Friday, September 30, 2011
1. You have to meditate. Well, you do - for so many reasons! In-tuition means inner learning. To turn inwards and listen, you have to practice steadying your attention, otherwise you will never be able to hear the small voice of inner wisdom. I could write many posts on the benefits of meditation, but there's no need. There are a million books on meditation out there, for good reason!
Go to a class, watch a video, have someone teach you, practice every day. Meditation helps us sink below the radio broadcast of consciousness, the rational function that relentlessly explains what we are taking in through the senses. I love my storytelling consciousness, don't get me wrong, but there are other versions of the world, more subtle versions perhaps, that merit attention.
Meditation is more than important, it is absolutely necessary. And I know, it's hard, frustrating, etc. Just keep practicing. You must if you want to work with your intuition.
2. Ambition is the enemy of intuition. This is a tough rule to follow in my society at this moment in history. We are SUPPOSED to Set Goals at All Times, we are supposed to excel. Here in DC we're the worst uber over-achievers you've ever seen. Can you imagine how hard it is for us to put aside, for the moment, the tendency towards ambition? Holy cow.
But we must put ambition aside. Goal setting sets up conciousness to scan for information of a particular type. It's like when you get a new car, for instance. Suddenly you notice how many other people have the same make and model. You had never noticed before, because it wasn't included in conscious filters. If you set out to train your intuition in order to do a particular thing, all interpretations of what you receive will be colored by that goal, hence skewed.
3. Be skeptical. Please do not be a fanatic about your intuition or about anything for that matter. Do not swallow anything, not anything, hook, line and sinker. We were given the ability to discern; to disregard our critical ability is ... well ... disrespectful, also not useful. It is our cultural tendency to allow the critical function full rein, oh man the rational mind is such a tyrant in most of us. When your rational mind is being tyrannical (often happens during meditation) turn down the sound to a soft whisper. How? With humor, imagination, and practice. It really works. Or if you find yourself getting way out there in White Light land, come back, please, to a more centered space. Thank you!
4. Be curious. My teacher used to say, "Be empty, but not like the bowl put away in the cupboard, be empty like the bowl on the counter, the cereal box poised above it, ready to pour." Such wise words! Curiosity opens a space in the mind/heart into which something new can arrive. This is the best possible way to accurately receive insights and translate intuitive information.
5. Remember the Tao of Goldilocks. The inner world is so rich and fascinating. Sometimes when people begin an inward journey, it's so intriguing that they lose touch with the external world. Balance is what all good health is about. Don't go off the deep end, please. Keep it light. Actually, that should be a rule, too.
Clearly I have many rules around this, and a lot to say! I've got a happily busy day of work ahead, so I'll stop now. More tomorrow. Shalom.
Thursday, September 29, 2011
I could keep writing about Reiki, but it seems that what I wish I could say becomes more distorted with each post. Reiki is hard to write about, but it is extraordinary. Make an appointment for an hour-long session - you'll see. Then maybe you can describe it.
On to a topic that's equally difficult to explain.
TRUST YOUR INTUITION. The teachers said that to us over and over again in massage school. It sounds right, but what does it mean? Why are we supposed to trust something that is hit or miss, that can not be quantified or "proved" by scientific methods? How are we to connect with something that has been boo-hoo'd by teachers, elders, and our society's "wise" people all our lives? It's not easily accessible after about age 7 or 8. How can we find our way back to where we can trust our intuitions? Well? What good questions!
I'm sure you've heard people say, I wish I had listened to my gut. Maybe you've said it yourself - I certainly have. That phrase refers to a flash of intuition that perhaps was not in alignment with your rational function, hence was dismissed. Later, the gut feeling proves to be a more accurate pointer to right action, right decision making, than anything you could come up with. In other words, because you dismissed the intuition, you made a mistake and now you're annoyed with yourself because you knew, in your gut. You knew. Hmmm.
But sometimes intuition is completely off the mark; why wouldn't we dismiss it? How can we learn the difference between what will steer us in the right direction, and what is fantasy or imagination?
It's all in the translation. Gut feelings often occur literally in the gut, a sinking feeling or heaviness, a mild, passing unease or queasiness. Or a lightness, a sensation of pleasure, warmth, coolness, softness, something lovely. At other times, intuition is palpable in the head by way of aches or the sudden recovery from a headache, stiff necks that come out of the nowhere, light sensitivity or other visual changes. Sometimes the heartbeat quickens or slows, becomes more steady or less so.
