Ricky Fishman is an old friend and colleague of mine. We first met while I was in graduate school when he came in as a guest lecturer for a course I was taking called “Complementary and Integrative Medicine.” Each week an expert healer would share their practices and philosophies with the class so that students could learn the many different realms of holistic healthcare. When Ricky came in to lecture, he was wearing leather pants and spoke with a thick New York accent—I was immediately smitten. And I still am today during my conversation with him.
Ricky has been a San Francisco-based chiropractor since 1987 as well as a professor of humanities at both the New College of California and the California Institute of Integral Studies. He is not only a wonderful practitioner but also an advocate of education and learning practices that promote healthcare equality and sustainable health policy.
Ricky recently launched a website called . The site features perspectives on health and healing from a variety of practitioners as well as Ricky’s varied thoughts on health and healing—from the political to the practical. Condition is meant to provide information to patients, practitioners, and anyone else trying to understand the healthcare system and all of its variety and complexity. The platform will also serve as a community building tool, as readers and listeners will be able to communicate with the site’s writers, reviewers, and healers. During our conversation, Ricky shares his view on health:
“I see health in a very broad way. I see it in terms of individual health, familial health, social health, cultural health, global health, ecological [health], environmental [health]. All [of] those things are connected.”
As Ricky and I are both trained in the field of integrative medicine, we continue to explore the topic of healing through a holistic lens. Ricky states, “I think that we’ve been trained in our culture to just really focus on symptoms, which is a very reductionistic way of seeing things. Symptoms are just the singular result of a buildup of many many different things.”
He goes on by asking the audience to consider the need to “look expansively to the different things from food to exercise to your stress level to your lifestyle” in order to understand why you feel the way that you feel. Ricky asks, “Are you living the life you want to live? I think that [many people] are not living meaningfully. And we all know when we are and when we’re not, and when we’re not—it’s deeply stressful on a very unconscious level.”
In my experience, so much of what Ricky is speaking to are the things that influence how we choose to connect and disconnect from our own instinct.
Ricky grew up in Queens, New York in a small, Woody Allen-esque apartment. He came from a Jewish working class family with one brother and two parents that valued education, but neither his mother nor his father had graduated from college. After Ricky graduated from college with a teaching degree, he moved to San Francisco and decided to pursue a career in law. He got through his first year of law school only to come to a stark realization: “At the end of that year [I knew] that if I continued down that pathway, the odds [were] that I would probably have to be a lawyer.” He continues by describing what it means to be a lawyer:
“What you realize is that you’re living your life all about conflict. You’re in conflict and that’s your job. You are in battle with other people and the thing that was really mind-blowing to me as I met lawyers [is that] they were able to go into a courtroom and fight it out. And then after court, go out with the lawyers who [they were] fighting with and have dinner or drinks. And so there was some type of compartmentalization that felt very off to me.”
So, instead of continuing with his second year of law school, he joined a punk rock opera. He continued to play music in the new wave, punk rock scene of San Francisco for many years. It was at this time that an old friend of his introduced him to chiropractic work and Ricky realized that the profession hit on the many different levels of creativity and creative expression that he knew was paramount for him to be happy in his work. Ricky shares,
“It was a place where I could use my hands and my head and my heart. So it had all the elements, and so I sort of pursued that and then went down the pathway that ended up with a profession that I’m still in 30 years later.”
“I think also one of the things that I realized at a certain point of my life path is that I think the fundamental, most important energy that each of us has to [both] access and that needs to be made a part of [our lives] is creative energy. I believe all of us—each and every one of us—are creative beings. The creative impulse is built into us as deeply as the egoic impulse . . . However, if we only live in the ego space, then I think we become trapped because we’re missing something which is much greater. And that thing to which we are all connected is beyond ourselves.”
He pauses to make sure he isn’t sounding too “New Agey” and then completes his thought by stating,
“I think that creativity actually is something that was invented or discovered by human beings. Whether it’s art, painting, playing music, drumming, dancing—whatever it is that frees us from our sense of self—it frees us from that ego trap that [says] we need to survive but limits us as human beings.”
Ricky has been able to use both his music and his work as a chiropractor to transcend parts of his ego. His ability to use his hands, his head, and his heart in his work is his form of spiritual, creative expression.
At the end of our conversation, Ricky reflects on some of his contemporaries that are currently struggling with their sense of purpose and meaning at this point in their lives. He notes,
“You get to the point where you’re 60 years old, 65 years old and you’re thinking about retirement and you realize ‘Wow, I spent my whole life following this path that I was told was going to bring me to a certain place and I think I was tricked’ . . . I think the more that we can stay in touch with the idea that creation and creativity are available to us at every moment, [the happier we’ll be]. It’s up to us to grab it, but we just have to see it.”