Today on the podcast, we have acupuncturist Russell Brown; Founder of Poke Acupuncture LA, with over 15 years of experience practicing this ancient medicine with exquisite finesse. Using his distinctive voice and gentle wisdom, Russell advocates for a realisation of the constraints and meritocracy of the current whitewashed, capitalist-driven wellness industry. Russell is an educator and a brilliantly poetic writer who brings forth the kind of gentle healing one's soul longs to fall into at the end of the day. As a practitioner of acupuncture, Russell operates through the subtle energetic realms of Chinese medicine with ease, translating the insightful metaphors of this ancient knowledge into soothing remedies for the intensity of modern life. In this episode, Russell offers his nuanced perspective on the invention and westernised packaging of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the existence of cultural appropriation and privilege within the wellness industry, and how conscious social activism lies at the confluence of these topics. Tahnee and Russell discuss the Eight Extraordinary meridians, constitutional energy, The Five Elements, and the type of strength required of practitioners to support their patients through healing. In a wellness industry becoming more and more commercialised; Marketing 'wellness' as a commodity to be purchased by the privileged, this honest conversation feels most refreshing.
"I want you to experience beauty for an hour every week, every two weeks. I want you to be removed from the story of your life. I think that's the only way we're going to survive, frankly, is to have a chance to cushion ourselves from how hard the world is with some softness. And that's how I practice acupuncture now. I want people to be given an opportunity to catch their breath, to float, to not feel like the world is coming at them in a hostile way"
- Russell Brown
Tahnee and Russell discuss:
- The Wei Qi.
- Yuan Qi (source Qi).
- The Five Elements.
- The eight extraordinary meridians.
- Doing the work of social activism.
- The whitewashing of the wellness industry.
- Stomach 36 and our relationship to nourishment.
- The importance of creating and nurturing as humans.
- The history of Traditional Chinese Medicine communism.
- The institutionalisation and education system around TCM.
- Becoming very clear on your perspective as a practitioner.
Who Is Russell Brown?
Russell Brown, L.Ac, studied journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, and enjoyed a career in feature film development (including The Fast and the Furious films and Cruel Intentions) before quitting his job on a whim and enrolling in Emperor's College of Traditional Chinese Medicine. After passing the California State Board in 2007, Russell opened Poke Acupuncture in Los Angeles in 2009.
Russell has operated pro-bono acupuncture clinics for the HIV/AIDS community in San Francisco and L.A. and was the in-house acupuncturist for the Alexandria House, a transitional home for women in Koreatown. He wrote a book on meditation titled Maya Angelou’s Meditation 1814 and his writing on wellness has been published in several outlets including Bust and Lenny Letter. He sheepishly did acupuncture on Paris Hilton for her reality show in 2011, a real moment in time he only slightly regrets.
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Check Out The Transcript Here:
Hi everyone. And welcome to the SuperFeast Podcast. Today's guest is an acupuncturist from Los Angeles who's been practising for over 15 years and has, in my opinion, one of the freshest voices in the industry.
He's an advocate for understanding the limitations of the industrial capitalist wellness machine, that's a mouthful. And he is an educator and a writer who, in my opinion, manages to put TCM theory into this most beautiful language and metaphor that's really accessible and relevant for modern humans.
And Russell also has an ex-film producer background. And if you're a 90s kid you'll know some of those movies. Fast and the Furious, Cruel Intentions.
So he's had this amazing 180 coming into this more subtle kind of energetic realm of traditional Chinese medicine. So I'm really excited to welcome you here today, Russell.
Russell Brown: (00:48)
Thank you. Thank you so much. I'm so excited.
Yeah, I'm so excited.
Russell Brown: (00:51)
I spent some time in Australia by the way in the 90s.
Russell Brown: (00:54)
Yes. I went to Sydney and then I was young and took a tour of the outback, which I'm sure you guys hate, but-
Oh, nice. I love that.
Russell Brown: (01:02)
One of the stops was at this farm in a place called Coonabarabran, I think.
Russell Brown: (01:07)
I just stayed there. And so I lived on this farm for, I think like two months, and just worked on this farm out there. Yeah. And it was great and it was not my real life and it was nice to be not in my real life.
And the stars.
Russell Brown: (01:21)
Russell Brown: (01:23)
Obviously coming from LA, like we don't really have stars in LA like that, so it was all very shocking to me so I have very fond associations with Australia.
Yeah. They've actually preserved Coonabarabran, so the Warrumbungle is like a National Park there and that area is now a dark sky park, so.
Russell Brown: (01:39)
They're trying to preserve it for yeah. Like, so you can't-
Russell Brown: (01:42)
Because otherwise the development would come in and sort of just make it-
Yeah. I don't know if they'd ever developed that [crosstalk 00:01:48] pretty far away. Yeah. But just more like, yeah, so people can't have, I don't know, flood lights on their farms or I don't know what people would do, but yeah.
So you're the founder of Poke Acupuncture and you've got this amazing clinic going. I actually heard about you through lots of sort of connections in LA and then started following you on Instagram. And it's been a delight following you for a few years.
Russell Brown: (02:10)
Thank you. It's so funny. Obviously I have such a take on wellness and part of that take is that I don't know that I need to be on Instagram.
Russell Brown: (02:20)
I don't know that acupuncturists need to be on social media. I don't think that I have such an issue with like content creation. I don't think that I personally need to be making more content, but I also think there's something sociologically interesting about it.
Russell Brown: (02:33)
And so I've sort of tried to find a use for Instagram that doesn't make me feel like a 17 year old. And I don't know if I'm succeeding at that personally, but I am enjoying the process of it most of the time.
Yeah. I vote for you. I've had a really love, hate relationship with the platform and I really hear you on that. And I think it's evolved in really positive and negative directions, but there's this positive where it's this place to yeah, like share ideas and connect and use the kind of medium for education and inspiration.
And I think you do a really good job of that and Wellness Trash Can just makes me laugh first of all. But also I'm always like, "This is so relevant big because we've got this culture," and something I've always said to my husband, the first time I went to LA was probably I think, seven or eight years ago.
And I remember being like, "It's so artificial here. No wonder the wellness industry came from here," and my husband kind of looked at me and he was like, "What are you talking about?"
And I'm like, "Well, everything's just plunked on top of the desert. It's not really meant to be here." And then we've got like this really toxic kind of culture there around aesthetic and lifestyle. And I'm sure you know all of that very, very well.
Russell Brown: (03:52)
Well, I also think about it in context of one of the things about Los Angeles and Australia too, but really LA, we don't have seasons here, right? Every day is exactly the same weather wise. It's going to be between 75 and 85, right?
Russell Brown: (04:05)
It's always going to be sunny. We have a couple weeks of rain, but there's no passing of time essentially. I wear the same thing to work every single day. I wear black t-shirt. I wear black pair of jeans every day. It doesn't really matter.
Russell Brown: (04:15)
And I think as a result, we don't get the passing of time. We don't see it. There's no, the jacket comes out, the jacket goes away. Now summers here we get to go to the pool. We go to the pool every day here and as a result our relationship with ageing is affected by that. Our relationship with the way the body passes through time is affected by that.
Russell Brown: (04:38)
And so I do think that wellness sort of came in as a sense of in part, because we have such a resistance to believing that we're ageing, people just can't believe that 10 years has passed because we didn't have any markers of that.
Russell Brown: (04:50)
And I always say like if you're a man especially, like women you guys have a cycle, you have a menstrual cycle that says a month has passed. But for me, I really can't believe time is passing. I don't have children. I don't see any of that.
Russell Brown: (05:03)
And so I think that wellness was really born a lot from this idea of how do I rectify the fact that I'm ageing even though I just can't believe it's to be true? And Los Angeles is really I feel like the epicentre of that.
And if we drill right down to what you speak about a lot in your work anyway, we're talking like this idea of capitalism and how it's driving this kind of constant work ethic.
