What is your cultural heritage? Who are your ancestors? What is your relationship with them? How are they present in your life? What cultures do you feel connected with, or curious about? What is the cultural backdrop of your current life? What kind of input are you providing, through your own life, for the future generations?
Ways of Learning about Herbalism
(From Paul Bergner)
SOUTH= personal experience
- how/ when/ what part to harvest
- medicine making
- materia medica
- roots---> branches/ symptoms
- internal causes (constitution); external causes
3. Matching Plants and People
- clinical skills
- external (communication)
- internal (distillation; differential diagnosis)
- The Medicine
- working with the person; patient compliance
(Note: different traditions/ approaches to all of the above!)
Plants/ People/ Dis-ease Differentiation
- Quality (energetic)
- Appropriation (location in the body)
- Property (action)
Doshas (from Ayurvedic constitutional analysis)
Vata (air and fire)
Kapha (earth and water)
“Law of Similars” (ie. Alchemical medicine, homeopathy)
“Law of Contraries” (ie. Galenic, Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda)
(What to note, when creating your own materia medica)
- Taste (sour, sweet, bitter, pungent, salty)
- Tissue state (hot/ cold, moist/ dry, tense/ lax)
- Indications/ body systems/ medicinal use
- Preparations/ dosage
- Cautions/ contraindications
- Name(s): scientific name (genus, species, family), common name(s), species list
- How to collect
- Ecologic status
- Primary constituents
- Medicinal use
The Earthwise Herbal, by Matthew Wood
tag: class handout
Learn to use the natural medicine chest surrounding you: plant identification, medicine making, edible and medicinal properties and usage, and so much more!
WHEN: Sundays 6:30-8:30 PM, 9/27 - 11/22 (Level 2 classes)
Wednesday 6:30-8:30 PM, 10/14 - 11/25 (Level 1 classes)
WHERE: Out on a Whim Farm
(312 Litchfield Turnpike Bethany, CT)
COST: sliding scale $30 - $50 per class (pay as you can)
(Includes tea, samples, projects. Inquire for trades. All welcome.)
REGISTER: call 607-262-0302, or email Jiling at LinJiling@gmail.com
(Schedule may change. Please RSVP for an updated schedule)
“Level 2” Herbal Body Systems and Plant Walk classes:
Plant walks every other week: 10/4, 10/18, 11/1, 11/15, 11/22
Lectures every other week:
9/27- herbal energetics
10/11- nervous system herbs
10/25- digestive system herbs
11/8- respiratory system herbs
11/22- herbal first aid
“Level 1” Medicine-Making classes:
10/14- Welcome to Herbalism
10/21- Gathering, Processing, and Storing Plants
10/28- Creating Tea
11/4- Oil Infusions and Salves
11/11- Making Tinctures
11/18- Sweet Medicine
11/25- Incense, Dreaming Herbs, and Flower Essences
tag: herb class
I just swallowed my final Doxycycline hyclate capsule, or “Doxy” for short. I started taking Doxy almost as soon as I landed in Gainesville, FL, less than 24 hours before beginning a three year Chinese medicine academic journey with the Academy of Five Element Acupuncture. We just finished our first “intensive” yesterday. I’m unsure if I will return. I’ve swallowed 100 mg of Doxy every morning and night for the past 19 days of school, besides four pills (loading dose) on the first day of my treatment regime, and my final pill this morning. I’ve also been taking three pills three times a day of Green Dragon Botanicals’ “LB Core Protocol” pills, which includes Japanese Knotweed root, Cats Claw vine bark, Andrographis, Sarsparilla root, and Dandelion.
I staffed a campout with Two Coyotes Wilderness School’s “Scout Tracker” program ten days before leaving CT for FL. I worked the camp season for most of July, spending the bulk of almost everyday in the field with kids, and regularly pulling ticks off of my body, with raising alarm, but also recognizing that it’s just part of life in the northeast, especially CT, the state where Lyme disease was first discovered, and in fact the town of Old Lyme peacefully resides. I drove home quickly after my final campout, as I had a busy evening planned, that led into a busy weekend, that led into my final few crazy whirlwind over-scheduled days in CT before leaving for FL. I did my regular tick check when I got home, extracted two tiny tightly-embedded ticks out of my body, noticed what looked like a tick in a hard-to-reach area, tried to extract it but couldn’t so left it, then proceeded to my evening activities. I started taking Astragalus and Echinacea prophylactically, in case I didn’t extract one of the ticks in time. It usually takes about 48 hours of a Lyme-carrying tick being embedded for the spirochetes to transform themselves into their correct shape to successfully enter and take over a human body. But, it really depends on the individual. I take Astragalus preventatively, just in case. But, the stress of the past month of work and upcoming travels probably kicked my immune system down several notches. Plus, that little black dot at the top of my butt crack that I couldn’t extract was actually a tick.
The bite flared up at the end of the weekend, after I returned from a trip to the north. I thought it could be a spider bite: hot, pulsating, painful, and tender to the touch. It hurt to sit. I remembered the little black dot that I couldn’t extract being on the same location as the bite, and so upped my Astragalus intake, but started treating the huge rash like I would topically, for a spider bite. The rash stayed for the rest of the week, not changing at all. It wasn’t until I boarded the train, that things changed.
Bumping along in the dusk approaching North Carolina, I had trouble falling asleep. It was difficult to get comfortable in my seat, due to the huge welt on my butt. In the tiny stinky bathroom, I inspected the rash. To my horror, it had changed into a Bull’s eye rash, one obvious symptom of Lyme disease. Sometimes people present with Bull’s eye rashes, but not always. The center of my rash had dried up and was peeling, due to my spider-bite treatment of cooling and drying the bite. The couple of days before leaving CT, the bite had developed a thin red line along the edge that I thought could be Lyme, but didn’t want to be, so refused to believe it. Note to others: if you think it can be Lyme, take care of it immediately. And, ask for help. I was “too busy” to stop and take full account of what was happening. I felt too shy to ask for help initially, as the little black dot was right at the top of my butt crack, an awkward place to ask for assistance in extracting what could be a tick... but what if it wasn’t? Well, it was. Take no chances.
I share this story because Lyme is so powerful, unexpected, and potentially life-threatening. Left untreated, chronic Lyme can render a person consistently tired, in pain, and can manifest in a variety of ways from completely debilitating to mildly uncomfortable. Having listened to Lyme specialist Julie McIntyre’s experience and stories and watched her in her clinical practice, I am fearful and respectful of Lyme, and do not want it in my body, especially as a young person, a fresh student, and a whole world, a whole life, in front of me.
After finally accepting that I had Lyme, crying as I entered Gainesville on the bus, and frantically text-messaging a bevy of friends across the country for suggestions and support, I felt ridiculous about my life. I grew up in California. My family is still there, and my extended family is in Taiwan. Most of my extended-non-blood family is in the northeast. My heartstrings are attached to the northeast and southwest. What am I doing, coming to school down here in FL. What am I doing, living on the east, where Lyme is a part of life and mountains are not that big, continuing to cultivate life and love in a place that doesn’t quite suit me. What am I doing. I belong in a dry warm climate, with mountains and wilderness. The longer I spend there, the more friends I will find there. And all of my northeast friends, work, community, possibilities? I can travel. But (I think) I want to--- need to--- root down back in the west.
