Learning East Asian medicine, part infinity

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This is an evergreen post, as they say, because when you’re really devoted to learning the ancient art and science of East Asian medicine the learning never ends. Every day, every breath, every patient, every re-read text – all of it is a meditation on the circular learning process at the heart of most education in EAM.

I am fascinated by the process of learning.

This is probably why I started teaching as soon as I graduated from medical school. The quickest, and least forgiving, method of learning is through teaching. I was forced on a weekly basis to confront the material, interrogate my own understanding of it, and put something together that might help beginners begin their own lifelong learning process.

Unfortunately, because of the rigors/inefficiencies of formal educational environments, on top of being in clinical practice and leading a regular human life, while I was teaching, and doing the learning to teach, I didn’t have much time or energy to THINK and WRITE about learning. In fact, for the last 10 or so years, I’ve not been doing that much intensive learning of my own outside of what was necessary to fulfill my teaching responsibilities. That’s no good for me, either in terms of developing my skillsets or in enjoying myself – acquiring and playing with thoughts and ideas is among my favorite things to do in this life.

So, here I am, back at Deepest Health.

I’ve trashed my lists and social accounts, evaporated most of my old content, and refreshed my vision. I’m rolling back the clock to a time when I used this site chiefly as a way to engage in and share my deep love of learning this medicine. I’ve started a structured study project that will span the next 12 months (at least) and I’m hoping this will spur the kinds of insights and activities that result in good blog content. Writing blog articles helps to engage that part of me that learns best by “teaching,” because by putting it in a format that others can/might read provokes similar types of energy.

My goal, then, will not be to “produce content” in the online business sense, nor to built my lists or become an influencer or to drive traffic here or there.

Instead, my goal will be to encourage myself to keep clear about my learning process and to provide a little accountability in the form of that internal pressure to publish. If I end up having great conversations with blog readers about the material – all the better. But, I’m going to write the content I want to write, the way I want to write it, and shape the site to be maximally interesting to ME, not some mythical reader. This might well help keep me clear of the anxiety that inevitably comes with writing publicly.

Current tools and process

I’m working a structured study project I created loosely based on the “Year of Sagely Living” projects from Deepest Health’s earliest years. There, I chiefly used the basic symbolism of the classical Chinese holomap to explore broader areas of life. I enjoy seeing how these systems of symbols can speak to us on so many different levels – some far removed from what we ordinarily think of as “medicine.” But, in this project, I’m focusing on deepening my understanding of certain aspects of Chinese medicine in service of my clinical practice.

12 is a useful number, given that it lines up with the months of the year, and I find that the rhythm of the month is somehow a great container for the kind of studying I want to do. The actual structure chosen doesn’t matter to me that much. I just need a way to guide myself in a systematic review and engagement with the EAM data I’m most interested in learning more deeply.

So, I began in August with the Bladder just to get my wits about me, with no commitment to write. I refined my tools and systems, bought books and other materials, and worked to refine my schedule and daily habits to prepare me for the task at hand. It was a rocky start, I still have something of a “study block” when I don’t have something immediately to teach, but by the end of August I felt more comfortable

Since the 1st of September, I’ve been grappling with Kidney 腎 and things are really starting to flow in terms of my process.

A brief outline follows.

  • My primary tool is TheBrain, a multi-layered mindmap program available on most platforms. It is criminally under utilized, and has supplanted nearly all of my notetaking and information storage systems. A key feature is you can have mindmaps shared online, but can also choose to keep some mindmaps offline and private, important if you’re working with proprietary or sensitive information.
  • I’m also using the following tools frequently
    • Devonthink, my standard database tool
    • PDF Expert, my PDF app of choice
    • Ulysses, my preferred writing tool
    • Goodnotes, my iPad Pro and my Pencil (especially for drawing symbolic connections or working out details of formula combinations)
  • My goal is to engage with information I already know, as well as finding out new information where possible. Because TheBrain is a mindmap tool, I utilize its multi-valent branching method to create and discover links between bits of information I may not have seen otherwise.
  • To begin, I have to gather all of the information I have. This includes information from books, from handwritten notes, from various types of digital files, from public online sources such as YouTube, and even my own case notes (anonymized since TheBrain is not technically HIPAA friendly). This is a fun process, actually, as some of these files are things that have been sitting in databases dormant for years.
  • I’m keeping my focus fairly tight in terms of topics.
    • The organ system itself, in all aspects
      • Naturally intersects with a lot of bodies of theory including yin-yang, 6 conformations, 5 phase elements and everything embedded in the holomap
      • Includes review of the organ system’s anatomy & pathophysiology through various sources
      • Really trying to engage with the symbolism of the holomap, with the guidance of Heiner on the Associates forum. Engaging with a variety of texts and sources here.
    • Herbs & formulas
      • As ever, I’m sticking chiefly with formulas in the SHZBL, with some additions to include formulas that have come through my lineage in one way or another
      • I chose 10 representative formulas that were interesting to me
      • This is a flexible area, in some cases I’m doing more single herb exploration, in some cases just diving into the formulas
      • I’m doing sensory experience throughout, including with whatever herbs I have growing that might relate
      • Inevitably, this grows into working with the Jingui and Shanghan lun, so sometimes I’m working on lines as well
    • Acumoxa
      • Channel anatomy and mechanics
      • Everything about the points including the “Spirit of the Points” information shared by Heiner Fruehauf in the Associates Forum
      • I’m doing hands on exploration of the channel and points, and paying special attention when I needle them in clinic
      • I’m looking widely to learn more about these points, including seeing what Tung acupuncture points are nearby, and how Worsley style 5e acupuncture regards them.

From there, it’s about creatively and regularly working with the material.

That, of course, includes letting the material work on me. I’m trying to be flexible and intuitive with regards to what material I focus on. I’m interspersing qigong and meditation, as well as incorporating Kidney associated foods, beverages and environments into my daily life. I find that these less intellectual types of engagement enhance my process overall.

But of course there’s a lot of memorization (my memory sucks), reading and rereading, diagramming, talking to colleagues, going through case notes and collating information. I’ll share details about tools, strategies, as well as insights as I am able.

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