And we can take that right back to the industrialization of the world and you speak about that online. The moving from it's a candle to get anything done at night to like, "Hey, we can electrify your whole house and you can watch TV or work on your computer or whatever."
Russell Brown: (05:44)
Have that computer in your pocket and then go into your bed and so you can have the computer with you in the bed, in the place where you're supposed to be resting.
Russell Brown: (05:51)
And then you wonder why you can't sleep because you've now made your bed into an office. And you're like, "I couldn't possibly meditate. There's just no way that could be." It's very, very complicated.
It's a trip. And even if there's not that seasonal variance, we used to have that nocturnal rhythm, so there'd be dark and you'd have to go to bed at some point.
I often think about that when I'm camping. I'm like, "Well, it gets a bit boring." You have a chat, you drink some wine and then you're like, "Well, let's go to bed." There's nothing else to do.
So it's like, yeah, I think we've lost that natural kind of push to shut down. And so I think LA really, you've got the film industry there, not just that, but a lot of other kind of economies in that area that are just driving this kind of constant, hectic pace.
And culturally, I think America too has had that anyone can achieve anything kind of push. And I see that in the wellness industry as well, it's almost like this kind of spiritual version of that sort of drive to succeed.
And if you put your mind to it, you can be anything you want to be and create anything you want. And sometimes I'm very concerned about how toxic that is, so. Is that something you see?
Russell Brown: (07:04)
Well, it's a lie, it's 100% a lie. And now like, especially lately in America being like, "Oh, actually it's still just intergenerational wealth."
Russell Brown: (07:13)
The entire idea of American meritocracy is a lie, but we use that lie as a dangling carrot to make everyone feel terrible for not doing enough.
Russell Brown: (07:24)
And I think the wellness industry is all braided up in that now. And that's part of the problem is that the foundation of it is that lie. It's not like manifesting, I don't believe and I don't think that's a thing.
Russell Brown: (07:34)
I think this idea that you're supposed to rise yourself up in the bootstraps because allegedly one person did it one time, because Oprah Winfrey came from nothing and became Oprah Winfrey.
Russell Brown: (07:47)
But she is the exception to the rule, which means that the rule is there that no one really can do it except for one person, two people, which are a complete, complete exception.
They're unicorns. Yeah.
Russell Brown: (08:04)
Totally. And now you are chasing a unicorn and thinking something is wrong with you is part of the problem, right? And that's the illusion of it all.
Russell Brown: (08:13)
And I think America is starting to rectify or at least reckon with that lie, that it's not true. And part of the racial reckoning that's happening right now in America is like, "Oh, a lot of this meritocracy, the manifesting nonsense is for white people."
Russell Brown: (08:29)
It's really not for any one of colour. It's certainly not for immigrants, queer people. It's really a very specific version of success that is not available to just about everyone.
Russell Brown: (08:41)
And wellness is a part of that and that's why I am critical of it now more than I was before is that I see it and I see myself as the beneficiary of a lot of it too. And I feel like it's a lot of my responsibility to speak out on it.
Russell Brown: (08:55)
One of the reasons why I am so critical of wellness and specifically acupuncture is because I am successful, but I am successful because I am a white man as an acupuncturist.
Russell Brown: (09:05)
And I understand that media outlets like to see me and like to give me press, because it's easier to project Asian tradition and culture onto me than it is to actually just speak to an Asian person or an Asian American person.
Russell Brown: (09:22)
And I feel that tension, even now on this podcast, I feel that tension. We're two white people talking about wellness and that feels odd to me. And I feel like it needs to be called out that I'm not from Asia. My ancestors are not from Asia. I learned this very generously from a Taiwanese woman in my school but I don't feel an ownership to this medicine.
Russell Brown: (09:48)
And I feel very strange being a representative of the medicine often publicly, because I don't know that it's the most appropriate. I do the best I can, but I don't like often that I feel like sometimes when Caucasian people take up the spaces in these conversations they are doing so at a disservice to their colleagues who are minorities and I wrestle with that myself.
Yeah. My husband, he has a comedy Instagram, he often says things like, "Look at the white people enjoying the empire," and it's as much a reflection on his own processes and people take it. They're like, "Oh, its not very kind."
But we know we need to process this our own way. And I see that in your work with Wellness Trash Can and these things, it's like it's as much a self reflection as it is criticising the industry and we are a part of the problem.
I have staff that are Sri Lankan and have different names and we've had people be really racist to them on the phone, like "Put me onto an Australian." And I'm like, "Jesus fucking Christ. You're buying Taoist tonic herbs from like two white people that have a company with some people with strange names in it. How can you be racist toward them?"
And it's just a funny situation sometimes. And I often think, we have this amazing person in China we work with, with sourcing. And I often think if I put him front and centre on our social media, people just they would freak out. They wouldn't get it.
Russell Brown: (11:23)
Well, that's the thing. What does it mean? Like what does it mean? Like what are we talking about here, especially like me as an acupuncturist, you're a yoga instructor.
What are we doing?
Russell Brown: (11:33)
What are we doing? And how did the industry become this place where it's like we have sort of appropriated a lot of these traditions. And now the industry wellness in general which is based on so many traditions of countries that are not Caucasian people. And yet the consumer is a white person who wants it to be a Caucasian thing and how that tension plays out.
Russell Brown: (11:59)
I don't exactly understand, I don't know what to do with it. I don't know what to do with it, except for talk about it as much as I can and signal boost the other of practitioners who I'm close with and who I really believe in who I think need more attention put on them than I do.
Russell Brown: (12:19)
But I don't know what it means about wellness. And it's one of the things that just makes me uncomfortable about wellness in general is knowing that how whitewashed it's become, how clean it all feels.
Russell Brown: (12:30)
And it didn't actually come from a place of cleanliness. It's like a very superficial cleanliness. Particularly last year in America, there was so much anti-Asian violence because of COVID.
Russell Brown: (12:42)
That's like the least of it, I could just talk about forever, but for me to see acupuncture, white, Caucasian acupuncture, saying nothing about the anti-Asian violence really didn't ever compute to me.
Russell Brown: (12:58)
And it would be like, "You owe your careers to Asian immigrants. You owe your careers to social activism on the part of racism. And now when racism is actually happening here in communities that are tangential to you and the work you do, you say nothing."
Russell Brown: (13:12)
And that really just pissed me off last year. It still pisses me off. And there are friends of mine who want their Instagram and their social media to sort of portray that same cleanliness.
Russell Brown: (13:26)
And I'm like, "The ship has sailed on that cleanliness." Your silence is what? What exactly do you think your silence is buying you around this? I don't understand it.
Russell Brown: (13:37)
And COVID has only made it worse because of all of the conservatism around masks and the vaccines and things. And I think a reckoning is coming. I just think that the wellness industry can't continue to operate like this with a lot of these lies really at the heart of it.
Russell Brown: (13:56)
And that's sort of where I ended up kind of going with my social media some of the time. And then sometimes I'm like, "Who needs to hear from me? I'm just like one more white guy who thinks that the world needs to my voice in it. And it doesn't." And I go back and forth with it. I go back and forth with it.
Yeah. I really hear you on that. And I find pushing the button sometimes on publication myself very challenging. So I'm sure you have the same feeling.
But I remembered you shared a whole piece on, is it Miriam Lee who was one of the advocates for Chinese medicine in your country and that was new to me. I didn't know that history.
And I was really grateful you shared that. And if you don't mind, would you mind sharing a little bit about that? Because you talked about the politicisation of like all these wellness people avoiding politics, but really to get where we are now this is what's had to happen.
Russell Brown: (14:55)
Well, Miriam Lee, we sort of consider her like the pioneer of Chinese medicine, at least on the west coast in America. She was a woman who came over from Asia I believe she came in 1969 and she was an acupuncturist in China.