I got Doxy as soon as I could after landing. It’s a strong antibiotic, and pretty much the only known “cure” for Lyme that usually only works if taken within a short while after infection. I lucked out with the herbs; a local herbalist had some extra pills leftover from another Lymey person, and bequeathed me all of her leftover pills.
I will continue taking the LB core protocol herbal pills, three pills, three times a day, until I run out of them. I can sit on my butt, again. The painfulness of the rash went away after a week of taking Doxy, though I still have a huge gray circle on my ass, where the rash was, before. I hope it goes away. But now, when I look at it, it reminds me of important questions. The big gray circle where the rash was is at the top of my butt crack, and the bottom of my sacrum, coccyx, root chakra, Muladhara. Where do I come from. Where do I belong. What’s really home. What’s really important. What do I sit upon, root into. What’s my base, my foundation. What’s really important.
I’ll let that question sit within me and help direct my next steps, as I fly back to New Mexico on Tuesday, and then back to Connecticut three weeks after that.
I’m living my questions.
I started studying Chinese medicine (acupuncture and herbs) at the Academy for Five Elements Acupuncture (AFEA). I wrote a summary of each day at the end of the day, to share with my family and friends, but also with the intention of compiling it all as a blog series, to share with future Chinese medicine students who are comparing this and other schools, but especially for those who may consider this school. My own school-searching journey took a long time. I unofficially looked for years, and then quite seriously started researching and visiting schools, last autumn.
I want to emphasize that I write from the perspective of a first generation Taiwanese-American with a pretty solid background of having traveled and studied in different places, and already working in the healing arts. Everyone's experience will be different. I hope that my experience will be informative, but if you are considering schools, then let that decision be completely your own, and don't base too much off of my story. Feel free to contact me with any questions. I am currently researching different schools again, and have piled up useful information from different schools, by now. I may or may not continue studying at this school, but plan to continue studying.
Thanks for reading, and I hope that you enjoy the transitions of this autumn season.
Logistical day. Excitement. Shyness. Overwhelmed by financial aid talk, the navigating of loans and money. My bank rejected the amount we needed to take out, for the first installment. I have never taken out this much money before. I’ll have to call them later this evening, reassure them that this is actually happening. I’m reassuring myself too, reminding myself that this is true, I made this choice, it’s happening.
18 other students in my class. Tour guides are current students who have been here before. We’re “Class 33A.” A funny way of numbering class groups. There’s a clear lineage though, of how long this school has been around. A numbering system. Chuck started off the class by reading the 33rd excerpt from the I-Jing and Dao-de-Jing, along with other interesting trivia related to the number 33. Then we got to know each other a little bit through a paired questioning activity, then introducing our partner to the group. The rest of the day was spent in logistics: rules, protocols, etc.
Cozy classroom and school. Small, and friendly energy. Was bored by rules, but glad to be here. Eager to dive into the good stuff. Have three years to dive, no rush. But honestly, big rush. We’re on an “intensive” schedule. They tell us it will actually be really intense: we’re here from 9 to 6 everyday, with an hour for break, and small breaks every 1.5 hours. We have an “off” day every four days, for the 2.5 week intensive. I’m excited for the “intense” part to begin. Tomorrow, so they say. I’m ready for it.
School’s located in a peaceful neighborhood, near the library, two cafes, a walking area. Gainesville is interesting: poor neighborhoods are right next to more well off neighborhoods. I’m reminded of living in Alabama, and the proximity of possible crime, even within neighborhoods that feel safe. I remind myself to buy and carry pepper-spray, for nights when I may have to walk or bike home a longer distance in the dark, and to ask locals about where to go, and where not to go. During class breaks, I wander off into the park like area between our school (“safe” neighborhood) and what I heard is a more iffy neighborhood. The jungle looms here, and I find coral beans with bright red beans, and other plants that I, surprisingly, recognize from Arizona, New York, and Taiwan. Welcome to northern Florida.
First formal class day. Color-sound-odor-emotion diagnostic tools. Five elements introduction. Gary Dolowich teaches. He’s memorized so many beautiful poems that eloquently augment the information, via the most beautiful inspiration. Basic info, but well presented. A balanced perspective. I enjoy this teacher. We have him the next three days.
Spent last night eating dinner and chatting until 10:30 PM with my new friend, Susan. This resulted in me cramming homework/ reading until midnight, then trying to finish right before class. Unsuccessful. Not a big deal. Just my perfectionist self wasn’t pleased with myself. But, this school seems pretty relaxed. At least for now.
We covered “Causative Factor,” or “Central Focus” today. CF for short. Basically, Five Elements constitutional analysis. Discussed the twelve officials: organs, meridians, and dynamic functions. An inspiring mini-intro to the origins of the medicine via discussing Chinese numerology, and how they relate to world view, theology, and medicine. One: Dao. Two: Yin/ Yang. Three: Heaven- Person- Earth. Four: Yellow River Map (like Medicine Wheel). Five... Five Elements diagram, with Sheng (Mother-Child) and Ke (counter-balance) cycles.
I feel blessed to understand Chinese language. Wish I had a teacher who was bilingual/ bicultural like me, who could give me both sides of the coin. That part feels a little lacking: a deep cultural understanding of all this, from having lived it. Grown up with it. Maybe I will be the instructor that I crave, one day. Sure hope so. But although he didn’t grow up with Chinese culture, Gary has spent lots of time studying and interacting with the I-Jing, Dao-de-Jing, and poetry and philosophies from other traditions. He worked one on one with Worsley, and various other skilled practitioner too, and has more experience than I’ve even been alive in this world for. Very grateful for this teacher; hope upcoming teachers will be as skilled, or even more skilled, as instructors, practitioners, and just really wonderful human beings.
Four days in, and I am already starting to make mental and other comparisons between Five Elements (5e) and TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) acupuncture styles, different approaches to Chinese medicine. There’s also the “classical” approach, which only three school (that I know of) in the USA expound upon: Daoist Traditions, Seattle Institute of Oriental Medicine, and National College of Natural Medicine. After speaking with many different practitioners while selecting schools, I really wanted to go to a classical school. But, I felt unwilling to relocate to any of the places where these schools were located: NC, WA, OR. I will likely continue having this ongoing comparative discussion between TCM and 5e. It’s brought up in class pretty often, too. “TCM does things that way; we do things this way.” There’s often negative connotation when referring to “the TCM people.” Sitting in on just a few classes at different schools during my school search, I hear similar semi-disparaging (sometimes even blatantly disparaging) remarks about “those classical CM (Chinese medicine) people,” too. 5e likes to call itself classical, but considering that we don’t actually cover the study of the classics in class, I would not stick 5e in that camp. Perhaps, in theory, but not so much in practice. I’m not sure. I just started. I’m grappling with these questions, already. And, do these classifications really matter? I want to learn and practice what I like the most, what resonates with me, and what can help people heal. Period. (Note from after the intensive: I think 5e is more classical in approach, but not so much in academics. Treat the root, instead of the branches/ symptoms.)
Today, we covered pulse diagnosis. 5e only covers 12 pulse locations, whereas TCM covers 18. I need to reference my old notes from when I studied TCM in Taiwan, but it seems like the locations for the organs/ Officials are the same in both traditions. But... many questions. Ramble another time. Priority, sleep.
