I immersed myself in my studies with an obsessive zeal, learning all I could about traditional Chinese medicine (“TCM”). I even finagled a part-time job with SCCCM as their continuing education coordinator, so that I could invite famous teachers from all over the country to give seminars for the local acupuncturists and interested students. This meant that in addition to the regular coursework, I arranged and attended courses on specialties such as traumatology, women’s health, pediatrics, qigong (Chinese breathing/exercise techniques), and moxa (a type of heat therapy, using burning mugwort herb over acupuncture points). But I learned the most from Kazi Dama. Because he wasn’t trained in traditional Chinese medicine, yet was an accomplished healer whose methods overlapped with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, he was able to push me to think outside the TCM box. For instance, when he saw me memorizing the locations of acupuncture points by anatomical landmarks and proportionate measurements as I had been taught in class, Kazi Dama would instead have me press my thumb along the grooves between muscle groups, stopping whenever I felt a spot that seemed tight, loose, painful, energetically “sticky,” or otherwise odd. “That’s where the points really are! Find the real points!” he insisted. And he was always making me taste the herbs, not just memorize what they were good for.
But most of all, what I learned from Kazi Dama I learned by example. And the biggest lesson I learned from him was appreciation. Before meals, he would clap his hands together and mumble something in Champogrlan. Once, we were walking down the street and it started to rain. He looked up at the sky with a big smile on his face, and mumbled the same words. I asked him what he was always mumbling, and he looked at me and translated: “Thank you.”
“Yes. Thank you,” he repeated. “There is always something to be thankful for.”
And he was right. There was so much to be grateful for. My beautiful, wonderful wife A., who stuck by me through years of my figuring out what I wanted to do – how many people are lucky enough to meet, much less marry, their soulmate? And my amazing daughter S. – writer, musician, spelling bee winner, basketball player, back-scratch lover and soon-to-be teenager – so intelligent and athletic and just such a great kid. And my son L., the brave Red Hawk of our self-created tribe the White Tigers of the West (named after the ancient Chinese constellation; no white supremacy going on here), a boy with so much heart that it spills out and touches everyone around him, an inquisitive and sensual tiger cub who is as comfortable snuggling into bed with a stuffed animal and a good book as he is swordfighting with a stick or inventing things out of Lego.
This feeling of appreciation extended to every detail of my life, to my friends, to Pischering and Kazi Dama, to my teachers of Chinese medicine, to every patient I came into contact with at Scum’s teaching clinic, each of whom let me and my classmates into their private worlds of illness and pain. It was such an honor to be allowed in, to have a look-see via pulse and breath and a lot of questions, then to try to help them with our needles and herbs. And it was so satisfying when they felt better.
Kazi Dama’s and Pischering’s influence on my self-concept as a future healer was driven home to me one afternoon during a lunchtime demonstration at Scum. These brown bag meetings were organized by the student council, and usually consisted of a lecture or demo by a visiting healer of some type or other. On this particular day, the guest was a fifty-something Korean healer who went by the name of Blue Mountain . He was billed as a “Taoist master” (why was everyone calling himself a Taoist master?) whose specialty was the use of two tennis ball sized stone balls that he rolled around on you as a form of massage. He had been invited by my classmate Andy, who had undergone several treatments with Blue Mountain and was impressed with what they had done for his bad back.
Superficially, Blue Mountain was not unlike Kazi Dama. They looked to be of similar age, they were both Asian, they both wore funny clothes, they were both charismatic, and they were both healers who used stones in their work. But their approaches to healing were diametrically opposed. Kazi Dama was sensitive, rational, and did his best to produce no pain in his patients. Blue Mountain’s method was basically to find tight areas on the patient’s body, then crush those areas repeatedly by rolling his stone balls over them. The process was extremely painful, as I would find out.
Blue Mountain’s worldview was quite different from the views of either traditional Chinese medicine or Iron Pork. He did not apply the theories of Chinese medicine to arrive at a sophisticated diagnosis. He just asked people where their discomfort was, then proceed to flatten those areas with his stone balls, ignoring their screams of pain. He believed that all pain was due to ghosts, not qi stagnation or bad circulation or some problem with the acupuncture channels. He believed that it was his calling to exorcise those ghosts – in his approach he was really more of a shaman and an exorcist than a physician.