The point is, intuition arrives in non-verbal form which makes sense as it is not a rational function. Intuition is sensate. When we become conscious of the intuition, the rational function kicks in, supplying a story to explain the sensation. It is the job of human consciousness to choose the best possible story for what's going on. Your consciousness is full of filters based on your values and assumptions. It will create the story that seems most likely, whether or not it's true, based on what has happened in the past, according to foundational values and assumptions.
During the earthquake last month, people who had never experienced an earthquake created some pretty interesting interpretations of what was going on in the first few seconds of shaking. Lots of people jumped to the conclusion that we were being bombed - you wouldn't believe how many! Some thought there were structural problems taking place in the buildings they were in, a water heater getting ready to blow, or construction people suddenly walking around on the roof. One of best I heard was from a woman who thought at first her large dog was running around boisterously, but then she realized it must be a larger animal - perhaps a moose. Within a nanosecond she realized it was more likely that an earthquake was striking than that a moose had entered her Capitol Hill home. But her rational function contemplated the moose idea since she grew up in Maine. Wow.
When learning to work with intuition, the very most important thing is to Know Thyself. If you have a conscious sense of your values and assumptions, if you've spent some time reflecting on how you grew up and the world view you inherited from those experiences, also if you pay attention to what you're trying to accomplish at the moment when an insight arrives in gut or head or heart, then you'll be a lot closer to an accurate interpretation of the event.
I'll write about this again tomorrow, offer a few exercises and techniques for interpretation that I've found extremely helpful.
Listen to that small or not so small sensation in the body that does not correspond to sickness or injury. OK? You won't regret it. Shalom.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Taken with the iphone last night.
Every kind of medicine is faith based, which is why the choices people make around their health are so personal and revealing. The way people deal with their health explains a lot about them! Wow.
Many people believe whole-heartedly in allopathic, science based, male dominated, highly technical medicine, though not nearly as many turn up their noses at more traditional methods as used to. I'm talking about my society of course. In fact, of all the "alternative" treatment methods, Reiki is among the most widely respected within the dominant healing paradigm, i.e. allopathic medicine. I find that interesting. Just as remarkable is the fact that Reiki is not a fad. Its integrity is enduring.
Before deciding what kind of medicine is worthy of faith, it's helpful to ask yourself what you think medicine is supposed to do. Are you wanting a complete and dramatic cure from all ills, pains and injuries? If so, you are likely to lean towards allopathic medicine since that approach is quite ambitious. Allopathic medicine is relentlessly aggressive - the best thing for some. But for all its heroic intensity, people still get terribly sick and die all the time. Even the finest allopathic medical minds can't explain why. In that model, meds are supposed to work identically for every patient. They don't! Believe me. It's a catch 22 in that system.
My opinion is that if there were any universal method to completely and dramatically cure, it would be clear which way to go. No one would get sick, right? Or if they did, they wouldn't be sick for long. No matter how medicalized we become in my society, people still get sick, they suffer terribly, sometimes from the remedies as much as from whatever is making them suffer. This is also true for every other kind of medicine, no matter what label you put on it or how much you believe it to be the right path to health.
I am truly holistic. I believe that every kind of approach is needed depending on what the person is suffering from, what life phase they are in, and the particular circumstances that existed prior to the illness or injury. If I break my leg, I will not call my acupuncturist - not at first. When I developed pneumonia I was sucking down the antibiotics. I am grateful for allopathic medicine!
Reiki is not dramatic or heroic, not in any way, shape or form. It is subtle, requires patience and curiosity from both the practitioner and the person receiving. What it does and how it works goes beyond the language available at this moment in time; it is not possible to describe, measure or quantify Reiki. To those who demand answers when they get sick, I can see it would be easy to dismiss.
I think in order for Reiki to flow, there has to be some degree of interest or curiosity - or perhaps desperation - on the part of the receiver. Reiki, just like every other form of healing, is faith based. It goes against the prevailing medical framework of pathologizing, diagnosing, then treating according to a very specific plan. Reiki is the jazz of medicine. Do you believe in jazz? Do you want to believe?
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
The Spiritual Medicine of Many Illnesses
Usui Reiki method to change your mind and body for the better
In the morning and at night, with hands held in prayer,
think this in your mind, chant this with your mouth:
For today only, do not anger, do not worry.
Do your work with appreciation.
Be kind to all people.
Founder of Usui Shiki Ryoho
(8/15/1862 - 3/9/1926)
Is Reiki ancient, re-discovered by Dr. Usui? Or is it something unique that came through him that day up on the mountain after his long retreat? Of course everyone has an opinion, but no one can say for sure where Reiki came from. It's a mystery!