Today also covered I-Jing: how to use, history, correlations with Chinese medicine. Trigrams and the original “ba gua”/ “primal arrangement,” and then “five elements” arrangement. How the trigrams correlate with seasons, elements, and so much more. Fascinating and exciting. A glimpse into the poetry and religion, the almost pagan Earth-based roots of this tradition.
Basic acupuncture notions: meridian lines, cun/ “anatomical Chinese inch” (ACI) for point location, point names (Chinese, English translation, and numbering system), and command points: source point (yuan), junction point (luo), element point (shu), horary points, tonification points, sedation points, and grandmother points. Three big obstacles to treatment/ considerations: aggressive energy (AE), possession, husband-wife imbalance.
Transformative communication day. David Wolf and Marie Glasheen, writers of the book that we reference in class on communication, came to teach class today. Debacle. 14 out of the 18 students did not want to take the class; we had a class pow wow while our AFEA teachers reconvened with the “outside” instructors, who came from the organization that David founded, Satvatove. Apparently, they teach classes around the world on communication. David slumps his shoulders, speaks slowly and in a jagged fashion, and presents statistics to seemingly try and convince us about the importance of their work. Marie hurt a few students with her somewhat aggressive style. They presented “reflective listening,” but did not model such. They led a few activities that brought our class into uncomfortable ways of relating with each other. After lunch, we had one particularly long and uncomfortable exercise, in which I witnessed Marie bringing a fellow student totears of hurt and frustration, due to her rudeness, imposing, and lack of open-mindedness. The class was invited to share our experiences after the activity, which had us paired up in groups. No one volunteered to share, whereas just two days ago, my class was vibrant and full of energy for Gary’s fundamentals of Chinese medicine classes, with endless questions, sharing, and general enthusiasm. So, I raised my hand and addressed the group’s change of energy, “What happened, and what’s happening?” A little storm sprang, after I opened that door, which led to a few people voicing their discomfort with the class, then our AFEA instructors calling a class break, and our class pow wow that I started this reflection with. We were originally to have this class for three days. Now, we’ve got a change of plans for the next two days (no more David and Marie. Thank goodness.) And, we’ll see where we go from here.
Learning point: speak up. I am already speaking up much more at this school than I have, in previous learning environments. I want to get the most out of this experience that I can, and am willing to be vulnerable, in the journey to do so.
After class ended, I had a discussion with Misti, the executive director, about my thoughts of possibly transferring to another school, my questions around TCM vs CCM vs Five Elements, my general uncertainty. I also spoke at length with my father, a mentor, and a good friend. My decision around this is to give this intensive my fullest attention, to give it all I’ve got. After it’s over, I’ll re-evaluate whether or not I belong, or want to stay here.
Feeling down. Today felt like a “filler” kind of day. Chuck and Misti scrambled to pull together a last minute class, which was more experiential and less intellectual. I normally enjoy experiential classes, but this class didn’t feel “deep” enough for me, with multiple layers of useful goodness. The layers are certainly there (all of this is rich material with inherent deepness and an infinite abundance to explore, learn, and grow into), but I didn’t feel like we were able to access it as fully or efficiently as I wanted to. Feeling dissatisfied still, with our pace and depth of learning. And no, it is not intense. I’m bored.
My expectations of Chinese medicine school are pretty high. Studying acupuncture in Taiwan, we jumped right into everything on the very first day of class. I left the first class feeling challenged, inspired, overwhelmed, and excited. I haven’t felt that level of WOW-ness at all, since I’ve been here. I felt it a little bit in certain bits and pieces of Gary’s class (the fundamentals classes, last week), but that energy was never followed through. We still haven’t gone into depth with anything. I am left feeling dissatisfied, yearning for more, bored, and thinking about changing to another school. Any other school would start with the basics too, I suppose. They did, in Taiwan, too.
Perhaps the difference here is that in Taiwan, the culture is already Chinese. We don’t need to explain yin yang theory as much to a person who is already part of that culture, where it’s just a part of the everyday life, where “qi” is an intrinsic part of everyday language, as are energetics, or even the meridians. There’s a baseline of understanding in Taiwan, which is not present here in the USA. So what I already consider part of my make-up, or even just take the understanding/ knowing for granted, may be brand new for others, and super exciting. “You’re blowing our minds,” said one student to Gary, while I was thinking, “let’s go further. Please. Let’s go further.”
Misti encourages self study. If I’m further along than other students, then I can just further my own education in other ways. I agree. But, I’m paying for this. Is my money being invested wisely, if my teachers can’t take me as far as I want and need to go? If my fullest potential isn’t getting pushed and pulled in directions that expand me as a human and practitioner, then should I find a more difficult, challenging school with practitioners that speak both languages, walk in both cultures, and are well versed in the classics?
Continuing to question. Yesterday and today dropped my morale down to the very bottom. It was even hard to smile or engage, at the end of today. I hope for a better day, tomorrow. A bath, and a nice dinner, then early sleep, for tonight. It’s difficult to stay present and open, when I am feeling so very torn.
Today’s experiential class: practicing on different partners the difference in internal strength that a person has when they are over-thinking or mentally relaxed, physically tense or relaxed, just standing normally or standing with the visualization of roots going down into the earth, resisting someone bending my arm or extending my qi outwards even with the bending person there. These exercises were to cultivate the ability to (and/ or awareness of) extending qi outwards. It reminded me of various elements from my martial arts, qi cultivation, yoga, and contact improv explorations/ background. I can’t wait to dance contact improv again, and otherwise engage with these other practices, and tie that together with my fresh explorations in Chinese medicine.
I am enjoying remembering my Taiwan acupuncture training, various elements: the magic, mystery, logic, science, and more. All the reasons I want to deepen into this medicine, and devote the next 3-5 years, the rest of my life really, to this. I still question that intent but whenever I remember first learning about this stuff more formally in Taiwan, I remember why I’m doing this. This stuff is amazing.
We also practiced qi-gong today. I would have liked adjustments, but otherwise, it felt good to physically (and otherwise) engage with these roots of the medicine, the qi cultivation aspect. One of my first acupuncture teachers said that the source of the medicine originally came from great sages who practiced qi cultivation enough that they could feel and see the lines of energy, or meridian lines, running around within their own bodies, and the bodies of others. And, that understanding was cultivated and refined over time, to the medicine that we know today. I just gave a vastly simplified overview of how qi-gong ties in with Chinese medicine. The point is this: I want this to be an integral piece of my Chinese medicine education, too. I love how it feels, but don’t just want to physically practice: I also want to intellectually tie it all together, then experientially pull it into the clinic. Unsure how it will all tie together, but I know it must.
Part 2 of today’s class: experiential diagnosis basics (again)... CSOE (color- sound- odor- emotion). A review of the CSOE affiliated with each of the elements, and exercises to help us open our senses up to these things. Not yet going into detail about what these mean, or how to discern the intricacies between how the elements present themselves in their individual and overlapping CSOE’s, only just opening up the senses. Ahhh! I want to go into the details! Into the juicy stuff! Feeling frustrated that we are still stuck on the basics, on the opening exercises. Twiddling my thumbs, tapping my feet, and ready for more.
Time for a nice bath.
Started with student self introductions. Fascinating and bonding, to hear personal stories of how my fellow students came into this field, and some quite specifically to this school, or to Five Element style acupuncture.
I heard many people say “acupuncturist” instead of “Chinese medicine practitioner,” and realize that I want to be, plan to be, and consider myself, both. In Taiwan, people make that distinction between one who only practices acupuncture, and one who practices the whole thing. I want to practice the whole thing. And, learn it all, too.
