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Acupuncture Today – May, 2008, Vol. 09, Issue 05

The Left and Right Brain Frustrations of TCM School

By Joseph Wollen

My mentor once told me this medicine is extremely difficult. Sure there is a lot to it, but he meant in regard to the thought processes. He explained that you really have to use both the right and left sides of the brain.

The left brain is extremely useful in diagnosis and differentiation, herbal formulas and memorizing meridians, etc. However, you also have to be aware that you are working with qi, and this is not within the left brain's realm of understanding. To understand the flow and feel of qi, you must use the right brain.

I initially passed off his comments, only to take them to heart as I went further into my studies of TCM. I soon began to see many different strengths and weaknesses in myself, as well as in other students. I host the new student orientation in the library at school and have the opportunity to meet many of my fellow students face to face. In each one of them, I see the amazing potential and drive to become great practitioners.

However, after digesting my mentor's comments, I began to see which students were more right-brained and which were left-brained. I would see extremely intelligent students coming in the doors quickly and easily memorizing formulas, points and diagnosis principles. Then there are the students who struggle with memorizing the information, but understand the body on another level. They truly work with the qi, feeling and sensing it.

I suppose I would consider myself more of a right brained student as I do have difficulty memorizing for long periods of time and being able to "think" my way through a case. I often find myself resorting to what "feels" right, how am I seeing this patient react? How are they physically, mentally, emotionally and energetically presenting themselves? I always tend to fall back more on my own intuition before I find myself relying on "book smarts."

I often have felt frustrations with my own inability to recall what I learned in books or in class. I often find myself with a classical formula on the tip of my tongue without having the ability to recall it. Then, much to my gratitude (and relief), a fellow student will recall the formula quickly and easily, saying they memorized that in class.

However, even with my own frustrations in developing the left brain, I have come to realize that being more left or right does not really offer an advantage, but the frustrations are the same. I have learned that in order to ease my own frustrations, I must learn to truly incorporate both my left and right brains. More than this, it's this frustration that truly hurts students and practitioners.

I don't know how to fully utilize the left and right brains together, but I am learning how to better manage the frustrations with learning Chinese medicine. Letting go of the frustrations of learning is paramount. These frustrations usually lead to "beating yourself up" over your own lack of accomplishments, which then further leads to questioning your own confidence and your path in this medicine. Nothing could be more detrimental to a TCM student, especially if you are just starting out.

I have found that the simplest and most direct way to keep this frustration of learning at bay is to simply realize you will always be learning within this medicine. You will be baffled, you will get confused, and quite simply, you will fail. No one has ever mastered this medicine, no one can claim a 100 percent cure rate, and no one can claim to know all of the inner workings of the human body. There it is, plain and simple. Knowing and understanding this truly allows you to let go of frustrations because it takes away the pressure.

We have all felt this pressure in our lives - the pressure to succeed and to get that "A." However, once we get out of school, does this mean we know it all? Does this mean we will be able to do it all? No. School is our time to learn from our teachers; learn of their experiences so we may become better practitioners. This does not mean we will not falter in diagnosis, formulas or treatment. Whether we use our right or left brains, we will fail and be frustrated at some point.

This is what I try to convey to new students at orientation - TCM school is frustrating, costly, time-consuming and very difficult. Now, after three years of school and two semesters in student clinic, I realize it's not really the school that is frustrating and difficult, but the medicine. However, the rewards of helping people, seeing patients' eyes light up as their ailments go away - this is why we walk this path.

We choose to walk this path so we might help others and do our best to aid this world and all those in it. No matter what frustrations or obstacles we come across, those that practice this medicine have one simple goal: to heal. We should always remember why we chose to walk this path. Even though each one of us has our individual reasoning, we must remember what those reasons are, for this will lessen the frustrations.

Frustrations and obstacles will come up in school, and we have to learn how to deal with these. We have to keep our mind and our hearts set on why we chose to practice TCM. We must stay positive, continue gaining knowledge, and keep up our confidence, self-esteem and compassion. We cannot let anything get in the way of these ideas, and we must not lose focus on the patients. Even if we get frustrated, we have an obligation to learn from anyone and everyone to further our own knowledge and healing abilities. To me, this is what it means to be a TCM student.

Click here for previous articles by Joseph Wollen.

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