Rainbows at the American Indian museum. They were spectacular yesterday in the bright sunshine.
What is safety? Is it money in the bank, a sturdy house, a car that's paid for? Is it a pantry full of canned food, flashlight batteries and bottled water? Is there safety to be found way out in the country, in the suburbs, or among the throngs of people who live in the cities?
Are we safe from the threat of rain when we carry an umbrella, or from bodily harm if we wear a bicycle helmet? When we eat only well cooked food? When we follow all the rules about how often to exercise, what to eat, what to drink?
You can run yourself ragged trying to be safe. It's an exhausting pursuit since there really is no such thing as safety. Well, there isn't. C'mon. A big earthquake could strike even in a place where that never happens. Floods, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, all manner of natural disasters can not be predicted. Nor is it possible to always avoid accidents on a smaller scale that happen every day: a twisted ankle, a fender bender that results in whiplash, a smashed thumb from a poorly aimed hammer.
Don't even get me started on how many things can go wrong within the human body. After many years of studying the human condition, I'm truly amazed that so many of us live long, healthy, balanced lives. Wow.
Far better than the wild goose chase involved in seeking safe haven from the unpredictable nature of life lived in an ever-changing world, it makes a lot more sense to practice mindfulness, therefore perhaps avoiding the twisted ankle or fender bender. Perhaps! It doesn't always work. Also it makes sense to develop qualities like resilience and resourcefulness, so that if or when something happens, we have some practice figuring out how to address what's right in front of us.
Yes I have fresh batteries for my flashlights, yes I look both ways - twice in DC - before I cross the street. When I'm on my bike I am especially vigilant. But I don't for one second believe that I'm safe, only that if something happens, I will have the courage, groundedness and resourcefulness to deal with it.
EVERYONE should be certified in first aid. The Red Cross offers excellent classes. Everyone should have a first aid kit and know how to use what's in it. In addition to the stuff you'll find in every first aid kit, add a bottle of Benadryl and an anti-inflammatory of your choice. I mention this here because I learned the hard way what was missing from my first aid kit when I went into anaphylaxis a few years ago. Benadryl is powerful medicine!
There is no safety, really there isn't. But we are smart, resourceful and we have opposable thumbs as well as compassionate hearts. We have made our way through all manner of disasters small and large on this planet for a long time; we are enormously successful as a species. Fear not, y'all. We are capable, powerful animals. Be confident, learn a few emergency skills. Then carry on, yes? I say yes. L'chaim and shalom.
Below, one of my favorite TED talks.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Every time I think about we humans' incredibly stable internal landscapes, it blows my mind, seriously. Homeostasis is amazingly precise. We maintain an internal temperature that varies by only fractions of a degree under normal circumstances, whether it's 20 F. or 100 F. externally. Even when we are ill, our internal temperatures only vary by a couple of degrees. More than 5 degrees of difference, warmer or colder, and our lives are in danger. Wow.
Blood pressure, heartbeat, respiratory rates all vary depending on the situation, but not by much, especially when you consider the truth that externally the world is in a neverending flux in terms of weather, temperature, humidity, season. We are also constantly encountering unexpected situations and challenges. Is it any wonder that life's big changes take their toll on us?
As with all things, balance is the answer. We need to switch things up enough to keep us alert, on our toes. A life that is too predictable renders everyone dull. But too much change is traumatic, harmful. It's an interesting thing to think about.
One of my great teachers believed the science/art of philosophy was developed to help us make sense of living in a crazy, unpredictable world while maintaining internal homeostasis. He believed philosophy is one way to reckon with dichotomy. Rings true for me.
May your day be peaceful but also interesting.
Eid Mubarak to all.
Monday, August 29, 2011
One of my favorite neighborhood trees succumbed to the tropical storm. Such a shame and such is life.
One of my great teachers said the first step in any process of healing is a disorganization of the pattern of disease. He used the word disease in a broader sense than the usual strictly pathological definition. Dis-ease can refer to many different situations.
Disorganizing the pattern of dis-ease, even when those who are suffering are determined to heal, can be unnerving. Though we live in a mostly unpredictable world, we do try our hardest to keep order in the midst of ever-changing conditions. Sometimes it's hard to let go of the way we keep our lives organized, even if that structure is not good for us. Everyone knows people who feel trapped in jobs, relationships, cities, situations. They feel they can not break free of what restrains them, or they choose to remain in dis-eased situations for many different reasons. I don't blame anyone for choosing to remain in a pattern that feels safe and familiar for any reason. Maybe remaining in unhappy patterns is a way of clearing karma or working through something - I don't think it's "bad" at all.
Sometimes, the world intervenes. Accidents, illnesses, getting fired, dumped, someone close to you dies, you fall in love - you know what I'm talking about, yes? All these situations serve to dis-organize life's predictable patterns. When you catch a cold, for instance, your work, errands and chores are interrupted. Within the body there is fever, coughing, barfing, sneezing and such, all of which shatter the patterns.
Though eventually all these chaotic accidents can lead to opportunities for growth and learning (the hard way), and wisdom (something that is always hard won) - chaos alone won't bring healing to the situation at hand. We have to recognize that an old pattern is breaking, we have to let go. Only then can we put a healing pattern into place. Having the rug pulled out from underfoot is not a pleasant experience, whether or not it brings healing. Healing is a dynamic, scary process too.