One student felt particularly drawn to acupuncture, but not to Chinese culture, spirituality, history, etc. That statement stuck with me, as a concern. How can one separate the roots of the medicine, from the medicine itself? It also brought awareness to a core piece of entering this field for me: connection with my ancestors. Food for thought.
More CSOE. “We’re tuning the instrument,” said Misti, “not going into details yet. There will be plenty of time for that in the next three years.” We’re not supposed to talk about the details of exactly what exercises we do, but basically focusing on opening up our eyes (identifying Color), opening up our ears (listening to Sound), opening up our noses (smelling for Odor), and opening up our extrasensory perception/ intuition (feeling, listening, and perceiving for Emotion).
I enjoyed this particular exercise, which relates to pulse diagnosis. We did this in Taiwan, too: place a hair on a hard flat surface, like a book. Place a piece of paper on top of the hair. Gently feel for the hair under the paper. Keep adding paper until you can no longer feel the hair. Try with different fingers, at different depths, different ways of touch. Feeling for pulses is like this: can be so very subtle. Doing it with a mental energy, versus doing it with intention, or with the qi extended (or heart open, or what have you), is completely different.
Exercises in observations with soft, hard, and medium eyes. Then with the heart field expansion exercise. (They explained their version of this in class, but I’d like to refer to Julie McIntyre and Stephen Buhner’s work in this realm, of attuning the heart as an organ of perception.) My own connections: I liken “seeing” in this way, like this “seeing” plants: looking with “hard” eyes to notice fine details, perhaps for botanizing, or keying the plant out, for conclusive identification. Looking with “soft” eyes to notice the entire plant, and perhaps notice what family it may fall into, with family characteristics. Looking with “medium” eyes to take into account both. Looking and feeling with the heart open and expanded to reach towards and connect with the plant, to notice the general environment, and also that which cannot be seen or felt by just eyes. Taking in even more information, and establishing connection.
Repetition, repetition, repetition. Slow pace. Perhaps it sinks in better this way. I am willing to be patient and see.
Qigong with new teacher, Jennifer Downey. She’s dynamic, fun, and interesting. Basic intro to qi, and yin yang again. Some basic exercises for cultivating qi.
Fire element more in depth, with Misti. And, more info on the four Officials (TCM calls it the “Channels.” All of these different translation possibilities are starting to get complicated and frustrating, when I know what it is in Chinese, and just write it in my notes as such!): Heart, Small Intestine, Heart Protector (“Pericardium” in TCM), and Triple Heater. A functional introduction into the general actions and considerations of the Fire element, primarily in considering one’s constitution (aka. “Causative Factor” or CF, in 5e-speak.) Most of this information relates to the emotional-spiritual uses and perspectives on these meridian lines, without much information about the physical uses. I’m enjoying the esoteric-elegant-beautiful-slightly-new-agey perspective, but am still craving more depth and practical knowledge. I want the entire nut, not just the pretty shell. But again, patience. (And, the emotional spiritual aspects are very important! I acknowledge that. So maybe it’s not just a “pretty shell.” But, it’s all important! I hope it will all get tied together.)
Qigong: upper/ middle/ lower dantian. Three treasures (Jing/ Essence in the lower dantian, Qi/ Breath in the middle dantian, Shen/ Spirit in the upper dantian). Triple burners: upper for assimilation, middle for digestion, lower for elimination. Intention, attention, sensation, and imagination. Palpating the energy, clearing stuck energy, activating/ cultivating the Qi/ energy, storing it. Moving and seated meditations/ practices. An elements- visualization meditation: visualizing the color of each element, bathing the yin Official organs associated with each element. A little new- agey, but relaxing. I might incorporate something like that into a meridians dance, to help me memorize points. Traditionally, (I learned this from my Taiwan teacher) song-lines for each meridian line are memorized and recited to help remember points, their relationship with each other, where they are, and their actions and indications. These song-lines are short and sweet, like the Tao te Jing or I-Jing, for they are so succinct yet complex, often versed in classical Chinese, which skillfully ensconces a lot of info into a short verse.
Point location class after lunch, with Janet Rucker. An introduction to how to use the “Anatomical Chinese Inch” (ACI- a 5e term, or “cun” in TCM) to measure the relationships between points along each meridian line, and all over the body. We’re expected to memorize “phone numbers,” or the numerical placement of each point along the meridian lines. We only covered “command points” today for the “Circulation-Sex Official,” (a 5e term for the Pericardium meridian line. 5e refers to meridian lines as “officials.” No precise differentiation between the two, yet.) Command points are distal to elbows and knees, generally more safe to needle, easy to access, and influences quite powerfully. I wonder if TCM also does this part (we certainly didn’t do it in Taiwan): 5e style of measuring the ACI: take a piece of paper (or ACI locator), and measure between the area to measure. Today was between wrist and elbow. Then, make however many marks/ cun/ body-inches between that body part (today, 12). Then, figure out and memorize the points along that area. (Today, for the Pericardium line, 12 cun/ ACI. “Telephone number” of 0-2-3-5-12... I could keep nerding out and going into details, but that defeats the purpose of this documentation. (You could just look at my class notes, instead).
We went into some basic point location, and a tiny bit of info about each point, but it still felt somewhat basic. We didn’t go into enough detail. I hope we will in the future. I still feel somewhat let down and disappointed. I know there’s so much more to cover. I want to go deep, now. Not in the promise of some future. I think I prefer getting overwhelmed with information. It excites me.
I am open to what tomorrow will bring. I hope we will get more intellectual, precise, and... deep! “Intense!”
We are using Worsley’s “Traditional Chinese Acupuncture” book, volume I, as our primary point location book. The book itself is disappointing, with no Chinese point names in it at all (besides pinyin that isn’t demarcated with tones), limited descriptions of how to locate the points, and no information about actions and indications for specific points. Source, junction, and element points are noted, along with suggested needling depth, number of moxa cones to use with the point, and some minor basic “first aid” information for some points. I’m excited to go more deeply into this, and hope that my disappointment with the textbook itself will change over time, too.
Worsley has his own way of numbering each meridian line with Roman numerals, which is different than the TCM way of writing lines. It makes it more complicated, especially for non-numbers type people, like me. (For example, Liver 8 would be “Lv8” for TCM, and VIII 8 for us. Studying in Taiwan, we never used the numbers for points; we referred to them by their names. The names make much more sense. Our teacher even threatened us somewhat, by telling us that if we were to ever go and study this in the USA or elsewhere, then they would make us memorize all these numbers! And, now I’m doing it! Ugh. I prefer the names of things, rather than numbering them. ) Worseley changed around some point locations, and omitted/ added some other points too, such as on the Kidney line. The teacher didn’t know where he got this information from, or why he did it. I don’t know if it’s important or relevant to our education, but I want to know why and how.
We finish the intensive exactly one week from today. Today was especially difficult for me, emotionally. I’m not sure exactly what broke within me, but it broke right before point location practicum, which I especially enjoy. I feel frustrated that we separate point location class from actions and indications, which will apparently not come until year two. So, we will learn where the points are located first, and then learn about what they do, and how they are used. This kind of learning doesn’t make sense to me. My previous classes merged the two together, and it just makes more sense to do so, in my opinion.
We went over the command points for the triple heater official, today. It feels somewhat disrespectful to the points and over-simplified of the meridians themselves, to only cover the command points, and not all the other points. This runs from the lateral side of the arm, starting from the ring finger, jogging between the radius and ulna, up to the point right behind the elbow bone, the olecranon. The teachers say that we will cover all 360 points in the future, but somehow I can’t shake off my doubt, or worry, that it won’t be as in depth as I’d like it to be. She says that we will cover the command points on all of the 12 primary meridians first, and then get to the rest of the points, by year two. Year two feels like a long time away.
I’m starting to make flashcards. I intend to memorize all the Chinese names, English translations, and point numbers associated with each point. I also hope to fully ingest all of the 5e stuff that we’re getting, as well as supplement my notes, flashcards, and internal resource bank with information from other sources, namely CCM and TCM. We’ll see how that goes. It is a lot. I’ve also been reading the Tao de Jing, which emphasizes simplicity, which this school models quite well. Do away with the “excess,” (meaning, do away with a lot!) and pare it down to just the basics...
Whereas TCM will work with the actions and indications of each point, physiologically and otherwise, 5e seems to emphasize command points (distal to elbows and knees), element points (often command points), energetic usage of plants... wait, I’m noticing that most of the “element points” are also “command points,” and are also the “transporting points,” too. The transporting points were taught in what felt like a dismissive fashion. Hmm. So, back to 5e treatments: primary emphasis on figuring out the constitution of the person, or “CF” (causative factor). Worseley considered the “causative factor” the root issue that drives all other imbalances, and is the focus of the treatment. TCM doesn’t speak of CF; this is purely a 5e thing. I’m unsure if it’s a Worseley thing, or where he originated it from. I haven’t formed a solid opinion around it yet, as I still haven’t observed anyone in clinic or experienced it myself, though I’ve heard stories... good from some, bad from others. Thanks to 7song, I’m a pretty hard skeptic nowadays, and won’t believe anything until I see or feel it, many times. 5e treatment will also use the five phase model of relationships between the points: mother-child/ grandmother-grandchild (sheng-ke cycle)... but, so does TCM. (Will I ever stop comparing?!)
Second part of class after lunch covered the “five transporting points,” which the teacher, Patty, explained as being from the classics, and from TCM. Not a 5e thing. I feel like we glanced over it, and didn’t really do these points full justice either, even though it was “just” an intro class. The transporting points were strongly emphasized and often used and referred to, during my Taiwan studies. Patty explained that these are more used in acute situations, when “sometimes we need to treat things in more of a TCM sort of way.”
After some solo time of looking up the points’ number in our big red Worsley book and then notating their names on our “transporting points” sheet, we did fun yet basic experiential yet non-directional exercises: push hands, gazing into each others’ eyes, hand-shaking, energy palpation, and finally, pulse taking. I confirmed with Patty that 5e will mostly just focus on noting excess and deficiency within each pulse point, without noting pulse quality or tone. Once we start the herbal portion of class, it will cover more TCM-based diagnostic tools. Herbs are not traditionally part of the 5e system; it got added on, as part of requirements to practice in the state of FL. I fear that, being an added-on part of the program, the herbal program will be similarly simplified, like the acupuncture part of the program, or deficient in other ways. Worries, aplenty!
As I laid on the table for our first point location mock-quiz near the end of class, a huge bolt of lightning streaked across the sky outside, immediately followed by a resonating crash of thunder, that shook the classroom, and delighted me completely. After class, I dashed outside to bike home before it started pouring. The first drops of rain started falling from the sky, and I felt my first drops of moontime blood, immediately as I stepped out of the classroom. Biking home as fast as I could under the quickening rain, darkened sky, and whipping wind, I felt alive and a at peace.
I enjoyed our first mock-quiz. I felt challenged, and glad for the challenge. I don’t have good memory. Having a quiz excites me enough to further commit to the process of going over these points more on my own, and memorizing them. We went through the four Fire Official meridian lines in the past few days, which adds up to about 3 hours total each morning or afternoon, on each Official. That’s not much time. Perhaps only half of that time was spent actually touching other people, and finding points. (And, these are only the command points! It’s not even the whole line!)
After touching and being touched by so many different people though, I am reminded of why I went to herbalism, first. I am much more comfortable with the natural world, than with people. Touching people is really intense. I need to be careful with my boundaries. I start to physically feel nauseous, after too much sensorial stimulation with too many different people, and their energies. I noticed this while I was being rather roughly palpated by a strong fellow student. Someone said something that sounded like, ”-aceae,” (which is what every plant family name ends with), and I perked up, then realized that I miss being immersed in plants, and with plant people. Soon.
Today was relaxed. I was able to acknowledge my discomfort, and speak openly and honestly with our first teacher of the day, Joanne, about my worries. I like Joanne a lot. During our first day of class, I snuck into her office to chat with her about the Tao de Jing, and ask about her life story. We covered the Heart Official during the first part of class, and the Small Intestine Official in the second part of class. The Heart is the yin meridian of the physical organ meridians affiliated with the Fire Element; the Small Intestine is yang.
Joanne and I talked at length during lunchtime. I realized that I need to speak with more past students to hear more about what’s coming. And, I want to see a curriculum list. I want to see what’s planned for the next three years, and how it’s organized. This school doesn’t have that laid out, which was concerning during my decision-making process, as the schedule wasn’t clear. I don’t fully know what we’ll precisely learn, and really want to know the details of that, to help clarify my decision-making process.
Joanne says that they use a circular learning model here. “We’ll talk about that later,” is a common answer we get, along with, “Don’t worry about that, now.” After today’s mock-quiz, I can understand a little bit better just why: so as not to overwhelm students with information. It really is a lot of information, and makes sense to layer it, instead of piling it on, all at once. I was quite overwhelmed in Taiwan, studying it. But, I think also that students adapt to whatever is initially placed upon them... and we could still step it up, just a notch. But again, after today’s mini-quiz, I appreciate the repetition just a little bit more. I would prefer more hands-on, practical repetition! Or, information presented in a way that feels useful, and applicable. And, I admit, I want teachers that are both intellectual (well versed in the classics) and emotionally adept, not just emotionally adept (they’re good at that part, here).
Outside of class, I’m pulling together my own Tao de Jing book with both an English and Chinese text. It’s cathartic, and pleases my Taiwanese-American self, and physical need to cut, glue, and make beautiful useful things.
With all my uncertainty, there is one thing that is certain: I love this medicine. I love its possibility, its complexity, its elegance, history, cultural significance and ties with my ancestral heritage, poetry and logic, artistry and whole-hearted humanity.
I just biked home after dark. It’s almost 9 pm. After class, I chatted with a second year student, then dashed off to my first non-school clinical observation, my first ever Five Element Acupuncture observation. It was only one patient, one hour long, and with a senior practitioner who studied with The Worsley. I am so intrigued, filled with questions and excitement, and below it all, just... happy. But, peaceful happy. Like, knowing that I made the right decision to come to school and focus on this. And, it’s okay that I’m not sure whether I’m at the right school. I’ll drink in this experience, enjoy it, learn lots regardless, and just... enjoy. In joy.
We focused on the metal element today. Whereas fire is upwards and outwards, rising and exciting, metal is downwards and quiet, affiliated with the autumn, death, decay, release, inhale and exhale. I greatly appreciated the well organized approach of our teacher for today, Jim Brooks. He started off showing photos that depicted various characteristics of Fire CF people (my image-oriented, forever-an-artist-ex-art-school-student and metaphor-loving self greatly enjoyed that.) We dove into point location for the Lung Official after lunch (Metal element officials are lung and large intestine. Yin lung, yang large intestine.)
I learned a lot in my one hour observation. I will return again tomorrow, during my day off. I’m not sure what this means, but it reminds me of my time in Taiwan hanging out in my teachers’ houses talking, joking, asking questions, hearing stories, getting inspired, and learning via osmosis. I really prefer the apprenticeship method of hands-on one-on-one learning, rather than being in a classroom. Not sure what all this means, but I am happy to gather information. When I go to New Mexico after this intensive ends, I have almost a week of clinical observations lined up too, in a city that intrigues me, Santa Fe. We’ll see what the future brings.
For tonight, i noticed that 5e style treatment is completely different than TCM. The practitioner spoke with the patient for a bit, then only worked on four points, going point by point on both sides of the body: doing moxa first, then needling each point for just a short period of time. It’s mostly stimulating/ tonifying treatment. He said that Worsley said Qi came from Source, and to sedate it would be to dishonor Source. Better to move the Qi elsewhere, than to sedate it. I need to learn more before I can make opinions about this, but I have so many questions that I don’t even have the language to really verbalize yet. TCM/ CCM will tend to leave the needles in for a longer period of time, with the ability to work on multiple patients. 5e, or at least the one treatment I just witnessed, just focuses on one patient at a time. I realize that most of the CM practitioners that I’ve observed (and admired) have been happy, peaceful, and truly seem to enjoy their work. Most of these practitioners have been in a smaller setting, though I’ve also observed a busy practice in the middle of Taipei, and Kathmandu.
Break 3! The final one, before The Big Break.
Today, I learned that if I back out before December, when the second intensive starts, then I have “only” used up $6000 of my precious savings. This one intensive has cost that much. I looked at our homework, what we are supposed to do, between this and the next intensive. It doesn’t feel very worth it. I wish I invested my money more wisely, a whole year of valuable training with 7song would have cost about the same. A whole year. Grad school. “Straight edge” education. The system. I feel somewhat cheated, violated, angry, and sad. But it was all my own decision, and I take that responsibility. I hope I learn my lesson. Do even more research next time. Regardless if “next time” is my next school, or what it is. And, I’m still on the fence. No decisions until after the intensive. Three more days. I am counting.
We reviewed the Metal element, and dove into command points for the Large Intestine Official, for today. From the pointer finger to the elbow, a Yang line for the Large Intestine (LI), the “Great Releaser.” That which extracts the good and releases the bad. How potent, how fitting.
I relate to the one who lets go of too much, who can’t hold onto anything at all. In my whole adult life, I have never held onto anything. Everything comes and goes in my life, at a really fast pace. It’s not easy, but it’s my life. During travel, I usually get bad constipation for my first few days in a new place before I relax enough to get a nice smooth daily peristaltic wave going, again. Large intestine.
After lunch, we did “inner development of the practitioner” (IDOP) class. Our first few IDOP classes were the terrible “transformative communication” classes so now, whenever I see these classes listed on the schedule, I cringe and tighten, preparing for the worst. But today’s wasn’t bad. I guess that’s the thing about this school. It isn’t bad, and it’s not great, either. It feels mediocre to me, which I guess I could live with and still learn a lot in... but do I really want to spend $56,000 (it will be more by the end of it) on just “mediocre”?! (Personal value judgment here, sorry.) This information is interesting, but isn’t really rocking my world, completely. I want to get rocked.
We discussed emotions: wood and anger/ assertiveness, fire and joy/ enthusiasm, earth and sympathy/ thoughtfulness, metal and grief/ appreciation, and water and fear/ anticipation. Then, the five virtues associated with each element: wood’s benevolence, fire’s propriety, earth’s integrity, metal’s appreciation, water’s wisdom. Then, Sheng-Ke cycles’ review, and going a little deeper, some clinical considerations. CSOE diagnostic tools, just a little deeper. Discussion on “what makes a good practitioner.”
Thunderstorm outside. A boom and crash as I started explaining how to cultivate propriety (my group got that topic), to the class. Fire’s virtue is propriety. It started raining. Water controls fire. Fire people love the sun, and radiate laughter. I could talk about each of the elements and their associations, indications, etc for a bit longer than I could, before this began.
It’s quite surreal, to be here in FL, at this school. I’ve thought of and dreamed of Chinese medicine school for so long. This education here and now doesn’t feel like the education that I was expecting, or had dreamed of. But, I am still learning. And, it’s not rocking my world, but it’s still somewhat fulfilling. Moments. Questions. Onwards. Inspiration (lung), elimination (large intestine): Metal element.
We observed two different practitioners with two different patients, today. The first practitioner did “traditional diagnosis,” basically Worsley-style intake, for a whole hour. Just a whole hour of talking. No treatment, lifestyle suggestions, or anything else. I, as an observer, felt impatient! The patient’s condition was not that complicated and with one hour, I feel like a lot could have been accomplished. 7song would have gotten intake, given herbs for the next month, and have ideas for future protocol all down, for the first intake of one whole hour.
I felt much better about the second practitioner, who did “traditional diagnosis,” then started administering treatment while continuing to converse with the patient, and conduct intake. The patient got to experience some helpful changes, while we got to continue assessing them. It was interesting to see some Japanese style belly-diagnosis methods, hear more about Akabane points (ways of measuring and rebalancing energy between two sides of the body), and observe “aggressive energy treatment.”
We had “community acupuncture” after class. People came in for free or very-cheap ear acupuncture. It’s a weekly thing. Everyone received the same five points on each ear, and one point on the wisdom eye area. These points are primarily for relaxation. We sat in a circle while relaxing music played, and everyone got needled, then sat there for 20 minutes, relaxing. I felt restless, and would have preferred tailored treatment for each person based on what they needed, even though relaxation is nice. I’m going through Lyme disease right now, and acupuncture specific to my condition would be preferred, and greatly appreciated. I wonder why this format. Will ask, when I get the chance.
Seeing these two patients today and remembering my work with 7song every week in the Ithaca Free Clinic, and all the diverse conditions we saw at the Rainbow Gathering, made me re-evaluate my goals, with this medicine. Our primary textbook says that in China, acupuncture is primarily geared towards acute conditions, whereas here in the USA, acupuncture is geared more towards chronic conditions, especially 5e style. I hope to continue traveling and teaching in the future, while starting a clinic/ school/ retreat center in one beautiful place that I adore. I want ample tools to work with both acute and chronic conditions in solid, helpful ways.
Something that I keep hearing from people in the 5e tradition, is that it can change lives. I’ve heard that from other CM modality patients and practitioners, too. And, yes. I want to help create positive change in people’s lives too, to help them, (back to the “propriety” virtue of fire), be and live and thrive as the fullest expressions of themselves, as they can be. 5e style is certainly tailored to the individual... the points seem to focus around the person’s CF/ constitution. But, isn’t all holistic medicine?
