Why I Am Not Going Back to Acupuncture School

I’ve spent most of my life wishing I were different. Wanting to be smarter, prettier, a better listener; thinking I should get a better job, get another degree, have a partner, volunteer more. I’ve been like a hungry horse chasing a carrot. But the carrot is dangling from a stick tied to the horse’s own head. No matter how hard she tries, she can’t reach it. She strains until she’s exhausted, never realizing the task is impossible.

So I’ve always been an overachiever and always a failure. Chasing, running, breathless, busy, stressed. Living for the future and never able to catch up. Some people call this perfectionism.

Many of us are perfectionists. Our culture’s theme song could be, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” The media tells us we’ll only be happy when we have a new car or when we get married or when the cows come home. We live in perpetual dissatisfaction. It feels like a constant itch, like something isn’t quite right, things aren’t working out as we planned. We feel this way about ourselves (if only I had better hair) and other people (I wish he’d quit talking that way) and life in general (if only time would slow down, if only life weren’t so hard).

Acupuncture school has been another way for me to chase an ideal. I thought I was meant to be a healer, and in order to be the best possible healer, I had to be an acupuncturist. I was excited about school at first. But after two years, I became overwhelmed by stress, daunted by the encyclopedic quantities of information we had to memorize and the range of skills we had to perfect. It felt like I was climbing a 14,000-foot mountain, thinking that once I reached the top I’d finally be happy and complete.

Earlier this year I stopped absorbing what my teachers were teaching. I was resisting, not learning. After a lot of angst and confusion, I took a leave of absence from school. I had the wonderful opportunity to go on a long retreat this fall, to try and understand what was happening and decide whether to return to school. Spending time in intensive mindfulness practice at Green Gulch Zen Center and Deer Park Monastery gave me some insight.

I realized that we have two choices about how to live.

1. We can fight with life. This feels like perpetually wanting things to be different than how they are. Whether it’s craving a piece of chocolate or resenting our family, this is the essential dissatisfaction that plagues most of us, most of the time.

OR

2. We can revel in life as it is. For me, this means mindfulness in the present moment. Not chasing future or regretting past. No urge to run away, no itch to get out of it or make it different. Just immersed, dunked-in-life awareness. All senses on. Curiosity. Studying things as they are. Present with life as it is. Once you relax into it, it’s thick with surprise. People are startling. Sounds and colors are enthralling. It’s a little like being on a really, really good drug. Even when some nasty feeling comes up, we can just feel it – get the weight, texture, heat, or grime of the feeling. When we let a feeling be there and embrace it, there’s space around it, and eventually it dissolves. (This takes practice but it is such a relief when I can do it.)

I wonder if these two choices are similar to Einstein’s idea: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

But, back to the question about acupuncture school.

While on retreat I thought a lot about healing. What is healing? One of the sisters at Deer Park spent seven years in medical school and residency, then decided to become a nun. She explained that instead of just treating people’s symptoms, she wanted to be a healer. How is a nun a healer? I think of her calm presence, and I think of Thich Nhat Hanh and Eckhart Tolle, who seem to be free from the stress that is sending the rest of us to sleeping pills and blood pressure medications. They’re not suffering; they’re at peace with life as it is (although they are motivated to change the world by relieving other people’s suffering, they aren’t stressed about it). They embody peacefulness. Being in their presence it’s easy to dwell in presence, relax into quiet awareness. Being in their presence is healing. That’s what I’d like to offer people – a true, accepting, not-chasing-anything presence. I’d like to cultivate that in myself so I can pass it on.

Brook Jasmyn, an astrologist, once said to me: “Love is the only thing that heals.” Countless ways to love, countless ways to heal. Acupuncture is a powerful healing tool, but I realized that I don’t need to be an acupuncturist in order to help people heal.

The stress of acupuncture school, and the carrot I was chasing, have fallen away. I don’t need them right now. A lot is dropping away from me these days. Lao Tzu said, “In the pursuit of knowledge, every day something is gained. In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped.”

