This week’s post was contributed by Jim Brooks, M.Ac, A.P., who practices in Gainesville, FL and graduated from AFEA with Class 23 in 2010.
Five Element acupuncture is deeply rooted in Nature and in natural processes. We recognize that the world around us, and indeed the entire cosmos, functions according to the dynamic interaction of the Five Elements: Water gives birth to Wood, Wood feeds Fire, Fire creates Earth, Earth engenders Metal, and the cycle repeats as Metal generates Water. The energetics and rhythmic flow of the Elements are very real and are manifested in everyday life (awakening and becoming active, eating, resting, etc.) and in our overall state of health and wellbeing, as well as in the grander contexts of our relationships, the cycles of our lives, and the seasons (to highlight just a few). August in Gainesville is an excellent representation of the season of Late Summer and its corresponding Element, Earth.
The Earth Element is the child of the Fire Element. The Fire Element is associated with the season of Summer, and the Joy of Nature being at its peak. Colors are fresh and vibrant as flowers bloom. It’s often a time for outdoor parties and activities. With time, the joyful activities and the vibrancy of Summer transform: flowers fade and become fruit; outdoor activities become somewhat less appealing as the heat becomes heavy with humidity; and the parties dwindle as people prepare to return from vacation and go back to work and to school. What happened here? An energetic transformation happened. Nature moved from the joy and maturity of Summer to the gentle decline and harvest of Late Summer. Fire created Earth.
Here in Gainesville, we get nearly a textbook-perfect experience of Late Summer and the Earth Element. The air is heavy with humidity and fragrance, both of which are strongly associated with the Earth Element. The local Farmers Markets begin bursting with fresh fruits and vegetables—the harvest, also related to the Earth element. Food and nurturing are central to the Earth Element! And in Gainesville, another kind of harvest: the population swells as students return to UF and Santa Fe, and the Academy for Five Element Acupuncture welcomes class 29A.
It’s no accident that the return to school happens in Late Summer, governed by the Earth Element which, in living creatures, manifests physically as the Stomach and the Spleen/Pancreas. Physiologically, these organs are responsible for the breakdown, digestion, and dissemination of nourishment. Similarly, on an emotional level, they process incoming information, break it down (they digest it!), and transform that information into something usable. It makes perfect sense to begin a new academic year, and to begin taking in lots of new information, at a time when these Earth Element processes are at their peak.
As the days grow shorter, eventually the temperature begins to decrease and recurrent storms wash the humidity from the air. The fields have been harvested and a delightful dryness sets in. Earth transforms into Metal, and the Season of Autumn approaches. . . .
On Wednesday of this week, August 17th, we welcomed Class 29A to AFEA. It’s been an intense number of weeks finalizing acceptances, putting financial aid in order, and preparing for the arrival of the new students. And Day One is as emotionally charged as you would expect. New students are nervous, excited, and sometimes slightly overwhelmed with the fact that they’re actually here. Upperclassmen get to stop for a moment of nostalgia as they remember their first day and contrast it to where they are now. Faculty reflect on their own journeys as students and as practitioners (There’s a lot of, “Well on my first day…”). And I finally get to meet in person all of the lovely people I’ve been emailing and talking to over the phone for many, many months.
The first day of the first intensive is a very, very special day here at the Academy. We celebrate the milestone that it represents in our students’ lives, and we welcome the newest members of the Five Element community, those who will carry on this lineage. After breakfast and administrative odds and ends, we move into the classroom for the Opening Circle, which is my favorite part of the entire admissions process.
The Opening Circle is the official beginning of the program where the new class is inducted into the community. Faculty, staff, and current students introduce themselves and talk about their experiences, and new students share what brought them to study Chinese Medicine. It’s remarkable to me how different, and yet how similar, all of the converging paths are. The desire to help and heal bonds everyone together, no matter how they got here. The Opening Circle is a deeply inspiring moment, and there are usually tears at some point along with much laughter and joy.
The faculty and staff don’t plan what they’re going to say ahead of time. We don’t coordinate it, and yet somehow, a theme always emerges that the students carry on. Since I’ve been with AFEA, I’ve listened as people have spoken about community, about family, about healing. This year, the theme was the journey, specifically, the journey of 1,000 steps and how it begins with one step.
It’s sometimes easy to forget that applying to the program is the first step, or that showing up to the first day is. But in reality, there is a story and a journey for each student just to bring them to the point of applying. I get to hear a lot about that journey during the application process, but it’s a different experience hearing all of the stories alongside of each other. It was humbling and beautiful to hear some of our new students speak of the 10-, 20-, and 30- year journeys that finally brought them to acupuncture school. There is such heart, passion, perseverance, and joy in those stories. And I consider it privilege to watch people settle into the place they’ve been trying to get to, however circuitously, for so long.
Journeys begin with one step, but they also require the courage to keep moving forward once that path has been chosen. I congratulate everyone in Class 29A for not giving up and for arriving. Welcome! We wish you much success on this part of the journey. We are here to support you each step of this way.
Locating the health of humanity as part of the natural world is emblematic of the Five Element Tradition. The following poem, written in 1912 by Amy Lowell is a tribute to summer time and the earth element. It also emphasizes how natural rhythms create, celebrate, and manifest the human life force. So, if this poem ‘speaks’ to you, you’ve helped yourself answer the question, “Am I more suited to a Five Element school or a TCM school?
By Amy Lowell (1912)
Some men there are who find in nature all
Their inspiration, hers the sympathy
Which spurs them on to any great endeavor,
To them the fields and woods are closest friends,
And they hold dear communion with the hills;
The voice of waters soothes them with its fall,
And the great winds bring healing in their sound.
To them a city is a prison house
Where pent up human forces labour and strive,
Where beauty dwells not, driven forth by man;
But where in winter they must live until
Summer gives back the spaces of the hills.
To me it is not so. I love the earth
And all the gifts of her so lavish hand:
Sunshine and flowers, rivers and rushing winds,
Thick branches swaying in a winter storm,
And moonlight playing in a boat’s wide wake;
But more than these, and much, ah, how much more,
I love the very human heart of man.
Above me spreads the hot, blue mid-day sky,
Far down the hillside lies the sleeping lake
Lazily reflecting back the sun,
And scarcely ruffled by the little breeze
Which wanders idly through the nodding ferns.
The blue crest of the distant mountain, tops
The green crest of the hill on which I sit;
And it is summer, glorious, deep-toned summer,
The very crown of nature’s changing year
When all her surging life is at its full.
To me alone it is a time of pause,
A void and silent space between two worlds,
When inspiration lags, and feeling sleeps,
Gathering strength for efforts yet to come.
For life alone is creator of life,
And closest contact with the human world
Is like a lantern shining in the night
To light me to a knowledge of myself.
I love the vivid life of winter months
In constant intercourse with human minds,
When every new experience is gain
And on all sides we feel the great world’s heart;
The pulse and throb of life which makes us men!