Russell Brown: (15:07)
And then she set up in the Bay Area in California and she was not legally allowed to practise medicine at the time. No one was really legally allowed to practise acupuncture at the time, but they did. They practised acupuncture.
Russell Brown: (15:19)
And so she operated sort of under the radar and had a clinic and it was quite successful. And the versions of the story told of her is that eventually they found out about her. They came and arrested her and her patients came to court and demanded that she be freed.
Russell Brown: (15:43)
And as a result, she was given licence to practise acupuncture. And which paved the way for California to be able to have licence.
Russell Brown: (15:51)
The truth is is that she was not the meek, very subservient female acupuncturist that they portrayed. She was working with various organisations. She baited them to arrest her because she wanted to push the issue. And she actually had been lobbying for it. She bankrolled lobbyist's. She was out there actually doing the political work.
Russell Brown: (16:15)
And I think that the difference is interesting because in one version we get to sort of just be either the victims of politics or the heroes of politics. But her version is actually no, you have to be a social activist.
Russell Brown: (16:31)
The harder story to tell is this is a woman who knew exactly what she was doing and was doing it intentionally. And I think that that is a much better role model for acupuncture than just this very heroic tale of all of her patients worshipping her and wanting her to be able to practise.
Russell Brown: (16:46)
But actually she was out there working in Sacramento, which is the state capital, to make sure that this legislature went through. And I think that that is something that we don't talk about enough is that we have to be really doing the work of social activism and not just hoping that our patients speak on our behalf, which is the fantasy that is told about Miriam Lee.
Russell Brown: (17:09)
The part that's also tangential to that is that Miriam Lee was only arrested because essentially what happened was is this cohort of Caucasian men at UCLA essentially discovered acupuncture in the 70s. They had never even heard of it before and learned it in about a year and a half from a teacher here in Los Angeles.
Russell Brown: (17:30)
And as a result, they used their connections to get themselves permitted by the government to be able to practise medicine. But the terms of their permitting were that anyone who wasn't associated with medical school, they were with UCLA, anyone who wasn't associated with a medical school, then they became illegal.
Russell Brown: (17:50)
So Miriam Lee was only arrested because these white men decided that they should have control of the laws around acupuncture. And they then went on to found most of the acupuncture schools in America, the curriculum of what it takes to become an acupuncturist, and worked with most of the states around the licencing of acupuncture.
Russell Brown: (18:11)
And to me, that is the much bigger conversation is how it is that this group of white men basically decided that they should own the medicine, be responsible for the medicine, of which they had no connection to, to the detriment of the practitioners who actually this was their legacy. This was in their family. This was lineages of knowledge.
Russell Brown: (18:33)
And that's why I think of myself as someone who is now one more in a lineage of white men who thinks that they should be the spokesperson for this medicine. I don't like that.
Russell Brown: (18:44)
And I am very cautious of that because I understand how these things work. And I wonder, that when I am even on this podcast now talking to you, is there a Miriam Lee out there who's paying the price for my speaking on behalf of Chinese medicine in a way that perhaps I shouldn't be. And it's something that I think about.
Yeah. We have a friend, Rhonda Chang, who's a Chinese-
Russell Brown: (19:10)
Rhonda Chang's, and she was like, "I'm done, I'm not doing this anymore."
This is what I was going to say. She just was like, "This fucking system is broken and you've taken my medicine and you've turned it into something that it's not, and I'm taking it back."
And we've both been deeply inspired by her work and we spoke before we jumped on about the challenges of the institutionalisation and the education system around this work.
And people like her, I'd much rather sit at her feet than the feet of some of the people I was studying with, so yeah it's a really tricky situation.
And it sounds like you had a beautiful teacher from the little bit I've heard. Yeah. Could you tell us a little bit about your experience at school and how that went down?
Russell Brown: (19:57)
I had a few teachers, but my first real primary teacher was a woman named Christine Chang, who, the first time I saw her, she had a man in a headlock on the floor of the clinic because she was cracking his neck which, of course we're not really allowed to do, but she doesn't care.
Russell Brown: (20:10)
And she looked like a small woman wrestling a bear. And I was just like, "Who is this woman? I need to know everything she knows."
Russell Brown: (20:18)
And so I followed her around and basically just made her talk to me and she was from Taiwan and she was the first person that would look at it like a point I was needling. And she'd be like, "Who told you to needle that?" And I'd be like, "Oh, Dr. Jai." And she'd be like, "Don't listen to Dr. Jai. Dr. Jai is a communist."
Russell Brown: (20:36)
And I didn't know what she was talking about but come to find out that she's not wrong. I would be like, "No, Dr. Jai was born in America. I don't think she's a communist," because my understanding of what that was.
Russell Brown: (20:51)
But what she was actually basically saying is that how when the communist party took over China in the 40s and 50s, they basically created acupuncture out of nothing.
Russell Brown: (21:01)
It was an invented tradition that sort of took what they liked about eight principles and applied it to dialectical materialism, which is sort of communist ideas and sort of syphoned it down into a version of Chinese medicine that they could then package and sell to the west that would appeal to sort of Orientalism.
Russell Brown: (21:25)
But it stripped out a lot of the things that she really believed the medicine to be. And Rhonda Chang, that's exactly what she speaks about, is that this sort of communist hybrid that they've made is not interesting to her at all. And it doesn't speak to the lineage she understands.
Russell Brown: (21:39)
And so she is doing work that's around that but that's what my teacher was basically into and is that there was TCM, Traditional Chinese Medicine is a communist invention, and she's from Taiwan where they didn't subscribe to the TCM.
Russell Brown: (21:55)
And so she was very strong about that and making me understand the difference between the two. And I was very fortunate of that. She was a real firecracker and just a very strong woman and taught me to be very strong in terms of my perspective on the medicine and having a perspective on the medicine. And I think that that's really ultimately what I teach.
Russell Brown: (22:20)
And when I work with students now is that I want to say that there's a lot of ways of looking at the medicine. This idea of TCM, that there's one thing, it was never true. It never looked like that in Asia. There's always different perspectives on this.
Russell Brown: (22:36)
Whether it's Five Element, all of them, whatever Rhonda Chang's doing. And the idea I always want is that you just see what you see and really own your perspective on it.
Russell Brown: (22:47)
I like to work with a lot of students on just honing that perspective. What is your version of it? Do you see the world through the eight extras? Do you see the world through secondary vessels? Do you see the body through whatever mechanics? Orthopaedic mechanics?
Russell Brown: (23:02)
But really becoming very clear on your own perspective is I think the most important thing. And I associate that with any success that I think that I have is that I've always had a pretty clear perspective. I see it the way I see it and I can own that.
Russell Brown: (23:17)
And I'm sure a lot of that has to do with the fact that I'm a white man and so culture allows me to own my perspective in maybe a way that other people wouldn't. But I really think that that's the most important part of it.
Russell Brown: (23:29)
I got that from my teacher.
Well, I'm interested in that because, this is from my background research, I believe you were raised Jewish?
Russell Brown: (23:36)
In kind of a fairly alternative household model, which if you want to talk about that you can, and then you studied journalism, then you've ended up in film and then you suddenly had a restaurant like, "Okay, I'm going to go study TCM."
Russell Brown: (23:51)
Correct. You done your research.
What is Russell's journey? Because how did you find your voice in all that? Because it doesn't really like seem particularly clear from my side of the pitch.
Russell Brown: (24:01)
It's interesting. So yeah, I grew up Jewish is sort of a little bit of a stretch. I had a Bar Mitzvah, but that was about it and it was LA Jews. And my family was going through a very strange transition around the time of my Bar Mitzvah.
Russell Brown: (24:17)
My mom had just left my dad to be with a woman. And so she and Diane had gotten together. My dad got remarried right away after that. And so by the time I was like coming of age, whatever that actually looks like, at around 13, it had been a long couple of years.
Russell Brown: (24:35)
And so I just wanted to be done with that particular chapter and move on with my life. So I don't know that I ever really like thought like of myself as a Jewish person, even though my family was, but gosh, I never really thought about the full story.
Russell Brown: (24:53)
One of the things that I knew growing up was is that there's more to be felt than to be seen in the world. And I think I always sort of like that. I always thought that there was magic. I always thought there was magic. I just really thought that there was things that I could see that other people couldn't see and that those were the things that impressed me the most, that I liked the most.
Russell Brown: (25:22)
I had a grandfather who had a park and he would take us to the park and he knew every tree in that park in New York. And he would put bird seed in his mouth and the birds would sit on his chin and eat it out of his mouth because he would go there every day and the birds knew him. And I understood that to be the real world. I just knew that that was real and everything else was not.
Russell Brown: (25:45)
And he played music and I understood that that was real and music was real. And I think that from a very early age, I understood that beauty was the point. The point was beauty and finding beauty in the world that is becoming increasingly ugly has always mattered to me.
Russell Brown: (26:03)
And when I was, as you said, I got into the film industry and was working in films. And I think that that's a really beautiful service actually, out of the time to provide, I think we work hard, we deserve to be transported for a couple of hours to something else. I think we deserve to see other stories and to be transported by the stories of other people.
Russell Brown: (26:23)
And I thought that was a really beautiful service to provide. I worked on the Fast and Furious movies and though those movies are ugly in a lot of ways. I think what a beautiful gift to give young people, to say to a 17 year old, "You could be somewhere else for a few hours. You could be in a flying car for a few hours. You don't have to be in your life that is hard."
Russell Brown: (26:47)
And I still think that that's a beautiful gift and I knew that I wasn't going to be in that profession for long. But I still think that what I do now is a version of that.
Russell Brown: (26:59)
I want you to experience beauty for an hour every week, every two weeks. I want you to be removed from the story of your life. I think that's the only way we're going to survive, frankly, is to have a chance to cushion yourself from how hard the world is with some softness.
Russell Brown: (27:17)
And that's how I practise acupuncture now is I want people to be given an opportunity to catch their breath, to float, to not feel like the world is coming at them in a hostile way. What could it feel like to just be soft and to sit alone in the dark and wait for something to happen?
Russell Brown: (27:40)
I just think is such a beautiful way to be for a little bit of time, especially in Los Angeles where it's not like that. And it's hard and we drive cars and everything feels hard here in a way.
Russell Brown: (27:51)
It's easy here in LA, but it's also hard in that like parallel parking and all of that, the tiny streets and part of the Los Angeles lifestyle is it's a hustling lifestyle, right? Like these are people who are here to make things happen and that hustle is hard and it feels like it's coming at you.
Russell Brown: (28:09)
And I like to offer people a space where it doesn't feel like the world is coming at them for a little bit. And I think that's beautiful. I think that that's what I'm still offering is beauty.
Russell Brown: (28:20)
I like to think that I'm giving them a chance to feel what it could be like in a soft world where your grandfather gets birds to sit on his chin and eat out of his mouth. That's all really I'm trying to do. That's really all I'm trying to do.
Russell Brown: (28:36)
And so I don't know that I'm a great acupuncturist in that way. I don't know that I know the most about endometriosis or herbs, but I do know that that's how I'm trying to practise, is to give people that small space in their lives for some magic to fill it.
Hmm. What do you do for you to get that same thing?
Russell Brown: (28:59)
The best question. The blacksmith does not get his shoe shined. I go through phases where I'm good at it and where I'm bad at it.
Russell Brown: (29:09)
I had a place in the desert and the desert really helped me out a lot there because it is so quiet and it's so peaceful out there. I spend a lot of time with my dog.
Russell Brown: (29:19)
Backpack is my dog, but Backpack is really helpful because Backpack is a reminder that the world is polite. He's a very, very polite dog. He doesn't take anything for granted. He always asks for permission. Even like to sit on the couch, he looks at me like, "Will you please invite me on the couch?"
Russell Brown: (29:36)
And just being in relation to that kind of gentleness is incredibly healing for me. And it slows me down and he just wants me to put my face on his face and I just think that's the best. And I find that kind of sweetness is very, very medicinal for me. So we spend a lot of our time together when I'm not at work.
Russell Brown: (30:01)
I read a lot. I write a lot as you know. I really like to write and part of that writing is that I get to spend time with myself and it's a place of creation for me. And creation is really important for me.
Russell Brown: (30:12)
And so I have to remember that when I hit the send button on the Instagram post that I'm embarrassed about or that I think is too much it's as much because that kind of creation is very important for me. I don't toil over it too much. I just need to be able to make and to create.
Russell Brown: (30:29)
And that's how I sort of restore myself a lot is just with that kind of creation is helpful for me. I don't have kids. I'm not interested in parenting like that, but I do think that creation is still important. I think nurturing is still really important and that's how I nurture.
Russell Brown: (30:49)
I eat. I like to eat. I like to watch TV. I like to check out, I need that too. I need stupid. I have a boyfriend and he's a genius, but he's also very stupid. And that balance is very, very important for me.
Russell Brown: (31:05)
He's one of the stupidest geniuses I've ever met and will just make me laugh. We've been together a long time and I just can't believe he still makes me laugh, but those are some of the things I do. Yeah.
That's really nice. Do you receive treatment yourself from anyone or?
Russell Brown: (31:21)
I do. I go to an acupuncturist who does not know I'm an acupuncturist.
Russell Brown: (31:27)
Yeah. I don't need him to know. I prefer he think that I'm not so that I don't have an opinion or a position and I don't want to talk about acupuncture.
Russell Brown: (31:39)
So he thinks I'm a law clerk, which is a job I don't know what is.
I was going to say, what does a law clerk do?
Russell Brown: (31:45)
I have no idea. Actually someone told me, I can't say I don't know what it is, a lawyer finally told me a law clerk is a lawyer who works for a judge in America.
Russell Brown: (31:53)
So like when a judge does a whatever judges do when they make rulings and they write out their rulings, the law clerk writes it out. So that's what I do. My understanding is it is the most boring profession there is because there is no follow up question you could ask to a law clerk. Like there's no like, "Oh you wouldn't." And so he just never does.
Russell Brown: (32:15)
And whenever I've said I'm a law clerk, because I'll say at a party. Because sometimes I don't-
So just shut downs conversation.
Russell Brown: (32:20)
It just kills a conversation dead.
Russell Brown: (32:23)
There's nothing you can ask. There's nothing you can ask about a law clerk, but there's something about being an acupuncturist, especially in LA, I don't want to talk about it.
Russell Brown: (32:31)
Especially in certain settings in LA, at an LA party, the minute you say you're an acupuncturist, then you're like in a whole place. And a lot of times I like it. My boyfriend's always like, "You will find some woman with a menstrual disorder at any party who wants to talk to you about her menses."
Russell Brown: (32:48)
And I love it. Nine times out of 10 I love it. But like I will always be at a party at a chocolate fountain talking about menstrual cramps and my boyfriend will always walk up and be like, "How? How did you find this woman to talk about her cramps with you?"
Russell Brown: (33:00)
But I like it most of the time, but sometimes you just don't want to talk about that. And so that's when you say you're a law clerk and people change the subject or they never speak to you again.
I'm so stealing this.
Russell Brown: (33:11)
Law clerk's the best.
There was a time about six or seven years ago, where if we said we worked with medicinal mushrooms, people would kind of back away.
Russell Brown: (33:18)
But now it's unfortunately you're-
Russell Brown: (33:26)
You're just a law clerk.
Yeah. Got to get there. So on clinical practise, and I want to bring it around to that because we've spoken about this before we came on, but I have a little bit of background in understanding some of the basics of what acupuncture means to be as a practitioner and-
Russell Brown: (33:40)
You know more than the basics. I think you probably know more than most acupuncturists.
