Saturday, December 31, 2011
I'm not here to suggest that you try not to go overboard tonight. Why does anyone think that's good advice? One wonders. It's new year's eve, the final feast/boast/brawl/toast event of our secular year. Go ahead, have fun. Sleep well and wake up only when you feel like it tomorrow.
I'll have plenty to say in support of the inevitable detox that begins tomorrow, the secular day of atonement. But tonight? Live it up!!
Thursday, December 29, 2011
Here come the diets. Can you hear them thundering across the landscape, appearing over the horizon like a herd of angry cattle? In a few days people all over America are going to hunker down, get into some serious dieting in an effort to lose the few pounds gained over the holidays. It won't be pretty - it never is. That is because starting a diet during the coldest, darkest weeks of the year goes against everything the body believes is right. Dieting in January will trigger even more fiercely than normal the body's survival instinct, which means the body will hang on very tightly to every ounce. When it's cold, a couple of extra pounds will keep you warm. Trying to peel it away is absurd.
Look at it this way: The parties and feasts end on January 1. No one in her right mind wants that much sugar, rich food and alcohol after the holidays are said and done. Those who go with the flow will automatically be eating and drinking more sanely after the first. Are the heinous bouts of dieting truly necessary?
The New York Times published an article this week explaining why diets don't work. I'll post a link in the comments. What the article doesn't address is how hard dieting is on the body. Suddenly starving the body, compared to what it's used to, throws everything off kilter. It's very hard on your kidneys and liver. Perhaps the biggest impact of harsh dieting, losing and gaining weight all the time, is how destructive it is to heart muscle. Lose 100 pounds in a year and you'll be more likely to have a heart attack than if you sat on the couch eating cheeseburgers instead.
People all over the world, no matter what the local diet consists of, are differently shaped. In a world where I could command it, I would have people eat very high quality food - no junk food. I would have them move around every day and think in terms of well being rather than pounds. People's bodies would settle into a comfortable weight after which we could turn our attention to something more pressing, or at least more interesting.
If diets worked, do you really think anyone would still weigh more than they want to? C'mon. May you be at peace with your body. It's doing the best it can! Shalom.
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
I've posted before about the importance of sleep so I won't go into a big rant about its benefits. I won't tell you how often the biggest problems my clients face revolve around the fact that they are chronically sleep-deprived, strung out, exhausted, hence barely able to put two and two together.
I won't speak to the importance of R.E.M. sleep, how it reduces anxiety, mends the after-effects of trauma, creates in the brain a way to solve problems. I won't even post links to scientific periodicals that regularly publish the results of studies showing that if you want a strong immune system, improved digestion, a healthy heart, fewer allergies, the ability to think critically and clearly, if you'd like to relax a little more, if you'd like to enjoy life more, well then, you're going to have to make sufficient sleep a priority.
All I really want to say here is that right now, between Christmas and New Year's Day, you have an excellent opportunity to start catching up. This week, sleep in. Go to bed early if you're tired. There's nothing else going on, why not?
Sweet dreams to all. Shalom.
In case you're in a mood to read more, click this. The link is to a post from last summer about sleep.
Sunday, December 25, 2011
As the holiday feast season draws to a close, many of us turn our minds to the year ahead. We begin to think seriously about what we wish to manifest, which leads, not always but often, to the practice of making new year's resolutions. There's nothing wrong with resolve to make positive changes but may I remind you that since Thanksgiving, you (if you're like most of us) have metabolized a whole lot more sugar than at any other time of the year. You have periodically gone overboard in terms of liquor, caffeine, rich food and behavior. Right about now, most of us realize, at least unconsciously, that the days of feasting, boasting, brawling and toasting are about to end. The prospect of detoxing from all that puts some us into a rather harsh state of mind.
I believe in the U.S., New Year's Day is our secular Yom Kippur - a day of atonement. It could also be seen as secular Ash Wednesday. Following the carnival of the holiday season, we start diets, exercise programs, we make solemn vows that we'll never eat-drink-party-shop-argue that much ever again.
Same as it ever was, yes? This year when New Year's Day rolls around, be gentle with yourself. The holiday season is taxing for nearly everyone. It is a sacred drama intrinsic to the way we human beings have always entered winter. Indeed.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
I'm not in any way being cynical when i say that what's thought to be good or not good for you is another aspect of cultural lifestyle, like hairdos or fashion. For example, once upon a time it was thought that vigorous exercise was bad for women. I remember the booklet we received in fifth grade when we were taught about menstruation. Some of the tips in that booklet were quite hilarious, such as the advice not to take warm showers while bleeding. What ill effect could warm water have on a menstruating person? In fact it's one of the few things that helps ease cramps, other than meds of course. Who wrote that booklet, I wonder. Surely not a woman!
Do you remember how margarine was supposed to be a great substitute for butter until they figured out how bad trans-fat is for the heart and circulatory system? Oops. Butter was bad, but now it's good. During the 80s, the official food pyramid had at its base all kinds of carbs: pastas, rice, breads. Then it was discovered that refined grains metabolize within the body exactly like sugar. Now all those carbs are being blamed as the cause of the diabetes epidemic. Gluten, in particular, is the enemy of humankind at the moment.
Makes me wonder what is being touted now that, in a few years, will be revealed as being terrible for us. Can you imagine the headlines in 2021? "Quinoa is damaging to the kidneys," or "Coconut water is carcinogenic," or "Green tea causes birth defects."
Of course it's natural to hope that some food, a particular exercise routine or avoiding something or another, will keep us happy and healthy. We are still, in so many ways, seeking the Fountain of Youth. It's OK to hope, to keep trying. But I'm not holding my breath for a miraculous cure to anything and everything. We are complicated beings living in a complicated environment. I think it's kind of a miracle that anything ever works!
The clip below is from Woody Allen's film Sleeper. It was one of his terrible early attempts at moviemaking in which he wakes up 200 years in the future. There are some funny scenes, such as when he finds his old volkswagon and it starts right away. I also like this scene, when his doctors are discussing what he should eat now that he has awakened from his long sleep.
What's funny is that we're turning around again about chocolate, meat and dairy products. So - what's good for you? A little of everything you really enjoy eating and doing, but not too much, and not very much of everything you really do not enjoy eating or doing. Yes? I say yes.
Be well! Shalom.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
It's not just the bulgingly huge frontal cortex of our brains that brought our species so far along in terms of evolution. The opposable thumb plays an equally important role. If we couldn't build, make, create physically, we would still be living in caves, spouting all our fancy ideas to each other while sitting around a crudely made fire. Your hands are genuinely miraculous.
I love thinking about how our hands developed from very sensitive feet to the marvels they became once we got up on two legs, once we started using them for sophisticated tasks. Oh the wonders we have created. And ... oh god ... the messes we've made, all because we have curious brains and opposable thumbs.
No matter how many miraculous devices you have at your beck and call, continue to write every day by hand. Yes, by hand, on paper, with a pen or pencil or brush. Developing and refining the fine coordination needed to write in relatively straight lines, making relatively like-sized lines of text, creates all kinds of neural connections. You can thread a needle more easily, pluck out a rogue eyebrow hair, handle your contact lenses smoothly. Standing and sitting, as well as walking, are smoother. Eye-hand coordination is a natural partnership; it's no wonder the practice is so good for us.
I'll admit it's hard to make myself write by hand every day. It seems to take so long and my hand literally cramps after awhile. I try to keep in mind, when feeling impatient, that Middlemarch, for instance, was written by hand. Every word of it. Holy cow.
Get out a pen and write a page of text today. It really helps. Shalom.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
It definitely happens, not often but it is a biological fact. Sometimes, for reasons no one can hope to understand, a disease turns itself around, an ill person who was supposed to die, doesn't.
If you google "spontaneous healing" what you'll find, mostly, are outrageous claims from people who believe they know how to invoke a spontaneous healing. My, my. If people could heal by following Dr. Weil's diet and advice, or via a specific yoga pose, or through sincere faith in God or noetic science, do you really think anyone would still be sick? I'm always suspicious of anyone who says they have the answer, the prescription or the practice that will create spontaneous healing. That kind of claim is snake oil. Don't buy it! Dr. Weil, you're a good guy, but dude you've got a big blind spot, you do.
There aren't too many scholarly studies on the phenomenon, only little studies here and there about very specific injuries and ailments. Scientists prefer to go after something more concrete. It would be wonderful if medical researchers would study healthy people who do everything wrong - I'm talking about the people who smoke, overeat, drink too much alcohol and caffeine and are still fit as a fiddle. The findings from those studies would be very interesting. But they tend to study people who are sick, and draw their conclusions from the data around illness.
By the way, when a mortally ill patient asks, "How long do I have, doc?" the only correct answer is: "No one knows." Of course that's not what most doctors say. They give an estimate based on statistics gathered about other people who have died from the same malady. In other words, they're guessing. They are trained to behave as if they aren't guessing. It's a set up not only for the patient, but for those who love the patient. It's even a set-up for the doctor. Very sad!
Death follows its own course. It is completely out of our hands. Even the smartest medical minds of all time have no clue. A kindness doctors could do for their patients would be to say something like, "You are gravely ill. We're going to do everything we can to help you heal (or keep you comfortable.)" This is also what doctors could say to the anxious families of their patients.
A better question than "how long do I have?" would be, "What can I do now to improve my condition or make myself feel better?" But when people are very ill, they don't think that way. I don't blame them.