I'm always interested in personal shake-ups - my own as well as those that take place in the lives of others. What I'm thinking about today is about those of us who experienced close encounters with both the earthquake and the hurricane last week. Did those natural disasters unhinge an east coast cultural/societal pattern of dis-ease? How can we individuals work with our own patterns while also participating in societal healing? It's interesting to think about. What a powerful opportunity.
Have a peaceful day. Shalom.
Sunday, August 28, 2011
In scary weather situations (as in all scary situations) the instinctual will to survive kicks into gear. That's why people buy toilet paper and milk, you know - they aren't really thinking rationally, they have somehow forgotten that as soon as the storm passes, shops and supermarkets will immediately re-open. Yeah. It's easy to make fun of the folks who buy every last gallon of milk, but they are trying to soothe the savage beast of the brainstem, they are trying to feel safe. I don't blame them.
Hurricane Irene was gentle with Washington DC, hence my will to survive was not active. I stayed out of the storm, mostly, though I woke up between 2:00 and 3:00 this morning, stood in the front yard taking in the rock 'n roll of the storm. This morning I figured out that the eye of the storm was passing to the east of us at that time.
Waking up, standing in the wind and rain at 2:30 in the morning is likewise not rational behavior, but it is shamanic. I can't help but dance in alignment with the energy that flows around all of us. You do it, too, in one way or another. You have a brainstem, too. The people buying toilet paper and milk definitely are engaging with the storm in their own way.
Big events like earthquakes and hurricanes affect we homo sapiens at a core level, whether we want to admit it or not. Once the dust settles from this past week in DC, we will integrate what has happened. What I'm curious to integrate is the way in which a good shake and a serious flush can help us heal.
May all who still are in the path of the storm, north of DC, be safe and well. May it be so. Shalom.
Saturday, August 27, 2011
I could write a book about health and the weather, I could. Don't even get me started!
This morning I'm feeling the impending hurricane in my wrists and collar bone, two places where I'm susceptible. Some people feel it in their knees or hips, others develop sinus headaches, bags under their eyes, nasal congestion. Some develop edemas in their ankles. Humid, oppressive days like today in Washington DC make some folks queasy. Even though we spend most of our time in hermetically sealed, chilled or warmed boxes, we are still intimately affected by the weather.
Before computer models and Jim Cantore, people knew storms were approaching because they paid attention - to the quality of the air, the look of the sky, and also the way they felt in their bodies. I am definitely feeling Irene in my body! I'll be doing an extra set of stretches this morning before my first client arrives, for sure.
As a shaman, I am one with Irene; hence I don't have many interesting words to offer here. Tonight the storm will move north of DC. After that I'll have plenty to say. Right now I am listening to the ache in my wrists, praying for those in the direct path of the storm, watching the gray-purple sky. Waiting.
May your day be peaceful and clear. Shalom.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
How do you define health? According to some, good health means there is no disease, discomfort, or symptoms present in the body. Well, that sounds good - except - have you ever experienced this state of perfection? Isn't there always some little thing going on here or there? Good health, as defined that way, is almost impossible to achieve.
Among many in the established medical community, good health is defined by numbers. If your weight, blood pressure, cholesteral, respiration, kidney and liver enzymes and hormonal levels fall within a range of numbers deemed "normal" by the people who make these kinds of decisions, then you are healthy whether you feel good or not. This definition of health makes no sense to me whatsoever. Does it to you?
In Chinese medicine, good health is described as the ability of the body/mind to adjust to ever-changing external and internal conditions. Catch a cold? If you're healthy, that means your immune system will defeat the invading virus. When you hurt your back lifting something too heavy, if you're healthy, a massage and some rest is all you need to heal the strain. When something makes you angry, if you're healthy, you will count to ten, say your peace, but then let go.
The above makes perfect sense to me. Any definition of good health should include the inevitable ups and downs of life. It's about response to those ups and downs, it's about resilience. Good health is not a matter of numbers on a chart and it's not about reaching some completely ridiculous perfection, then somehow maintaining it.
For heaven's sake.
May the mighty powers of your human body/mind help your respond to whatever crosses your path today. May it be so. Shalom.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
I was downtown yesterday when the quake hit. Moments afterwards, everyone poured out into the streets from office buildings, restaurants, and shops. People were present, alert, and even relational, if a bit unnerved. I talked to strangers who were talking to strangers, something that would never happen under ordinary circumstances. On the ride back to Capitol Hill, the folks on the Metro train were engaged, communicative, and fully awake. The last time this level of honest interaction took place in DC was the first week after September 11, 2001.
Compared with the usual glazed, internally focused, shut down kind of public face we urban people use when out and about, it was rather miraculous to see and feel the liveliness in people. It was extraordinary! In big cities, we urbanites (in general, not everyone) like our privacy, we really don't want to interact with others in anonymous crowd situations. I don't blame anyone for plugging into the iphone while on the subway or standing in line at the supermarket or whatever. We pay a price for creating individual bubbles. We are not really present until something like an earthquake happens.
I get a kick out of the scenes in old movies in which some hysterical or passed out or just spacey character receives a sharp slap or an ice cold drink tossed in the face, a wake up call as it were. Yesterday's quake was reminiscent of this kind of scene; the earth shook us awake, out of our usual swoon.
