflection of how we are at a particular moment in time. It does not mean we are defective or locked into a certain way of being.

The character in The Missing Piece discovers that his wedge-shaped cutout wasn’t actually a problem at all. Sometimes the biggest obstacle to becoming “whole” is our perspective.

Acupuncture teaches us to view symptoms as impermanent clues that allow us to better understand ourselves. Embracing them as such, rather than jumping at the first opportunity to numb them, can help us differentiate between what we actually need and what someone says we need.

Some people need medication, others need meditation. Acupuncture, by requiring that we take stock of the big picture, helps us make that call.

Likely unbeknownst to him, Shel Silverstein, in writing The Missing Piece, has given us a new way of understanding the power of acupuncture.

Photo of The Missing Piece illustration by Sara Calabro



What a great article Sara! I just read it after coming out of a treatment room with a client “suffering” from insomnia. He is looking for the smoking gun for his troubles and I am trying to turn him on to the message his body is sending. Much of his life is out of balance, but that is difficult for some to embrace as it would mean a complete re-evaluation…and that is scary (especially for many corporate men). Thank you for the reminder of why we do what we do.


Thanks, Marshall. I’m glad the article found you at a fitting moment. Hope all is well on the island. (I’m not jealous, really.) :)



Wow, this is such a beautiful reflection on one of my favorite stories. I love acupuncture and I love the missing piece by shel silverstein… my favorite line of all was, “Acupuncture does not add or subtract anything. Rather, it takes what’s already there and gets it moving in a new way. It dismantles the environment that allows symptoms to flourish.” Hooray!


Thank you, Rebecca!


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