No matter what's going on, may your heart be peaceful today. Shalom.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
Have I mentioned here how much I dislike the way everything about being a human being can - and is - pathologized? Every year, the number of named disorders and syndromes grows exponentially, or so it seems. I wonder why everything must be made to sound like a terrible problem. Is the desire to name and label, to pigeon-hole, every discomfort part of the innate human desire for control? Do we think that by pathologizing everything, somehow we will get a grip?
Here's a link to a list of disorders. It goes on and on. Imagine my head shaking back and forth, my goodness. Is EVERY stuffy nose a "sinus disorder?" Well? The production of mucus is a natural body process - believe me, a little extra stuffiness here and there is NOT a disorder, it's the body's way of dealing with some kind of imbalance. Without mucus the inside of your nose would dry up quicker than a person who suffers from cocaine addiction disorder.
I just made that up, which was probably unnecessary. I'm sure there is some kind of official syndrome or disorder name for drug snorting.
I've struggled for years with the idea of attention deficit disorder. Yes, many people have fractured attention spans, many more now than before remote controlled TV with hundreds of stations, many more than before "multi-tasking" became a desirable trait, many more than before even science shows on TV featured a dance sound track under the narration. (So weird, I think.) Before we ate lots of sugar, before junk food, back in a time when people slept more, it was easier to think straight. It was! The truth is, in our society, technology and "lifestyle" provide everything necessary to fracture attention spans. It is not a disorder, it is a logical consequence of the way we live.
How about "antisocial personality disorder," "impulse control disorder," "alcohol induced mood disorder?" For heaven's sake. Wouldn't it be ok to just say so-and-so is a mean drunk? Does it have to be a disorder?
I guess once any kind of discomfort becomes an official disorder, drugs can be prescribed to address it. Maybe that's why we're so over the top in terms of trying to label every quirk of human character. Is that why? Or maybe the label helps people who aren't "normal" (whatever that means) feel there is a way they can become normal. You think?
Everyone is bi-polar, you know. Some are worse than others, and yes, when people don't sleep for weeks at a time or drop into suicidal depressions, of course they need some assistance. I'm not against seeking help, but there is a way in which that label makes it seem like having a variety of moods, up and down, is somehow abnormal. I assure you, it is not! Of course if you don't have any moods, that's a disorder, too! We just can't win at this game, hey?
Seasonal affective disorder is, if you ask me, normal. It makes sense to drop a little bit into depression during the darkest days of winter. Can you imagine feeling chipper and cheerful in the midst of the dreary month of January? That would be so weird. How about those who shut themselves indoors, bundle up in a blankie and read books at the height of summer? Is that, too, is a seasonal affective disorder?
We as a society are less accepting of the unique twists and turns of human character than we once were. I know the people who name these disorders are trying their hardest to help, but my goodness, it has gone too far, don't you think? I think so.
May you be quirky without hurting yourself or anyone else. Go ahead - be a character, yes? I say yes. Shalom.
Friday, December 16, 2011
Is laughter the best medicine? Well, it depends. If you have been suffering from pneumonia or bronchitis, laughter is just painful - though it does lift the spirit no matter what condition a person is in.
Big laughs of the guffaw variety are very healing in a general sense, because they squeeze and empty all the large lymph glands in the trunk of the body. A big sobbing cry will do the same thing, though is hardly as much fun.
Like cursing or screaming, a big laugh forcefully moves energy out of the body; it is a very cleansing activity. Laughing is a lot more fun than cursing or screaming, at least it is for me.
Giggling and even chuckling are polite forms of laughter, rather too demure to be physically healing, but every kind of laugh, from a titter to a roar, cheers the heart and raises the spirit.
The next time you feel laughter rising, bubbling, expanding within your body and soul, don't hold back. Those of us who laugh are so much the better for it!
Thursday, December 15, 2011
"We should feel excited about the problems we confront & our ability to deal with them," said Robert Anton Wilson. "Solving problems is one of the highest and most sensual of all our brain functions."
How do you work through problems? Have you ever wondered? Of course you think about them. Do you make lists of pros and cons or read books or seek the help of analytical thinkers? Sure you do! The rational function can sort many a personal quagmire.
In what other ways do you problem solve? If you take long walks as a way to move through the options for addressing whatever challenges you face, you're not the first person nor will you be the last. John Adams used to take ten or fifteen mile walks during which he contemplated the issues at hand in the early U.S. How astonishing to think of him out there walking, in 18th century shoes and white tights, without paved roads or sidewalks. He was tough!
Another common approach is to sleep on it. The people who study these things are now accepting how helpful it is to put an issue on the back burner for awhile, let the unconcious work on it. This is a link to a BBC article about the problem solving benefits of sleep - well - actually what they're referring to is dreaming as a problem solving method.
Answers to puzzles also come to people when they relax, such as in a hot shower or the bathtub. It's interesting to think about; hot water dissolves confusion ... sometimes!
When people get sick, they often try to figure out why. Illness is, to we curious, problem-solving homo sapiens, a puzzle that needs to be worked out. Pain, too, is often perceived as a problem to be solved and therefore vanquished. I don't know anyone who would say pain is an exciting problem to solve, but it is insistent.
Another of my many scientifically unsubstantiated theories revolves around the idea that illness and/or pain may be, in and of themselves, problem solving techniques. A hangover is the result of drinking too much, but it is also the body's way of solving the problem of too much alcohol in the system. A cold solves the problem of accumulated environmental toxins.
I think of cysts and benign tumors as pearls, i.e. the body's way of wrapping itself around irritants both physical and emotional. Oysters solve the problem of irritants the same way, with far more beautiful results. The discomfort that accompanies cysts and tumors points to something worth contemplating. Don't ask me what that something is! It depends on the individual and location of the growth. When clients have tumors surgically removed, I recommend they put everything they don't need any longer (metaphorically) into the growth. When it is removed, so is the problem or situation or way of thinking that has passed its expiration date. It doesn't always work, but is certainly worth a try.
Perhaps it's ridiculous for me to believe people work through problems by way of physical ailments. Still, the idea resonates strongly. Right now I'm suffering from a very minor cold which I've characterized as my way of cleansing 2011 from my system. It was a good year, hence the cold is mild. I wish to begin 2012 with a clean slate. It's a harmless belief, why not?
May you work your way through every challenge you face! So may it be. Shalom.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
It's an interesting term, "under the weather." What it means to me is a situation in which I'm not ill, but not well either. Being under the weather is a kind of limbo, a pause in which the body is grappling with something or another for which the outcome is not yet clear. Sometimes it means I'm coming down with something, a cold or the flu, but am not yet symptomatic except for a distinct sense that my energy is sinking below what I consider "normal." Other times it means my body is working harder than usual to maintain homeostasis because I haven't had enough rest or exercise, or because of a change in the weather, hence the term is apt.
For some people, an under the weather day signals the need to push harder, drink more coffee. Others simply ignore the lackluster mood that accompanies a vague sense of feeling off; they behave as if they feel fine in spite of bags under their eyes or chalky skin, dull hair and eyes.
Both of these approaches are quite disrespectful, if you ask me. What I like to do when I'm under the weather is take it easy. I might not get into bed, but I won't push myself. I eat simply, avoid alcohol and coffee, that sort of thing. Instead of an epic walk, I stroll. I want to stretch my legs, get my blood moving, no more but no less either. I also avoid loud music, loud people, traffic and other unsettling situations. This behavior is an act of kindness I do for myself.
Usually it only takes a day to rise above the malaise at which point I am fully able to take on the sturm und drang of life on planet Earth.
This approach reflects plain old common sense, yes? I say yes. The next time you're under the weather, take it easy for a day, will you please? The world will carry on until you feel better, I promise! May you be well. Shalom.
Saturday, December 10, 2011
Here is a link to a fascinating story from this week's New Yorker about what they call "the placebo effect."
I wrote a couple of posts in September about our contemporary belief in pills: Pills and Pills and Soapbox.
Naturally I'm tickled to see the New Yorker publish an article about the phenomenon.
In most cases, the larger the pill, the stronger the placebo effect. Two pills are better than one, and brand-name pills trump generics. Capsules are generally more effective than pills. There is even evidence to suggest that the color of medicine influences the way one responds to it: colored pills are more likely to relieve pain than white pills; blue pills help people sleep better than red pills; and green capsules are the best bet when it comes to anxiety medication.
I always love it when science finds its way back to mystery, a word that describes the essence of every kind of healing. We healers do what we can, but no healer can deny that our best efforts work sometimes but not at other times. No one knows why, and I am dubious that our current religion - science - will provide the answers we seek since healing itself is impossible to quantify. Its essence goes way beyond method, delivery and consistency. Healing is a wild force of nature, like magnetism perhaps. It can not be controlled!
The New Yorker article is actually more of a profile of Ted Kaptchuk than an exhaustive study of the placebo effect. Uncle Ted is a fascinating person who, other than the fact that he's blind to his faith in science, is a top notch thinker and investigator. He wrote the definitive texts for beginning students of Chinese medicine (in the United States) but then gave up practicing Chinese medicine twenty years ago because he couldn't force the discipline to fit within the pristine standards of science. I think if he persists in trying to cram the art and mystery of healing into the rational, cold-hearted confines of science, he is doomed to a whole lot of frustration and confusion. For instance he thinks placebos could be used medically, prescribed, I mean. Insurance companies making money from snake oil? Holy cow I hope not! But I salute him for trying to understand, rationally, the elaborate mystery of healing. You go, Uncle Ted!
