My friend, when faced with a severe sore throat, fever, and impending rash asked me, “What would Chinese Medicine do for this sort of thing?” After a short pause and without much thought as to my audience (someone very much rooted in Western, allopathic medicine,) I replied, “Well, I would probably bleed a Jing Well.” Another pause, and a quiet reply came of, “Huh…that seems kind of archaic.”
Chinese Medicine has taught me a lot. About the basic nature of things. About the way everything has an interconnectedness. What I love about Chinese Medicine is there is an art and a science to it, and these underlying principles are reflected in nature. In some way this should make explaining it to the nay-sayers relatively easy, but when faced with these people, I feel mildly annoyed, that whatever I say may not sway them, because in general, humans are afraid of that which they don’t understand, and are stubborn to change their viewpoints. And in the face of a world full of these sorts of people, if a Chinese Medicine student doesn’t have unwavering faith in their medicine, weathering the storm of invalidating eyebrow raises could prove quite disheartening.
And so this is a conversation more on human nature above all else. What humans seek more than almost anything is validation. Validation that their points of view, beliefs,or egos are right. Correct. Worthy. Studying and practicing Chinese Medicine in the modern day is bold, because from the surface level, it doesn’t supply any of this, except perhaps to their peers. It is bold, because we are subjecting ourselves to a level of mental taxation which renders us at the end of most days braindead and unable to expend much energy towards socializing, exercise, or maintaining friendships. Is there time to read for pleasure, or watch shows, or go out dancing with friends? Not really. The most validating people we have in our lives are fellow students, and usually they’re too busy studying or exhausted from this week’s round of testing. Dating is difficult, too, because most people don’t understand why I would spend 4 years of my life and a large sum of money to stick needles in people, light them on fire, suction their backs, bleed them out, and prescribe bugs to them to remove “blood stasis.” Or why sometimes I have such a vacant expression at dinner, only one shaved leg, and eyelids dark enough to be confused for makeup on some days. Chinese Medicine is just not that sexy, if we’re being honest.
But in this seeming chasm of “huh’s,” “hmm’s” and wokeupatfouramtostudyfortheexam- eyeshadows, is the most beautiful, most validating and magical profession I could have happened into. When a patient comes back to the clinic saying how much relief from their chronic pain they had this week, or their cold got better so much faster than usual, or their mood was a little brighter and lighter this week, this makes all the hard work, suffering, and loneliness 100% worthwhile. It is profoundly gratifying to know that your life’s path led you to this place, and in being called healer, you are also part Sherlock, MacGyver, monk, and therapist sometimes too. A Chinese Medicine practitioner is a shapeshifter.
It takes a lot of courage to be a Chinese Medicine student in the West. While we know that a medicine wouldn’t stick around for several millennium if it didn’t work, it’s hard to keep the faith sometimes. A majority of the population won’t understand this in the least, but we are warriors. It requires a certain transcendence beyond our humanity on a daily basis, to fill our brains with so much and at the same time, to empty ourselves, to relinquish the ego and allow space for the healing of ourselves and others. To become empty, yet achieve everything. This is the Way. And how sweet it is.
Sarah Moeser is a student of Chinese Medicine at the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine.