David Martin was born in the mid 1950’s and raised in Berkeley and Orinda, California. He was fortunate to spend time in the summers in the coastal mountains of Mendocino and in the backcountry of Yosemite National Park. He read widely and excelled in school. When applying to colleges, he indicated that his interest was in medicine and in human potentials and human development.
As an undergraduate at Dartmouth College, he initially planned to study Biology and Psychology. However, these courses of study were highly focused on memorization of facts that did not seem for him to have much of an inner correspondence. He found that he got much more of a sense of a useful felt understanding of the world in the study of Mathematics, Physics and Engineering. In graduate school in the School of Engineering he continued the study of systems–analog, digital, physical and biological–planning to use these resources in modeling the functioning of the human cognitive system as a means to the development of human potentials.
It was as an undergraduate that he began meditating, first with Transcendental Meditation, and later, during a quarter he spent alone in the coastal mountains of Mendocino, he took up a body-focused awareness meditation. This was virtually identical to one he found again, decades later, in the qigong lineage in which he became a teacher.
He entered an unusual M.D. program, a joint effort of M.I.T. and Harvard Medical School, in which he concentrated in the neurosciences. Three things conspired to redirect him from continuing down the path of being a neurologist or neurosurgeon and continuing research in this area. The first was that the entire field, or so it seemed from the perspective that he had been able to achieve at the time, was either focused (read “availability of research funding”) on the questions of low-level neurological function, or, on the medical side, seemed to be exclusively pathology-oriented…interesting for discovering structure and function through dysfunction, but far from being at a point where he could see developing a basis for potentiating function.
The second redirecting factor was spending time in Psych wards…getting to know both the patients and the doctors. At that time and place, the approach was academic Freudian.
“I felt so much rapport and empathy with some of the schizophrenic patients to whom I was assigned…and so much active fear and hatred and projection from others. It was all so alive, and the patients seemed so isolated and in need of contact and rapport. Yet, my experience of the psychiatrists was one of really being out of touch with the patients and very involved with the Freudian models they had in their heads. It felt strange and disturbing, and I found that I would skip the “required” meetings devoted to case discussions, just to work on rapport with the patients.”
The third factor also came with real exposure to real patients. It was so impactful seeing how the consciousness of people changed with real events in their lives. Seeing couples, sometimes very young ones, go through the miracle of presence that it is the birth of a child…and seeing how they changed, so radically…matured so quickly, to become loving parents themselves. Seeing people face serious, sometimes terminal illnesses, in themselves or their loved ones, with (at times) such growing depth and wisdom and grace… It was enough to make him realize that what he was really interested in was not so much the biological systems of the body but the development of human consciousness…not a subject so readily available in the medical school course catalog!
Another theme that first appeared in medical school came from the felt tension that arose while seeing patients–the tension resulting from the competition between using the available energy and attention to be in relation, in rapport with the patient–which felt to be the healing aspect of the interaction–or using the available attention to making the external, statistical assessments from the more technical perspective that is the approach of modern western medicine. His approach to dealing with this tension at the time was a medical school thesis, based on his computer and system experience, researching and designing a tablet computer that aided the physician in taking the history while providing assistance tracking appropriate diagnostic algorithms, so as to free up attention for the human aspect of the relationship. It was called the Physician’s Assistant.
He continued in medicine, choosing Family Medicine as a way of getting more experience with births, with counseling, and as a way of being able to observe relative healthy people and family systems develop over time. He was recognized by the faculty as having unusually good abilities with patient rapport. And, most meaningful to him at the time, he was honored by the entire Labor and Delivery nursing staff for the presence that he brought, particularly to difficult births.
After residency, he accepted an offer for a two-year research fellowship at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He received grants for developing the Physician’s Assistant, was a founding member of the School’s committee on Medical Informatics, and sat on review panels at the National Institutes of Health. Up to this point, work with his own consciousness had taken place through personal relationships, personal meditative practice, time in nature, and reading. Now he began to study with different teachers, looking for effective ways to work with the development of consciousness. A nine month program at Chinook Leaning Center (now the Whidbey Institute) afforded experiences with Native American traditions–the long dance and the sweat lodge, as well as meetings with Vivienne Hull, David Spangler, William Irwin Thompson, Brian Swimme, the teachings of Thomas Berry, and Brother David Stendl-Rast, through whom he was introduced to the Enneagram of Personality. During this time, he also studied with a number of other teachers, including Richard Moss, and Brugh Joy. He began teaching the Enneagram to others and co-facilitating a group study of dreams.
After the fellowship, he worked for a time in the Indian Health Services Clinic on the Makah Indian Reservation, Neah Bay, Washington. And then he spent some months in India and Nepal, where he had time with a variety of teachers, including the 14th Dalai Lama.