All healing modalities feel like they're working when we believe they will. But even a pure faith will not cure everything. We are impossibly complicated, marvelous, mysterious beings as are our illnesses, dis-eases and recoveries from these conditions.
Life is never boring, hey? Shalom.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
I always feel a little sad when I hear people talk about their bodies as if the physical is only a shell meant to carry the soul for a little while. Just as sad is the idea that the body functions as a stick or a vehicle on which the all-important head can ride around. Every practice that mortifies the flesh seems absurd to me.
Many people expect their bodies to do their duty, as it were, without question, perfectly. These people become very annoyed when they're sick or in pain, as if the shell and/or stick has betrayed the contract between mind/body. When, I ask you, did the body sign on to perform at 110% no matter what? The mind is such a bully!
I'm talking about the people who are eternally sleep deprived, who eat non-food (processed and/or junk), don't exercise or exercise way too much, refuse to drink water, etc. I feel sad when I think of these people who are unwilling to provide even the basics for good health, yet expect to feel great nevertheless.
Some of us are downright mean when it comes to the body. We're supposed to weigh a certain amount. A few extra pounds is a travesty! A failure! A DISASTER! Weighing the wrong amount (whatever that is, depending on the individual) generates, in many people, incredibly destructive self loathing. Similarly some folks panic as they begin to age. The tortures aging people put themselves through, to "stay young" (not possible, hey?) It's alarming. For heaven's sake!
The body is a temple, a throne in which the soul resides for awhile. The body is the spaceship that makes possible the journey of life. The body is also, in and of itself, an ongoing miracle. The more I learn about anatomy, physiology, kinetics, the immune system, hormones, digestion, circulation, respiration, the shenanigans of the nervous system and how all these different aspects of a living body somehow work together to get us from point A to point B - no matter how poorly we treat ourselves - the more I am in awe and amazement. Don't even get me started about what generates the systemic cooperation, the arrangement of genes in the DNA helix inside EVERY CELL IN YOUR BODY!! It's a magic code inherited from your ancestors, with markers that signal the switching on and off of certain signals. Wow. At the very least we owe our bodies some respect, yes? I say yes.
Today while looking in the mirror, check out and appreciate what's RIGHT about your body, will you? There's more there, going FOR you, than against you, I promise. Shalom!
Monday, December 5, 2011
The greatest medical minds of all time have tried to figure out how to induce the healing moment. It's normal to want to help others who are suffering, it's a good thing. Hence, we cajole, plead, lecture - even threaten - our near and dear ones when we see them stuck in a pattern of dis-ease. We make the appointments for them, even though it's plain that their hearts are not in the process. If they see the people we think they should, it usually doesn't click, because it isn't time yet, they have not yet experienced the healing moment.
No one can be talked into the miracle of the healing moment.
Sometimes the person who is suffering can be talked into going to the doctor who can, depending on what's happening, treat the physical side of the equation. Allopathic medicine does not address the spiritual and emotional components of illness. Symptoms may be alleviated, but the source of the suffering will continue to smolder, unless the person suffering experiences the healing moment.
Modern medical science can not replace the mystery of the healing moment.
Some people turn to a higher power. They pray for a change, a shift, they pray so hard, so sincerely! It's very hard to judge if or how prayer works, or even what it means to say prayer works. What does that mean, anyway? I pray every day. Sometimes I ask for specific things including healing for those I love who are suffering, but my experience of prayer isn't incantation. For me it is the way in which I develop my relationship with God. I might ask God to please help so and so who is struggling, but I'm not specific about how that help might look. Do my prayers "work"? You tell me.
The healing moment does not arrive specifically as a response to prayers.
Timing is everything when it comes to the healing moment. How much suffering is "enough?" I think we work through things, many things, in this human form. I believe illness, injury, pain and suffering can be redemptive in visible and invisible ways. Some suffering feels (to me) like the fulfillment of a karmic contract. Sometimes it seems that the suffering person has taken on a bit of the family soul that needs healing and/or releasing. Family issues get passed down from one generation to the next. Eventually, like a hot potato, a family issue lodges itself at last in the tissues or organs of a particular individual who must then physically defeat the energy form. Other times people feel "stuck," unmoving and unchanging. Sometimes suffering seems to be more about intertia than anything else.
Illness and suffering has its own lifespan, just like everything else. Towards the end of that arc, something happens in people, something is uncorked, or plugged in, a corner is turned. Something happens! The healing moment is a fulcrum, a benchmark in the life story of disease. Its timing can not be altered, it happens when it's supposed to, not a second before.
The point is, no matter what the suffering is about, there's no way to rush through it, no way to induce or invoke the healing moment. Every illness has its own mythology that must unfold in its own way and own time. You can not induce the healing moment! You can not push the river. Lord knows, I've tried.
I try to remember the above every time the urge to harangue one of my clients rises up in me. I know suffering is a part of every life, which is one of the many reasons people come to see me in the first place, but I don't have to like it. I don't like it.
Sunday, December 4, 2011
I've written many times, on my other blog, about the mystery of what I call the healing moment. I even published an article in the local newspaper a few years ago on the subject.
I could go on and on about it, but briefly: what I'm talking about is the day, the minute, the second, when a suffering person decides, on every level, he or she has had enough. The healing moment is the day you give notice at a job that's toxic, make the decision to leave an unhealthy relationship, or - the other way around - the healing moment is the day you propose marriage to the person you love, it's the moment when you are finally strong and clear enough to make the commitment. When the healing moment arrives, you realize no one can "save" you except yourself. It's the day you make that phone call you've been thinking about forever, to a therapist or healer. Your hand picks up the phone, and dials. You make the appointment. This is the healing moment.
Physically it looks like a high fever breaking, waking up after being unconscious due to an injury or illness, that sort of thing. In AA culture, they call it "bottoming out."
People spend years suffering, in chronic physical, emotional, spiritual pain. During the time of suffering, making a change in order to resolve the problem, alleviate the pain, seems impossible. In the thick of it, those suffering believe themselves to be too weak, powerless, or hopeless to change their situations. But when the healing moment arrives, suddenly these same people kick it into gear. They seek the help they need to heal, just like that. Snap! Once the healing moment has arrived, nothing - not anything - can stop them from rising up out of the swampy problems they've been immersed in.
I'm not saying that whatever the problem was can be solved in one day, or one moment. Once the healing moment has passed, the work begins. The healing moment unhinges much of the old pattern of suffering, which leads inevitably to a degree of chaos. Healing is a very dynamic process - it ain't for sissies! However in spite of the rigors of healing, it's miraculous to witness as well as experience. The healing moment means taking the reins, the steering wheel, taking charge, assuming responsibility. It brings courage and determination to the person who has experienced it. During the process of healing, people continue to suffer, at least for awhile, sometimes for a long while, but they are addressing the situation rather than being continually sucked into the vortex of the problem.
I've said enough today. I'll write tomorrow about invoking the healing moment. I've thought about it a lot.
Today may you turn a corner, may you align yourself with health and well being, may you take on all your beautiful human power. So may it be. Shalom.
Saturday, December 3, 2011
Many people worry about very old age because they believe old age involves a lot more aches and pains than earlier in life. My uber-great osteopath/homeopath in San Francisco said, "When you get old, you feel every old injury. They all come back."
Yeah. It isn't an appetizing idea, I agree. But, it isn't just old people who hurt. Infants endure a lot of suffering, too. In particular kicking the digestive system into gear takes many months, sometimes even longer. Babies' stomachs hurt much of the time. They catch every cold, run frighteningly high fevers - surely they must suffer terribly from the pain of all those sore throats, headaches, earaches, stomach aches, etc. I've wondered if they also suffer from growing pains while in utero. They grow so fast in those first 9 months! Wouldn't that hurt? Growing pains are a well-documented part of pre-puberty, as well. That's why fifth and sixth graders can not sit still.
Life on earth is painful at every stage. It's sobering to contemplate. Pema Chodron and many other Buddhists practice a meditation technique in which they breathe in suffering, breathe out relief. It's not magic, it's more like a wish or prayer sent out with every exhale. It's a beautiful, strenuous practice. Given how much physical pain is part of the bargain of life, I'm grateful to all who practice tonglen. Very grateful! Thank you.
Of course life on earth is also beautiful, interesting, funny, unpredictable and complicated, and there are many pleasures included in this existence. So many!
L'chaim, y'all. Shalom.
Thursday, December 1, 2011
"Soldiers march, warriors dance." - great teacher Kila Choudbury
Warriors and healers are made of the same stuff. As a person who is pathologically afraid of any type of physical violence, it's hard to accept, but I know it's true.
My great teachers of shi'atsu told us that the same points we use to heal are used by martial artists to render the opponent incapable of fighting. Holding, pressing or needling a point is healing, but if you give it a serious jab, it can be extremely harmful. Isn't this the way of so many things? Everything is poison and medicine, depending on the situation and dosage.
It's up to the practitioner to decide how much is enough but not too much. Both healers and warriors must regularly decide how far to go. During a massage, sometimes we therapists find a particularly congested area of muscle. (Some people would call this a "knot" but in truth your muscles do not tie themselves in knots - when they're engaged and congested, they are stiffer to the touch than relaxed muscles, but they are NOT in knots. It doesn't help to think about it that way.) When we come across a place that is engaged, it's hard to resist the urge to release it fully. We push, squeeze, apply friction. Sometimes all of the above does little good. Sometimes we want to grab a meat tenderizer and just start beating on our clients. Well. I never do - but the image is appealing.
