Wednesday, February 24, 2010
interview: Mark Davis, ND4
here is the transcript of an interview i did with mark davis, ND4: one of the bright lights in our student body...
can you tell me a little about your background and interests? what did you study in school?
i studied applied linguistics, just because language has always been fascinating to me. and i was good at it, so that's always encouraging. applied linguistics is studying the things that languages have in common; there are different branches to it, like socio-linguistics- how language shapes a population. or gender linguistics and applied linguistics about how men and women's language is different, and power hierarchies in relation to language; power hierarchies and gender studies were two big interests of mine.
have you ever heard that if you put one termite on the ground, they do this funny little dance: individual termites do this weird thing, and it doesn't make any sense. and two termites do this thing, and it still doesn't make any sense. but when you get three of them together, it's this cooperative movement that builds an arch. the arch is the basis of these huge structures that termites build, and they can't do it by themselves. and so this arch building is so natural that even when it's senseless because they're not with the others, they just do it anyways. i feel like that's what language is for us humans as well, and this is what interested me about language.
my other big interest was activism and just how to make the world a better place. when i graduated from school i spent a few years hitchhiking around the country and visiting various activist communities, working at various restaurants to make money, then going traveling again to another community. i also like infrastructure work. do you like miso soup? i like to make a cup of miso soup and have it; it's fun for me, i like to cook, i cooked at restaurants-- but even better, i like making miso. you get the soybeans, you cook them down, you mix in the spores, pack it down with sea salt, and you wait for at least 6 months to 2-3 years. and it's something that's super satisfying to me, to have the cup of miso from that. i just love doing that underlying work.
that was the kind of work i wanted to do with activism too. i saw people bring out their talents: they would go on radio shows and talk and make a big difference, or use alternative building styles, or be gardeners, or just do whatever good work they did in the world. and my passion was: "i want to support them and what they're doing". and one common theme i noticed in the communities that i visited was that a lot of them were eating horribly- they would eat dumpster dived food because it was good for the world, but it wasn't all that great for them. i thought: "i know, i'll support them through food". so i would cook for them, and i thought i would go back to school to become a nutritionist to really know how to support them through food.
what were some of these communities that you visited?
the rhizome collective in austin texas was a big one, and the freeschool community in albany, new york was another one. another community that doesn't have a name, just a bunch of activist people in san francisco doing radio work and free medical work and stuff like that. a crew in new orleans which wasn't an intentional community either but just a group of like minded people doing what they love. it was particularly at riso where i thought "i could step in here, they're doing such good work in the world, i could help them."
i looked into nutrition schools and into getting a degree in dietetics and it just didn't feel like the medicine of food to me. so i started reading, like paul pitchford's book healing with whole foods- i read that from cover to cover, and i read books by deepak chopra, andrew weil, and anne marie colbin, all these books about healing through food. i found bastyr's master's in whole foods nutrition and visited them and learned more about naturopathic medicine. that's how i decided to come on this path.
why did you go to NCNM vs. bastyr?
i had hitchhiked up to bastyr. i slept in the woods around the campus and would get up in the morning and stretch, go to their movement room, do some yoga, then i'd go sit in on classes and talk to professors. i looked at all the different schools online and sussed out all their reputations and found out that bastyr was the science school. i thought that if i was going to go into this "woo woo" profession, i should go to the science school. so i walked around, met people; the people i met seemed like they were really intensely into their studies, and very intelligent people. this is what i expected medical school to be like, so i decided to go there.
i came down to portland to visit a friend and it happened to be NCNM's "student for a day". so i decided to just go to the school and see what it was like; i came and it didn't have a beautiful organic garden, nature, or trees-- but then as soon as i came inside, the people, while they still seemed very smart and like they were studying hard, would look up and make eye contact with me more [laughs]. i remember talking to this one woman who asked me "are you going to come to this school?" and i told her, "i don't know, i might start a food cart or something else" and she told me to do that stuff first, that i would come back to the medicine when it called me at the right time. that was in 2001 and i did go do a bunch of other things, started having babies, worked in wellness departments and health food stores, and eventually came back to medicine. i definitely knew i wanted to come to NCNM because it had much more of a "physician heal thyself" atmosphere.
why did you go into natural medicine vs. conventional medicine?
i feel like i'm constitutionally aligned with it. some people just feel comfortable and happy with conventional medicine, and it's probably a good match for them. but my whole life, as long as i can remember, i haven't felt very comfortable with it. i've always gotten this vibe of "pharmaceuticals are something you should avoid", that there's probably some underlying reason not to take them. my mom's a nurse, three of her siblings are medical doctors, their dad was an MD, his dad was an MD, so it's not like it was foreign to me. (i actually have my great grandfather's medical bag which i carry now to the clinic).