Even those who get consistently good sleep, as well as those who meditate, do yoga, tai chi, or other mindfulness practices, can benefit from a metaphorical slap upside the head every now and then. The Buddhists call the waking dream of "real" life Samsara. The Hindus think of it as Maya. A lot of traditions refer to the dream-like layers of perception we call reality as some sort of trance state. Life is but a dream, indeed.
In DC yesterday, for a little while, we were fully awake to the dream of life. It was a wonderful feeling.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
I have a friend who swears she will visit this blog even though she tells me she's going to hate it because "it isn't science," as she says. True I don't always adhere to strictly scientific standards in the formulation of my many colorful theories, but the truth is, most healers throughout history, all over the world, have not worried so much about science. We traditionally err on the side of compassion, paying attention, and taking care of our clients/patients. Science is a part of it, but only a part. In fact I find it rather hilarious that we hold such a blind faith in science (in my society at least) even though what was scientific fact yesterday is often disproved today. What IS proof anyway? And how is it that science is reliable? A recent study "proved" that studies mean absolutely nothing over time, that results are often different when identical studies are conducted a few years after the original study. Hmmm. So what good are the results of studies? Someone please explain.
I could go on a big rant about that, but instead what I want to write about today is sleep. Yeah. A lot of serious scientists are studying sleep recently, a fact that makes me happy. If you want the hard science, google "sleep+brain+plasticity." Oh yeah.
What scientists are discovering is how important sleep is for pretty much everything. Good, solid sleep improves cognitive function, immunity, good humor, memory, even digestion. If you sleep well, your food will be more nutritious. Is that incredible? Even I think that's amazing, and I tend to be a serious believer in the blessings of sleep.
Here in Washington DC, sleep is seen as kind of a waste of time. Instead of sleep, we could be working hard or playing hard, we could be reading or thinking or solving a policy issue, writing a book, writing a legal brief. In general we do not believe in rest of any kind in this crazy city. If only we could recognize how damaging sleep deprivation is, but we can't because our powers of discernment are fractured - the result of sleep deprivation. It's a vicious circle.
The next time you get all riled up because of something going on in Congress, please consider that the staffers as well as congresspeople regularly work 100 hour weeks. If you do the math, you'll see that the only way this is possible is to work all night at least one night a week. What scientists are discovering is that sleep deprivation impairs judgment, clarity, and the ability to synthesize ideas. It also hampers memory and affects decision making. Imagine some poor overworked staffer down there, trying to make sense of a one-thousand page piece of legislation. Is it any wonder that such crap goes on down there? C'mon.
At a certain point, sleep deprivation creates psychosis. I've seen this in people I know who are bi-polar. It's really scary. Take it just a bit farther and the non-sleeping person will die. Yep. You will die without sleep. It's a scientific fact, it is.
Sleep is important, it is not a waste of time. It is a fundamental, constitutional part of good health. I wish you a sweet, long, beautiful sleep tonight. May you wake tomorrow well rested, alert, and cheerful. May it be so! Shalom.
Monday, August 22, 2011
Take care! People say it all the time. I like the idea of taking care, tending, being mindful, attentive. I believe taking care is a species-wide constitutional, in the same league with eating well, getting good sleep, being physically and mentally active.
I'm not talking about tackling heroic projects, like fixing the plumbing in the bathroom, not that there's anything wrong with being heroic. What I'm referring to is daily upkeep, sorting and straightening.
Weed the garden, make a peach pie, feed the dog, cat or bird, sweep the sidewalk, clean out a closet, set the table for dinner. These are small tasks that are only annoying if rushed through, but strangely, gently satisfying anytime we take care. That involves taking our time and paying attention. Just as important is remembering to experience satisfaction and pleasure from the fruits of our tending: a clean table, an empty sink, the garden lush, weeded, well watered, all the laundry clean and folded neatly. I feel calmer just thinking about it.
It's no surprise that the heroines of all fairytales spend a lot of time cleaning the ashes from fireplaces, cooking, spinning, sewing and scrubbing the floors, while the loser step-sisters sit around all day being lazy, greedy and helpless. The heroine may not totally love housekeeping, but she never complains about it, she just does it. In so doing she becomes proficient in many ways. She becomes strong, capable and even more beautiful. At the end of every fairytale she lives happily ever after. The same can not be said of the stepsisters.
Like a good night's sleep or a nice walk, tending to little tasks is a part of what makes us mindful, caring individuals. Those who allow others to take care of business for them, or always ignore the dishes while they pile ever higher in the sink, are never as happy, coherent or proficient as those who clean up after themselves. They aren't as nice, either. I think tending helps us cultivate compassion.
Taking care of the little things externally is a reminder to take care of the little things internally. If you're thirsty, drink some water! Breathe, stretch, laugh. There really is no downside to tending the world directly around you, also your inner world. It is fundamentally, constitutionally, healing.
Happy Monday to all. Take care!
Sunday, August 21, 2011
In addition to constitutional weaknesses and strengths that are as much a part of each of us as eye color, there are also "constitutionals" - activities, practices, focuses - that are constitionally healing to we individuals.
My acupuncturist was taught that on everyone's face there is a "mark" (I don't think he means a literal mark) that shows how the person can best evolve. One kind of "mark" means if the person changes the way she thinks, everything about her health will improve. That's something, eh? The other two marks have to do with how the person breathes, and what the person eats. The mark on my face tells Evan Rabinowitz that what I eat can make or break me, which explains why I started learning about what they called "health food" in the 70s, got serious about cooking in the 80s, worked for Whole Foods in the 90s. I still eat too much (it's a survival urge, left over from a particularly unhappy past life? I like that theory) but what I eat is mostly very high quality food. I enjoy gracious good health which I associate with the good food I eat. I have the mark - I am what I eat. So are you, by the way, though perhaps for you (depending on the mark) it is not as dire as for me.
Walking as a practice used to be called a daily constitutional. I remember reading that John Adams sometimes took 10-15 mile walks to clear his head, or so it said in the biography I read. Ten to fifteen miles? In pointy, 18th century shoes and white tights? Before paved streets and sidewalks? Wow. What a man! Abraham Lincoln walked from the White House to the Capitol routinely. My father in law walked the three miles from his house to his office every day for decades, until Parkinson's disease made it impossible for him to walk at all. Yesterday I took a long, meandering walk with a friend, stopping to smell the roses and such. Indeed my entire constitution is the better for it, believe me.
Singing is a species-wide constitutional as well. Everyone should sing, even if you can't carry a tune. Sing in the shower, sing while driving around. Singing opens the throat, moves energy, helps connect head and heart, thereby making the singer feel great. Give it a go - it's really fun.
Do you know which things you do that help you at a constitutional level? I'm curious. Will you share your practice here?
Happy Sunday to all. Shalom.
Saturday, August 20, 2011
1680s, "pertaining to a person's (physical or mental) constitution," from constitution + -al (1). Meaning "beneficial to bodily constitution" is from 1750 -- as a noun, "a constitutional walk," recorded from 1829, probably originally among university students; as an adj., "authorized or allowed by the political constitution," from 1765; constitutional monarchy is recorded from 1801, from French.
Everybody has a constitutional weakness or two, also constitutional strengths. Have you ever thought about it? For example, some people always catch ailments having to do with the respiratory system, suffer from allergies and such. Others succumb to stomach flu but never a cold. Other people are prone to headaches, bumps on the head, sinus headaches and infections. For these people, their heads are a constitutional weakness.
According to my acupuncturist/herbalist (Evan Rabinowitz, link on the sidebar) my constitutional weakness centers around my kidneys. It makes a lot of sense when seen from the perspective of Chinese medicine. What Evan says is that I have weak kidney jing, which means (in that system) original life force energy. Everyone can create jing by eating well, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, but some folks have vast reservoirs of original life force energy. They can go without sleep, food or other creature comforts, yet still keep going. I think that most of those who run for any kind of political office have seriously great kidney jing. Those people work like dogs.
Sometimes I think about when I was born - 1953 - when childbirth was medicalized to the max. An experience such as the births of many of us baby boomers is scary enough to drain the life force out of even the most stalwart. I also think about my mother smoking cigs, drinking coffee and alcohol, eating terrible food throughout her pregnancies. I see now that this did not really do me any good. I don't blame her, that kind of behavior was perfectly normal at the time.
To counterbalance my consitutional weakness, I have developed courage, strength (of spirit and body), and whole bunch of stubbornness. Also I eat well, sleep a lot, don't work too much.
Have you ever thought about it? What it is within you that's fundamentally powerful? What is your constitutional weakness? It's interesting to think about.
A restful, rejuvinating Saturday to all. Shalom.
Friday, August 19, 2011
I am a truly holistic healer. I believe in every kind of medicine, depending on the person and situation, and I believe that every ailment has a physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual component. I mean really what is the difference between mind and body? The people who study these things, who have long held out for major divisions between body and mind, are coming around at last to what has been common wisdom among healers all over the world throughout history: the two are not only related, but impossible to separate.
I'm not saying I believe it is possible to think yourself to health, nope. If only! Illness is complicated and the conscious mind, though certainly sure of itself, can not wrap itself around every facet of what causes illness or what will help to heal illness. We're smart, but not that smart. The connection of physical ailments to the mind is through the back door - the unconscious. I use healing visualizations often, and I think they are useful, but I know visualization takes place at the most superficial layer of the body/mind link.
Google the phrase "placebo more effective now" if you doubt that mind/body is one and the same. If you're one of those people who talks about (or thinks about) "psychosomatic" ailments, please stop that right now. That mindset is punitive, as if the person suffering made a rational decision to become ill. Please. Who would do that? C'mon.
While I acknowledge the mind/body link is mysterious, I nevertheless attempt to dance in alignment with the deep, unconscious connection. Hence I created what I call my "Plan to Stay Sane." Sanity is a good place to be in health as well as in illness. Sanity supports good health, helps us put one foot in front of the other. I am happiest when I'm sane.
Everything on the following list supports sanity. There is never a guarantee, but I'm all for giving it a go, even during this crazy era of history, even in the very crazy city where I live. Check it out, see what fits for you. Make your own Plan to Stay Sane. Why not, hey? It's worth a try anyway!
A Plan to Stay Sane
1. Eat well and get enough sleep. (I could, and may, write a whole post about sleep.)
2. Spend time outdoors every day even if it's too hot, too cold, too rainy or whatever. Be barefoot as much as you can. As Ellen says, "Can't absorb the healing emanations from the earth if you are wearing shoes all the time. People need direct contact with the earth." Yes we do! Thanks Ellen. Watch where you're walking though.
3. Move around. Walk, dance, ride your bike, go to the gym - whatever suits you, do it. Do not just sit in a chair, on the couch, or in your car all the time.
