(W)holistic Medicine

School is my life, now. It's difficult to find time to do anything outside of it. I love Chinese medicine though, have amazing teachers, and appreciate this opportunity to just do nothing but learn--- and worry about the details (crazy debt, for example) later. 

With less time on my hands, I'm blogging/ writing less. But, just like in my previous schooling adventures (like herb school!), I'm happy to share some homework that might be interesting, or informative. Here's one of our midterm assignments for my Foundations of Chinese Medicine class. 

We watched this video: 
Then wrote an open-ended reflection paper about it. 


(W)holistic Medicine and the Path of the Superior Physician
(Reflections from a talk by Professor Quinn)

Drinking tea this morning, I appreciate the life and story of each of the plants in my seemingly simple brew: Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) from my friend Robyn’s garden outside of Bozeman, MT; Rose blossoms and petals (Rosa spp.) from feral roses of my Connecticut forests, old cultivated roses from a 90-year old grandma’s home near the US- Mexico border in Arizona, and roses from fellow herbalist Kris’ garden in Montana; Motherwort (Leonorus cardiaca) from my teacher Lisa’s garden outside of Boulder, CO. I have relationships with each of these plants, the people that grew them, and the environments they grew in. As I drink this tea, I imbibe more than just the aromatic deliciousness of the plants, but also that which came together to create them, now spiraling together in a simple yet complex dance of rhythms that further spiral into the rituals of the day. Here, I begin to investigate the microcosms within the macrocosm, the multiplicities of stories and complex layers within each seemingly simple thing. There are worlds within worlds within everything. Life is not just an onion. It’s onions within onions within onions. Turtles all the way down.

Chinese medicine treatment is based on perception. Roger Batchelor, my current diagnostics professor, encourages us to trust our perception. We learn about the different microsystems within the tongue, pulse, ear, face, eye, and more. Although we learn how to map all of these systems, Roger encourages us to “always start with the shen ().” We begin diagnosing with observation, intuition, and connection, connecting our with our patients’ , heart to heart. We open up our senses and perceptions to feel more. “Trust the body, and trust palpation,” says Roger, “Your interpretation might be off, but your perception is always right. Trust that.” We cultivate interpretation by studying the classics, the ways of those who came before us. How can we cultivate perception?

I teach wilderness skills with an Art of Mentoring (AOM) style of leading by games and through example, rather than rote teaching: coyote mentoring. John Young synthesized AOM via various ancient ways of interacting with the natural world, much like how permaculture principles draw from intercultural ways of cultivating relationship with the land. On the first day of each new class, I introduce a “sense meditation,” which we then revisit throughout the duration of our time together. The more we can experience, the more we will experience. We all can experience so much. We have a nearly infinite potential capacity for experiencing, on multiple levels. We live in a rich, vibrant, nuanced world. But, in our modernized worlds, most of us have lost or forgotten our perceptual abilities. “Use it or lose it” rings true, here. And so, I ask students to cup their hands around their ears to create “deer ears” that amplify sound but more importantly, gets students to slow down and pay attention through the physical act of drawing attention to their ears. I ask students to widen their vision via “owl eyes,” where we move our wiggling fingered arms out to the sides as far as they will go, following all ten fingers with both eyes, until we can no longer see the wiggling fingers of both hands while just looking straight ahead. Hiking, and in life, people often just look straight ahead of them: down and forward, and rarely up, never side to side. Owl eyes asks students to expand their peripheral awareness to include all that’s happening around them, to notice changes in colors, patterns, and movements, to note little details that come together to reform an entire relationship with the natural world surrounding them.

Cultivating relationship with the plant world as an herbalist starts with organoleptics, or noting the immediate impact of different plants upon our senses: how does it look, smell, feel, taste, sound? What are my immediate impressions? In the western herbalism tradition, we start with organoleptics, and always return here. The immediate sensory impression gives us information about what chemicals may be in a plant. Understanding these chemicals and actions, and relating them to patterns present in plants of a same or similar family, or other prior knowledge, is immensely helpful for understanding plants in places I’ve never been. The chemicals themselves don’t even matter that much; understanding what they do is more important, and informs us directly, via organoleptics. In our Herbs Practicum class, we take one herb in each class, and focus on that plant for the entire hour. We start by organoleptic sensing and sampling of the plant. Once we’ve experienced and discussed it, then Professor Eric Grey gives us more information about the plant. In both Chinese herbalism and western herbalism, honing our sensory perception directly informs our relationship with the plants, how we use them, and how we use our to effectively match people and plants. Oftentimes, peoples’ perceptual and instinctual understanding of a plant correlates with its traditional or common usage. Deepening these relationships through sensorial experiencing and perceptual expansion not only improves our ability to sense more during both diagnostics and treatment, but also improves our relationship with the world at large. Sensing more, we live more. We learn to fully notice, appreciate, and enjoy life. Hence, we learn how to live fully alive.

