Acupuncturists Without Borders -  Hurricane Katrina Relief Effort
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New Orleans Stories by JordanVan Voast, Licensed Acupuncturist

Washington Park. Oct. 2005. The Rainbow Family encampment has invited Acupuncturists Without Borders to offer acupuncture services to people passing through the park. On the edge of the French Quarter, the free kitchen draws a mixture of free spirits, college students on semester break, long time activists, residents, and others who defy easy categorization.

S is a jewelry maker and nearby resident. During her first treatment under the awning in the center of the park, her needles had been in place for about three minutes when I noticed a steady river of tears flowing down both cheeks. Another man was also silently weeping. When the Qi flows, the heart mind sometimes releases deep burdens of trauma, grief and stuck life energy.

A few days later, I returned to “Rainbow Park” as I had begun to call it. S was just leaving and she stopped me. I barely recognized her. She was beaming and joyful whereas before she was glum and looked as if she were carrying a pile of skeletons on her back. “I'm lonely,” she told me. “My apartment is okay, but the city feels empty and spooky. There aren't so many people on the streets at night and it doesn't feel safe.”

“Are you giving treatments today?” Yes, I replied. “Well then, I'll just turn right around and be your first customer, okay?” Sure, that's why we're here.

She tells me how the other man who had been crying in the group was now able to sleep at night for the first time since the hurricanes. It is a story I've been hearing—in one version or another—quite a bit lately.

Another frequent client at one of the clinics is having a treatment one morning. After I place the needles, I notice that he has his head in his hands and is muttering to himself, “Gotta help people, gotta help people, gotta help people.” He seems distressed. “Are you okay?” I ask. The answer I receive isn't clear. I decide just to be safe to remove his needles even though it has only been ten minutes or less. Afterwards, I check in with him.

He tells me that during Katrina, he encountered a body floating in the street. “I don't know no resuscitation, but I try, I try. I pounded on his chest and said ‘come on,’ ‘come on don't die,’ ‘come back.’” He is releasing an energy blockage which could cripple his emotional energy for the rest of his life, if it remained stuck in his heart and lungs. This is the promise of ear acupuncture—a few needles skillfully placed by attentive hands and hearts and deep healing happens.

October 27, 2005. Word is spreading about the magic of acupuncture. A couple of sergeants in the National Guard who came for treatment at Tent City talked with their higher-ups and within a few days we have an invitation to treat enlisted service people at the Louisiana Air National Guard base in Belle Chasse, just south of New Orleans.

We follow a Humvee from a neighboring tent city in Algiers, out to the base. We are somewhat oblivious to the unprecedented frontiers we are opening up for our profession. We are waved past the security guard at the gate. One of our team members has military tags on her truck, another of many strangely fortuitous circumstances which seem to be unfolding in our favor of late.

Driving past the array of war paraphernalia—retired F-16s, 500 pound missiles laid out in a small fenced off area—the peace activists in each of us seems to be thinking the same thought—swords into ploughshares… and acupuncture needles. The transformation of a militarized globe will only happen by touching hearts one by one.

After some logistical organizing, within an hour we have a pleasant tent, open to the breeze on 3 sides, and about ten willing clients, sitting in a slightly semicircular row of chairs with five needles in each ear. The room gets very quiet. The men close their eyes and some nod their heads. After about forty minutes, we remove the needles. The men thank us and go on their way. Some have just arrived. Some are going home. If all goes smoothly, we'll be back in a few days to treat more of the men.

The doors are opening in a synchronistic fashion which verges on miraculous. Okay, I can grok acupuncturists in jails and drug detox centers, but military bases? No, this can't be happening. But it is. And all these men and women (a lady Colonel refers to us as “Angels with Needles”) when they go home to their communities spread out across America will now be savvy health care consumers—aware of the powerful healing potential of acupuncture and complementary medicine in general.

And now I am in a truck driving past Lake Pontchartrain, on my way to Seattle. Or at least, that is where I am headed. Who knows if I'll arrive, or if I'll be back? Life is uncertain. We make so many plans: “I will go here, there, do this, that.” But we don't really ever know. It can all end so quickly. And when we live in alignment with this truth of change, our energy flows unobstructed and the heart is full.

Jordan Van Voast, M.Ac.
Licensed Acupuncturist
105 West 5th, Suite 106
Ellensburg, WA 98926

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