4. Express yourself creatively. Draw, write, take pictures, paint, cook, daydream.
5. Every day: do something that makes you sweat.
6. Every day: sing.
7. Receive treatments: massage, acupuncture, psychotherapy, etc.
8. Spend time with people you love, who love you. Hang out with folks you like a lot. The ones you don't like - avoid. **
9. Work hard, but not too hard. After work, rest and appreciate the fruits of your labors.
10. Resist the urge to take things literally or personally. Let it all roll off your back like water off a duck.
**Though there are exceptions to this idea. Hannah says, "Once I worked with a woman that I was sort of repelled by. I wanted to avoid her because I found her style to be pushy and obnoxious. At the same time, I knew she was a good person and had a very different background than me. So I finally took the time to try to listen and understand her better. What a revelation! I learned so much about her, but more about me. Now one of my best friends. that's when I realized that sometimes it is really good and healthy to try to spend time with someone you might want to avoid."
That's my current list. What's your plan? Have a wonderful, satisfying, SANE day today. Shalom.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
One of the reasons I tend to allow colds and other minor ailments to run their course is because I believe the process of resting, drinking lots of liquids, and blowing a whole bunch of bacteria-laden mucus out of my head (sorry to be so graphic) helps make me healthier than I was before the cold. What I mean is, the cold is not the problem, it's the solution, forcing me to slow down, get sufficient sleep, avoid coffee and alcohol, and take a break from the usual frenzied routine of life in the 21st century.
I worry about people who say they never get a cold. Though I try not to focus on it, I can't help but wonder what's festering in their bodies. It's not a pleasant thought, so I try to avoid it, but sometimes all the boasting people do about never having colds brings extremely unsavory images into my mind.
I wonder about cold remedies, both "natural" and ... unnatural? (are over the counter decongestants "unnatural?" Not sure.) Ads for both kinds of products suggest taking the remedy "at the FIRST SIGN of a cold." The ads suggest that we cut the cold off at the knees, baby, nip it in the bud, do everything you can to circumvent the process of rest and cleansing. One interesting thing about these ads is that they refer only to the SYMPTOMS of a cold, never to the root cause itself which is, according to "western" medicine, a virus. Viruses are impervious to all cold remedies, so really now, what is the point? I see people all the time who are suffering from colds, but all jacked up on Dayquil or zinc or some such. They look so miserable. Maybe they aren't sneezing, but they are not well! Holy cow.
One of my very great healers in San Francisco was a master homeopath. He thought of symptoms as the body's way of expressing itself. He said it's best, when sick with a cold, to let the symptoms express themselves for three days. After three days, if I was still sick, I would go see him at which time he would place a sweet powder under my tongue. Within an hour I would be completely recovered. It was magic.
My point here is that I'm not convinced catching a cold now and again is a sign of bad health or a faulty immune system. There are some seasons when I catch every cold that comes around - that's a sign of imbalance, definitely, for which I would go see my acupuncturist asap. But catching a cold once or twice over the winter? I think it's a sign of a fully functioning, resilient, self-cleaning body.
I hope all my praise for the common cold does not become a self-fulfilling prophecy, like calling in sick at work, then actually getting sick. Perhaps I'm being overly superstitious. So be it.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
I'm a healer. It's my job to try, in whatever ways I can, to help my clients move from places of imbalance to a more comfortable harmony of body/mind. If their shoulders are tight, I work with that very specifically. If they're depressed, I'll pick up the pace of the session a bit, try to stir their blood and energy in order to get them up and running again. If they haven't been sleeping well, I slow down in the work, so their nervous systems might remember it isn't always necessary to be in fight or flight mode. What I do in any particular session is all about what is happening with the person on the table right then and right there.
Of course I do my best to help my clients, but it's also true that I honor the foibles of the human body. Unlike some healers, I'm not always sure that the point of being sick or being in pain is to make it go away as soon as possible. When people get sick, some aspect of homeostasis has veered off center. Sometimes it's interesting as well as useful to explore these states of imbalance before rushing to fix them. It's useful to think about what was happening before the imbalance.
When I come down with a cold (for instance) I get in bed, eat chicken soup, read magazines, sleep a lot and blow my nose like Louis Armstrong blew his horn. I allow my immune system to take care of the situation even though I'm uncomfortable and cranky in the meantime. I'll admit I don't really understand the common practice of taking a bunch of over the counter meds, then going back to work. When I get a cold, that is my body's way of saying it needs to rest and cleanse. I think it's respectful to pay attention to these things, to honor the situation. To ignore a cold seems rather insulting. What is your body anyway, chopped liver?
Have you ever wondered why there is no cure for the common cold? I believe it is an integral bodily cleasing process, triggered by a virus. If it was really all about the virus, everyone would have every cold, but it's never like that. Some people get sick, others don't.
I'd like to put in a word today for your corporeal intelligence and integrity. The next time you catch a cold, try letting it run its course instead of pretending you aren't sick. When I do that, after my immune system completes its work, I feel all is right with the world. I feel clean, clear and better than ever. This is how colds are supposed to function, somewhat like a three-day detox. Can you give it a go the next time you start sneezing? What do you think? (If you decide to do this, I highly recommend Vanity Fair magazine - the perfect low level reading material for minor sicknesses - not to impugn the good name of Vanity Fair by calling it "low level.")
If you're seriously ill of course you have to go see the doctor. A high fever is great for a day or so but if it lingers, that means your immune system can't handle what's going on and it's time to bring in the big guns. Yes? I say yes.