did you ever have any pressure to go into the conventional field?
well, my mom would always say, "you should really think about being a doctor, it's really a great profession" and i never, ever thought it would be something i wanted to do. just because i saw my family members doing it and it seemed to involve a lot of pharmaceuticals and surgery. i thought that "that isn't something i want to happen to me, so i don't want to do it to others". not to knock pharmaceuticals, i think they're a gift and a blessing. they can help people feel better and save lives when they're appropriately used. but i've always had this feeling that the way that they are used is oftentimes to the detriment of people's health. so it wasn't ever something i considered until i thought of food as medicine, herbs as medicine, homeopathy as medicine, relationships as medicine. and then i considered medicine as a career.
what do you think is the greatest weakness of naturopathy as a profession?
i think with so many other things, its greatest weakness is one of its biggest strengths: its eclecticism and its lack of organization. like mitch stargrove says, trying to get naturopaths to agree on something is like trying to herd cats. it's a tradition that is rife with amicable disagreements. which is great! it's such a strength! well ok, you heal this guy with hydrotherapy, and i'll give him some herbs, and this person over here will fast, but we'll all agree that they can all get better; it's all about supporting the underlying vitality that a person has. at the same time, it leads to inconsistency.
chinese medicine is such a beautiful, cohesive system. of course there are amicable differences too, such as different schools of thought. but for the most part, in my limited understanding of chinese medicine, it has this beautiful coherence. and the little i've studied of ayurvedic medicine reveals this too; a beautiful internal consistency. because of our eclecticism, naturopathic medicine doesn't have that. some people graduate feeling unanchored, not knowing what to do. they have to fiddle around for a while or find great mentors, or change fields. so i think that's its main weakness.
who has been your greatest mentor at NCNM or in the field of naturopathy in general?
the first person to pop into mind is dr. john collins. he's an ND here in town, graduated 33 years ago from NCNM in the same class as dr. sandberg-lewis. i saw him for one appointment the summer before my first year. i was just struck by his intelligence and compassion, his insightfulness. i wasn't even sick-- i just needed a TB screening exam to get into the school and he was one of two or three ND's in the city certified to do it. now i'm in class with him, homeopathy VII. every week in class i'm struck again by the thoroughness and richness of his understanding of anatomy, physiology, and the inner workings of the human organism.
and the way he practices medicine is so honest and transparent, which i love. i think sometimes when people don't know an answer, they try and put up a false front and he never does that. he is always very transparent about what he knows and what he doesn't know, and what is knowable and what is not knowable. he says that 75% of his practice is straight homeopathy; he admits that "there isn't really any incontrovertible evidence out there that homeopathy works. the day that they show that homeopathy doesn't work, i'm going to stop doing it. but until then, it's what brought me the best clinical experiences so i'm just going to keep going with it." that's why i think he's great.
what is your greatest weakness?
...there are so many, it's hard to pick just one [laughs]. the first one that comes to mind is also a strength of mine: my insistence on shaping things to the way i want them to be. i feel like i have a clear vision of the world and what's good in the world. i trust that vision, and go about using my energy to shape the world to it, and feel like i've done some good in the world as a result. but then there's times when my vision hasn't been as clear as i thought it's been, or i neglect to take other people's visions into account. i start shaping things and hacking away at them, and i'm hacking away at things that shouldn't be. i say it's a weakness because in my impetuous desire to do good, i've done bad by accident.
what's been the greatest challenge of your life?
of my life? oh, easy: parenting. it is like no other experience. i have two children- asher is 4, jaia is 2. it's funny, it's like our whole conversation is like these polar opposites- parenting is also easily the biggest gift i've ever had in my life too. but i've been physically, mentally, and for sure emotionally stretched beyond my breaking point by my kids in ways that nothing else in my life has ever done. particularly emotionally: i thought i had my stuff together, that i was just about ready to cope with anything that came my way. and then i had kids, and just lost it over and over again.
what was it about the experience of having kids that was so difficult emotionally?
i think it's about not having a strict autonomy: usually i can do the best i can for a given situation, and if it's not good enough, i can just leave the situation. but you can't leave parenting, so i do as well as i can do and might end up really failing but not be able to leave. i have to stick with the failure, to the most important people in my life. i mean kids have a hard time; it's hard to be a kid. they cry, a lot- and are always being hurt, physically, emotionally, or not getting what they want or sometimes they just feel really sad. so i've struggled with not being able to help them, or even not being able to make the most compassionate decisions.