One of my great teachers said, "You don't have to fix everything in one session." Thank goodness for my great teachers. And anyway, due to the interconnectnedness of fascia, sometimes working on someone's knee will release a hip flexor, for instance. Beating a dead horse (as it were) serves only to bring more energy to an already spasmed muscle. Just like a warrior, it's my responsibility as a healer to know when to move on.
Many aspects of healing mimic warfare. The immune system is all about warding off invaders, it is a powerful army perfectly suited to protect our bodies. What I'm thinking about this morning is how, in allopathic medicine, we're so fixated on killing invading organisms that we systematically destroy the natural immune systems of those who are ill. We kill our own armies, with chemotherapy and antibiotics and in so many other ways. It's a scorched earth policy. These drugs are one-eyed soldiers. Allegedly they're marching against a particular enemy, but there's no wisdom, no discerning warriorship in chemo or antibiotics. They exist outside the ecosystem of the individual. They lay waste to the landscape of the body, they pillage and plunder, killing everything, both harmful and beneficial. It takes a long time to recover afterwards.
Societally we are developing many more auto-immune disorders than we used to. Even aside from allopathic drugs, we're systematically (it sometimes seems) trying to defeat the human immune system. I wonder about that, I really do. Some guy recently was completely cured of leukemia when his immune system came to the rescue (because of some stem cell experiment) and killed the cancer - forever. He is completely cured. The immune system can save us! Seems clear as a bell to me.
There are many days when I wish sincerely my society would focus more on the healing edge of the spectrum than continually sending tougher and tougher one-eyed soldiers in to do the work. I really do!
May your day be peaceful. Shalom.
Monday, November 28, 2011
No pain, no gain. Hmm...what does that mean? Does it mean be tough, don't be a sissy, prove your strength by enduring pain? Well? What else could it possibly mean?
Pain is the body's way of saying STOP. It seems clear as a bell to me. Remember, the body never lies. Though it is not my intention, sometimes during a massage, I get a bit further into the tissue than was needed. The client's body will react with a quick spasm, sometimes the client even says "ouch" out loud. I normally say "I'm sorry," - to the body I'm apologizing, to the living tissue I've inadvertently attacked. You would be surprised how often clients say, "It didn't hurt. I need this." They need me to hurt them? Huh?
I don't care what their minds believe to be true, when a muscle spasms as the result of too much pressure, it DID hurt. It's an interesting disconnect.
The idea of "pain threshold" is very popular. Some people are proud to have a "higher" pain threshold than other people. I wonder what that really means - that they truly do not perceive pain, or they're great at denial, or they believe what doesn't kill them will make them stronger? The answer is probably a combination of many things, including physiological differences. I'm also fascinated by the phrase, "I don't believe in pain killers." Can anyone explain what that's all about? Fear of addiction? There is a place for pain medication. If you've just had your gall bladder removed, I advise you to take anything they'll give you. That really hurts! The trick is to wean off the meds as you begin to heal.
Being tough is an instinctual imperative, or was back when our survival depended upon physical strength. Once we became weak, we were put out to pasture. And though at this moment in history, we do not have to be physically powerful to survive, I worry about those who avoid pain at all costs. They are in a habit of taking pain relievers, mood enhancers and stabilizers, and antidepressants. I'm not talking about clinically depressed people or those who suffer from conditions that are always painful. Those people DO need these medications in an ongoing way, I'm talking about regular folks who go into an odd funk, get on the meds but then never get off them. A lot has been written about how glazed we Americans are as a result of all the psychoactives we take.
Many aspects of living in a body are painful. People suffer from pain on every level: physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally. How much pain (of any kind) is strengthening? At what point do we tip over into a kind of numbness from enduring too much or too little?
Healers have been trying to work this out forever. It's not likely I'm going to come up with the conclusive answer! Do you have an opinion?
May your day be pain free, so may it be. Shalom.
Saturday, November 26, 2011
I've been wondering what - if anything - I should write about successfully navigating the holiday season. Of course I could offer the usual (and completely useless) advice: try not to go overboard, avoid sugar and alcohol, keep exercising, etc. Please. The holidays are about going overboard! You can go on a diet in January. Avoid sugar and alcohol? The people who write columns like that - what planet are they from?
Once upon a time, before electricity, winter was dark, cold and scary for most folks at least. Even if the harvest was bountiful, no one knew how long winter would last, no one knew for certain there would be enough food in the root cellar to keep the family fed until spring. As the days grew shorter, people regularly gathered around blazing fires, sang songs, danced, told stories, drank, got crazy - to generate energy, warmth, and to forget their worries for awhile.
We are very high fallutin' now, many of us, I should say. We flip a switch, touch a pad, et voila! we are warm and cozy, which makes it harder to understand why we feel compelled to attend every holiday party, why we feel we MUST buy EVERYONE the perfect gift. It is instinctual, the stress and frenzy. It's a part of human DNA. The survival instinct is really powerful!
One sad complication of modern life is that not only are we frantic to celebrate the season, we also feel compelled to keep up with the everyday stuff: working, going to school and such. It's not actually possible, as there are only 24 hours in a day, but we try. We try so hard.
It helps me to remember, when stuck in a traffic jam, running late, still needing to run several errands, that the frenzy I and all those other people stuck in traffic are engaging in is instinctual. Think of all the thousands of generations of ancestors who preceded us. Electricity is a recent invention. We are hard-wired to react as we do, though it can be hard to remember while standing in a long line at the supermarket, for instance.
The other thing I try to remember is to relax my jaw. Here's how: part your lips slightly and your teeth slightly, now relax your tongue. Relax your eyeballs. Seriously - this helps. (If you don't know how to relax your tongue and eyeballs, pretend you know how. You will quickly figure it out.) Now take three deep breaths, slowly inhaling until your lungs are full, then letting the exhale escape all at once. If you can, let a sound accompany the exhale. Ahhhhhh is a really good sound.
There is no escape from instinct, no matter how much you insist you're past all of that. Your cerebellum is one powerful hunk of brain matter, believe me. When - or if - you get stressed out during the holiday season now upon us, cut yourself some slack, ok? You are a human being, linked inextricably to your ancestors through blood, spirit and karma.
It helps to remember this, too, shall pass. The solstice will arrive and the days will begin to lengthen. We're going to make it through the winter, what a relief.
Monday, November 21, 2011
We Americans suffer from a shared delusion that more is always better. I have clients, for instance, who have to wear special inserts in their shoes, braces around their knees, etc. so they can quench their addiction to running. Anytime I suggest they try some other kind of exercise, their eyes get wide and they look a little panicked. Then they say something like, "But I'm only running 10 miles three times a week! I've cut back." Wow. Exercise is good for everyone, but when your feet and knees are falling to pieces, it's clear you're running too much, yes?
Our cars are too big, our homes, too, though we fill up even the biggest houses with unbelievable amounts of stuff - not all of us, but many. Acquiring more and more is part of the American lifestyle. More shoes and clothing, more kitchen gadgets, more pets, more kids, more money. It is our national personality to be jovial and expansive. That point of view - that more is better - seeps into every corner of the American mind.
So it seems rather hilarious that we celebrate Thanksgiving, a ritual of abundance. Like we need more abundance - for heaven's sake.
A lot of well meaning healers would now launch into a big spiel about moderation and good sense on Thanksgiving. Why not avoid the carbs maybe or make sure you get out for a brisk walk after dinner? It's almost cruel to suggest we shouldn't really, whole-heartedly, celebrate the feast, ridiculous to suppose we should hold back and think about calories. Holy cow, I would never suggest such a thing! No way I want to rain on your parade.
You don't have to be a Viking on Thursday, showing your prowess at eating and drinking, but by all means, feast. Enjoy. Laugh. Wear your sweats so you'll be comfortable. Thanksgiving is our national prosperity ritual. Don't be stingy - enjoy!
We are so lucky to have far more than we need. I am thankful for that. Cheers!
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Thoroughly unprepared, we take the step into the afternoon of life. Worse still, we take this step with the false presupposition that our truths and our ideals will serve us as hitherto. But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life's morning. For what was great in the morning will be little at evening. And what in the morning was true... at evening will have become a lie.
~ Carl Jung
Oh now Carl, it isn't that bad. Some things work no matter what age you are, some things never work whether you're young, middle aged, or old. C'mon.
Based on this quote, I decided yesterday that, at age almost 59, I am in the happy hour of life. It is a very happy time.
Coming of age usually means moving from childhood to adulthood. But I think there are so many comings of age in a human lifetime and no I do not compare them to hours in the day. This is yet another thing I could write a non-fiction book about.
Being in the happy hour of life means I'm about to come of old age. There is no way around it. I read somewhere recently that no one has yet written about old age in a way that helps other navigate through it because no one survives old age to reflect back upon it. Hmmm. One thing I can say for sure about old age, even though I'm not quite there yet, is that Bette Davis was absolutely correct, it ain't for sissies.
Early adulthood is about expansion. People marry, have families, work hard, rise in rank in their careers, buy houses, then bigger houses. They are coming of adulthood with its many challenges during those decades, hence they rarely have time to think about what kind of coming of age lies ahead. This is exactly as it should be.
The decade of the 40s is about building character. It's a challenging decade in which aging first becomes obvious for contemporary Americans. We mature young and age late at this moment in history.
