twenty dollar bill_fullBy Sara Calabro

We’ve heard from the Buddhists. We’ve heard from the foodies. Now it’s time for an acupuncture perspective on Occupy Wall Street.

Occupy Wall Streeters have aired many grievances, but a succinct list of demands remains elusive. It’s been challenging to pinpoint exactly what protesters want because the factors fueling this movement are not strictly causal. Occupy Wall Street is not about “they did this so we want that.” Rather, the movement represents the need for a thorough investigation into the underlying values of our society.

Acupuncture is based on a similar premise. In contrast to biomedicine, which treats symptoms by isolating causes, acupuncture looks at how root imbalances affect the whole system.

For example, a conventional doctor might diagnose heartburn due to stomach acid backing up into the esophagus. To treat it, he prescribes antacids that neutralize the acid. An acupuncturist seeing the same patient also seeks to resolve the heartburn, but his diagnosis is not determined by direct causation (i.e., why is this person having heartburn?). Rather, the acupuncturist wants to know why stomach acid is backing up in the first place.

It may seem far-fetched for acupuncture to be part of the discourse about Occupy Wall Street. Yes, acupuncture is an effective therapy that’s safer and cheaper than many mainstream standards of care—but how does that matter in a political and social movement of this magnitude?

Above all, acupuncture’s biggest gift to modern society and the Occupy movement is its perspective. Acupuncture sees the world contextually.

The injustices being protested on Wall Street and around the world suggest a disregard for context. An untamed emphasis on short-term gains has resulted in the 1% becoming isolated from its surrounding environment, the other 99%.

Regardless of whether a protester’s personal beef is with fuel, foreclosures or food, the fundamental issue being raised by Occupy Wall Street is a failure to think holistically. Acupuncture teaches us to do this.

The above-mentioned patient may have heartburn in conjunction with migraine headaches, but only when he is at work. Someone else may have heartburn that surfaces at night, along with frequent urination, fatigue and dizziness. These two patients would receive very different acupuncture treatments. The heartburn is viewed relative to each person’s surrounding environment—accompanying symptoms as well as external factors such as weather, emotional stress, etc. In acupuncture, nothing exists in isolation.

The Occupy movement calls for a seismic shift toward a system that prioritizes the big picture over temporary gain. This demands more than just alleviating symptoms. It requires seeing the world in a whole new way so that we can address the core issues that got us here. Doing this will raise as many questions as it does answers, an uncomfortable prospect for a society grounded in objectivity and absolutes.

Acupuncture provides a model for addressing multifaceted problems with unpredictable outcomes. Through understanding acupuncture we learn to be flexible and make sense of inconsistencies—to proceed according to the realities in front of us rather than what we’ve always thought to be true.

Photo by Sara Calabro

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