Blue Mountain needed a volunteer to demonstrate his method, and I raised my hand. He had me sit on a thin futon he had unrolled in the student lounge, and asked me when my birthday was. He scribbled the information down on a notepad and made some quick calculations. He shook his head, saying “Ahh, very bad karma, very very bad.”
I grew a little concerned, wondering what bad omens his Korean astrology had yielded. He showed me his scribbled notes, pointing with a finger at the three lines of my birthdate. I gathered that he wasn’t doing astrology at all, but a simple numerology based on adding up the integers of my birth year, month, and day. His mathematics revealed that the year and day were “male,” but the month was “female.” This meant, Blue Mountain said, that my heart was a woman’s heart. This was an extremely bad configuration, he said, if you happened to be male. Fortunately, Blue Mountain had a fix. He announced that he would fix my karma: “Heaven tell me you very very bad karma. But no problem – Blue Mountain change your karma.” Apparently, Heaven told him all kinds of stuff: that he would attract disciples from all over the world, that he would start a school in the United States, that his stone balls could cure anything from kidney stones to cancer, that he should go to Reno for a weekend gambling trip.
Then, Blue Mountain asked me what my health problems were. I was actually not feeling too bad, but have a slightly arthritic left hip that sometimes bothers me, and my right shoulder had been hurting lately, so I pointed those areas out to him. He had me lie face down with my left knee bent out to the side, then proceded to roll the balls on my butt and hip. It was painful, but bearable if I breathed with it. Then, he had me roll over and he immediately began rolling the balls on the right side of my chest, on the pectoral muscles near the sternum. It was excruciating – it felt like he had plunged a dagger into my chest and was twisting it around in there. I screamed, but he didn’t let up. With difficulty, I overcame the urge to flip him over and knock him senseless or choke him. Finally, after several long minutes, he stopped. He had me get up and move around. “Better?” he asked.
Not wanting him to torture me anymore, I immediately nodded my head and said, “Better.” No wonder he thought he cured everyone he ever worked on! Blue Mountain positioned himself opposite me, sitting with knees crossed and hands together as if praying. His eyes were closed, and I wondered if Heaven was talking to him. He opened his eyes and announced, “Now Blue Mountain change your karma.” Then he started making a strange sound. It sounded like a big fly buzzing. Then he chanted another, higher-pitched sound, and announced that my bad karma had changed. I thanked him and took a seat in the audience, and he went on to treat several other people.
Blue Mountain was quite a hit with my schoolmates. He had the look: baggy Asian clothes, grey hair in a topknot, grey wispy beard. And he was a Taoist master! I think that acupuncture students are just naturally drawn to Taoist masters, especially if they do some kind of astrology. But I was not impressed. It seemed to me that he had something of a New Age scam going on, that capitalized on people’s insecurities and their wishes for health and wholeness. By first diagnosing your bad karma he brought out the insecurity, then he held out his treatment as a way to fix your aches and pains and the bad karma too – what a deal! And it seemed that many people felt they had to suffer to achieve health, or good karma, or whatever. I sure wasn’t one of those people! I much preferred Kazi Dama’s style of healing, which emphasized treating disease with minimal intervention, with subtle energetic interactions out at the periphery of the patient’s being – with gentle contact at the skin, usually on the limbs and usually away from the site of pain.
My experience with Blue Mountain made me realize that my training with Kazi Dama and with Pischering had molded my perceptions about life, about people, and about what it means to work as a healer. Blue Mountain was an extreme example, but he illustrated the psychology behind much alternative medicine: many people who are suffering are willing to suspend their disbelief it they are presented with a possible solution to their pain. Often, the more colorful and unbelievable the solution, the more appealing it is. I don’t doubt that Blue Mountain helped people; perhaps, sometimes getting your muscles crushed is just what you need, and maybe sometimes it’s good to face your pain. And shamanic healing is certainly valid; the expulsion of ghosts has been standard medical practice for many thousands of years, all over the world. But my encounter with Blue Mountain brought home the fact that my training with Pischering and Kazi Dama was shaping my overall attitude towards life, which was that compassion and appreciation and balance and clarity were the important things.
I couldn’t understand how Blue Mountain could claim to be a healer – an alleviator of suffering – if he caused so much pain to people all day long . I went home grateful that day, grateful to Blue Mountain for showing me what I am not, grateful to Kazi Dama and Pischering for helping me define what I am, grateful for the sun that shone on my back as I rode my bicycle home. My body flooded with endorphins, I went home to my family that day feeling grateful, just extremely grateful.