like when asher was little, he had a really hard time sleeping. he would stay up really late and the next day would be grumpy and mean-- so i decided "this is important, he's got to go to sleep!" i'd be putting him to bed, and he would say "i want to go downstairs!" and i would hold the door shut and say "you can't go downstairs! go lay down!" and he would cry and i would think i'm a bad parent. or i would turn off the lights and he would be scared of the dark, and i would be frustrated that he was scared of the dark; things that now seem like bad decisions. sometimes he would hit his little sister and i would pick him up roughly and yell at him, "you can't do that!" or say mean things, and there i am: i've just been a mean, yelling person which makes me feel torn up. that's probably the hardest part about parenting- turning into a person i don't want to be.
there's a graphic novel on the life of the buddha by osamu tezuka. there's a quote in there of the buddha (i'm not sure if it's authentic) that goes like "i will cherish beings of a bad nature and those possessed by sins and suffering as if i have found precious treasure". that sentence was such a gift to me, because being unable to cope with asher's hard times made me just feel like a failure a lot of the time, and a bad person. i don't want to go too in depth about his hard times in an interview, but he would visit really dark places when he was little. he really had a lot of fears and aggressive energy, would even hurt people; i just felt terrible that this person that i loved could cause pain to other kids, animals, and adults, whoever. i didn't have a solution, and would just be mean and rough with him, and would feel horrible about myself too!
asher would say things like "when i get bigger i will kill you, throw you out in the street and break all your bones". which would feel incredibly hurtful to me, until i got to see it in a different way- here is this very innocent, scared person saying to me, his dad: "what if someone told you he wanted to kill you, and throw you in the street, and break all your bones? how is a person supposed to react to that?" usually, my big life lesson to him would be to get mad, and to tell them not to say things like that. but i think the real right answer is that you show them that you love them, that the world is safe, and you show them compassion. and those occasional times that i can be a good person in the face of adversity like that, i realize it is a precious treasure: there are genuinely horrible things in the world. how do we react when we confront them, with fear, anger, compassion? asher's helped me to learn to confront adversity with compassion more than anything else.
how did you balance raising children and going to school?
it's affected me in some practical ways, like the fact that i'm not going to pursue a residency at the school because they're 60 hour weeks- after i graduate i'd like to spend a little more time with my family instead of a little less. when people have told me that they were thinking about having kids in school, i usually tell them to wait, if their life circumstances will allow it. because there's many times i've felt that i haven't been able to be the student i wanted to be, or the dad i wanted to be. or the partner for that matter; their mom has taken a lot of the childcare responsibility. but that being said, the way my life aligned, these two things happened at the same time. a lot of the time i do actually feel like a decent dad, and a decent student. so i guess i make it work.
you know what else-- actually, the biggest, coolest lesson that naturopathic medicine has for the world is that illness can be your teacher. in my first year, in immunology class, taking prolific notes from the sage Heather Zwickey... i started to feel a burning in my wrist, that may have been carpal tunnel or something like that. i realized if i type or write a lot i start to get that burning, so i stopped taking notes and started just listening, which has been a gift! it's been great, it's changed the way i learn a little bit. in the same way, the challenge of having kids in school has changed the way i learn and study. when i go home, i pretty much don't study, except right before a test i might review the material. but the way i learn the material is just to be in class and be very engaged: ask a lot of questions, try and be very present with the material while the professor is presenting it. i don't know that i would be quite the same way if i had the leisure of being able to go home and review the material or rewrite my notes or other study techniques.
if your grandchildren were reading a wikipedia article about you, what would you want it to say?
i really don't know if i'd want a wikipedia article written about me [laughs]. i might be getting too focused on the way the question is phrased, but thinking about that literally, the knowledge that i want my grandkids to have about me would hopefully be through my kids, and my family, and that's just an everchanging story. maybe the question you're asking is what do i want to do in the world that's notable. i have lots of plans and ideas to do notable things in the world. i have ideas for small scale economies that i think will help people interrelate better. i have ideas for how people can relate to each other in communities of health care as lay people. one of my greatest joys is taking great amounts of information and shaping it down into something more understandable. so i'd like to do that for various clumps of information.
is there anything else you'd like to say about your experience at NCNM?
my time at NCNM has been transformative in ways that i didn't anticipate. i expected to come in here and just learn a certain style of medicine. but i ended up asking myself a lot of questions about society and spirit and energy and love that i didn't expect to come up and yet have been central for me. being exposed to this community of people has been really inspirational for me in a lot of ways as well. thinking about students who were about to graduate when i came in, and students who are coming in now; there are really some amazing, amazing people who are attracted to this medicine and school for one reason or another. so it's just a joy to encounter them and to be transformed in these ways that i didn't expect.