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…Red Bird Flies

January 11, 2016

Dr. Hammer, one of the founders of Dragon Rises College of Oriental Medicine where I am studying, wrote a book called Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies from which the school derives its name. The very simple gist of the title is the imagistic suggestion that our individual awareness blossoms from the deeply powerful forces that give rise to our existence – the passions and very fabric of reality itself that make up the “stuff” of us becomes manifest and comes to fruition in our uniquely beautiful and wondrous expressions of individuality. To over-use a cliché, the great waters of the vast ocean swell to produce limitless waves, each perfect and unique in its form, motion, duration, and position, never to be seen exactly alike again, and yet never other than the whole vast ocean in every drop, in the mist of itself into the sky, the descent of its molecules, utterly scattered, dragged deep into currents miles beneath the surface.

I had the opportunity to listen to Brandt Stickley give a set of lectures this weekend on the text. It is an examination of psychology through the lens of a Five Phase model from Chinese Medicine, an endeavor to understand the ways in which certain natural adaptive tendencies tend to become unbalanced, and what this looks like for people when these imbalances play out in dramatic form in their lives. The intention is not a typology – a habit of mind that North Atlantic European-and-colonially-derived cultures have a very real tendency to fall into – but rather an examination of certain imbalances that can occur given different tendencies in personality and disposition as these are exacerbated by experience.

And the book is great. Revolutionary for my thinking and my engagement with the medicine, more this time as I start looking through it again. But that’s not what I wanted to talk about, exactly.

I had finished last term, and began this term, with a bit of sluggishness in my thoughts. Not, exactly, a laziness, but rather a mental-shuffling that was occurring because I was beginning to feel the limitations of my understanding of the medicine, but without a clear sense of where to go, or what it was I should be doing instead. I am gaining confidence in the clinic, both as a diagnostician and as a therapist, but I was simultaneously – as is a common pattern for me – beginning to feel that incipient comfortability as a stagnation. Not (I hope) because I must always press on to new and different simply for the fact of novelty, but rather because I could see limitations to my efficacy and to the breadth and depth of my understanding. But there are so many directions to go in Chinese medicine, and I had found it daunting to know where next to really dive in.

Brandt’s lectures have revitalized me. Have left me feeling on fire with the medicine again, a new sense of profound “coming-home” to my place as a healer, and to the direction I want to study. He showed a degree of mastery of aspects of the medicine that I want very much to understand, to know, to integrate, to make my own. This weekend was life-changing for me. I was literally healed – from the lectures, from the energy of the room, from the friendship and engagement with my colleagues, and from witnessing and experiencing in action ways of understanding and practicing the medicine that sing like homecoming in my heart.

I have spent my life at a step removed, always good at the things I try, but never fully willing to commit myself, to dive in wholly. Sitting Zen and taking Refuge in Buddha, Dharma, Sangha have given me the opportunity to understand what it means to freely dive into a thing without hesitation, without fear, wholly and completely. They have shown me how to give myself license to just be what I am, to open myself to what brings about passion and compassion for me, to open myself completely to what presents itself. It has given me a sense of how not to need to control, to dictate what is happening, but to be open, present, to do the work, to dive in fully, and let what comes about, come about. Certainly I still struggle with it. But my heart is finally and perhaps in perfect timing (so many mysteries) ready to be open, ready to dive in fully to something, to commit to it, to endeavor for mastery of it. To be fully myself in it, to make it my own, to let it be itself fully through me, neither of us more or less than completely THAT in each moment.

Dr. Hammer says that the medicine is in the life. While there are a myriad contexts within which that holds true in different ways, I know what it means for me, now: Medicine is Life. In the most intimate and personal way possible.

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