Well, yeah. I've had some really amazing mentors and like you said, people who are pushing back against that sort of communist industrial sort of model.
So they've pushed me to learn very deeply, which has been something I'm really grateful for. But I wouldn't feel comfortable sticking needles in someone just yet.
Russell Brown: (34:04)
You can do it. It's not that hard.
I know my husband's always like, "You can test it on me maybe." But yeah, some things I've really noticed about your work which I find interesting, is you work a lot with the eight extraordinaries. So for those that don't know, could you explain a little bit about and how you came to work with those in clinic?
Russell Brown: (34:23)
Absolutely. But people don't know is when they go to an acupuncturist, most of the time the acupuncturist is doing like, "We're working on the liver channel, working on the gallbladder channel."
Russell Brown: (34:30)
But when they say that they're talking about a very specific type of meridian. There's 12 primary meridians. And those are the ones that most acupuncturists use. Stomach channel, the heart channel. Those are meridians that deal with blood that go to the organ level.
Russell Brown: (34:47)
But when an acupuncturist is selecting to use the primary meridians, often they're doing that because those are the meridians that are taught most in schools, but not necessarily because those are the ones that are the most clinically relevant to what is happening with the patient.
Russell Brown: (35:02)
The primary channels are the middle level of energy in the body, but there's two other levels of energy that are accessible by acupuncture.
Russell Brown: (35:08)
There's Wei Qi, which is the superficial level of energy, which is deals with the skin and the musculature of the body. The Wei Qi levels have no organ connection. They're really just superficial levels. And you can access them through different types of meridians called the sinew channels and the diversion channels, which is a different type of meridian.
Russell Brown: (35:31)
And then there's the deepest level of energy that is below the blood level, that deals with something called Yuan Qi, which is source Qi, constitutional Qi, really the energy that is dealt with.
Russell Brown: (35:43)
And we sort of talk about more with destiny, like the actual curriculum of your life. And that is what the eight extras are. The eight extras are the deepest level. These are vessels that deal with the trajectory of your life.
Russell Brown: (35:55)
And I like them because often when you're dealing with the eight extras, when you deal with the primary channels, this is the thing that they don't tell you much is, the primary channels are a response to life.
Russell Brown: (36:07)
The thing happened and then it affected your body. And now it's in the meridians, the primary meridians. And so by the time you're working on the stomach channel, it's because of all the bad things that already happened to your stomach.
Russell Brown: (36:18)
When you deal with the eight extras, you're saying, "Life didn't matter." This is energy that was not affected by anything that happened to you after you were born, this is energy that is related to your constitution and what you have to learn in this lifetime.
Russell Brown: (36:33)
The directionality of your life, as given to you at birth, the minute of conception even. And so when you deal with eight extras, you're really dealing with life trajectory. And I often think that that's probably, for me, that's a more useful place for what I want to do with patients, which is to step back from the bad thing that happened and actually have some perspective on maybe what that bad thing means to the bigger story of your life.
Russell Brown: (37:02)
Or even to forget that the bad thing happened and actually see yourself as so much bigger than that all together. And that is how I think you get back to healing is to widen your imagination back to how you were actually considered before you were even born.
Russell Brown: (37:17)
And so the eight extras are a way for me to look at the body that way, or to explain the body that way. Could we just look at your primary resources? Could we look at the way you think of nourishment? Can we look at the way you think of curiosity?
Russell Brown: (37:35)
The eight extras are a really good set of metaphors for that curriculum I think. And so that's how I was always taught them. But again, it's about the selection of them. I don't do the eight extras on every patient. Some patients they have a stomach ache and they need to be worked on their stomach. And so then you do a primary channel and that's what it's there for.
Russell Brown: (37:53)
But what happens is because the boards tend to only test on the primary channels, acupuncturists don't learn anything but the primary channels. And so they think those are the only ingredients. But there's other options.
Russell Brown: (38:04)
And what we're talking about is they're Russian nesting dolls. It's like the primary's in the middle but there's bigger ones and they're smaller ones. And so I want to pick the nesting doll that is most appropriate to where my patient is and that I just want to have as many tools as possible.
Well, I've heard acupuncturist claim that you can't clinically work with the eight extraordinaries, which I know not to be true through people like yourself and other people I've worked and studied with.
They say, "Oh, once you're born, once you're incarnate there's no effect there." But my experience is that's not true. So what would you say to those people? They just haven't learned enough or?
Russell Brown: (38:46)
What we're talking about now is...
The woo woo.
Russell Brown: (38:50)
It's not even the woo woo. I'm just like, well, it's how literal you want to interpret anything as far as I'm concerned.
Russell Brown: (39:00)
I think that the primary meridians are metaphors, frankly. I think Stomach 36 is a point that everyone uses, which is like the big point for digestive function.
Russell Brown: (39:10)
But I don't actually think that when I put a needle into Stomach 36, it sends a signal into my stomach that helps me digest food better. I don't think of acupuncture as operating necessarily on the most literal level.
Russell Brown: (39:23)
And so I think of the eight extras in terms of all of that. I think all of the meridians are metaphors, frankly. I think they're all poems that I'm trying to talk to the body through. And again, that's what I'm speaking about before is that I think the whole thing is poetry, frankly.
Russell Brown: (39:38)
I think that the points are all poems. I think that the metaphor of Qi moving through the body, of feeling stagnant is the metaphor I think. The metaphor of how I digest the world, make sense of it, use it to make me stronger and dispose of the waste. That's the metaphor of digestion I think.
Russell Brown: (40:02)
And so perhaps none of it is true. I'm open to that possibility. But I do think that those metaphors are still powerful and I think they're more powerful than any medicine, frankly.
Russell Brown: (40:12)
And so that's where I come at it from. I can't say that you can or can't use certain vessels. I think it's sort of a silly conversation to have at some point.
So what do you think is happening when you needle 36? Is it your intention? You've been educated and you're sending that through that person?
Russell Brown: (40:34)
I'm not going to use Stomach 36 by itself. I'm going to use it in the context, the conversation about how one uses nourishment. What are we talking about when we talk about where you think nourishment is? What do you think it means to take something in and make sense of it? How much worth do you think you have that you deserve that nourishment?
Russell Brown: (40:53)
I think that there's when we get into stomach stuff, we're talking self worth obviously. We're talking about how much I want to take care of myself, how much I learned how to invest in this body, to invest in my life.
Russell Brown: (41:07)
And so I'm often involved in sort of a larger conversation when it comes to that. And that's why I think like my version of Stomach 36 is going to be different than your version of Stomach 36 because I have my own take on what digestion is and which is informed by my own mom issues. And which is what stomach is, is about how we-
Oh, I know all about that one.
Russell Brown: (41:33)
I'm sure. Yeah. As a mom and as a daughter, but like, yeah, how much I feel safe in the world and how much I trust nourishment and how much I trust to be continued to be taken care of in this lifetime and how much I trust my capacity to give care relative to my capacity to receive care.
Russell Brown: (41:54)
I think all of those things are involved in that. Stomach 36 is a particularly one because in five element tradition, it's the earth point on the earth channel, which means it is really about rectifying that relationship to digestion.
Russell Brown: (42:07)
It is saying, "You had it all wrong. You were confused actually about what that relationship to nourishment is." And so we are saying, "It's time to reset that relationship."
Russell Brown: (42:19)
So when you do Stomach 36, you're basically instructing the body that you're from an earth standpoint, your earth is confused and we're going to restart, which is why it's such a powerful point and why everyone uses it, because it is a way of basically resetting your understanding of basic nourishment on the deepest level there is.
Russell Brown: (42:40)
And that's why, for some acupuncturists, that's the only point they need to use. They only want that because the idea is that if I can get a patient to just understand clearly nourishment on a very basic level, then all the rest of the body processes will come back online. And I think there's some truth to that.
