The avoidable loneliness of our profession

file000353235686At some point in your career in Chinese medicine, you’re going to be stopped cold by the sudden realization of how little you actually know.

What knowledge will you find yourself lacking? All of it, most likely. Some common themes? Acupuncture, Chinese herbs, diagnostics, patient management, various aspects of business, how to keep balance, how to run a practice when you’ve got so much work to do on yourself – the list goes on.

If not knowledge, then skill will be the missing piece. Or maybe a little of each. Or something else. Some nagging sense that all your ducks aren’t in a row, and you’re not quite so sure about what you’re doing anymore.

Some of us run into this a little bit every day. Others have it coming in fits and starts. Still others get levelled at some point by the bulldozer of comprehension and don’t get up for a while. As a teacher, I tend to see this happening in the transition between the second and third years. For those who are not at NCNM, the second year is the info bomb (herbs and points in the same year) with an increasing level of responsibility in the clinic. The third year raises the specter of the great equalizer of courses – formulas. And folks are tired at this point, and realizing they’ve got a lot of work still to do.

For me, this experience recurs about every six months or so, if not every six hours. Every patient opens doors into the unknown. I’m sorry, but no amount of preparation, spiritual, intellectual, emotional or otherwise can really prepare you for this. It’s a rite of passage that we never stop entering as medical practitioners. Your confidence may rise, may grow like the waxing moon – but we all know what happens to the moon eventually.

This is a natural process, a normal one, essential to learning.

But, for most of us practicing Chinese medicine in what can be seen as the “standard way” in the US, it can be a process that leads us out of the medicine. I’ve seen it happen, though thankfully not in myself, and every time someone contacts me letting me know they’ve closed the door on this career path because of this experience, I lament. Because it isn’t necessary.

There are a few things that seem to lead people to this edge. None of them are an actual lack of knowledge – or at least not a fatal lack. Maybe I’ll write about all of them at some point. But, the one that really has me thinking is not unique to our profession. It may be unique to our era and culture, but I’m not even sure of that. The simplest way to put it is that most of these folks reach the breaking point because they suffer alone. They lack the community, the connection, or the ability/willingness to take advantage of it and because of that, they think they are alone in their experience.

I live in Portland. There are a lot of us here. Yet weeks and weeks go by where I don’t talk to another practitioner about anything of real substance. Sure, we text around to ask questions about this insurance panel or that formula. Sometimes, we even get together and swap stories, have a beer, enjoy some camaraderie. But, it’s very rare that I find myself in a situation where I feel safe to discuss the real struggles I have on this path.

I’m not alone. You’re not alone.

In running this site, I’ve been contacted by so many of you. Some haven’t started on the formal path, and are struggling to understand how to move forward. Others are in school and having one problem or another. Still others have been practicing for one year, two, five, ten and just can’t seem to get out from under the cloud they find themselves underneath. Whether the struggles are around practical business matters (very frequent), or in finding balance in their lives, or finding time to study and advance their understanding, or simply in figuring out some basic of the medicine – the message is always the same.

“I’m having trouble, and I can’t figure it out, and I’m losing hope.” Even if you’ve not had that dramatic a feeling, you probably recognize some version of it. If not in yourself, then in someone you know. And if not today, then yesterday, or maybe tomorrow.

This occupation, this calling, is too important and too beautiful and too filled with mind blowing potential to lose great people for no good reason. We’re all out here – all looking for support in one way or another.

That’s why this site exists. Not to teach about herbs or acupuncture (though that’s fun, and I like to do it sometimes), not to help people navigate the wild and wooly world of running a practice (though that’s something that you’re going to see lots of pretty soon). But to be a space for reaching, for grasping, for holding, for supporting, for communing, for living the medicine together.

So, if you’re out there, and you’re reading, and any of this resonates with you : take the first step towards building a community and leave a comment here. Say whatever comes to your mind! Yes, this is just a simple site, just a virtual space – but it’s inhabited by real people. Like me! I’ve been away a while, and not quite sure what to do with this space. But, that time off filled me with purpose and passion to do what I can to lift up the practitioners and students I encounter. To give information, yes. But more than that, to remind you that you’re not alone in thinking this is pretty hard sometimes.

You’re not alone.

About Eric Grey

Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.

View all posts by Eric Grey - Website:

Discuss this article in one of these places below.

Discuss This on Our Forum