I, too, have an opinion which is that there's nothing new under the sun. The laying on of hands is so ancient, it's kind of ridiculous to imagine any one person invented or discovered it. Healing touch is instinctual. Looked at from that perspective, what Dr. Usui channeled is literally as old as the hills. Even so, I believe his system, which involves the use of symbols that give shape and layers of meaning to the energy, lends a very particular quality to the work, one that works really well!
After I completed Level II training in Reiki, I believed I had a good idea of what it was for and how to use it. I knew some of it was mysterious, but I thought I had a grip on the general idea. I carried on this way, a Big Expert, for a number of years.
Then I traveled to Asheville, North Carolina to receive the Reiki Master degree. Below is the picture I took moments after that attunement, when, in wonder I stumbled outside. Wonder became awe as I gazed at the sky. You can not make this stuff up!
I believe in that moment Reiki mastered me, as it should be. From then on, I understood that no one has a grip on Reiki, nope, no way, not Dr. Usui, not Mrs. Takata, none of them controlled Reiki, nor do I. It is a flow, it moves. When it moves, Something Happens. Don't ask me what! I know I promised I would write about a session of Reiki today, but honestly there are no words I can find to describe the experience. Have a full session of Reiki, please, then maybe you can write accurately about it.
Hence I turn to the very simple principles of Reiki, above. There's wisdom in them there words, there really is. Perhaps all I need to say about Reiki is that it helps cultivate these principles, one day at a time. I wish I could say more!
Have a peaceful day free of anger and worry. Yes? I say yes. Enjoy! Shalom.
Monday, September 26, 2011
Reiki is a noun, though I've heard it used as a verb. English is poorly suited as a language to describe anything about the process. We can't even figure out its part of speech! So please excuse my clumsy, dumb-sounding attempts, ok? Thanks.
What's required in order to do Reiki is both simple and yet very challenging. A practitioner must have the ability to focus and quiet the mind, something that can be gained through any kind of meditation practice, martial art, or from doing yoga. It helps to have a relationship with the divine or at least accept that mystery is a part of our world. We can't understand EVERYTHING, people! No matter how controlling we are, shit happens that can not be explained.
If you meditate and have a relationship with the divine or acknowledge mystery, you're two thirds of the way there. You must also receive an attunement from a Reiki Master in order to honestly proclaim yourself a Reiki practitioner.
What is an attunement? I knew you were going to ask! Once again mea culpa - English is not a great language for describing it. An attunement is a ceremonial laying on of hands during which the soul of Reiki, and some particulars about the phenomena, are placed literally into the body of the person receiving the attunement. Think of ordainment. The officiating clergy always places a hand on the head of the person being ordained. Why? It's interesting to think about.
During an attunement, something mysterious is passed directly, by touch, through the Reiki Master to the person receiving. What is passed is not something I have words to describe, but the quality of attunement makes me think about oral traditions, the way elders told stories around the fire pit to the younger people, passing history, a system of ethics, and a world view, all with the voice. The "story" of Reiki is passed through touch. I don't know what else to say about it except it doesn't originate in the Reiki Master. It comes from somewhere else, through the body of the RM into the person being attuned. It's the weirdest feeling, like standing in an wind tunnel (not that I ever have, but it seems like it would feel the same).
Tomorrow I'll TRY to describe a session of Reiki. It is a participatory kind of witnessing. Though it's actually impossible to explain, I'll have fun trying.
Have a peaceful day. Shalom.
Sunday, September 25, 2011
Sometimes I google "What is Reiki?" just to see what comes up. Almost every explanation I've seen on the internet sounds ridiculous. What is life force energy? What does it mean to "move energy?" "Tingling" or "buzzing" in the palm of the hand could just mean you slept funny and now your hand has fallen asleep. Every attempt to explain, no matter how eloquent, falls light years short of articulating what Reiki is.
I used to make fun of Reiki. I told people I already knew "Reya-ki" so I didn't need to pay good money to be reminded of the truth that every one of us is a healer. (It's true, you know, we all heal with our hands.)
When will I learn not to make fun of things I know nothing about?
