View from the Student Fishbowl: In Praise of Playing Hooky

Eric, grand maestro of this site, suggested I contribute something from the CM student perspective. I’m at the start of my third year of four at NCNM, right smack in the middle of the program, so student life is something I should be pretty familiar with. 

The thing is, I’m not sure how typical a student I am. 

I don’t really study per se; though I read plenty about Chinese Medicine and herbalism, I mostly do it out of interest, for fun. Sitting with Matthew Wood’s Earthwise Herbal or Huang Huang’s Ten Key Formula Families, hours will go by before I realize what’s happened; I once spent a whole evening watching one after another of our program guru Heiner Fruehauf’s Classical Pearls videos just because I was fascinated. I should have made popcorn. 

But as soon as a particular reading is assigned, I find myself unable to focus. I count down the printed-out pages, start skimming, soon give it up altogether as hopeless. 

I think I’m allergic to homework.

I don’t intend this as a boast; I’d no doubt be a better student if I spent more time with the material. I might actually know the GB and UB points on the scalp. But I wouldn’t want to risk contracting what I’ve come to think of as ‘studentitis,’ either. This epidemic ailment involves a reflexive tightening-up that seems to be the default response of so many students, in whatever field, when faced with the expectation that they’ll learn something. 

It’s an ironic response to stress, given that the end goal is presumably to internalize the information. It’s as if, faced with a large meal one is expected to finish, one’s opening move were tying a tourniquet around their throat. OK, weird analogy! But you see what I’m getting at. Tightening up around something won’t help it go down. What are we, in anaphylactic shock triggered by information? We should be hungry for the stuff.

Then again, it’s hard to maintain a sharp appetite while being constantly inundated by more and more sustenance. 

No sooner than we’ve chewed and swallowed one mouthful, another is on its way. Moving from one class to another, we’re stuffed with a sometimes incongruous assortment of knowledge. Chocolate covered cherries here, pickled herring there. Understandably, at some point during such a smorgasbord, nausea is bound to set in. The dreaded counterflow qi!

While you’re seated at the table, might as well relax and enjoy the stuffing. It goes down easier if you don’t fight it. Just let the jello slide down your throat. But beyond a certain point of saturation, the only solution I’ve found is to excuse oneself from the table a little early. Politely decline the seconds or thirds (or fifteenths) we’re expected to shove down at home. Take a breather between the fifth soup and the third entree, in the form of what my mom used to call a ‘mental health day.’ 

Back then it probably meant a morning of cartoons and maybe an afternoon at the zoo. Now it’s more likely to involve en epic brunch complete with bacon and bloody marys. But the idea is the same: stay away from school. Give yourself a chance to digest the weeks and months of accumulated information; at least finish chewing before heading back for more! 

Give your poor spleen a chance.

Students : what strategies have you uncovered to help you make it through school?  Share them in the comments!

About Jonathan Edwards

A recent graduate of NCNM's Classical Chinese Medicine program, Jonathan Hadas Edwards is now a fledgling practitioner in New York City. While pursuing Chinese medicine, his thirst for traditional wisdom has led him over the past decade or so to immersion in Ayurveda, Western Herbalism and most recently the West African-based system of Ifa. Learn more about Jonathan

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