The recognition that it's happening - that we're aging - can be kind of a bitter moment for some people. The mind does not age, that's why it's such a shock.
The realization is sobering. People think, "Oh my god! THIS is my life? This? What about all those other lives I planned, like being a brain surgeon or living in Paris half the year?" An urgency to kick it into gear accompanies the decade of the 40s. Time's a wastin'. At age 45 we can still believe we can have it all; we try hard to expand even wider and grander than in our thirties. We push ourselves. It's kind of a bitch.
I say we but what I mean is me and a whole lot of other folks I know and have known. A bunch of my clients have just entered the decade of their 40s. I'm watching them begin to wake up to their mortality. It's interesting to observe.
Once people enter the decade of the 50s, the mood lightens considerably. They still might think, "Oh god, THIS is my life?" But they'll also decide that their lives are fine. In the 50s, from what I've seen and in my own experience, we release many expectations. It's very liberating.
What age are you coming of these days? Whatever age it is, may it be sweet! Shalom.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Fall is when the green world cleanses. I love that squirrel nest, now visible as the leaves drop. It looks very cozy.
The digestive system plays a huge role in good health and immunity, oh my goodness. You are what you eat, people, believe me. This post is about the benefits of taking a break from your usual diet. I have some rules around what I think you should eat that are far less severe than you might guess, probably not even worth mentioning.
Here's what I think: less is more when it comes to cleanses and detox diets. Yes I agree, every now and then a minor fast is a good thing. I'm talking about a one day juice or broth fast, or skipping a meal here or there, giving your poor digestive tract a break.
As for the big ole seven and eight day fasts, the serious detox cleanse diets that go on and on and are very harsh - I'm against all that for the most part. Suddenly starving yourself is very hard on your liver, kidneys and heart. The body scrambles to make sense of the change, and until it catches up, everything is out of balance. The severe headaches and fatigue that often accompany these diets are as much about the distress of your internal organs as what the people who create the diets usually tell you, that you are releasing toxins.
The truth is, your body is always releasing toxins; it is part of the ongoing process of being alive. Does your body give up more toxins in the midst of a harsh cleanse? I'm unconvinced. Digestion takes a lot of energy, yes. People who eat too much put the same kind of stress on the liver, heart and kidneys, and suffer from the same kinds of symptoms, that people on extreme cleanse diets experience. Too much or too little - neither approach is helpful.
If you are very healthy, a big ole detox is fine - after a day or two, you'll be high as a kite. Don't take it too far though because you need healthy bacteria in your gut. If you wash all of it out, your stomach will hurt.
Harsh cleansing diets are also sometimes a good idea for people who are terribly sick. Sometimes a crisis like that can help disrupt whatever is making them so ill. I have a friend who says fasting is a cure for everything except hunger. But for the rest of us who eat well but perhaps too much or too little, and never perfectly, who partake of the pollutants of mind, body and spirit that are part of life in Washington DC, a harsh detox can be debilitating. I know people who go on these detox diets, but continue their usual insane work schedule. And they wonder why they feel so horrible in the midst of it! Whoa.
If you're feeling sluggish and think a break would help, drink clear broths and clear juices for one day, just one day. The next day, east simply and gently, eat foods that are easy to digest like soups and stews. Don't eat too much. After 2 or 3 days, you'll feel like a million bucks and so will your liver, heart and kidneys.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
If you love rushing around, then you can skip this post. Some people feel energized when they're rushing, pushing, going faster and faster through their day. I'm not one of those, but I believe it's possible to be fundamentally and temperamentally fast.
Some people rush around because they believe they're supposed to, they assume they'll accomplish more by hurrying (which is actually not always true). For these people, rushing is very stressful, but they do it anyway. It's easy to spot the people who could benefit from slowing down. They're the ones who get so very cranky if they're made to slow down, like in a long queue at the supermarket, or if they're stopped behind a car turning left. For these people, the sympathetic nervous system is cranked up to eleven. It's fight or flight all the way. They are miserable with stress, yet frantic to keep going ever faster.
Especially in an urban setting, rushing becomes the norm. I get it, I do, because on the rare occasion that I need to drive a car, I, too, am in a panic to get through the light before it turns red, even if I'm not running late. I have to tell myself over and over that a red light lasts about 30 seconds. What leads me to believe I can't I stop for 30 seconds?
One of the easiest ways to stop rushing for no reason is to make sure there is as much energy behind you as in front of you. Here's how you do it: imagine you're standing at the center of a chalk circle about 3 to 4 feet in diameter. Imagine the circle becomes three dimensional, a tube of light that extends upwards into the sky. Breathe. Pretend your breath fills the tube, with as much breath behind you as in front.
One of my theories about why we rush around so much is that people push all their energy out in front of themselves, giving no energy or awareness to the back body. Hence they are compelled to run forwards in a vain attempt to regain possession of the center of their energy. But as soon as they're there, they push the energy forwards again. Sigh.
Sometimes I have to rush; there is too much to do and not quite enough time to do it. But I try not to make a habit of hurrying. Life is short, I want to enjoy it while it's going by. Yes? I say yes.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Say you catch a cold. Once you realize what's happening, you treat the cold in whatever way you are accustomed, or according to your beliefs (as all medicine is faith based). When you're well, or, for many people, when you're almost well, you go back to work, after cleaning up the kleenexes and magazines scattered around your house. Back to the grind.
I think people miss a step in healing when they skip the last moments of sickness in order to get back to their usual routines. There's a lull at the end of every illness at which time the aches and pains have been vanquished, but the body is still in the process of return. The fleeting, fragile state of post-illness is one in which we are more vulnerable than usual. In this state, we're more open than usual, we take in the world at a very deep level. Just as during the first few moments after waking in the morning, we're a bit tenuous, slightly disoriented, neither here nor there.
Consciously encountering beauty at that time is strengthening, encouraging, and cultivates all the best things about being a human. At the tail end of an illness, its effect is potent in the best way possible.
What I mean by beauty is: go out and walk around if the day is gorgeous, look at the sky, smell the air. Or go to a museum, gaze only at the most beautiful paintings (leave the provocative art for another day). Or switch on your favorite, most beautiful music. Read poetry, or do all of the above.
You don't have to go on and on; one afternoon in a museum is enough to infuse your fragile energy body with the healing power of beauty. Encountering beauty brings everything back into balance. The next time you get sick, give this a try. The routines of work and mundane life will still be there waiting for you afterwards, perhaps stacked even a little higher because you took the extra time, but you will be far better prepared to take on the world with good cheer if you wrap up the loose ends of sickness with beauty. Yes? I say yes.
Take in some beauty today even if you haven't been recently sick, OK? Shalom.
Monday, November 7, 2011
A really nasty cold virus is making the rounds here in Washington DC - an excellent excuse to post my spiel. Everyone has ideas about how to deal with a cold, yes? I've heard so many different approaches, haven't you? When you start sniffling, people begin offering their suggestions, unbidden mostly. Chew raw garlic, drink a hot toddy, take some over-the-counter cold remedy, or dose yourself with Zinc. Etc. etc. etc. I could go on and on, right?
My ex housemate used to outrun his colds - a novel approach. He would drink tons of water, then work harder, move around faster, drive fast down the freeway for awhile. I believe he thought, at some level, he could outrun the virus. Very funny.
No matter what you do, your cold will resolve itself within 4-7 days, which begs the question of whether or not any approach is actually effective. Hmmm. Probably not, hey?
I think the "common cold" can never be cured because it is a healthy, normal way in which the body cleanses and detoxes. The immune system takes on a virus in order to strengthen itself. In the process of going through the internal battle between virus and immune system, we're given a chance to clean out and refresh, if we're willing to go with the flow, that is. There is no such thing as beating a cold, no matter what people tell you. I say take advantage of these opportunities to rest and detox. If you can't beat a cold, go with it!
My approach includes everything that will keep the flow going. Decongestants stop the sinuses from draining, allow the bacteria to ferment and develop into full blown infections. I avoid that stuff, always. If you just blow your nose, you can get rid of the bacteria and defeated virus. Mucus serves a purpose. It's sticky; it absorbs a lot of crap that can be expelled. I buy a big ole box of kleenex, then let 'er rip. To all the toxins gathered up and expelled during a cold, I say Hasta la vista, baby.
Dress warmly, drink only warm liquids, eat only warm food. No salads or cold drinks, please! Soupy, stewy food will not overwork the digestive system so the body can devote more energy to defeating the virus. Starve a cold? Yes. Don't starve, but don't overeat, don't eat super rich foods that ordinarily don't even sound good in the midst of a cold.
Sleep long and hard. Ask a neighbor to walk your dog. Take it easy - you're detoxing, remember? Read magazines or watch stupid movies. If you're really sick, just look at catalogs. Give even your mind a rest; that, too is cleansing. Lie around your house, let your hair get rumpled, let it all go, people! That's what a cold makes possible.
If you're still feverish and completely stuffed up after 5 or 6 days, then you have to go see the doctor. That means your body is not up to fighting off the virus and you need help. But give your body a chance first, if at all possible, please?
My two cents. I bet you all have your own cold remedy ideas. I would love to hear them.
Be well, or if you have a cold, gesundheit! Take good care, please? Thanks and shalom.
Friday, November 4, 2011
Yesterday's sunrise was beautiful.
I resist every kind of health, self-care testimonial because really, who knows why anyone gets well? It's conjecture as to why people get sick, too. We can connect certain illnesses with viruses or bacteria, but honestly there are zillions of these little guys in and around everyone. Why do some fall ill while others remain completely healthy? No one knows for certain, though many people have a theory or two. Or three.