I have a lot to say about this. I'll write more about it tomorrow. For today, be well. Shalom.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
I could keep writing about healing visualizations, but if you've read what I've written already, you get the idea. If you know a bit about the physiology of what has to happen in order to heal an injury or illness, and if you've seen enough movies, read mythology or fairy tales, you have everything you need to create your own healing visualization.
Human imagination is a treasure, a wonder. We homo sapiens have possessed this gift for hundreds of thousands of years. We can give our imaginations some shape, because we are more or less conscious beings, but we can also let the imagination loose at times, let it create internal scenes of possibility, also of impossibility. How does it work? I'm not sure anyone knows.
In our society, we take great care to constrain our powers of imagination. The term Letting your imagination run away with you says it all. Don't be TOO creative; that will just get you into trouble.
In fact, it WILL get you into trouble, if it is allowed free rein. Balance is inherent in every state of good health. And, too, skepticism is a rudder that keeps us heading in the right direction. That said, too much skepticism is a big problem too, a different kind of imbalance. Giving our powers of imagination the cold shoulder impoverishes us, makes us think we need to buy a lot of STUFF, jam closets and storage facilities with more and more and more in a futile attempt to fill the creative emptiness. Yes? I say yes. Very sad, if you ask me.
Healing visualizations are productive, interesting and helpful, a very healthy way to use our powers of imagination. I could cite lots of studies that showed how much visualization helps in healing. In my experience, sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn't, but it is worth trying. Healing visualization costs nothing, hurts no one, keeps the patient engaged in something other than worry while they deal with the injury or ailment, gives caretakers a way to feel they are contributing to something that is, in most cases, completely out of any human's control.
My wish for all today is at least one beautiful, juicy daydream. Oh yeah. Shalom.
Monday, August 15, 2011
I could keep writing about cancer. I could write a book about cancer. For now I'll share one more observation, then move on to something not quite as heavy. The thing is, after cancer treatment, there is another phase of adjustment awaiting the person who has suffered through the disease and treatment. In order to withstand treatment, people have to bring forth their fiercest, most warrior-like qualities. Once the treatment ends, when their hair and eyebrows grow back, when their life force and energy return, many people have a hard time soothing the wild beast of fierceness that served them so well during treatment. Marriages break up, friendships, too. People leave their jobs, homes, routines, they leave behind their support groups, just because they've become accustomed to fighting. Once the internal threat is vanquished, they turn that energy outwards. Not everyone, of course, and each individual handles the transition uniquely. If you know someone who has recently completed cancer treatment, who is acting out, please cut them a lot of slack, ok? Returning to "normal" life is not as straight ahead as you might think.
Turning now to simple visualizations for simple injuries; leaving, for the time being, the complicated, sad, frightening situation of cancer, yes? I say yes.
So many things happen in a living body, it's hard to keep up with it all. I think that's why most of us ignore the small indignities of paper cuts, small bruises, and other annoying little wounds. Or try to ignore them. It's rather miraculous the way tiny little injuries get in the way. I think about how, after stubbing a toe for instance, I realize all of a sudden how much I actually USE that toe.
One way to look at little injuries is to think of them as communications from the body, asking us to pay attention, be mindful. Because minor injuries are not a big deal, most of us just wash them quickly, slap on a bandaid and carry on.
Think about how moms do the same for their kids. They are sweet and reassuring, they take their time. Once the bandaid is in place, many mothers give the "boo boo" a little kiss, and the patient some milk and cookies.
I'm not saying here that you need to kiss your wounds, but you could slow down and channel a little bit of compassion when you bang your thumb with the hammer. What we tend to do is curse, like it's the hammer's fault, or your stupid thumb's fault. What are we angry about? Seems backwards to me.
Visualization for cuts, scrapes and bruises
Imagine a landscape that has just experienced a minor disaster, such as the debris left after a thunderstorm. As you clean your wound, imagine cleansing rains washing away all the detritus. The rains gather the debris from all around the landscape. They come together through the center of the landscape, becoming a free-flowing river. After you've cleaned the wound, and covered it with a bandaid (if necessary) imagine people in rows facing each other on either side of the river. Imagine the people sending threads of silly string back and forth.
The first thing the body does after it is cut is begin sending strings of collagen back and forth across the opening. This is how scabs are created. The visualization is fun which always helps kick the healing into gear. Good cheer after a natural disaster is part of the healing, and so it is with minor wounds.
Don't curse at yourself when these inevitable things take place. Make nice! Yes? I say yes.
Sunday, August 14, 2011
When people begin treatment for cancer, they become warriors in so many ways. They must be brave, valiant, strong, and determined. They must be fierce. More than one client has decided to read the great classic The Art of War when they begin treatment. I hear that book gets passed around the chemo rooms in hospitals. It's interesting to think about.
It makes sense. Conventional cancer treatment is incredibly harsh, almost as bad as the disease itself. Some clients I've known have opted out of the surgery/chemo/radiation side of treatment and have instead completely changed their lives to accommodate stripped down diets, lots of meditation, prayer, focused visualization, yoga, and Chinese medicine. One of these people held her own and is still doing very well. The other two people I knew who took this approach died. But I also have had several clients who took the surgery/chemo/radiation approach and died anyway.
Decisions about treatment are extraordinarily personal. I respect all choices!
