I'm sitting on the floor in San Jose Airport, having just finished a week at my school's annual herbal seminar. This was my third and final one, and it was a stressful week of monitored herbal clinic and the usual group dynamics psychodrama exacerbated by the pressure to perform. Gratefully, I had friends around me to whom I could show my own weaknesses and for whom I hope I provided support in kind.
On the way to the airport I began a sort of free-association whine with my long-suffering buddy Pam about all my going-away angst -- a feeling of incompleteness, naive expectations that weren't met, my own foolish illusions, what in the world the future might hold, anticipating missing my friends, and wondering if I'd ever be back to this beautiful place.
"You're saying pretty much all the same things you said when we left for the airport last year," Pam pointed out. "You're pretty much in exactly the same place."
Oh fer Christ's sake. Let's hear it for progress!
I'm still processing a lot about this week, which in effect was the culmination of about three years of study at East West. But I do want to share with you the following, which is an e-mail I sent my fellow herbalist friend Tom about what happened the day I landed in California. I think it sums up the whole experience.
Hey love --
Got in this afternoon and met up with my girls. We were waiting for the last of our party and decided to go into Santa Cruz to hang out. My friend Pam had a stuffy head and lingering cough from a bug she got three weeks ago. I said "Maybe you need some Minor Bupleurum" and we thought we could stop in at Michael's clinic to buy a bottle.
I called him to alert him we might come in. He told us to come on by and sit in on him doing an intake. A chance to watch the master in action -- Hurrah!
But then his 3 p.m. canceled. So he decided to make my friend the intake and I became the student clinician. "Fine, I can handle this," I thought, mostly because I had no choice.
So he did the intake and asked a few questions, then did some acupuncture on her. How awesome it was for me to know some of the points by heart! (They were easy ones though.)
Then he had to do a phone intake and left me to come up with assessment and treatment principle.
I was a mess at first but finally came up with Six Gentlemen plus magnolia bud, platycodon and some damp-draining herbs. Pam gave fine suggestions from the slab, stuck with needles as she was and without the benefit of a book to boot -- sign of a fine herbalist.
Michael came back in after 30 min or so and asked what my result was. I started to report my assessment: "Lung Qi deficiency, Spleen Qi deficiency with damp, corroborated by pulse and tongue..."...
He said, "No, you have to state your assessment in terms of her complaints, not what you THINK her TCM assessment is. It has to be 'sinus congestion due to...' or 'rundown energy due to...' etc." OK, so I tried again. He asked why I chose these patterns. I began to explain my proposed etiology, knowing her previous history of illness.
He interrupted me again and said, "Did you look in the books?" I said "Yes, but they didn't have the same patterns so I went on my own." Again I began to tell him my ideas about how she came to manifest these symptoms while he looked in the books under related patterns, which turned up the EXACT SAME ASSESSMENT as my original one.
"Lung Qi deficiency, Spleen Qi deficiency --" he began.
So I looked up at him and I said impatiently, "But Michael, I just SAID that!"
And his face fell and he said "I'm just trying to show you how to use the books; you'll need them one day, you know."
Not wanting to waste any more time on my impertinence, he asked me my proposed formula and I told him... he said it was perfect and what he really wanted to hear was that I'd choose to use magnolia bud in there somewhere. He un-stuck Pam and sent us off to the pharmacy to mix up powder.
My tail was between my legs as I slunk out of the treatment room.
After he finished with his next client he came out to the waiting room where we were gathered to say thank you and goodbye. He saw the pained look on my face and said:
"You did a great job. You're ready. But stop being so defensive. You don't have to be right all the time. It stands in the way of your learning. You are a student now and you should enjoy this time of your life."
Sound familiar, Tom?
Fast forward 10 days later to today.
Feeling sad and disconnected (as well as empowered, oddly) when I got to the airport, I realized that I'd left my still-hot cappuccino at the curbside check-in when I was already halfway through the TSA line. Geez -- what else could go wrong? I threw my head back and looked at the ceiling in exasperation when some very comforting recognizable muzak came on. Huh.
A few minutes later at the newsagents I looked for the mindless comfort of non-herbal, non-medical tabloid dreck. Lugging my carry-ons, I ambled slowly to the right, scanning all the celebrity 'news' headlines I'd missed in my week of media deprivation. Then came summer hemlines, outdoor entertaining, Bob Dylan on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Before I knew it I was at paperbacks and a hefty tome jumped out at me: "The Rainbow" by D.H. Lawrence -- one of my favorite books in college and one whose passages I remembered spontaneously when I met Michael Tierra and was reminded of why I'm on this path at all.
I bought "The Rainbow." I'm going to re-read it. It's my second copy, about half the size and a quarter of the weight of the copy I bought in college almost 15 years ago. I don't think it's any accident that the Universe sends you your favorite music and literature in swift succession just when you're feeling disappointed and free-falling in a small California airport.
No need to be afraid, Ursula Brangwen. It's real love. It's real.