One of our homeworks is to conduct pulse diagnosis on a certain amount of people. I feel disappointed that we won’t get evaluated/ feedback for our pulse diagnosis on a regular basis (it’s part of my consideration to change to another, more residential, school. Regularity, and focus). But, I am inspired by one friend (not from school), Fabio Fina, who writes, “Some say that 10,000 hours of practice lead to the path of mastery of One particular aspect of life.” Basically, practice makes perfect. Even though I travel lots (too much), I would like to commit to the process of taking my own pulse everyday, and the pulses of whoever’s around me, in the moment. But regardless of where I am, my own pulse notes will now accompany my daily journaling, dream-journaling, and photography.
We had a class meeting, today. It’s our last group meeting before we all disband tomorrow, back to our respective homes, until most of us return for the next intensive. I told the class that I wasn’t sure if I would return in December or not, but was thankful for them, regardless. Felt a heavy weight lift off my chest. Am speaking freely about my questions and concerns. A “family social” after class, today. Commencement’s tomorrow; the families of the graduating class came to celebrate, tonight. My friend and an instructor here, Brendan, came down from Vermont. Was relieved to chat with a familiar face. Feels like years have passed since I was last in New England, or anywhere else familiar. A lot has happened, in 18 days.
I asked Brendan what he felt would be the most useful info, to help aid my decision process. He tapped his chest, “Just listen to your heart,” then he looks me straight in the eyes, “and ask your ancestors.”
Exactly what I needed to hear.
Today, we covered the “Chinese clock” with Ruby, who I like a lot. She’s taught for many years, has experience with both 5e and TCM, and it all comes through with respect, a straightforward teaching style, stories, and good humor. The Chinese clock correlates the elements and their organ systems with every two hours of the clock. We then went over more pulse diagnosis, where Ruby helped “calibrate” the amount of pressure we apply, during pulse diagnosis, and we compared our diagnosis results (basic style) with hers. Class concluded with an introduction to the spirit and function of the points, which draws a lot from the meaning of the point names. I wonder who came up with the point names, to begin with. I marvel at the elegance of the Chinese language, and feel proud of that part of my ancestry, and honored. I think of my grandfather, who I consider a master calligrapher, and wonder at how much he influenced my life, when I spent the first year of my life with him, and he carried me on his back, and I watched him paint calligraphy. I realize that studying this medicine connects me with my ancestors and really, it’s up to me how I dance with that relationship.
This morning, I received news that my primary acupuncture teacher in Taiwan passed away. I feel a huge loss. He was trained in the oral tradition, and never went to a formal school. He was teaching in a similar traditional fashion, out of his own home. I cried after most of his classes, a mixture of inspiration, frustration, and gratitude. The class was very difficult for me, with my 3rd-grade level Chinese, as Teacher spoke in classical and medical Chinese, and it was over my head, and totally juicy, delicious, difficult, amazing. Well, he’s gone now. So is my grandpa. People come and go. Life is transient, and so precious. How will I form my relationship, my base relationship, with this medicine.
I will ask my ancestors, and consult my heart.
Am I taking all this too seriously? Went to an art walk after the family social, my second time in a real social environment, since being at school. I feel enlivened. I stood in a portrait studio, with bright pastels dabbed onto canvas, people’s realistic yet impressionistic painted faces surrounding me, jazz music bouncing nearby. I felt so alive, the life of the painting, the people, the music, all the questions of Chinese medicine and fresh knowledge and inspiration pulsating within me. In another studio, I flipped through all of the paintings of one Japanese artist, Kana Handel. She hand grinds all of her own paints (my grandpa mostly did, too), and combines traditional sumi-e style painting with more modern, almost Klimt-like (dreamy with spiraling patterns) motifs, and innocent simplistic characters like my friend Joy Brown’s sculpted ladies. Simple and profound. A base of traditional style, modernized into something that opens the gates of my heart, makes me smile and go, “Oh!” and reminds me of the beauty and magic of being a child, my gratitude for being alive, and a multi-talented artist, healer, traveler, and woman. A Latino band was playing outside. When I went out, they started trying to sing a song in broken English, then went back to singing in Spanish. I realized that I too am a guest here. I am a traveler. I am here to enjoy. It doesn’t matter right now, what December will bring.
I am here, now.
And tomorrow is the last day of this current dream.
Commencement was beautiful this morning. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the heartfelt speeches, and celebrating with the graduating class. Especially poignant was Brendan’s encouragement to the class to commit. To get clear about exactly what they want with their clinical practice, and to completely commit to that process.
Every intensive begins and ends with an opening, and closing circle. We started our closing circle with this Goethe quote, which beautifully echoes Brendan’s words, and resonates deeply with what I need to do, regarding school:
"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now."
For the last day of the intensive, there’s no new information. Just going over homework between intensives, and briefly talking about what the next intensive will cover, and how to use Moodle, the online platform that we use to engage with homework between intensives. Logistical, like the first day of class. And, somewhat unfulfilling, but necessary.
I remember feeling excited and engaged during the opening circle, but also not totally satisfied, as people spoke with a partner first, then the partner shared about the person they spoke with, instead of people speaking for themselves. It was much more interesting when, days later, we introduced ourselves (after I asked if we could do so). Today’s closing circle was very different. I felt personally more cold and aloof, though interested. I think I’m protecting my heart, in case I do leave. People expressed gratitude for each other, and the program. I still feel conflicted so kept my personal sharing minimal, and instead shared one of my favorite Rilke poems translated by Joanna Macy, one that I’ve committed to memory. Biking home, I recited it once more. Here it is, below.
Quiet friend who has come so far,
Feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a belltower
And you the bell. As you ring,
What batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself into wine.
In this uncontainable night,
Be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
The meaning discovered there.
And if the world has ceased to hear you,
Say to the silent Earth: I flow.
To the rushing waters speak: I am.
How does it feel to be in the dark? What associations do you have with darkness? What lives in the dark? How does it feel to be in the light? What associations do you have with lightness? How does it feel to transition from darkness into light? From lightness into dark? What arises during these transitions? What is birthing; what is dying?
I spent July working as a lead and co-lead mentor for Two Coyotes Wilderness School summer camps in Newtown, CT. It’s been an intensely exhausting, fulfilling, fun, and challenging month. My heart feels like it’s been broken, repaired, expanded, composted, and reseeded infinite times each day, of camp. Here’s a few stories/ highlights from each week.
Forts and Shelters week
"I love photographing leaves," I told my student today. He's one of those kids that gets passionate about all the things I love. He calls me over, "Jiling! Jiling!" each time he sees a beautiful mushroom. The forest has lots of them, right now. I showed him how to make basic cordage, then he came up with his own technique for making it, and started experimenting on plants I'd never tried making cordage with, before. Yesterday, he found a rope in the woods, used knots that I'd shown him earlier in the day, and made himself a bracelet. He brought in a show and tell item this morning, which was more rope, tied intricately into a "Chinese staircase," which he proudly shared with the class, and we used as a talking object. He collects beautiful, complexly patterned, colorful leaves as we walk down the path. "What will you do with all those leaves?" I ask him. "I don't know," he answers. We discuss a few possibilities. He's fascinated by the possibility of pressing leaves and flowers, and has a sharp eye for beauty, composition, and subtle details that form such. This is just one of the 13 kids that me and my assistant work with this week. All of them are special, with unique gifts, quirks, and stories that accompany each of them. My first week of camp winds down in just two days. Today was the middle of the week. I'm already thinking about how to tie this bundle into a beautiful bow, at the end of the week. I feel exhausted at the end of each day, but also somewhat enamored with my young and enthusiastic gaggle of small fairy-like humans that have endless energy, expansive imaginations, and loving hearts, with just the right dash of trouble to keep me dancing on my toes.
