This is the second part of a three part series detailing various events of my life and how they have led me to where I am. You can read the first part of this series at Lifelong Student: Eric’s journey to Classical Chinese Medicine – Part II (1977-1997).
Community college – learning to learn
…With the birth of my daughter came a need to reevaluate the person that I was and where I wanted to go with my life. As I mentioned in the last part of this story, I was lucky enough to locate some information concerning financial aid options for college education. I started at Lane Community College, intending just to get my feet wet and explore my options. I quickly acclimated to the formal education environment. In the span of about a year, I learned how to: navigate bureaucracy, study despite having a young child, write at a college level, use the library and most of all – I learned how to love the student life. The community college atmosphere was perfect for me, given that I had been out of the educational stream of things for a while. There were many resources available to help me reintegrate, plus I was able to get my feet wet in the wild world of student government.
I felt so blessed to be able to educate myself without having to work full time. I explored several fields of study, eventually settling on Biology. I even spent about a year as a park ranger, helping out on some wildlife surveys. During this time, I started to learn more about the state of our natural environment and began to consider myself an environmentalist. I was involved in a few local organization doing things like stream clean-up and collecting signatures on petitions. It was difficult for me, though, because during my years wandering I had become quite drawn inward. Talking to people about subjects that were important to me and sometimes controversial really strained my concept of myself. I had to struggle with my desire to avoid conflict and stay out of the limelight and my growing desire to speak out on subjects that I was passionate about. I also underwent a lot of personal growth in the area of personal relationships and found out how important it is to speak one’s truth plainly. Actually, thinking back, these early 20’s years found me beginning the habit of introspection followed by intense personal development that I have maintained to this day.
Moving up in the world – University
Anyway, as my scholastic skills improved I began to look forward to University. I looked at the University of Oregon (in the same town as my Community College) but finally settled on Oregon State University because of its fine reputation in the sciences. This was the beginning of my “real” college experience insofar that I would be immersed in a more residential college environment though I did live off campus with my then-partner and our daughter. I began on a Veterinary career track in what I believe is called the Animal Sciences department. I remember acutely buying my first term textbooks with much excitement – only to be crushed when I leafed through one and found it described how to best cut beef! Needless to say, perhaps, in that first year, I changed majors a few times – moving more towards “pure” as opposed to “applied” sciences.
During this time, I really began to thrive, receiving my first scholarship for Excellence in Science and learning how to network within a profession. I also began to get more politically involved, taking first a position with the student government and eventually doing advocacy work on a number of levels for LGBT people and others. It was during this time that I learned about the socio-political structures that can sometimes hinder people’s ability to succeed, intensifying the experience of suffering that many people live with. I started to wonder why these structures existed and what I could do to change them. I eventually ended up moving toward a career in human genetics, hoping that I might be able to alleviate some suffering through the treatment of genetic illnesses, even reducing the impact of aging on health.
This interest, however, began to conflict with my growing conviction that the natural environment must be preserved if we are to survive as a species. All of this introspection, along with a less than totally exciting one-year internship in a microbiology laboratory, led me to turn away from the sciences as my primary academic interest. Instead – I moved to philosophy. Philosophy was a subject that I was well suited for, though I didn’t know it at the time. My grandfather, who did not go to college, was a very philosophical person and I grew up around him learning to question language, socio-political norms and life in general. I took to the new subject quickly, achieving a high level of success and enjoying my time very much. I learned how to write (although one of my most beloved professors, Lani Roberts, may cringe at my writing now), how to reason, and most of all I learned to love diving into a topic as deeply as possible. I was particularly interested in Environmental Ethics, which was fortunate given that one of the great environmental writers of our time, Dr. Kathleen Dean Moore, is a professor at OSU’s Philosophy department.
That time was very transformative. I began to see that I could effect change in the world and that my potential was limited by one thing – my own attitude. I also made great friends, great loves, and went through all of the growing up experiences that one comes to expect from a college education. Perhaps most jarringly, my primary relationship dissolved in a less than totally perfect way. However, I learned a lot about myself in that catastrophe and she and I are part of a co-parenting team that consists of the two of us and our current primary partners. In these college years, I also dabbled in various spiritual activities, but mostly stuck to more physical cultivational practices like yoga, TaiJi and nature study. I suppose my interest in Asian cultures began at OSU as well, through my exposure to Asian philosophy via some pretty incredible religious studies professors that worked within the Philosophy department.
With all this talent around me, I was able to absorb much in a short period of time. I figured that I would become a professor in Philosophy, so worked my college career in that direction. I attended conferences, submitted papers, commentated at a student Philosophy conference, continued to be involved in leadership activities and built strong relationships with professors. I graduated with good grades in 2003 with a bright future ahead – I had been admitted to Purdue University‘s PhD program in Philosophy. There were two problems with this situation. First, it required that I leave my home for the past decade and venture into the wild, untested midwestern United States. Second, I did not receive a financial aid package that paid for my expenses. Regardless, I saw this as the next step on my path and went for it.