Adyashanti says, “What you are experiencing, what many people are experiencing now, is an eroding of your personal will.” The ego, the carrot-chaser, the personal will, is giving way to a quiet, aware presence that loves life as it is.

So I’ve decided not to go back to acupuncture school for now. Instead I’ll be finishing the Asian Bodywork Certificate in December (all my school credits count toward it). I’m still working as an office manager for an acupuncturist, volunteering for Hospice, giving Reiki, writing as much as possible. And practicing mindfulness. It’s an amazing practice – letting go of resistance, landing here in the moment. I’m doing it imperfectly, coming and going, in and out of presence. But it’s available at any time. It’s a practice that anyone can do, at any moment. Reveling in life as it is.

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8 responses to “Why I Am Not Going Back to Acupuncture School

  1. i was looking forward to free acupuncture treatment, but i think i can swallow that disappointment ;p

    doesn’t matter though, because no matter what you do, you’re the healingiest person i know. just looking at your purdy blog made me feel better.

    thanks doc!

  2. I’m glad you found a solution to the problems you were having in school. But I do miss you.

    I wonder if someday when you feel ready to take on the “real” world without risk of falling back into your old habits of perfectionism and stress, you will think about finishing the acupuncture program. If so it will have to for some reason other than a desire to be a healer. If you know that love is the only force of true healing, but also that acupuncture can be a helpful ally, you may have things to teach other acupuncturists about. Perhaps in knowing that it is not the herbs in the formula, but the hands that put them there, that makes it potent, you would be less stressed by the encycl0pedias to be memorized?

    In any case that would line up with the two things that have stuck in my mind since before I started school, told to me by a friend who’s an L.Ac. and also a buddhist: one, never think of yourself as a healer, and two, in school you learn how not to kill people — after passing the boards then you can worry about becoming a good doctor.

  3. I think you’re someone i could relate to well-a perfectionist…and was surprised to see something pop up when i googled “Brook Jasmyn”–she did a reading for me 4 years ago this month, and was preparing to send my tapes in to have them converted to cd. Since then, I’m sure you’re aware she has passed, but sometimes wish there was a way to tap into her for the post-reading follow-up advice she was willing to offer…Do you have any suggestions? What kind of weight or pull did she have in your life and was your direction toward accupuncture influenced by Brook? Thanks for any input you may have.

  4. I am looking for the astrologist Brook Jasmyn. I see that you quoted her-do you happen to have any current info for her?? I have lost touch ten yrs ago and would like to find her again.
    Thank you so much-Namaste Amy

    • Hi Amy, I don’t know how I came across this page and seeing you posted almost 2 1/2 years ago you may already know this but Brook died in a fire in NM in 2005.

  5. I stumbled across this blog entry randomly while looking up information on acupuncture schools. I must say this is one of the most well-written and heartfelt blogs I’ve ever read! Great insight. As a yoga teacher and fellow perfectionist struggling with scratching the “itch” that will finally leave me feeling fulfilled, I completely related to most of what you said. I still plan on pursuing a career in alternative healing, whether it’s acupuncture, nutrition or naturopathic medicine, but reading this gave me a different perspective. Instead of pushing myself to figure out what my path will be, I’m going to (at least for now) pursue it with a sense of curiosity and treat each class as a learning experience, something to enjoy within itself, instead of a stepping stone to a greater happiness based on completing a goal.

    • nataschabruckner

      Thank you for your kind words, Heather. I wish you clarity and joy as you learn ways to heal yourself and help others find healing. 🙂

  6. I think the Universe guided me to this blog entry. Thank you for being a messenger. I have been stuck in the same feelings of incompleteness, inadequacy, sadness, frustration and yearning for years. It isn’t improving with age. I like Tolle’s works and I love your quotes. You’ve put it together so well. I have been frustrated with my job, looks, hair, you name it. I thought that becoming an acupuncturist would solve all my problems. But my acceptance of the Now won’t come from anywhere but within me. No matter how many jobs or careers I change, the unhappiness is inside me.
    Thankyou for sharing your deep experience here. It has Really Really helped me get a glimpse of myself.

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