A class in Level I Reiki came around just in time for me to earn some CEU credits which is why I signed up. OK, I'll admit it, I was humbled after that first attunement and weekend of training. In fact, everything about my path to becoming a Reiki Master/Teacher has been humbling. I can't explain what, and I can't explain how or why, but what I can say about Reiki is that it is astonishing, palpable, trippy, and always different in every session with one exception. At the end of a Reiki session, both practitioner and receiver have connected with trust. Reiki connects us to hope and a belief in our power to deal with what life hands us. That's the only thing every session has in common. It's quite extraordinary!
Since that first attunement, eight years ago, I have used Reiki every day. First and foremost I give myself Reiki every day. I use Reiki in every session of massage. I have clients who come strictly for Reiki, too.
Jake (my old dog) did not like Reiki, but I've given Reiki to other dogs and cats, to trees, I've even channeled Reiki into the Washington Monument for god's sake! I send Reiki remotely, for half an hour once a week, to a someone or someones who asks. Someone always asks. I channel Reiki into food, water, my clients' meds (if they want me to).
Clearly this practice is valuable, at least for me!
I'll write more about Reiki tomorrow. For today: be well. Trust in what's beautiful and mysterious. Yes? I say yes. Shalom.
Saturday, September 24, 2011
Not only do people need people, but we also needs periods of retreat from the maddening crowd. Some of us need aloneness more than others, but even the most extreme extrovert needs an occasional day of retreat in solitude.
There is nothing quite as restorative as a long walk in a beautiful landscape. Left alone with our thoughts, we work through things, problem solve, and reflect. Withdrawing from social discourse for a little while allows the mind to integrate experiences, memories, goals and wishes, a really important thing in terms of good mental health.
Without this kind of integration, it's impossible to gather wisdom. In fact I think (this is not scientifically documented as far as I know) that all learning takes places after the fact. You read the book, go to class, listen to the lecture, etc. But I think it's after class, on the way home perhaps or maybe later while you're making dinner or even later, in dreamtime, when the information becomes something you know. When you start a new job, the first day all you do is take in information. There's no way anyone can truly be functional on the first day. By the end of the first week, you're actually able to DO the work, or some of it, depending on the job.
Information out of context is meaningless, which is why (I think) crammed information doesn't stick. You have to take the written test to renew your driver's license. You read the book the morning before you go take the test, jam the facts into your head, take the test, pass. But can you remember, even the next day, how many feet before the intersection you're supposed to signal a turn? Hell no. In and out.
Solitude is good for far more than book learning, of course. It's good for the soul. Only during alone time can we truly become centered and peaceful. When alone, we can fit together the puzzle of other people's behaviors (sometimes), or reflect on our emotional reactions to what other folks do and say. Alone time is spacious, it allows us to contemplate human behavior, our own and others. This is such a good thing!
If you never take a walk on your own, give it a try. You will be amazed at how healing it is. Gain some wisdom, integrate the events of your life with memories, goals and wishes, then come back to your tribe, such as it is (community, family, friends) and share the fruits of your solitude, yes? I say yes.
People need people, people need solitude. We are a complicated species! Happy Saturday. Shalom.
Friday, September 23, 2011
Besides the mom and daughter, none of these people or dogs knew each other. Still, everyone stopped, chatted, watched the dogs interact. People are so sweet! (So are dogs!)
We humans are social animals, we need friends, families, communities. There are people who can live off the grid, grow all their own food and amuse themselves, so I can't literally say we need others in order to survive, but we DO need others for our well being.
Historically and biologically, we are social predators who hunt, farm, worship, eat and sleep together, live in group houses, huts, long houses and tipis. Most of us spend large parts of every day in each other's company.
I love phrases like, I'm here for you and I've got your back. Our languages include many words and phrases that describe our instinctual need to spend time with others of our own kind. Human philosophies incorporate interrelatedness as if it were a law of nature, which I guess maybe it is.
People can be a pain in the ass, yes? I say yes - even those whom I love beyond all reason. But even when they annoy me, and even though I am as introverted as it is possible to be (which means that socializing is physically exhausting), I would never let those two facts keep me away from other people.
We have flaws as a species, but mostly we are quite optimistic and adorable. Most of us mean well though we do make our share of mistakes. It's tempting to think of hiding far away from humanity. But the thing is, those who don't connect with others always become very strange, even if they are utterly self sufficient.
Break bread with someone today, yes? Have a conversation, ask questions and listen carefully to the answers, learn something new. Tolerate someone who holds different values than you do. Have a laugh, tell a secret, give someone the benefit of the doubt.
I am absolutely certain that relating to others of our species is healing. Yes? I say yes. I have a day of relating to clients ahead of me, very much looking forward to that. Shalom.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Everyone has a theory, scientific, metaphysical, biological, psychological, spiritual or otherwise about why we dream, what dreams are meant to accomplish, and of course what dreams mean.