Like warfare, treatment of any kind is scary and uncomfortable, requires devotion, commitment, and a very single minded determination. Those undergoing treatment must put aside any hint of vanity. It really is a warriorship. Like warriors, when it's time to fight, these people muster all the strength they can, i.e. in the days following chemo, for instance. When the symptoms begin to recede, they rest, as warriors rest when they don't have to fight.
Visualizations during treatment
People suffering from cancer don't have a lot of spare energy to visualize. The treatment itself wipes them out. What I suggest instead of a focused visualization for those in treatment is a war movie marathon. The only thing that's important, in choosing these films, is that the good guys win. There are a bunch of funny, corny, fabulous films about WWII, but I also love all of Kurasawa's samurai movies. There is violence, death and destruction, but in the end, justice prevails. The Lord of the Rings is a great series to watch during treatment as is Star Wars. Watching these films is a way of aligning the mind with what is happening inside the body, at least I think so.
When the symptoms begin to wane, I suggest either the cloud meditation (the same one I suggested in the last post to be used after diagnosis) or putting oneself into the place of serenity and peace, (the one I suggested for use prior to surgery).
There is no visualization that alleviates the discomfort of treatment, but it gives the patient something to do, and can be extremely helpful, or so I've been told.
Bodywork and/or Reiki during treatment for cancer can help smooth the process. I highly recommend it.
May your day today be pain free, relaxing, and fun. Shalom.
Saturday, August 13, 2011
Cancer, the big C, the awful, unimaginable diagnosis. I work with many people who have, or have had, cancer. It's complicated and it is serious, requiring a fierce response. Yes there is a genetic component, also an environmental component. Lifestyle? I'm not sure. Smoking definitely makes one's lungs weaker, but does it CAUSE lung cancer? I'm not convinced - since there are many many many people who smoke like chimneys all their lives yet never develop cancer.
I had a friend who died from cancer. He lived well, he did EVERYTHING you're supposed to do to be healthy. From long before his diagnosis, he ate whole, organic foods, exercised, meditated, had a relationship with the divine. He was married to a wonderful woman with whom he had an ongoing, fully realized, happy relationship. After his diagnosis, he did EVERYTHING he could to slow or stop the cancer in his pancreas. He endured horrible chemotherapy, had acupuncture, did very specific visualizations and hypnotherapy. He kept up his spirits and was hopeful. But he still died rather soon after his diagnosis.
The reason I'm telling the story here is because with cancer, I do not blame the victim, not ever. It is no one's fault. Also I think we have no control over this terrible disease. I wish we did. Maybe at some point we will.
Whether or not you've been feeling under the weather, or had a suspicion that something wasn't quite right, or if you felt perfectly fine, the truth is, something motivated you to see the doctor. No matter what that motivation was, it's not possible to be prepared for the moment when the doctor delivers the news. No matter who you are, no matter what guided you to the moment of diagnosis, hearing that word will pull the rug out from under you. The diagnosis puts people into shock.
I would like to suggest that should you or someone you love receive this diagnosis, take some time to let it sink in. Depending on what kind of cancer, also on the personality of your doctor, you might be urged to begin straightaway considering what kind of treatment to pursue. Please give yourself at least twenty-four hours after the diagnosis before you make those kinds of decisions. Be gentle with yourself. Go home and take care of yourself, just for a day or so, let the shock that accompanies the news settle down. If you give yourself time, you will make better decisions about treatment.
Visualization immediately following diagnosis
Imagine yourself floating on a soft, large cloud. This cloud can be white or any color you really love. The cloud is soft, yet holds you securely. As you float, allow yourself to be gently rocked back and forth (imagine the feeling of being gently rocked). Return to this visualization as much as you can during the first twenty-four hours after diagnosis.
Affirmations following diagnosis
When the shock has settled, let the cloud dissipate, come back into your usual state of awareness. Important decisions about treatment must be made; it's time to locate your strength and determination. You can do it!
Look at yourself in the mirror, make eye contact. Say in a loud voice, as if you mean it, "I'm going to make it." Say it until you believe it. Tell yourself other things, give yourself encouragement, i.e. "I'm strong and determined." "My head is clear, I will make good decisions." You get the idea.
I wish for anyone reading this that the above does not apply to your situation or to the situation of anyone you love. I see a lot of people with cancer, which is why I've had the wherewithall to create these visualizations. Tomorrow I'll write about visualizations during treatment.
Be well, please! Shalom.
Friday, August 12, 2011
What is commonly called "western" medicine (don't know why) or "traditional" medicine (it certainly isn't) is actually emergency medicine. It is designed to cope with serious, acute situations. This is why "western" medicine is so extreme. For a broken arm, cancer, a heart attack, or pneumonia, I am very much in favor of emergency medicine; by all means set the arm, remove the tumor, scoop out the clogged artery, douse the patient with antibiotics. Oh yeah. I am a truly holistic practitioner: I believe we need ALL kinds of medicine.
However when it comes to chronic conditions, "western" medicine is not effective. In fact, that approach can make things worse.
Everyone has some kind of chronic this or that - conditions that won't kill you, or even set you back so much, but they flare up repeatedly. For instance: allergies, indigestion, low-level headaches, sciatica. I could go on, but you get the idea. If you try to treat these conditions with "western" medicine, they will either overmedicate you (never to great effect) or send you away after telling you there is nothing wrong (as if you would make the appointment just for the hell of it). They might tell you the condition is stress related. Is that helpful?? Sometimes the "western" medical approach is to run people through so many horrible medical tests that finally an emergency situation arises which can then be treated.
