Friday, 26 July 2013

I used to think ‘Closing Spirit Doors’ meant it was time to leave the pub, but then I met James O’Sullivan, and my dreams were never the same again!

Here’s a piece I wrote about the man, his wife and his talent. It was originally published in the Irish Examiner in 2003, but I’m playing it again now as a way of saying thank you to a rare human being.

This time last year my father was undergoing life-threatening surgery, and to add to the stress, my family decided to declare war upon itself. Every night, I was having deranged dreams, in which violent crimes were being perpetrated against loved ones. Towards the end of each dream, my ex-wife arrived, à la the 7th Cavalry. Smiling serenely, she hugged me, told me everything was okay, and then I woke up, disturbed and disoriented, alone with my mad head, herself a lifetime away in San Francisco. 
My back then decided it could no longer carry the burden of all these problems, and sent itself into breathtaking waves of spasm, leaving me unable to exhale without suffering indescribable pain.
A close friend recommended I visit his ‘Chinese medicine guy’ down in Galway City, and twelve hours later, I was making my way up Prospect Hill, trying to erase from my mind corny images of old geezers with stringy beards.
Just as well, because when James O’Sullivan appeared in the doorway, he looked like any other middle-aged Galwegian, with his Hilfigger trackies, and a welcoming twinkle in his eye.
James has a calming presence, and talks with a gentle authority that enables you to trust him implicitly. 
I told him about my family and my back, but he shrugged and asked me to tell him more. When I told him about my dreams, he responded immediately.
He told me my vital energy Qi (pronounced ‘chee’) was out of balance. Also, my Spirit Doors were open, and my Shen (‘spirit’, or ‘mind’ as we think of it in the West) was wandering, creating confusion, allowing lack of focus to flourish.
Such is the man’s healing charisma, that had he at this stage asked me to hang upside down, and immerse my head in a bucket of yoghurt, mud and manure, I would have willingly obeyed. 
However, he said I needed Tui Na, the Chinese Acupressure massage, that literally means to ‘push and grasp’.
Ever since that first session, my back has been absolutely pain-free, and I have not had one dream containing cameos played by smiling Californian redheads.
James O’Sullivan grew up in Galway City’s Old Mervue. Through the 80’s, he worked as a barman in London, a welder in Galway, and a salesman in Germany. Then, whilst living in Cambridge, he fell in love with Eunice, a foreign language student from T’ainan Kaohsiung in Taiwan. 
Now sitting on my sofa, James looks over at his wife with pride and affection, as she tells the story of their first meeting.
"I was visiting a friend who shared James’ house. He asked me if I would like a cup of tea, and I thought ‘What a nice, kind man!’ So I gave him my phone number."
From such cups of tea come splendid marriages. After tying the knot, they moved to Tenerife, and two years later, they fled the shabby world of timeshare sales, and moved to Taiwan.
"I taught English, and studied with Eunice’s father, Hung Shui Chen, a celebrated Tui Na Master, as well as taking a course in Acupuncture in the National College. 
“The minute I set foot in Taiwan, I was very impressed with what I saw, smelled, tasted, heard. I didn’t speak the language, but understood everything. The only downside was the humidity. Then we came over to Ireland, settling in Co. Cork."
How did Eunice feel about that?
"Where I come from we have a saying: If you marry a chicken, you follow the chicken. If you marry a dog, you follow the dog."
Back in Ireland, James was eager to apply his new-found knowledge:
"In the old days, I’d do anything you asked me to, but after Taiwan, I had a different sense of ethics. Once the Western doctor has made a diagnosis, there are set pharmaceuticals. We offer more natural remedies, and are less black and white about diagnosis. We can adapt our treatments, and diagnosis often changes as the patient moves on. We prescribe only natural raw Chinese herbs.
"Our therapies are not an alternative, but a compliment to other forms of medicine. If I have a broken bone, I go to a Tui Na master, then a Western doctor. If I have a cold or the flu, I go to a herbalist. The Chinese take far more responsibility for their health. They change their diets and exercise régimes, according to their own patterns of disharmony."
Does he ever wonder if his work really helps?
"When I worked in the hospital in Nanjing, there was a patient with a frozen right shoulder. I had been involved in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) for 6 years, so when the doctor asked me what I should do, I suggested Tui Na.
"Instead, he went to a point called Stomach 38, between the left knee and outer ankle, and inserted a needle. The patient immediately moved her shoulder. All four westerners in that hospital room had to peel their jaws off the floor. 
"I had read all the books. I knew, intellectually, that Shoulder 38 was the empirical port for a frozen shoulder, but to actually see it in clinical session - I did not know until that moment how many doubts I had! I asked him how did he do it? How did it work?
" ‘What is it with Western people?’ asked the Chinese doctor. ‘All you want to know is how it works! Why is it not enough simply to know that it works?’ "
For this pain-free peacefully sleeping scribbler, it’s certainly enough to know it works, and I am not alone. Through their immensely successful courses, James and Eunice spread the knowledge of how to heal with Tui Na, and the philosophies of TCM. 
"The courses are a great success!" enthuses James, "Our students come from all walks of life. We’ve trained everyone from complementary therapists to mothers who want flexible working hours, and the ability to use natural healing techniques on their own families. Our courses start in October, in Galway, Dublin and Cork, and when our students graduate, they receive an accredited diploma from Tui Na Ireland. Then, each graduate has an option to travel to China, where they can gain clinical experience, and use their qualification as an entry into learning acupuncture."
Recently, James and Eunice’s Active Health Foundation became the first college in the UK and Ireland ever to gain accreditation by the Zhe Jiang University, China’s largest and most respected centre of TCM.
To cap it all, James has become the first Irishman ever to be invited to be speak at the International Conference on the Treatment of Difficult Diseases, at Zhe Jiang University in April. 
The gentle Irish healer blushes, clearly humbled by this honour:
"They have only ever invited two other non-Chinese speakers. One was Giovanni Macioca, a renowned expert in Acupuncture, and the other was Salim Khan, a TCM Master, known to many Irish practitioners."

For information on courses or treatments, contact:
Active Health Foundation
Tel: 091 56 68 68

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