Here's what I know: dreams are free entertainment, oh man they are so creative! They are often more creative than anything I could come up with while conscious. I don't know why, but this simple truth about the fantastical nature of dreams leads me to believe that dreams bring integration and healing to the dreamer.
I used to work diligently with all my dreams, using various techniques to peel back the layers of meaning. A particularly effective way towards greater understanding is to write down your dream in as much detail as possible, in present tense as if it were happening now. Add the phrase "part of me" after every noun. Add "ego part of me" after the words "I" and "me."
Try it - wow, is it interesting.
There are many techniques for dream interpretation. Try them! It's fun. I would caution against depending on books that tell you exactly what your dream symbols are meant to convey. It's cool to get a general idea as background for times when you're stumped, but symbols are personal as well as collective. Sometimes in your dream, a cigar is just a cigar.
If you can't remember your dreams, set your intention to remember. One function of consciousness is deciding what we don't need to remember. If you tell yourself you want to remember, you will. It works, believe me. Keep a pad of paper and a pencil by the bed. When you wake up, jot down whatever comes to mind - oftentimes, middle of the night thoughts are interrelated to an ongoing dream. When you wake up, take a minute before jumping out of bed, ask yourself, "Where was I just now?" Let images and scenarios rise to consciousness. Write them down. Many people who never remember their dreams, once they put their mind to it, begin retrieving large amounts of dream material almost right away. Bits and pieces sometimes come back during the day. Notice when that happens, spend a minute with whatever you've remembered, write it down. Dreams are a treasure chest of fabulous intrigues, strange symbols and bizarre plotlines, well worth remembering, if you ask me. You have to write them down because dreams are quicksilver. They can dissipate like fog burning off in the morning.
How do I benefit from remembering and working with my dreams? I am entertained, first and foremost. What's wrong with that? Dreams are part of personal expression; people who don't dream, literally, become very mentally ill. I don't know if you can actually die from dream deprivation, but it's not good for you. As long as it contributes to my mental health, then hey, my dreams deserve examination, yes? I say yes.
I have had some "true" dreams as one teacher called it - dreams of prophecy. I had a repeating dream for years in San Francisco that for some reason I had decided to move east of the Mississippi River. Indeed this came to pass, though, in the dream I wasn't happy about it, because of the extreme humidity. In "real" life I love living here, except in August. It was a true dream!
The ego part of myself decided to move east of the Mississippi River part of myself in spite of having to contend with the extreme humidity part of myself. Hmm. An interesting way to look at it!
These days I pick and choose carefully among the dreams I decide to explore. This is a life stage thing - after fifty, time is limited. We older folks think hard before engaging in anything, to make sure it's worth the effort. Dreams that stick with me all day, or leave behind a disturbing or joyous emotional resonance, deserve my attention.
My dream life is rhythmic; I'll dream a lot for awhile, then the dreams drop off for a time, only to return, when they're ready, en masse. I always loved the image from Hans Christian Andersen's fairytale, "The Snow Queen," of dreams as shadow horses racing into the homes of dreamers, racing away before dawn. That image resonates.
Dream a little dream today, please? It's your birthright! Enjoy.
Monday, September 19, 2011
One part of being healthy has to do with noticing, and being guided by, emotion. I know, I KNOW, within my society, the rational is always considered the most valid point of view. Emotions are thought to be frivolous, extraneous, bothersome. I know people who ignore most emotions, or try to at least. In Washington DC, anger is an acceptable emotion, but other emotions are dismissed with great disdain. Don't ask me why anger is OK.
I utterly and completely disagree that being rational is the end-all, be-all of anything. Any definition of healthy, if you ask me, includes balance. We must temper our bossy, tyrannical, rational functions with the more mysterious and nonsensical realm of emotion. We are emotional beings as well as rational beings. Without a balance of both, how can we call ourselves healthy? It isn't rational!
Emotions are messengers, they arise from physiological changes within the body that are a part of our survival instincts. When emotion becomes conscious, that's when we realize we're feeling something, but that consciousness comes after the fact. People who study these things write that though it's possible to mask some of the facial expressions that are a part of emotion, it's not possible to actually forego the emotion itself.
