“What is heart disease?”

One of our interns wrote this question on the library white board recently, with a website written below it to help their fellow classmates find answers. While the website and the question dealt with the physical aspects of heart disease, the question called to mind a conversation that I had just had with our Director that put the question of heart disease in a very different light.

Misti and I had been talking about making sure that prospective students and applicants had as much information about our program as possible. We want to make sure students know who we are and what we expect of them. This is a seemingly obvious objective. But as more students find us online, without a reference for the differences between TCM and Five Element Acupuncture, we’re realizing how important it is for prospective students of Academy for Five Element Acupuncture to understand the heart of our program. And what it means when we say that our curriculum seeks to “cultivate the heart.”

Most prospective students don’t think about cultivating their hearts as being part of their formal education. As a society, we’ve come to an understanding that self-awareness and learning about one’s self is a by-product of going to school, not the goal. The lessons we learn about ourselves come from the social interactions with our colleagues, or from the internal struggles we have understanding the material at hand. Private, individual struggles that don’t belong in the classroom. We only talk about them in order to explain a late homework assignment, or a missed class. They are asides, excuses, of note only to the individual. One might say we deny these experiences because they are not part of the rational, analytic processes that the classroom requires. In this sense, we deny the heart.

This ignorance, or denial, of the heart is another form of heart disease. When we repress what our heart of hearts is telling us, it impacts our emotional health and well-being. Most of us change careers because we’re tired of doing something that “isn’t me.” We want satisfaction and purpose from our work. Without it, we become stressed, anxious, or depressed. The physical symptoms follow.

At AFEA, we don’t believe that the cultivation of the self, of the heart, is a by-product of education. We believe this is fundamental to the process of becoming a practitioner. The student’s inner development is placed in the forefront of the education they receive, with an important emphasis on increasing awareness of one’s internal state. Through reading, Qigong, meditation, and field trips into nature, students are asked to look within and learn who they are as individuals, and as practitioners. We ask students to evaluate themselves, identifying their areas of strength and weakness in an order to help them grow past their limitations and the fears that might be holding them back. Only when the practitioner is able to focus their intention, can they be effective. And only when there is stillness inside, can they focus their intention.

So, we seek to strengthen the heart, the individuality, compassion, empathy, and awareness of the student as practitioner.  We work to provide a safe space for students to do this inner work, so that they in turn can create a safe place for their patients.  Inner development of the practitioner is all about “healing the healer.”

I’ve read many an essay from applicants who are seeking this form of education. They want more than the memorization of points, patterns, and meridians. They came to Chinese medicine because it was supposed to treat patients as a whole being. Our program treats the student as whole beings.

I’m betting that you have a list of criteria you’re working from in order to find the right program, and I bet it includes things like location, length of program, and cost. Your list might also include faculty members, national exam pass rates and job placement. You should ask school representatives about all of those aspects. Some of you may not need to go farther than those categories. What I have described above may be more than what you’re looking for. We get that, which is why I’m hoping that this information will help you find where you belong. But for those of you needing more, don’t forget to ask  if there is heart in the program. Will it nurture and support you? Will it help you grow into the practitioner you’ve been envisioning?

Those are harder questions to answer. And so I encourage you to visit the schools you’re interested in and talk to current students. Doing that little bit of extra research will help you find the place you’re looking for.