Today is Yom Kippur, the holiest single day of the year for all Jews. It falls right after the autumnal equinox, following the ten days of repentance after our new year.
Those ten days are meant to reflect and atone for any wrongdoing we may have caused. Then, on Yom Kippur, we gather, preferably dressed in white clothing, to fast for a day, and then we let it go. We cut away from last year's weight to settle into a lighter, more easeful sense of self.
I forgot to take today off. My downfall for the last four years of being a self-employed acupuncturist has been my failure to honor my needs.
This year, however, I tried to carve out some time to observe in my own way. I began a note about who I may have hurt. It was short. Then I thought about actually apologizing but remembered how asking forgiveness from someone else is a massive burden on them. The person I was thinking about made an actual U-turn away from me when I saw her on the walking path at the park. I do not want to cause any more harm, I thought. "Do better next time," I thought. I left that note.
I promptly got distracted by another note that I left abandoned this summer. Aptly titled, "TCM knew." I started This little forgotten note three years ago between patients when I wanted to remember something about TCM and the people I saw. This note was where I dug into witnessing the patterns of my patients as they correlate to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory—the ebbs and flows of the seasons- The movement of human emotion within a physical being that is being pulled by the changing and ever-evolving elements around us. I scrolled back to the 2022 fall note. Three words were written: "sharp knife. breathe."
This cryptic note came after I saw a newly divorced woman carrying the weight of the divorce in her physical being. Her neck and shoulders were bound, and she kept getting headaches. She kept feeling guilty about putting her kids through the process. Her ex was abusive. He gambled her retirement away. She was doing the right thing but carrying so much guilt it crushed her physically.
As I inserted a needle at a point named "a hundred labors," or as my teacher called it, "a hundred taxations," at the base of her neck, I told her that this point would help her lighten the weight of the load she was carrying. This point also helps open up her lungs to help her exhale. She asked if the needle was sharp enough to cut through the weight of her hundred taxations. I told her that when my friend Meghan taught me how to carve a chicken, she had to remind me to breathe. That breathing while I cut was just as important as my sharp knife. We joked about the mess of it all and my awful comparison of her neck to a roast chicken. I let her rest.
I wrote my note.
When I returned to pull out the needles and clean up the word vomit, I told her we should lean into the metal element and sharpen our emotional knives at the cusp of fall. We should strive to be like the needles with breath- stay sharp, clean, and exhale. We should cut away quickly but with grace and finesse. While also holding space for the grief that accompanies these excisions. "Leave the old serrated knife in the drawer," I said. "Make it clean."
It is an odd job I have. Feeling people's pulses and attempting to tune into their energetic currents. Then, using the little bit I know after five years in practice, I meddle with their nervous system by inserting needles into their energetic pathways and forcing an opening in the energetic dam- whichever impasse they face internally.
Generally, these blockages are self-induced by the expectations put on themselves.
The last two weeks in the clinic were rough. Tears, anxiety, and a lot of constipation.
I had to re-order the gentle laxative formula twice in one week. People were holding on to their waste, and while I ordered a formula for most of them, I also told them about the time I was once constipated for a considerable amount of time.
I was extremely stressed in grad school. I was also extremely constipated. However, I would promptly have the best bowel movements every Tuesday and Thursday after my required Qi gong class, which I resented since my favorite spin class was at the same time. I once skipped the Qi gong class to go to said spin class, and after expecting to have my mid-morning bi-weekly bowel movement, I was disappointed when I was not called to the throne by my bowels.
After hustling from the spin studio to the school, I saw my cohort walk out of the Qi gong class and into our first lecture. THEY LOOKED LIGHTER. I bet they all pooped really well that day.
It was one of the first times I learned the importance of slowing down. Qi Gong forced, or better yet, encouraged me to breathe deeply. I was asked to exhale slowly.
The breathe. The lungs. They let help me let go.
In the clinic, people were working out more than just their bowels; most of what people needed to work out was forgiveness and, more importantly, forgiveness for themselves. After I referred many of these people to licensed therapists, I reminded them to breathe. Find a quiet time and shed the weight of guilt with their breath.
Chinese Medicine's five-element theory about Autumn is correlated to the metal element, Lungs, honoring grief, breathing, and the color white. Letting go.
Yom Kippur is when we, as Jews, wear white. Say you are sorry. Listen to someone breathe through a shofar; forgive yourself. Let go.
I deleted the note about who I had wronged and then wrote one to myself. It was the first time in 36 years that I turned the ten days of repentance inwards because of what Chinese medicine has taught me.
So, at this intersection of my Jewish roots and a Chinese medicine practitioner, I'll try to let things go. To cut away from things that have weighed me down with a sharp knife and smooth breath
Hopefully, you will too.