We can connect wellness to treatments administered, at least sometimes, but the results of every kind of health care are impossible to predict. We keep trying which is a good thing.
Medicine - all medicine - is faith based. That's why people say things like, "I don't believe in Chinese medicine." That's like saying I don't believe in fishing. Of course to catch fish, you have to know how to fish. You have to be near a body of water in which there are fish, and after that a whole bunch of conditions must exist before the fish will bite. Also there is always an element of chaos (i.e. "The big one got away.") But - what does fishing have to do with faith? Fishing is a survival art whether you believe in it or not. So is medicine. (Thanks to Evan Rabinowitz for the analogy.)
Testimonials always kick my skeptical mind into gear - a good thing, I think. If there really was a medicine that always worked for everyone, no one would suffer, right? I'm glad that certain treatments work well for certain individuals. It's encouraging but it's never the whole story, not ever. Testimonials - for anything - are snake oil salesmenship, I tell you, preying on the human urge to believe. My two cents? When you are ill, try to briefly put aside your belief systems. Try the least invasive approach first - unless it is an emergency in which case you should call 911 immediately! Work your way through different approaches. Find a healer who cares about you, who is interested in what's happening, try what he or she suggests. Visualize. Then cross your fingers and hope for the best. It always comes back around to faith, every time.
All that said, my jaw is on the ground. I heard from one client today that a broken bone which previously would not heal has begun to knit itself together just since he's received Reiki from me. He is an athelete and a rational thinker. Reiki was his last hope. Now he is a true believer. !
Right after that, another client called. She had been suffering from abdominal pain and bleeding that led to the diagnosis of an ovarian cyst and uterine polyp. They did some ultrasounds and some other kind of scan - MRI? I can't keep track of all the scans - which lead to the diagnosis. She came to me for a couple of intense sessions of Reiki after she was diagnosed.
A few minutes ago, she called from the parking lot of the hospital following the latest set of scans to tell me the cyst and polyp are gone! She believes it was the Reiki that turned the tide. That's why she couldn't wait to call me.
Who knows why these two people are on the mend? Maybe it was the Reiki, maybe it was something or somethings else, or a combination of all of the above. I'm not going to lapse into a big ole spiel, no way. But wow. Wow.
May you be well! Shalom.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Uh-oh. The holiday season is right around the corner, or if you think the way retailers wish you would, it began on Halloween.
The holiday season is an intense time of SHOULDS, many of which clash with each other. We should feast and toast the season and each other, but we shouldn't gain weight. We should feast but not feast, in other words. It's so confusing. We should be jovial and celebrative, but we're supposed to also be productive at work which means we can't really let go and have fun, yes? We should be happy to see our families, but we have to fight our way through overcrowded airports, deal with delayed flights, or endure long miserable drives through inclement weather. We shouldn't get so stressed out, but due to the heinousness of travel at this time of year, we pick fights with those we love best when we SHOULD be relaxed and happy.
Those of us who are single and did not have children are called "orphans" or "strays" when we're invited to holiday gatherings. I know I SHOULDN'T be insulted by the well meaning people who want to make sure I'm not alone, but ... well ... I do find it insulting. Of course that's my problem.
The gatherings, feasting, toasting and celebration made sense once upon a time when these activities were part of a seasonal ritual. Work and other everyday activities were put aside in order to welcome the winter solstice, feasting was important since no one was exactly sure whether or not the food stored after harvest would last through the winter. The noise of gatherings and the lighting of many fires and candles was a ritual act that generated heat and light, much needed before electricity during the season of long, cold nights. It all made sense then.
Now, it's harder to connect with the reasons we celebrate the holidays. In the cities, it's never dark. If you're cold, simply crank up the thermostat. Hunger can be satisfied quickly and easily. Is it any wonder it's so hard to connect gracefully with the pressure around celebrating? What's the point? Why make and celebrate feasts without gaining an ounce when we aren't hungry, why must we buy and give gifts without going broke when we aren't afraid of the coming winter (gifts are offerings to God, or were), why must we get into "the holiday spirit" when our last nerves are frazzled?
Even for Christians, the celebrations have to be somewhat confusing. What do snow covered evergreens and fat Nordic dudes dressed in fur trimmed red outfits, flying around in reindeer driven sleighs, have to do with the birth of Jesus? Well? I don't think it ever snows in Bethlehem.
It's a lot easier to get worn out during the holidays, hence a lot easier to get sick. You SHOULDN'T get sick you know, because you will never finish all your holiday-related tasks. If you succumb to the viruses of early winter, my prescription is: cancel all plans and make no apologies, climb into bed with a cup of hot tea and watch any Hugh Grant movie. When you feel better, schedule a massage. It really helps.
May the force be with you through the holidays! May we remember why we celebrate, keep a sense of humor, and try not to feel so pressured. Cheers! and Shalom.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
There are many reason to cultivate emotions such as gratitude, brotherly and sisterly love, forgiveness, and compassion. Experiencing these feelings creates a ground substance in which healing can occur on every level, including physically. All of these emotions create mental spaciousness, lower blood pressure, reduce stress, help the muscles relax.
Of course there are also emotional states that do not contribute to healing, such as bitterness and resentment. Anger can be, as Pema Chodron says, a "piercing" experience that reveals the truth. But if we cling to anger, it will burn us. Pema is very smart.
One of the most destructive emotional states is blame, both self blame and blaming other(s). In every case, this emotional state is disempowering. Worst of all, blame leads to punishment and revenge, bitterness and resentment, rarely to healing. Blame raises blood pressure, increases stress. When you blame yourself or others, you hold your breath, clench your jaw. Yep. Blame is not good for us.
Blaming creates a false reality in which every situation is black and white, in which one person or side of a situation holds all the cards, "good" and "bad." When we blame others, we blind ourselves to the role we played in the situation.
Self blame is a form of grandiosity, a state of mind in which we convince ourselves no one else participated in what went down. It's a nefarious type of controlling behavior. And it is never true. Life is complicated, and shit happens, pardon my french. It would be easier if the world were black and white, but it is not.
In my society, assigning blame always takes precedence. After a snowstorm, it's the power company's fault when trees limbs cut off the electricity. In relationships it's the partner having an affair who caused a rift, etc. etc. There's a way in which it's a relief to feel blameless even though that includes powerlessness, or to take on all the blame. It simplifies things, I guess, but it is not healing.
In a perfect world, people would examine their motivations, consider the ways in which they contribute to situations gone wrong, learn from the experience, then move directly towards compassion, forgiveness and healing. In the case of the snowstorm, perhaps the power company is culpable, but there's also the truth that we demand electricity 24/7 while, in most of the world, that is a ridiculous expectation. Should we blame the trees for growing too big? Or the weather gods for dumping the snow? Or should we try to figure out ways to use less electricity, cultivate a sense of humor for when the inevitable takes place, invest in candles and flashlights?
I do NOT blame people for getting upset when the power grid goes down. It's scary - the survival instinct kicks in at times like that. I get it. But I also think we could learn to deal with these situations perhaps slightly more gracefully. Yes? I say yes.
I know this isn't a perfect world! Hence: lawsuits, finger pointing, disempowerment, and, in the aftermath, a lack of time/energy to truly heal. I have demonized, pointed the finger, thrown away my own power many a time. What a waste of good energy!
Anymore, when I hear about a divorce, or that someone has been fired or suddenly quit their job, I don't ask what happened. The answer is, the marriage or job wasn't working, so it ended. When I can manage to avoid blame, it's possible to lend energy to the recovery from these sad events.
I try to avoid blame whenever possible. The more I practice, the closer I get to living a no-fault existence. I have a ways to go, of course. Am I a dreamer? Maybe, but I'm not the only one. May your day today be blameless, no fault. Shalom!
Saturday, October 29, 2011
A fleecy sky such as this always heralds the coming of a big storm.
When people get sick, I tend to be more interested in the conditions that existed before the illness than in the illness itself. What is the ground in which the virus took hold? Consider the source, when you catch a cold. In what ways was your resistance lowered?
Similarly, I'm not as interested in the substance or activity to which people become addicted as I am in what that addiction addresses. What is the body/mind getting from the behavior and/or substance? What is the body/mind trying to accomplish?
Tying one on occasionally has its benefits. People blow off steam, let go in ways perhaps they never would otherwise. DC is a drinking kind of town. People are so tightly wound; even if they exercise and meditate, sometimes it isn't enough.
But what is going on when people drink to excess every day? Perhaps this behavior suggests that the body/mind doesn't know any other way to relax, blow off steam. Sometimes it means there is something going on that the daily drunk is unable to face or tolerate. Or maybe it's a habit. It can be as simple as that. The drinking is not as interesting to me as what is driving the person to drink. I've known a lot of dry drunks who have successfully quit alcohol, but still have a ways to go in terms of addressing the basis for the addiction.
Alcoholism is just one example of addiction. It's not always about a substance after all. For some folks, anger, anxiety or another intense emotion is addictive, maybe because of the adrenalin rush that accompanies these strong feelings.
Everyone is addicted to something or another, at least I think so. Sometimes I believe at the root of all addictions is the overpowering human urge to control the uncontrollable. We so want to wrap our minds and arms around the mysteries of the world. I don't blame anyone for the tyranny of addiction; my heart goes out to those who suffer most from addictive incarceration. It is like being in jail.