I look to my emotional states in order to understand whether a particular line of thought, a situation, or an experience is healthy or toxic, or both, or somewhere inbetween. If I feel gratitude, for instance, then whatever I'm doing or thinking about is surely a healing balm for body and soul. When I feel bitter or fearful, it's time to jettison whatever creepy thoughts I'm entertaining, or get out of whatever situation I'm in.
I rely heavily on the deep, instinctual, brainstem wisdom of my emotions, oh yeah. How are you feeling right now, this very moment? Your emotions can help you, I promise!
Happy Monday (If you are happy, then whatever you're doing? It's good.) Shalom.
Glowering people at Eastern Market. Toxic emotions ongoing for those poor people. Or it was bright and they were squinting.
Sunday, September 18, 2011
If I were given only one word to sum up my experiences attending births, I would use the word between. Labor and delivery are neither here nor there, not exactly of the world of linear time. Time stretches out, mostly, though sometimes it rushes by, as the mother moves through the stages of labor, transition and birth. Numbers on clocks and calendars are rendered meaningless by the enormous spiral of energy that completes itself in childbirth.
The woman involved is not still pregnant, but neither has she had her baby. She's between in other ways, too, breathing between contractions, navigating between stages of labor, etc. The baby is, too. And all of us standing around in the room, witnessing, feel between, too. Attending a birth is an experience outside of time and what we usually think of as "reality." It's an epic experience, not that different from any one of the myths or legends. It requires courage, stamina, focus, devotion and surrender, too, to the mysteries. Oftentimes, the mother and father experience every conceivable emotion as the labor unfolds.
The funny stories people tell about the mother cursing or shouting? I believe this behavior is a signal that the mother is gathering the energy she will need to push the baby out. I tell pregnant women to allow their inner bitch full rein in those moments. I think it helps, I really do.
A friend says during labor she was doing a lot of vocalizing. Finally a nurse came into the room and said, "What's wrong?" My friend shouted, "I'M HAVING A BABY!" Indeed.
Depending on what's happening with the mother, as a doula I try to anticipate what she needs, make it available when she needs it. Of course this isn't entirely possible, but in some way, at least TRYING to provide what she needs seems to assist in the process. I squeeze the mother's feet or push on the places that are hurting, like the lower back, for instance. I get orange juice or ginger ale, ask questions of the nurses when needed. I'm there for the mother 100%, sharing the energy, moving and channeling as best I can, using every one of the skills I learned as a high priestess. Childbirth is moving and dramatic. No one can predict exactly how it will unfold, no one.
In the end, a baby comes into the room. It is always a miracle even though everyone knew it was going to happen.
The role of doula is a challenge, it is rigorous. Already I'm making sure I get enough sleep, I'm eating well, taking care. When my client's labor starts, I will need all my wits about me. It's not too early to begin to gather my energies together.
The role of doula is an honor. I look forward to it! Shalom.
Saturday, September 17, 2011
Every healer comes to the art with proclivities, areas within which she has a natural feel, a knack. We can't ask for these gifts, they are divinely bestowed, maybe from before the time we were born, who knows? Sometimes our particular gifts fit seamlessly into our lives, other times they seem oddly placed.
Every now and again I take on the role of doula, or birth attendant. Usually this happens with people who have seen me for pre-natal massage. The role of doula evolves out of our work together, which makes perfect sense.
What doesn't make sense, not in the conventional way, is this gift. It doesn't make sense because I never wanted children, and I do mean never. I remember making a bet with my sister Karen that I would never have kids. She said by the time I was 30 I would have two. The bet was for $15, an enormous amount of money at the time. What was I, ten years old? I already knew I was not meant for that kind of relationship in this lifetime. That I was not meant to have kids is one of the few things I've ever been absolutely sure of. It's interesting.
I had my tubes tied at age 23. The doctor tried to talk me out of it, which at the time I found insulting because after all, I WAS an adult. Looking back now, who can blame the doctor? Twenty-three? Holy cow. But I never regretted that decision, never heard the ticking clock later on in my thirties, never developed a need to hold other people's babies. Babies are like humans of any other age - I like some, others I'm not as interested in. The maternal gene is missing from my DNA, I swear.
All that said, truth is, it's fun to work with pregnant women. Babies in utero are very psychic, something they dispense with (mostly) once they're born. A common experience in this work is for the mother to fall asleep on the treatment table while the baby kicks, dances and moves like crazy. I feel very engaged with these babies; I'm always extremely curious to meet them after birth. It's like meeting a blog friend for the first time - we know each other well, yet we have never met. It's very fun. Ironic, isn't it?