The journey Eastward… and back again
We packed up a vehicle with what we would need to survive and ventured across the country with another family who were moving to Milwaukie, WI. It was quite a trip. I became more depressed the farther away from the West coast I travelled, and my daughter didn’t fare much better. Upon arriving at Purdue, the depression intensified – it was clear that securing funding would be very difficult and the town was much different from what I was used to. The situation was further complicated by the fact that I had only recently reunited with my current partner, who had stayed behind in Oregon. Those weeks of trying to get settled were full of intense introspection and wild mood swings. My partner came to visit, we spent a few love-soaked days in the sweltering summerheat and I knew that I had to go back home.
Less than a month later, we were all back where we belonged – in Oregon. My partner and I decided to move in together and make a fresh start in a town south of where we had met and gone to college. Our time there was productive, but difficult. We didn’t make many friends and we were learning to live as a family. My partner, about to graduate college, began to evaluate what she wanted to do with her life, as did I. I decided to enter graduate school in Philosophy in a Masters program at OSU, a short 45 minute commute to the North. My partner decided she wanted to go into the healing arts, and began to investigate schooling options.
The Dawn of a New Day – Discovering NCNM
Those commuting years were difficult – but I enjoyed the coursework and began to think about my thesis. I started helping my partner investigate her schooling options online and in my search, found the website for the National College of Natural Medicine (then called the National College of Naturopathic Medicine) or NCNM. I had already seen a poster advertising the college on a corkboard near home, so I decided to send away for information. Before it came, however, my partner decided to attend school in massage therapy in our town. Meanwhile, I had begun to consider my future and wondering if the healing arts wouldn’t be a good choice for me as well. When the information came in the mail about NCNM, I absently leafed through it – not really interested. Until I saw the coursework we would be doing and the prerequisites. I noticed that almost every class they asked for (from biochemistry to philosophy) was something I had already taken. Deciding that any school with such eclectic entrance requirements had something to offer, I went to a Student-for-a-Day in Portland.
That day was transformative, to say the least. I met several faculty members as well as potential students. I took in the warm, accepting atmosphere and the intense focus of everyone on unlocking the healing potential of the human body. I began to think in earnest about the possibility of becoming a Naturopath. Then I went to the portion of the Student-for-a-day focused on Chinese medicine. The then founder and, then, Dean of the Classical Chinese medicine program, Heiner Fruehauf, spoke to us that day. As soon as he began to speak it was as if I was transported to another time, another place. I found myself moved to tears, though he wasn’t talking about anything particularly moving. It was then that I decided to apply to NCNM and enter the dual degree program, in which students get both Naturopathy and Classical Chinese medicine degrees at the same time. I was accepted into the program a short time later. After acceptance, I began to pore over my admissions materials and think seriously about the move from Eugene to Portland. In the meantime, my partner was working through the lightning fast massage program she was enrolled in, and I was continuing to work on my Masters degree. However, everything in my mind was focused on the journey ahead. I began to have dreams about Heiner and what he had said, I also read everything he had written and began to explore Classical Chinese medicine in more depth through books and the Internet.
I had a series of what I can only describe as visions, and although I would find it very difficult to describe them now, they left me quite shaken. I began to think about Chinese medicine day and night. I started to experiment with Chinese medicine through patents myself and was able to talk to a couple of students in the program about their experiences. One of the things to point out is that within the dual degree program I mentioned above, students do two years of Naturopathic medicine before they are even allowed to declare that they want to enter the dual degree program. The program and Naturopathic medicine in general is incredible, but the more I looked over the courses the more I realized it wasn’t what I really wanted to do. I felt unusually paralyzed in making the decision and ended up communicating with Dr. Fruehauf by email and, eventually, by phone.
I still remember my conversation with him on the phone. It was evening and unseasonably cool. I was pacing in the park near my house because we didn’t get decent reception inside. Most of you may not know Dr. Fruehauf but he has a way of speaking that is somehow utterly gentle and quite forceful at the same time. It can be a little disconcerting, frankly. While I was talking with him I was having some of the same experiences I’ve described above which made it a touch difficult for me to fully express what I meant to but he was very patient with me. He told me about his view of Chinese medicine and its capabilities, assuring me that I would be able to investigate whatever I wanted to within the framework of the medicine. That evening I decided to transfer over to the Chinese medicine program. The process of doing so from an administrative perspective was a little more complicated, but the staff made it as painless as possible. The day after making the decision I felt such a lightness and sense of purpose, I knew it had been right…
In the next (and last) section of this life review, I will discuss my journey since I’ve been in Portland – and perhaps more importantly – since I’ve been at NCNM studying Classical Chinese Medicine. So much has happened in such a short period of time, it’s truly astonishing. I have never regretted my decision to step foot on this path and sometimes I realize how all of my previous experiences seem to have been preparing me for where I am today – though perhaps that’s just the benefit of hindsight. Anyway – stay tuned.
About Eric Grey
Hi - I'm the founder of Deepest Health. When I'm not writing here, 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 Community 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.