Recovery from any kind of addiction is a form of soul retrieval. It takes spiritual heroism to recover! I am in awe of those who tackle and triumph over their addictions.
It's interesting to think about.
Happy Sunday from super cold rainy Washington DC. Shalom.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
A perfect autumn rose. You would not believe how good it smelled.
Have you ever heard anyone say, "I learned that the easy way." Yeah. Me neither. The truth (my truth) is that wisdom is heard earned and slow to accumulate, but well worth the blood, sweat and tears. Hence if people really lived as I suggested yesterday: knowing their limits, sleeping when tired, eating when hungry, etc. - well - what a boring world this would be.
Part of our mandate while we dwell on this beautiful, dangerous planet, is to, with some regularity, step outside the comfort zone in order to prove ourselves to ourselves, or for the good of others, or just because it was there. If we were to always adhere to our limits, mistakes would NOT be made, and nothing new would come into being except by virtue of natural disasters (small and large). Here's a link to a New York Times article about the art of building character, which is all about failure. Really provocative reading! (The link color is a little hard to see. Click on the words "all about failure.")
In fact I believe strongly that through the alchemies of injury and illness, on several levels we are working through things, locating strength, presence, compassion and power as we persevere and recover.
One of my great teachers used to say that the first step in healing involves disorganizing the pattern of the dis-ease. For deeply entrenched patterns, that might mean a terrible case of the flu or pneumonia, a serious bump on the head, or even worse. I know more than one person who quit smoking during a bout of pneumonia. They couldn't bear to smoke while ill, hence were better prepared never to pick up another cigarette after they recovered. When my sister was diagnosed with leukemia, she dumped her awful boyfriend and went to France, something she had always dreamed of but never seriously pursued. The impact that surgery, chemo and radiation has on the people who suffer with cancer is truly awe-inspiring. People are so much stronger than they might believe.
I'm a great proponent of common sense, taking care, and paying attention to the needs of the body. I also believe that life lived without risk, injury or illness is not possible, nor is it desireable. Just like everything else about health, striking a balance between living sensibly and taking chances is an interesting challenge.
May you live in interesting times! Shalom.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
We live in such a weird historical moment in terms of health and well being. There are standards, set in stone or so they lead us to believe, that indicate what is healthy and what isn't. We are supposed to eat certain foods, drink a certain amount of water, avoid eating and drinking various things that are allegedly not good for us. Some doctors will insist we follow the protocol, even if drinking that much water sends us to the bathroom every ten minutes. What is up with that? What are these doctors thinking?
According to the numbers on reports based on blood tests and such, we are healthy or not healthy, no matter how we actually feel. You know when you have a physical, after which the doctor says your enzymes or blood gasses or whatever are fine (or not), that diagnosis is based on a number which corresponds to a statistic that someone else decided was good or not so good. What does that have to do with you, except in the most general sense?
Having standards isn't the worst idea, but I wish these benchmarks were looked at as general guidelines rather than hard and fast facts. Because we are such unique creatures, there is no standard that applies to all, not that I see anyway.
There's also the truth that there are trends in standards. What is deemed "unhealthy" today could suddenly become "healthy" next year, or vice versa. Cholesterol used to be bad. Then there was good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. Recent studies have linked drastically stripped down cholesterol (from prescription drugs) to strokes and other rather major problems. Cutting edge research indicates it's inflammation of the blood vessels that makes cholesterol stick and block the flow. Maybe cholesterol itself isn't bad at all. Rather, it's the inflammation that's bad. These designations are based on studies but those studies, when repeated, often yield different results.
Besides the scientific standard, cultural perspectives play a large role in determining what's healthy and what isn't. In Germany, doctors tend to diagnose problems with digestion more often than anything else while in the U.S. we think in terms of infection and antibiotics. Does that mean that Germans suffer less often from infections than Americans, or that German doctors diagnose differently? Dr. Jerome Groupman's book, "How Doctors Think" speaks to the way in which these standards exist outside of actual experience, outside the context of individual situations.
We have learned not to pay attention to the obvious, for instance, a study was conducted to prove that children who do not eat breakfast have a harder time concentrating in school. They had to do a study to prove this? Wow.
Here's my common sense advice: know your limits. When you're tired, rest or sleep, when you're hungry, eat. If you have to go to the bathroom, don't hold it! Go. If you notice that your knee is swollen, skip the tennis game today. If there's a food that's supposed to be good for you, but you don't like it, don't eat it! Those new fancy sneakers? If they hurt your feet, don't wear them.
If you aren't feeling well, even if your numbers are perfect, pay attention. Your situation is far more indicative of what's going on than the number on a computer screen, derived from a test and according to a standard set by someone you will never meet.
OK? I say yes. These standards come and go, but if you tune in to your own body, you'll soon figure out what does and does not work. We are complicated beings.
Be well. Shalom.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
There are people who are very suspicious of therapeutic massage. How can it be therapeutic when it doesn't hurt? Of course there are massage therapists who will hurt you, if that's what you need in order to feel you are benefitting from a session. I am not of that school of thought.
When I receive massage, the last thing I want to experience is discomfort of any kind. I don't want to be sore afterwards, or bruised. I want my therapist to warm my muscle attachments, push my blood and lymph through my tissues, smooth and knead my muscles in a way that creates a lot of sensation and the possibility of release. A top-notch massage helps me breathe more deeply, let go of excess tension, extraneous thoughts and cares. I look for an hour of peace on the table. If it hurts, that takes me out of the precious experience of true relaxation, which is the only condition in which deep healing can occur.
Should say, neither am I a fan of very light Swedish massage which feels to me as if the therapist is applying lotion or sunscreen to the very most superficial layer of skin. I can do that myself.
One reason massage is relaxing is because it creates so much sensation that the brain is flooded with information. At some point, there is too much information to process, after which the brain gives up. Ahhh, what a relief!
Beware of a therapist who asks if you like light, medium, or deep pressure. That conveys to me that the therapist is not going to be tuned in to my body. What I always say when asked that question is that I like light pressure in some areas, medium pressure in other areas and deep pressure in yet other areas. If I'm feeling feisty I will then say, "Please pay attention to what's going on in my tissues, thanks."
In order to truly let go of the sturm und drang of it all, you have to be fully relaxed. If you're on the table, thinking Ouch! Is she going to do that same thing to my other arm? you will be missing out on one of the greatest benefits of massage: bliss.
Pleasure, bliss, relaxation, or a shift in the nervous system from sympathetic to para-sympathetic - however you wish to think about it - is a state in which the brain integrates and recalibrates the neural network. If you experience the bliss of relaxation during a massage, your brain and body are more likely to think of relaxation as a good thing. Considering the crazy lives we live, it behooves all of us to think perhaps less fondly of the adrenalin rush that accompanies stress, more fondly of the benefits of letting go.
Feel the love on the massage table, take deep breaths, let go. You will not regret it! Shalom.
Friday, October 21, 2011
It seems pretty straightforward - when summer finally ends, it's time to put away the flip flops and shorts, start wearing warmer clothes. In mid-August, when it's boiling hot here in the swamp, I see people wearing suits with their ties snug around their necks, jackets buttoned up. When it's freezing cold I see women walking around without hats, their hair still wet from the shower.
Imagine my eyebrows knitted, my head slowly shaking back and forth. Seriously I don't understand it. There are good looking fashions for every season, so it isn't a matter of wanting to be stylish. There are great looking hats that can be worn over wet hair. There are also hair dryers, right?
Especially when the seasons change, the body must redouble its efforts to maintain homeostasis. All summer the skin opens, and sweats, so we don't get too hot. In winter, goosebumps are the skin's way of explaining that it's damn cold out there.
It strikes me as respectful to honor the valiant efforts of the human body by putting on a sweater or loosening a tie or engaging in any number of reasonable acts to assist and support the work of our bodies. Yes?
Maybe those who love summer feel that continuing to wear tank tops without a jacket, until Christmas, is an appropriate way to rebel against the reality of the changing seasons. Maybe.
What I know for sure is that when the seasons shift, a lot more people catch colds than at other times of the year. The body is rendered more vulnerable when it has to adapt to different external conditions. Why aren't people more considerate?
Today, please, dress for the weather, ok? Tomorrow, too. And so on. I thank you and your body thanks you. Shalom.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Wind plays a large role in Chinese medicine. I don't know much about it; but I know that some kinds of wind are thought to be pernicious. (What a great word.) The acupuncturist I see is rather intense when it comes to the idea of wind. I take a tincture to make sure the wind stays without, as it should. I love the name of the tincture, Jade Wind Screen. Nice name.
Shaking and uncontrollable shivering, symptoms we might think of as neurological disorders, are, in Chinese medicine, what happens when the pernicious external winds are allowed to enter the body. Everything about Chinese medicine fascinates me, including this approach to tremors of all kinds. Wow.
During a particularly cold, windy winter I explained to the acupuncturist that when the wind blew hard, I felt compelled to curse. I joked about wind-inspired Turrets Syndrome. He didn't laugh though. He gave me the penetrating gaze I've become used to, then said the cursing was my body's way of trying to match the intense pressure that wind creates externally. He put some needles in me, gave me the Jade Wind Screen. Now when the wind blows hard, I don't curse, I just think, "Oh. It's windy." Power of suggestion? Who knows.