On October 3, give or take a few, I'll be part of the team welcoming someone through the gates of life into this world; that is, I'll be attending a birth. The parents are friends as well as neighbors and clients. They are very dear to me. I want to be the best doula I can be for them. It's much on my mind.
The role of doula is incredible, it deserves a post of its own. I'll write about it tomorrow.
I slept twelve hours last night. I am definitely once again above the weather, a good thing since it is moody and cloudy outside. I followed my own rules and feel back to myself again. Yay. Have a peaceful Saturday.
Friday, September 16, 2011
I'm a little bit under the weather today. I love that expression; it's quite perfect since yesterday a big autumnal front moved through Washington DC. The air is 20 degrees cooler than it was yesterday, crisper. It smells like fall. It happened fast!
I'm feeling the shock of the change throughout my body, which means I'm not quite up to what I think of as "healthy," but neither am I sick. It's not always a black and white situation, you know. I don't have a fever, am not particularly congested or headachey. My stomach is unhappy but not all the way to queasy. I'm lethargic, but not bed ridden.
You could probably, if you tried hard enough, find some trace of a virus in my blood that could be blamed for today's malaise. I don't know - sometimes I think perhaps our tendency to always turn to the vast family tree of viruses and bacteria for answers is too simplistic. The truth is there are zillions of different viruses and bacteria at work on us at all times. Sometimes we react, i.e. get a cold, but sometimes we have no symptoms at all. The presence of the virus is not the definitive aspect, is it? The weather front knocked me off balance, just a little bit. Yep.
It has been interesting today to notice how I resist all my own best advice in terms of cutting myself the slack to simply take a day of rest. Only because I'm constantly pontificating here have I felt compelled to drink water, dress warmly, sit around and read all day. I took a short walk, not too fast. Fresh air is always a good idea, but otherwise, I'm walking my talk.
Be well, y'all. Shalom.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Do you sing? If you don't, you should really give it a go. It's good for your health on every level. You don't have to sing in front of anyone, you know, and it doesn't have to be good. Before radios were invented, everyone sang. Most people knew how to play an instrument, too. Until very recently, when people wanted to hear music, that meant they had to make it themselves. I love my CDs, my ipod, also Soundcloud and Spotify, Pandora, and all the incredible technology for sharing music, oh yeah. But I still think it's important for every one of us to make music sometimes. It's one of our birthrights, something humans have always done.
Singing opens the throat, a very busy physical space that needs opening on a regular basis. Think of the big blood vessels, the hardcore muscles, the glands and voicebox and esophagus, all of which must make themselves at home in that narrow passage between head and body. Stuff is packed into your neck like sardines in a can! Also: your head is a lot heavier than you might think it should be. Your neck has to hold up your head, move it around. It's a lot of work.
Singing isn't just about your throat, though. Here's a link to a NYTimes story about how humming clears the sinuses, eases sinus pain. It's the vibration of humming that helps clear the head. Cool, hey? Even better than humming, if you ask me, is "ohmming." Really let that ohm rattle the sinuses. I love to ohm. Ahhhh.
Singing strengthens the intercostal muscles and diaphragm, which makes breathing easier, always a good thing. When we sing, we are more likely to relax our eternally clenched jaws. What's not to love about that?
Singing also helps the spirit in many ways. It is an instinctual method of self expression, part of being a homo sapiens. Singing alone helps reduce a tendency towards self-consciousness. Singing with groups increases the ability to connect, relate, and work well with others. Singing generates an emotional state of happiness, bliss, reverence or silliness that's always good for us. We are a very serious species in general. Singing helps us lighten up. Singing helps us connect with the Divine. In many spiritual paths, singing is the way in which we pray. Singing is the wifi that enables our interactions with God. It is.
Try singing every day for at least five minutes - in the car, the shower, wherever. Singing along with your ipod is great, but you have to sing LOUDLY, so maybe not on the subway car on the way to work, yes? I say yes.
One of my great teachers says if you want to avoid becoming depressed, you should sing and sweat every day. Why not?
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
I wonder if the ergonomic furniture industry is going to tank now that the people who make these kinds of decisions have figured out it's the sitting, more than the brand of chair one sits in, that's not good for us.
Our bodies were not made to stay in one position; we were meant to move around. Even having "perfect posture" (whatever that means) all the time is not good. One of my great teachers used to say, "Go ahead and stand up straight - just not all the time!" He also said, "Go ahead and slouch - just not all the time!" I say, go ahead and sit down - just not all the time!