Russell Brown: (42:58)
So I do use Stomach 36 quite a bit, but I don't think that it's just going in there and telling my body to help me not be lactose intolerant anymore. I'm still lactose intolerant.
Russell Brown: (43:12)
But that's why like then you do earth points on the other meridians. And you're like, "Oh, Lung Nine is actually this beautiful point for saying nourishment... Grief is part of nourishment."
Russell Brown: (43:22)
That's what the lung points. The metal element is about loss and what the earth point on the lung channel is about saying is like, could you take all of that loss that you've experienced in your life and understand that even that was a way of taking care of yourself? That even that was a version of self love.
Russell Brown: (43:38)
That is the most beautiful thing I think Lung Nine is so beautiful as to say, "All of that loss you ever had, that heartbreak that you had, that was for you, that fed you too. There was actually nutrition in all of that loss." What a beautiful way of looking at that loss I think from point of nutrition, from the point of nourishment. I love Lung Nine.
Russell Brown: (43:59)
And doing Stomach 36 to say, "You've had it wrong. Now we're going to think of nourishment a new way. And you're going to take that understanding to lung, to your broken heart, to all that grief." Perfect treatment, as far as I'm concerned.
Russell Brown: (44:12)
Those two points, that's it, I'm done. I'm out. Those are primary channels. That's not secondary vessels, but that's a perfect treatment, I think. But that's how I look at it.
And your work, especially your writing I suppose, but even how you speak is so poetic and my husband was supposed to see you, but didn't get the chance because of COVID.
But I get the sense from your writing that you speak to your clients about their lives and use these beautiful metaphors from Chinese medicine.
And I think that's something I've really loved about your work is you bring a really fresh... A lot of people just repeat the wrote learned kind of chart of five element theory.
Deliver, "You might feel frustration or irritability." I get a little bit like, "Oh, okay, can we evolve this conversation now?"
And yeah, I think that it's not an embodied or useful way, I suppose of speaking to these things. And I wonder if you could, I know it's a long conversation, but could you give us a quick journey through the five elements from your perspective?
Russell Brown: (45:16)
I really think that the seasons are such a perfect way of looking at it. And that's why I sort of wrote about it recently is that we learn the five elements and then learn the seasons, which I think is sort of backwards because they're going to teach you wood, which is means nothing, right?
Russell Brown: (45:30)
They're going to teach you metal which means nothing. And these are all the things. Wood is frustration. What is anger? Wood is spring. Wood is green. And you're like, "Oh, okay." But they teach it that way because they're going to test you multiple choice. Right? So they just want to make sure that you've covered the bases.
Russell Brown: (45:46)
But I like to go the other way. I want to start with the season. By season I think of spring and that's wood, right? And what's spring about? Spring is about the force that was required for a seed to break through snow and want to grow.
Russell Brown: (46:03)
The liver and wood is about understanding the path forward. It's the journey that's taking you up. And that is really what we're talking about when we talk about wood. It is vision for the future, capacity to plan, knowing which way you want to go.
Russell Brown: (46:21)
The wood is the general, it's like, "This is how I want to go. I want to go this way. That's how it is." And that's what spring is. It takes a lot of energy to crack that seed open after winter and that's what the wood energy is.
Russell Brown: (46:34)
And so when you meet a wood personality type, those are aggressive people who know what they want, they are competitive and they're prone to anger.
Russell Brown: (46:43)
And the reason why they're prone to anger is because they want to grow so badly that when life gets in the way they take it personally. They don't understand that obstacles are part of growth. And they perceive it as a stagnation. They perceive that as someone blocking their capacity to grow, and that is what anger comes from.
Russell Brown: (47:03)
And so that's how you get to anger. You can't learn anger first. You have to understand that the end of it is where, oh, it's like, "Yeah, those people are really angry because they think that growth is supposed to just be a free flow of energy." And it's not. Growth comes with challenges.
Russell Brown: (47:23)
Kites rise against the wind, not with the wind. But if you think that the world is coming at you hostilely and it's trying to prevent you from manifesting the plan that you see so clearly in your mind, you're going to be frustrated all the time.
Russell Brown: (47:35)
And that's what a wood type is essentially. But that's how it is. So then you get through wood. Next is fire and fire is the culmination of that, that's summer, right? It's like the height of life.
Russell Brown: (47:47)
And I have always sort of joke that I never like fire because fire people tend to be so full of life and in LA a fire type is like an actor, right? We're a fire city. People come to LA because they're fiery. And I hate that. I never want to talk to those people generally.
Russell Brown: (48:03)
And as I was younger, I was like, "They're too vexing." Like that kind of fullness, that kind of like so much fire is about inspiration, being enlightened is fire, which could be annoying.
Russell Brown: (48:15)
And especially in LA and love is fire, which I find to be just sort of treacly and basic. But as I've gotten older, I'm like, "No, actually those people are right. What else is there?" It's what we're trying to do. We're trying to reach up to fire.
Russell Brown: (48:32)
That is the point of fire is that we should be looking for love. We should be inspired. We should want to be set on fire with excitement for living like that is the point. And that's summer.
Russell Brown: (48:45)
Summer's not my season. I don't like being hot and I don't like parties and I don't like splashing or in the pool, but I get it now that if you have come from snow and if you live in not LA, but you live in some place snowy, you love summer and you just want it to be sun and summer all the time. And that's really what the fire element is about.
Russell Brown: (49:05)
And then you get on the other side of fire and you're in fall, which is where I'm at now, which is about the pairing back. The bloom is over. And now we're actually coming into a state of decline again.
Russell Brown: (49:18)
And it's about the tree losing its leaves, but it doesn't lose the leaves for pain. It's losing the leaves because it's going into a state of hibernation and it's going back into a state of contraction.
Russell Brown: (49:29)
And I'm writing a lot about grief right now, and it's not that the grief is meant to break people's heart. It's about to see yourself clearly and what metal is about, metal is fall, and metal is about letting go of all of the things you thought you were, but you weren't really.
Russell Brown: (49:46)
And that's why the metal organs are the lungs and the large intestine, because the lungs and intestine are filters. The large intestine is saying, "All the things you ate that you said were who you are, you're not." And actually you could just let them go. It's a filter.
Russell Brown: (50:01)
That's the idea is just because you digested it, it didn't become who you were, your job isn't who you are, your mom isn't who you are, your role as a mother isn't who you are. There is an essential you underneath it.
Russell Brown: (50:14)
And if you could let those things go, you actually get a chance to see yourself more clearly. And you take that essential part of you into the hibernation of winter, which is what the water element is about. And that's where you go after that.
Russell Brown: (50:28)
Water is the conservation period. It's about saying, "I need to actually incubate for a little bit." Water is so interesting. And I'm looking at it now from a different point of view, which is that if you look at the five element cycle, water is the beginning. It's actually the beginning of life, but it's the dark part.
Russell Brown: (50:46)
And the idea is that life begins in darkness and then brightness comes out of darkness. And that's really what water is about saying, "It's going to be dark. Can you move through the fear to know that there's life on the other side of that?"
Russell Brown: (51:03)
And I think that that's so much part of the life experience is that the Big Bang itself was about light coming out of dark.
Russell Brown: (51:11)
And that's what the water element is about, is that this virtue is the wisdom of saying, "I don't know, but I am willing to go into darkness in my belief that life will come after this, that there will be something that comes after this. I'm not sure I'm making peace with that darkness because I believe that there is light that comes out of the darkness."
Russell Brown: (51:35)
And trusting that that is the case. And that's really where you get to when you get with the water element, which is why water types tend to be wise.
Russell Brown: (51:44)
We think of the water type is the wizard because the wizard is the one that's like, "I don't need to control things. I don't need to know everything. I'm actually just going to soften myself and move really slowly and trust that there's light here."
Russell Brown: (51:58)
And that then turns into spring again, which is the burst of light that comes out of that, which is insane. And it's deranged, completely insane that there would be grass growing under snow. I just think it's crazy. But that spring, it comes back around.