What I do know is that windy days are exhiliarating sometimes, but exhausting always. As a shaman I cultivate my relationship with the wind, who I think of as a brother, one of those overamped, high energy brothers, you know what I mean? Meteorologists would say that wind is what happens when atmospheric pressure is not in balance. OK. To me, the wind has a presence, a personality. I can't engage with atmospheric pressure, but I can - and do - engage with Brother Wind. Life is much more interesting that way.
Today is a windy day in Washington DC. I'll take the Jade Wind Screen when I go out in a little while. I will wear my hat and, this afternoon when the wind is supposed to get really gusty, I'll make sure I'm inside somewhere. Safety first!
Chinese medicine is incomprehensible to me, but even so, it works! Hence - back off, Brother Wind, yes? I say yes.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Most people rely on vision as the go-to sense for understanding what's going on outside the body, of course, since eyes are actually part of the brain. They sit at the base of the two frontal lobes; the optic nerve goes straight to the center of the brain. Windows of soul, maybe. Eyes are windows into the brain, definitely!
What about your sense of smell? Do you rely on it? Have you ever thought about it? Close your eyes right now and breathe in through your nose. What do you smell? I smell the coffee I brewed this morning as well as traces of panang curry (last night's dinner), a whiff of lavender oil (I always sprinkle a few drops on the treatment table when I'm working). I can also smell the skanky air of the swamp in which I live, because the window is open. What do you smell? If you're not in the habit of consciously smelling (what a funny phrase), it could take some practice to get in touch with this primal sense. It's well worth it because, whether or not you're conscious of it, what you smell has a huge impact on your emotional and mental state.
What does I smell a rat mean? Or Something is rotten in Denmark. Both phrases convey the manner in which the sense of smell can expand understanding and awareness of things not visible or audible, but well worth noting.
Even if the date on the package of chicken says it should still be good, even if it looks fine, it's well worth giving it a sniff before placing it in the frying pan. Only your nose can tell you if that chicken is still edible. Same goes for other foods, of course.
The sense of smell can help you understand what your body wants at any particular moment. Before I decide if I want coffee or tea in the morning, I smell both. Sometimes one or the other smells delicious, sometimes one or the other doesn't smell right. It's not the coffee beans or teabags in that case, it's my body showing me clearly which way to go. Taste is smell plus texture and temperature. That's why officianados always sniff the wine before tasting, it's why chefs smell the soup before serving. Or at least they should.
Smell is a great diagnostic tool. People with untreated diabetes smell sweet. When people are even slightly dehydrated, they smell like burned paper, at least to me. Unless you never brush your teeth, bad breath is almost always an indication of something amiss in the digestive system.
How about pheromones? You can smell them whether or not you register that fact. Does your date smell good? If not, no matter how good they seem on paper, politely extricate yourself from the situation. If they smell funny, it's not going to work. Believe me!
Scents, aromas, even stinky stuff, can bring memories up into consciousness in the most visceral way. Smell is powerful.
If you have chronically blocked sinuses, you don't have access to a very important way of understanding the world. Try humming, go see the acupuncturist, use a Neti pot (but not too often because sometimes that practice pushes congestion deeper into your head). Unblock those sinuses, please! Life, including a well developed sense of smell, is a marvelous, many layered, complex experience. Without smell, all experience is flattened.
Close your eyes and open the nose, because the nose knows. Shalom!
Monday, October 17, 2011
When one tugs at a single thing in nature he finds it attached to the rest of the world. ~John Muir (Thanks, Val Baker, for this beautiful quote!)
I've been trying, for days, to write a post about healthy boundaries. I thought I didn't have it in me to do so, most likely because my own boundaries are weak at best, even though I have worked diligently for years to cease and desist being codependent. It's a work in progress.
I'm not the only one with uneven boundaries, of course. It's a challenge in this society in which we are allegedly independent, separate individuals. Of course we aren't! We are empathic by nature, hence we tend to merge, emotionally and psychically, with those closest to us. But because we believe we aren't merged, it's easy to confuse what someone else is feeling with our own emotions. This is not healthy.
Even the use of the royal "we" is an aspect of merging, hey?
In massage school, there was little preparation for the merging that can happen during a session. My teachers talked about it a little bit, mostly telling us to stay centered and grounded in order to keep from taking on the energy of whomever was on the table. But no one taught us HOW to center and ground. Pretty words that didn't really help.
A couple of my teachers resorted to truly draconian techniques. One said that when working on someone in emotional distress, to imagine them inside a hermetically sealed cube, our hands inside gloves, simlar to the way techs work with radioactive materials. Whoa. Kind of extreme, hey?
I'm lucky to have trained extensively in sensate intuition with the luminous Cybele in San Francisco, also with Wendy Palmer, a great teacher as well. We practiced staying centered over and over again, first on our own, then in various situations of engagement, both emotional and physical. I always use those techniques during sessions - they work very well. I do NOT take on the trials and tribulations of my clients!
One of the simplest techniques for staying centered is to imagine yourself standing in the center of a column of light at least three feet in diameter. Begin to take some nice clean breaths. Imagine that by breathing in this way, you can expand your life force to fill the column. Make sure you have just as much life force behind you as in front, on the left and the right, above and below. Imagine the column has very clear edges, like a spotlight would create, for instance. This exercise is simple, but powerful.
In personal relationships, perhaps needless to say, it's much more complicated. If I try too hard not to fall into the center of someone else's gravity, I become distant and rather cold. When I plummet into another's center of gravity, I lose all sense of myself; I become a satellite orbiting the other person. That's never pretty! I'm a lot better at it than I used to be, but it's not easy with those I love dearly.
The Buddhists know we are all interconnected. Their practices of non-attachment create something rather different than what we non-Buddhists would call healthy boundaries. Buddhists are OK with being merged, as long as they can keep from grasping. Damn those Buddhists are so smart!
May you rest comfortably at the center of your own beautiful self! May it be so. Shalom.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
Every bad mood has a physical component. Have you ever thought about it?
Those who insist on compartmentalizing emotion, as if it were separate in some way from body and mind, will focus (when in a bad mood) on the cause of the crankiness, for instance a big fight with a partner or someone at work, traffic jam, gloomy weather, bad news of every kind, etc.
But in truth, the bad mood was already firmly in place before the arguments or traffic. Life's circumstances act as fuel for the ill humor, but it was already there, waiting. If you're in a good mood, you'll simply crank up the stereo when the traffic jams occur, car dance until you get moving again. At work or with your partner, if you're feeling chipper (love that expression) you are more likely to be compassionate, to listen, and thereby avoid blaming and/or bumping heads.
When you get angry, it's not because of external circumstance. You were already angry. You know that expression, "Woke up on the wrong side of the bed," ? Yeah. It was there, waiting for a trigger. Some days it's only matter of another person looking at you funny; suddenly you're furious, judgmental. The temptation to blame the other is very compelling, but it never actually helps the mood. In fact, blaming external circumstance tends to make the mood even worse.
Bad moods (like every kind of mood) are complicated combinations of physiological, psychological and experiential circumstances. The psychological and experiential aspects of a foul mood are difficult to change. A traffic jam is a traffic jam, yes? But you can pay attention to the physical symptoms and circumstances. Sometimes simply by attending to the physical components of the mood, it's possible to turn things around.
Waking up on the wrong side of the bed often occurs after a bad night of sleep. Sleep is so important! Sometimes it's possible to trace a bad mood to a head or stomach ache. Sometimes those symptoms are very low level, hard to track. A hint of queasiness, constipation, heartburn, conditions you're likely not to notice, can be the foundation of terrible moods. In the aftermath of eating too much of anything, but especially sugar, bad moods are common. Too much caffeine is initially exiliarating, but a couple of hours later? When blood sugar crashes, so will your mood. Oh yeah. Need I even mention the impact of hangovers? Remorse, at the very least, is always part of a hangover. Hunger, too, contributes to bad moods. Are you on some kind of crazy diet? No wonder you're cranky!
Just as culpable are the symptoms that follow an injury. You stubbed your toe and now it aches, so it's harder to walk, or, for that matter, do anything. That nagging pain could put Mother Teresa in a bad mood, hey? A stiff neck, back-ache and other muscular or skeletal pain, acts as a trigger for all kinds of bad moods. Think of phrases like, pain in the neck. Try to remember it's YOUR neck that hurts, it isn't the boss, partner, dog or situation at hand. Same goes for pain in the ass. That's YOUR ass that's hurting. Yeah.
Lethargy and depression are, if you ask me, the same condition. When I'm in a mood, if I can remember to get up, go outside and walk around briskly for awhile, or take a big bike ride, I will inevitably become more cheerful. People who exercise regularly are happier than those who don't. When those people can't exercise for one reason or another, stay away from them because lord, they get so irritable! Yikes.
There's no way to avoid bad moods altogether; it's part of our heritage as human beings. I always smile when I hear people say, There's no point in getting worked up about this, or some similar phrase. Moods are not rational, and will not disappear through the great, tyrannical powers of logic, no matter how much you might wish it. This approach is denial, pure and simple. Try as hard as you can, you can not think your way through a mood.
But you can attend to the physical aspects, if you pay attention. Instead of pointing your finger at another person or a situation over which you have no control, sit instead with your sensations for awhile. Does your stomach hurt? When was the last time you got out for a nice walk? How did you sleep last night? These are things you can attend to, if not control.
See, there are so many reasons to eat well, get enough sleep and exercise. It isn't just about physical health, nope. Living well will make you a happier person, I guarantee it.
Be well today. Life is good. Shalom.