Primitive skills instructor Tamarack Song leads people in a “Oneness meditation,” where one focuses on an element of nature then gradually expands their focus, until eventually they are focused on that one element, as well as all that surrounds it. By expanding vision and perception in this way, one eventually feels a connection with all things. Goethe notes that, “Man knows himself only to the extent that he knows the world; he becomes aware of himself only within the world, and aware of the world only within himself. Every new object, well contemplated, opens up a new organ of perception in us.”

The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine (皇帝内經) notes that: 《得一之情以知死生》。 《一》or the number “one” represents the whole body integrated as one entity. Our bodies are internal universes that connect with the entire universe. Through understanding ourselves deeply, we understand the life and death of each moment, and how to nourish life. Understanding death means understanding illness, and how to work with it in healthful life-affirming ways. We must cultivate our senses to such a degree that we can notice the finest details, to see the world in a grain of sand. We must truly understand how to heal and nourish ourselves, before we can heal and nourish anyone else, or notice imbalance in others. Hatha yoga is a practice that cultivates the individual via breath and body awareness. At the end of the practice, the merits of practice are offered to benefit all beings, “Lokha samastha sukhinhu bhavanthu.” Similarly, as we cultivate ourselves as Scholar-Practitioners, we cultivate a relationship with our patients and the world around us. The fruits of our practice benefit ourselves and everyone that we come across. Our practice informs our understanding of our own body-mind-spirit selves, as well as all who come into contact with us.

Bensky noted that we’re not trying to recreate an ancient Chinese world. We’re taking all of the beauty and depth of this ancient tradition and moving with it in modern ways. Chinese medicine is not static. It is a dynamic medicine, a living medicine with microsystems that reflect and are informed by their environment. Nothing good can survive unless it has tradition, but no tradition can survive unless it includes change as one of its traditions.

At the end of Dr. Quinn’s lecture, he quotes Buckminster Fuller, saying “he didn’t belong to himself,” that he belonged to the Universe. One of my greatest challenges in being in school is feeling separation from nature, from my old life. I feel like my life is no longer my own. I gave up my freedom for my Chinese medicine education, so that I may live and move in ways that are of greater benefit to the world. It is my calling. But, I miss living in the wilderness, and outdoor education work. I feel a deep sense of simultaneous loss and surrender. I don’t belong to myself. I give myself back to the world, back to my ancestors. According to Quinn, Fuller’s life mission was to deprogram himself, discover Nature’s organizing principles, and devote them to humanity. I feel like I was already deprogrammed living in the wilderness, and am now reprogramming to fit into an urban academic mold. My mission is similar: to be an amazing student through four years of school in a bustling city, then return to my natural community, and start a homestead: clinic, healing center, retreat center, educational center, and home all bundled into one. I am entering the system to get tools, then leave again, to create change from the inside out. I am not stuck in this city. I am here to follow my 天命 (tian ming, or “life destiny) and offer my life as incense, to learn and grow so much that after the four year DSOM gestation period, I can return home with even more to offer as an embodied physician, a fully human human, and (w)holistic practitioner. 

Maoshing Ni, The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine
Martin Prechtel, Long Life, Honey in the Heart
Tamarack Song, Journey to the Ancestral Self
John Young, Ellen Haas, and Evan McGown, Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature

Photo Credit
Photo of me in a field of Wyethia amplexicaulis from my teacher 7song, from botany-fieldtrip scouting in Utah last summer. A summer of freedom, wholeness, and truly experiential education. 7song is one of the people that I look up to as a "Superior Physician." Story here: 

Lower photo from a peaceful moment of prayer in the Rockies, offering incense to my ancestors.