For chronic conditions, go see the acupuncturist, massage therapist, osteopath, homeopath, physical therapist, psychotherapist. These modalities are often described as "alternative" but actually they are more traditional than "western" medicine, older and definitely more effective for chronic conditions.
Visualization for Chronic Conditions
This one is very fun, depending on how willing you are to use your imagination. To deal with chronic conditions, you must open your mind, you must be willing to entertain images that go far beyond the usual pathological definitions. If you can look at your chronic condition as a code, a symbol of something you're working through at a very deep level, it can help you learn to manage the condition, or propel you into making an appointment with a healer who can help you.
Take a few deep breaths, close your eyes. Ask yourself, If life were a dream, what would my chronic condition symbolize? Play with metaphors, such as "pain in the ass," "broken heart," "under the weather," "that makes me sick." Can you find a metaphor for your condition?
Ask yourself, If my condition was an animal, what would it be? What color would it be? What emotional state best characterizes this condition? When you're suffering with your condition does it piss you off? Make you depressed? Is it seasonal? Do you get your chronic headache every day at 4 pm? Is your neck stiff in the mornings only?
Think of yourself as an FBI profiler, creating a comprehensive picture of your chronic condition. Unlike a "western" doctor, the acupuncturist, massage therapist, osteopath and homeopath will be very interested in your imaginative characterizations. Possibly more important is that by working with active imagination, your relationship with your unique chronic ailments will develop. A lot of people, once they're told by their primary care doctors that nothing is wrong, do their best to ignore the little, persistant sniffles or stomach aches. I'm not saying that's wrong; some things must be tended, others not so much. What I know for myself is that if I get curious about anything, that state of being creates space into which something new can occur to me. Don't give up on yourself. Pain is a message from the body. I think it's right to pay attention.
We are complicated beings. An exclusively pathological approach can only take us so far in the quest for gracious good health. In addition to being annoying as hell, chronic conditions can be teachers that help us put together the complex puzzle of who we are. Open your mind, have some fun with it, engage your imagination. Then go see someone who can help, yes? I say yes.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
If you have any doubts about the impact of the mind on healing, then please explain why placebos work almost as well as actual medicine. Even more interesting is the fact that placebos are becoming more effective than they once were.
The people who love doing scientific studies are no doubt investing a whole lot of time and energy into the process of trying to figure out why. I'm more of a pragmatist. Rather than proving that the mind has impact on healing (something that has been common wisdom among healers throughout history and within most cultures from the North Pole to the South Pole), I am far more interested in applying that common wisdom to my work.
Hence I'm going to post a series of healing meditations I use routinely.
To proceed with any of these meditations, what you have to do is engage and guide your imagination. Take a deep breath or two, center and ground in whatever way is familiar to you, then "stream" the images below through your mind. The more vividly you picture these images, the better. As for how well they work, well, I'll leave that to the researchers. If nothing else, these images are calming and encouraging. They hurt no one and provide something to think about. It's always a good idea to reduce anxiety and stress.
If you do not have a process for centering or grounding, leave a comment if you would like suggestions about how to do that.
Several of my clients have had surgeries recently, hence this series of visualizations is fresh in my mind.
For the family, friends and health-care givers:
Focus first on the morning of the surgery. Imagine that the surgeon and entire surgical team wakes up well rested, alert and in good moods. Imagine the team gathering before the surgery, exchanging thoughts and other important information. Imagine a cohesiveness among them.
Visualize the surgery unfolding smoothly, without surprises or complications. Imagine the patient's heart beating steadily while his/her life force remains strong and intact. Imagine the patient is well protected, does not bleed too much, and sustains the trauma of surgery with robustness.
After surgery, imagine the anesthetic being released quickly and smoothly from the patient's body, imagine the patient managing pain with good humor and optimism. "See" the process of healing underway.
For the person undergoing the surgery:
In the weeks prior to surgery, as often as possible, visualize being in a place that creates a feeling of peace and serenity, a place in which the patient feels happy, safe, and secure. Use all the senses to create a multi-layered picture of this place. Usually the best scenario includes something beautiful and majestic like the ocean, mountains or a crystal clear lake, a clean gorgeous river or a meadow full of flowers, a forest of tall trees. In other words, visions of the beauty of nature seems to create the most palpable feelings of peace and serenity.
Most people visualize a place they have visited. One of my clients puts himself on a swimming dock at a lake he has visited countless times over many years. He "hears" herons and ducks, "feels" a soft breeze as well as warm sunshine on his skin. Every now and then in his visualization, a cloud will pass over the sun, bringing a sweet coolness. One of his feet dangles off the edge of the dock so it is barely submerged in the clean lake water. Ahhhh ... I feel calmer just thinking about it.
Take time building this visualization to include smells, sounds, and sensations as well as visuals. The more often the patient can put him/herself into this place prior to surgery, the better. A calm body/mind will be much better able to withstand the trauma of surgery, and too this internal place of peace and beauty will help the patient through the inevitable impatience and stress of recovery.
In fact, who needs to wait until they have scheduled a surgery to invoke a place of inner peace? We would all do well to create this place for ourselves, no matter what's going on, hey? I say hey.
On this beautiful summer day in Washington DC, I wish you peace. Shalom.