On the last day of class, we hiked straight up to our shelter area, to finish our shelters. Our group had split into three different groups: the cool-boys group, the girls’ group, and the focused-boys group. The cool-boys’ leader loved telling everyone what to do, but didn’t do much work himself. The members of his group eventually joined the focused-boys group. The girls’ group tried making an experimental structure, which toppled over, so they went and joined the focused-boys group. The focused-boys group had an unofficial leader, who worked as hard as the rest of his group, who all worked together. While walking up towards our camp area, which we named Coyote Cliffs, I stopped the group. “It’s our last day of camp today,” I said, “and we need to finish at least one of our shelters. A big rain is coming.” My assistant and I were prepared to dump a bucket of water onto one of the shelters. The students discussed what to do about the divergent groups: lack of shelters, lack of group organization, etc. This led to a discussion about leadership. “A leader is the person who’s in charge,” said the leader of the disintegrated cool-boys group, who spoke first. We went around the circle, sharing our thoughts. The focused-boys group leader, now the unofficial leader of most of the group, spoke last, “A leader does what everybody else does,” he said, “but everyone respects them, because they respect everyone else. They help you when you need it, and don’t tell you what to do.” The group decided to work together on the focused-boys’ mostly-finished shelter. They worked until lunch, when us instructors transformed into coyotes, and they all crawled into the little shelter. We dumped water on the shelter, which went through the roof (still not enough leaves), while the students, all piled together into one well-constructed-yet-not-well-constructed-enough-but-well-loved little debris hut shelter, screamed and laughed as one voice.
Feather, Fur, and Fin week
Some students bring me humbly to my knees in gentle, beautiful, and magical ways. Others make me wonder why I do this work at all, as I question not only my skill as an instructor, but also my abilities of navigating the world as a human being. The week started off this way. I led the kids on a lost-proofing/ navigational wander on the first day of class, which took us to less traveled regions of the land with no trails or buildings. One of my gripes with our camp location is that it’s an old farm, which is somewhat cluttered with buildings and roads. It’s still beautiful, but not nearly as wild as I’d prefer. So, I was excited and delighted to go far uphill and explore the periphery of the forest, past all of the other areas we’ve ever been, perhaps where no group has gone, before. This was lost on our rather disorganized group. A clump of boys were rude to my face, and more than half of the group complained the whole way up and down gorgeous hillsides covered with twisting plants of all shades of green, and all manner of dramatic rock formations. By the end of the week, I gave them a 15 minute fire challenge. “Do you want to light this with hand-drill, bow-drill, flint-and-steel, or matches?” The group voted on bow-drill, and got straight to work. Students split themselves into groups: gatherers of tinder, smaller sticks, larger sticks, and the bow-drill crew. I stayed with the bow-drill crew, in the center of the circle, right next to the fire pit. The “challenging” boys stuck with me, for bow-drill. We took turns partnering up, sometimes even two people applying downward pressure hand-hold above the primary bowing person, while two other people, on opposite sides of the primary bow-er, drew the bow back and forth, and everyone else clustered around in a tight circle, singing. It was quite a project. We ended up spending about an hour and 15 minutes drawing the bow back and forth in different squeaking configurations, the whole group singing rotating fire songs, and collaborating in creative ways to create a fire, which finally manifested as a fat coal that burst the tinder bundle into flame, with a perfect fire to create delicious bread-on-a-stick flour experiments after lunch, then wild edibles pizza for the final day challenge.
Advanced Survival week
“How many matches do you want? Stick your fingers on your head.” I tallied up all the wriggling upraised fingers, then made an average: three. They chose to make a three match fire. I gave them fifteen minutes to do it. At the ten minute mark, they all clustered back around the fire circle, demanding their matches. One, two, three. Three different people tried, and all three of them failed for different reasons: the first was too eager to shove the match into the tinder bundle, and stifled the flame. The wind blew out the second flame, as soon as it was lit. The third lit the bundle, then blew it out again, with his over-eager breath. The group decided that they wanted three more matches. They would do whatever it took. They elected yesterday’s champion fire-maker for the task. “If he can’t do it, then no one can.” He however, also failed: a strong wind blew out his first match, and he stifled his second. Confidence can sometimes be faulty. “Let me try,” came an uncertain voice from the back of the group. This student was also with me last week, helping me carry everything from lunches to tarps up and down the steep hills that characterize our camp location. Other students objected, wanting to give yesterday’s champion a final chance. “No,” I replied, “Let’s try someone new.” The new challenger immediately broke his match, as he swiped it across the box. A clamor rose from the group, the fresh failure close to tears at the center of the circle, broken match in hand. “It’s not over,” I spoke slowly and quietly, using my deep voice that I save for rituals and other serious affairs, “hold the match at the base. Strike firmly, and remove your fingers when the flame comes. Protect the flame, but don’t stifle it. Let it feed for a moment, then gently give it to the tinder bundle.” We placed the tinder bundle into the fire tipi structure, and the student, broken match, broken spirits, and all, successfully lit the match, protected the flame, delivered it to the tinder bundle, and gently blew that fire, the heart and hearth of our camp, into flame.
Scout Tracker week
"This is the best day of my life," said my students, stuffing their faces with wine berries as we pawed, bear-like, through the prickly bushes. I got to explain compound leaves, leaflets, serrated margins, lobes vs teeth, glandular hairs, and other basic botanical nomenclature while we explored with our hands and mouths just what it means to be fully alive and on the land, in the height of summer.
“Thank you so much for helping me carry the hot tea down the mountain,” I praised a student. “It’s no big deal,” the student replied, “nobody else would do it. I like doing what nobody else wants to do.” I asked him why. “Well, then I get to experience what nobody else really experiences.”
Every so often, a student completely blows me away. Their sometimes surprising truth of expression and innocent open-mindedness inspire me to constantly re-approach the world with new ideas, reinventing myself, and re-sparking my imagination. To see the world through the eyes of a child as a well-traveled (and still traveling) adult is a precious, albeit oftentimes challenging, gift.
Working summer camp is like running a circus. Pros include sharing topics I’m passionate about in beautiful outdoor settings. Cons include general exhaustion derived from being “on” and high energy for most of the day, while managing complex yet childish interpersonal relationship issues. I don’t know if I will do this again, in the future. I want to work with adults in a more focused manner, centering around botanical medicine, embodied creativity, deep nature connection, and earth-centered spirituality. Children are an integral piece of the picture of my life, but I’m not so sure about summer camp. I’m honing my skills as an herbalist, acupuncturist, and Chinese medicine practitioner for the next three years of my life. What’s next? What’s possible?
I look around the closing circle in the final moments of the last day of camp, allowing my eyes to rest on each individual, memorizing the faces of all of my students, the other instructors, the forest, this circle. I inhale this moment into my consciousness. I want to--- and will--- always remember this feeling of being simultaneously full and empty, my heart a richly aching and pulsating rhythm in my chest. I’ve given so much that I feel totally drained. I feel completely full, for the same reason: I gave all I could. It’s like creating herbal medicine, or a piece of art: I give all I can while creating it. I surrender the rest to the great mystery: chance, fate, life, whatever you want to call it. I call it magic. And for all of this magic and more, I am so very grateful.