Russell Brown: (52:16)
And so I didn't do a great job explaining the five elements, oh, I skipped earth, shit. Earth is a tricky one.
Well, they can stick it in the middle and then nobody knows.
Russell Brown: (52:24)
Earth is in the middle. Either Earth is in the middle, earth is after every season or earth is in the fall, right? Is in that period of fall where it's harvest, but earth is about reaping what you sew basically.
Russell Brown: (52:36)
Earth is about saying after summer you actually get to collect all of the things that the summer gave you and bringing it back into a place of nourishment.
Russell Brown: (52:45)
Earth's the most important one for any of us who are listening, because it's all going to be healers who are listening and we're all earth types, because that's why we got into healing to begin with is because we all have inappropriate relationships with giving and receiving care. It's the only reason you become a healer to begin with.
Russell Brown: (53:00)
And hopefully we get that worked out, but that's also why we're all burnt out is because we give more care than we get. And that's the earth, that's the earth deficiency.
Russell Brown: (53:11)
But that's how I am looking at the cycle now. And I see that cycle in myself and I see that cycle in myself every day, because that cycle is every day when I wake up in the morning and then I crash at the end of the day.
Russell Brown: (53:23)
And I see that cycle in my patients and explaining some of that helps me contextualise a lot of where patients are. And I think it helps, like I said, to step back from where you are in the immediacy of your life and be like, "Oh, this is just one part in this big story."
Russell Brown: (53:42)
And actually the context is important because if you are lost in darkness and you are lost in grief right now, and you don't understand that the grief is so important and that it's actually incubating something very special in you. And you just think that all of the leaves on these trees are falling because it's sad and your heart is supposed to break for it.
Russell Brown: (54:04)
And you don't know that actually that tree is alive under there. It looks like it's dead, but it's not. And that is what actually metal is about, is that you are being stripped down to what is most bare in you so that when you come back, you come back stronger.
Russell Brown: (54:19)
I think that that's such an important part that we don't get from just talking about regular old metal and grief. I just think that parts of it are missed if you don't actually sort of put it in the context of all the other organs and elements.
Yeah. And I was taught the word poignancy, which is like the beautiful grief and then the counter to that almost, the courage that comes from facing what we don't want to face and actually that growth.
And that for me really transformed because I was a grief avoider for sure. Especially in my 20s. And yeah, I remember when I was taught that it was a bit of an epiphany for me. And you mentioned an epiphany earlier. Should we segue to epiphanies?
Russell Brown: (55:06)
I would love it. I'm in a class with an acupuncturist. I won't mention his name because there may be some patient confidentiality stuff, but I'm with a teacher who I've been with for years. And he's an acupuncturist and he's brilliant.
Russell Brown: (55:20)
But I also kind of think he's a little bit pompous in a way that a lot of-
They tend to be.
Russell Brown: (55:28)
Acupuncturists can be, and his arrogance does something visceral to me that makes it hard, but I just find him to be so brilliant.
Russell Brown: (55:35)
And so we're in this weekend courses now where we basically are watching him do intakes with patients and he does pulse and he doesn't actually do needles on anyone. It's all just intake. And then we talk about the patient after that.
Russell Brown: (55:45)
And so people in the class bring in a patient and normally the patients are of a certain type, just like, oh, maybe a little trauma, maybe a little psycho emotional stuff, because that's kind of his focus, but they're all interesting.
Russell Brown: (56:00)
But then a couple days ago I was in one over the weekend. We had this patient who was probably like a 45 year old electrician, like a blue collar guy, which isn't classically someone who would show up to an acupuncture workshop.
Russell Brown: (56:16)
And he was sort of doing a little bit of like he would talk to my teacher and then he would sort of talk to us, like he was kind of entertaining a little bit and wanted to sort of have a laugh and be a little bit of a performer for us, which I appreciated.
Russell Brown: (56:30)
But when it came down to it, he ultimately was talking about how he drinks five whiskeys a night and he knows that's too much.
Russell Brown: (56:40)
And so my teacher asked him like, "Well, how many whiskeys would you like to drink?" And he said, "Five whiskeys a month." And my teacher, in his sort of pompousness, was like, "You need to be sober. You need to stop drinking. And you need to just join a 12 step programme," like very firmly.
Russell Brown: (57:06)
And the guy sort of was present for the conversation and then really defensive about it. And they would sort of have this conversation and the guy was sort of presenting his arguments about why he's not really ready to get sober at this moment, but he knows that he probably needs to.
Russell Brown: (57:22)
And my teacher was just very firm of like, those are thoughts, feeling, sensations. None of them are true. You either want to get sober now or you never want to get sober basically.
Russell Brown: (57:35)
My teacher's perspective is that you're either serious about your health or you're dead serious and dead serious means that you don't believe there's more time. And takes time out of the equation. Today is the day. You need to get sober today and make the choices today to get better.
Russell Brown: (57:54)
And the patient was getting confrontational about it and I wanted to die. I did not enjoy the experience into whatsoever because I was really like, "This is getting too hot for me." And I could feel myself, like the pit of my stomach, being like, "This is not going to go well." Like, "All right, we got it. Can we move on?"
Russell Brown: (58:18)
I wanted it to be over badly and I'm like, "He's going to leave and key my teacher's car." That's really what I thought. Like this guy's getting sort of pissed about it.
Russell Brown: (58:28)
And it ended. And my teacher, he left and the teacher was like, "I thought that went great." He's a pericardium type, which means like the gate is open and then the gate is closed. The gate is open and the gate is closed.
Russell Brown: (58:43)
And I was like, "I got to go to lunch." I was so uncomfortable just watching this confrontation happen. And I went to lunch. And normally when I go to these things I don't want to talk to anyone at lunch time because I'm not that social.
Russell Brown: (58:54)
But I was like, "I have to talk to someone else about this," because I was so uncomfortable watching this. And I just kind of wanted to see what another take on it was.
Russell Brown: (59:00)
And I went to lunch with this woman and I was like saying like, "That got so heated, don't you think?" And she said that she didn't see it that way. She thought what my teacher did was so full of love that she cried watching it.
Russell Brown: (59:16)
And I was like, "What?" And she was like, "He was just very firm in his belief on what this patient needed to do to get better and did not back down from that belief."
Russell Brown: (59:27)
And actually the confrontation that I sort of was very sensitive to between my teacher and this guy was actually the conflict between this guy and himself. My teacher was just reflecting, "If you really want to get better this is what it looks like."
Russell Brown: (59:48)
And that the battle was actually just in that guy and my teacher was just acting as a mirror to that own battle. And I really felt that and recognised that like what was actually happening is that my teacher, just by virtue of taking this patient so seriously and not indulging any of sort of the dampness that he was creating, all of that inertia, all of the excuses.
Russell Brown: (01:00:16)
He just was like, "I am not here to acknowledge any of those excuses. I am here to say, you know what you have to do, you know what your spirit needs. And I am just going to be the voice of that spirit, even if it makes you uncomfortable."
Russell Brown: (01:00:29)
She was like, "That is love. That is how you give love to a patient." And it was completely mind blowing to me I have to say because I always just imagine that to be just arrogance or like dudes being dudes of like, "I'm going to talk down to you."
Russell Brown: (01:00:46)
And him being like, "No, actually I know what I'm talking about and this is just the answer. If you really want to feel better today is the day. And I am going to take you so dead seriously, more dead seriously than you even take yourself, and if that's hard for you then that's your problem. But that's what I have to do as a practitioner."
Russell Brown: (01:01:05)
And later on, I was thinking about it and I realised actually what made me so uncomfortable was I was being confronted with my own ambivalence about my own healing, I think.
Russell Brown: (01:01:18)
And just how seriously I even take myself like I still do like, "Oh, I'm not exercising. It's COVID, there's a lot going on. I'll get to it eventually. I'll deal with this eventually." But all of that is just my thoughts, feelings and sensations.
Russell Brown: (01:01:37)
All of that is the dampness that I am creating, the inertia around my own healing, and how seriously I'm taking myself. And my reaction to it was being confronted about my own stuckness and how seriously I even think of my own self.
Russell Brown: (01:01:56)
And it was sort of a real turn for me of being like, "I don't know if it's the right answer, but there is some truth into that of like, how much do I allow myself? How much am I protecting my own stagnation?"
Russell Brown: (01:02:14)
My teacher really is like, "To move Qi, to even do Four Gates, is to be in conflict with patient." If a patient wants to be Qi stagnant and I'm saying, "No, it has to move," that's conflict.
Russell Brown: (01:02:29)
And it's not necessarily going to feel good to do the Four Gates, but you should be in a state of conflict with your patient because you're not here to protect their stagnation.
Russell Brown: (01:02:38)
And I just thought that was mind blowing. For someone like me who's been practising for 15 years and thinks of myself as having a bit of a strong hand with my patients, but really just thinking like, "Oh, I'm not that strong."
Russell Brown: (01:02:53)
And actually I've always sort of thought poorly of that strength. And now I don't know that I do. Now I'm like, "Oh, maybe that's exactly the type of strength we're supposed to be bringing to our patients. Maybe that's exactly the type of firmness that we need to bring into a treatment space."
Russell Brown: (01:03:08)
Even if they don't like it and even if he goes out and keys his car. He will never go back to drinking the exact same way he did before. He can't be as unconscious about it as he was before. He has to be thinking about himself with much more grave seriousness.
Russell Brown: (01:03:22)
And I think that that's a really an interesting gift to give to patients is that kind of seriousness, does that make sense?
Oh, I've been that patient.
Russell Brown: (01:03:35)
I'm sure. Yeah.
No. About a year ago I saw a man who does, I don't even quite understand what he does, but I walked in and I'm quite capable of manipulating practitioners because I'm smart and I'm educated and I can tell them what I want them to do and-
Russell Brown: (01:03:54)
Yeah. And so I go in and, "Oh, I'm just here. I've heard really good things about you," and he was like, "Stop that." And I was like, "What?" He's like "That."
And I'm like, "What?" And he's like, "You're avoiding being here." And he drilled me and I ended up in tears and it was a mess, but profoundly life changing experience.
And I'm continuing to see him because he is probably the first person who's held up a mirror to me that I've been like, "Oh, fuck. Okay, this is the next step."
And, yeah, I can't imagine as a practitioner holding such a powerful... I've actually started, because I've seen him a few times now, I've started to watch how he facilitates for me and he's deeply embodied and he's deeply present and it does come across as arrogant and I can feel this part of me getting triggered.
Like he's a man and he's treating me like this and I have to really sit in. This is actually for my own good. And yeah, and I can see what you're reacting to that arrogance. There's a nuance there and it's masterful when someone can hold that space and I've seen it done poorly too.
Russell Brown: (01:05:06)
Yeah. I imagine that it's just as easy to do, but I wonder if the same is the same though? The gift is is that I am going to take you so dead seriously and not indulge any of this boundary or the dampness, the phlegm that you're creating about why you are so stagnant and why it's just not the time and why you need to protect all of your disease. I'm just not going to speak to that at all.
Russell Brown: (01:05:29)
I'm actually going to speak to the part of you that knows exactly what you need to do to be free. I'm going to speak to the part of you that is already liberated. And I can't speak to any other part of you besides that.
Russell Brown: (01:05:40)
I just think that's so interesting. And I don't know that I've ever spoken of to myself that way. I think I really protect parts of me and I don't know that I could even hold myself that firmly. And I don't know that I can go back to doing that anymore after this, it's interesting.
Mm. I'd be really interested to hear how that digests.
Russell Brown: (01:06:01)
Yeah. Because it's also reminding me a lot of parenting. My daughter's five and I have floppy boundaries with myself and I had very floppy boundaries with her in the beginning.
And it took at me a while to realise that love was actually structure and consistency and she needed me to provide stability and that earth groundedness that the mother provides. And I didn't have that modelled to me. So it was a bit of a learning curve for me.
And yeah, I've had a huge five years learning that. And that's what this man has been really deep diving into that with me. And I think there's something there that, yeah, dogs don't give you that unfortunately, my dog she's like, "I love you no matter. You're the best."
Russell Brown: (01:06:54)
Everything's the best.
Yeah. My daughter on the other hand is like this big mirror to like how many things I need to do. I'm like, "Oh." But yeah, I think it's a really big journey. And I'm really-
Russell Brown: (01:07:06)
It's also super relevant I think to just wellness of like the wishy and washiness of wellness and what are we even talking about? What is this all?
Russell Brown: (01:07:16)
If we can't even agree that we should probably wear masks all in a pandemic, like in a communicable pandemic, then what have we been talking about all of these 10 years or whatever that this like wellness moment has been happening?
Russell Brown: (01:07:30)
If we are still pretending that there's no hierarchy to thought, that we're all can't judge each other, and that everyone's experience is valid. So that such to the point that no one is an expert anymore and there's no hierarchy to expertise anymore. Then it's why sort of the wellness industry, I think is spiralling a little bit.
Russell Brown: (01:07:52)
Is that actually no, if you're building a house, you don't ask everyone's opinion about plumbing, you hire a plumber and you say, "You're the plumber. You tell me how the plumbing goes." And I think that there's a little bit of the wellness industry that can learn from that.
Russell Brown: (01:08:07)
Which is I'm actually going to plant myself. I think I am supposed to judge my patients. I think I am supposed to say, "I've been practising medicine for 15 years. This is a terrible idea. You cannot continue to drink five whiskeys a night. It's just not good for your health. And that's the end of it."
Russell Brown: (01:08:24)
I don't have to extend you the courtesy of being like, "Well, it's been a hard life. You should do what you need to do. And when you're ready, it will be time to be ready."
Russell Brown: (01:08:33)
It's like, no, actually I think there is something to be said for like, this is health. It is absolute. It is just that absolute. And I am strong enough to stand in the conviction of that absoluteness. I think that wellness is asking for that right now. And that's why I kind of wanted to talk about it maybe.
Hmm. I really appreciate you having the conversation and I think that's a beautiful place to wrap up. So, yeah, really so grateful for your time.
And I feel like if you're ever running classes in Australia, I will be there because it's been such a pleasure also reading your work over the last few years. So I hope there's a book coming Russell, is there a book coming one day?
Russell Brown: (01:09:15)
There will be, if I can continue to believe that the world needs more books then I will.
I will just email you regularly.
Russell Brown: (01:09:22)
No, and if people are like interested, Russell has just started a Substack, which I've been loving and you're also on Instagram Poke Acupuncture. I'll put all of the links to these in the show notes and then pokeacupuncture.com. Right? Is your website for, yeah.
I assume you're very busy post lockdown in LA. Yeah. But if you're in the area and you want to connect with Russell, reach out to him.
Russell Brown: (01:09:49)
Yeah. And thank you again. I really appreciate your time and thank Backpack for giving us you for this hour.
Russell Brown: (01:09:55)
Thank you so much for having me and thank you for being such a nice cheerleader for me. For years you've always sort of, when I write things or whatever, you're always like the first to be like, "I love this."
Russell Brown: (01:10:04)
And it matters, it just does, because the internet is so weird. And I always think that people are like, "This is stupid," but then you get someone back who's like, "I love this." And it just really makes you want to write more. So I appreciate that and want to make sure that's known.
Thank you. Yeah. I'm like you, I have a love, hate relationship with it. But there's a few reasons for me to stick around and you're one of them. So hopefully we'll get to meet in real life someday, but yeah. Thank you so much, Russell.
Russell Brown: (01:10:29)
All right. Talk to you later.