One thing our bodies were made to do is walk. Walking is good for everything - physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally. We are built to walk, we really are. (OK, not all the time.) Think of the eons that passed as we evolved, the hundreds of thousands of years during which we changed structurally in order to stand up. What do we do now? We sit down all the time. It's kind of sad.
We city people walk - with a fury, should say. Power walking is fun, exhilarating and aerobic. To my crazy busy fellow urban citizens, I would like to suggest strolling sometimes. Yeah, just, you know, walking along at a moderate pace. When strolling, it's possible to look at the architecture of the buildings you're passing, sniff the air, watch the sky. I do it every day when I go out to take photos, stroll, I mean. I love power walking, but that's not the only way to get from point A to point B. Stop and smell the roses sometimes, hey?
It makes me laugh when someone suggests that the way to begin walking more often (for those who don't do the city style power walk) is to park your car at the outer edge of a parking lot. Reality check: a walk through a parking lot is no fun at all! There are folks out there who never walk - if the only time they do is while navigating a shopping mall parking lot, they will never be inspired to take a walk in a park, through a public garden, around a lake or through the neighborhood. They will associate walking with exhaust fumes, honking and people jostling for parking spots. For heaven's sake, that isn't a walk!
If you've been in the same position for awhile, reading blogs, why not take a minute now to breathe, relax your jaw, stretch, look around, hey? That's exactly what I'm going to do.
Monday, September 12, 2011
September 11 passed peacefully in Washington DC, thank God. It was a beautiful, sparkling clear day, also a Sunday which is possibly the only day of the week during which a majority of DC's hard-working citizens actually make time to relax.
It was not calm in DC ten years ago on September 12, oh no. The only peace to be found was overhead, since all flights were grounded for a few days. The sky was returned to the birds and the cloud people for awhile. Wow.
We citizens of DC were in shock, bewildered, angry, frightened. This is not like us - we are a city of rational brainiacs. No one knew if they should go to work or stay home, and then only a few days after 9/11 we had to contend with the anthrax attacks which meant we received mail sporadically and even so worried that some trace of anthrax was attached to our LL Bean catalogs and such. On September 12, the Capitol, White House and other federal buildings were closed to the public for the first time. The rug was pulled out from under us. It was a difficult time.
But we are an incredibly resilient species. Like ants or bees, we set out instantly to repair the damage at the Pentagon, clean up the anthrax. We deepened our relationships with friends, neighbors, family. We talked to therapists, received massage, acupuncture and such. We wrote about Septemer 11, we shared our stories with one another. We carried on, got back to life. We did not spend ten years shaking in our boots, as we could have, I guess.
Yesterday I saw a steady calm in the faces of my clients as well as the faces of the much smaller than usual crowd at Eastern Market. Though on the one hand we will never completely recover from 9/11, we have healed significantly in ten years.
Is it true what they say about timing healing all wounds? Time is a powerful component in every experience of healing, definitely, but ALL wounds? Not sure about that.
Salaam, Shalom, Peace.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
Is grief healing? I'm not clear that it always is. Sometimes it seems like grief is one more way to suffer, to cling and congeal around sadness. Other times it moves energy. It is completely unmanageable, unpredictable and unnerving.
I find it fascinating that in some cultures, professional grievers attend funerals to cry and pull at their hair, wail, that sort of thing. It is thought in certain societies that grieving helps the spirit of the deceased move to a place of renewal, but that when loved ones grieve too deeply, the spirit can get stuck, hence the anonymous grievers do the work without any personal emotional attachment. It's a clever idea, a little too clever, perhaps. It is sacred drama, so who knows, maybe it really works.
What I know about grief is that it is inevitable, it is a part of being human, not that we're the only species who grieves - elephants, monkeys, dogs, birds, probably a lot of other animals as well - when we lose one of our beloveds, we grieve.
One way to move grief is to tell the story - where we were when we learned of the tragedy, which, in the case of today means where we were ten years ago when the twin towers came down in NYC, when the Pentagon was hit, when the plane was shot down over Pennsylvania.
Where were you? How did you find out? Then what? Tell the story today, and listen to the stories of others, hey? We cannot go back and undo what took place ten years ago, but we can be compassionate with each other and ourselves. It's the best possible way to navigate the common grappling with our ongoing national grief over 9/11. (Thanks to Krista Tippett of the OnBeing blog for the phrase "common grappling." Perfect.)
Salaam, Shalom, Peace.
Friday, September 9, 2011
Swallowing a pill is an act of faith, well - it is! Google the phrase placebo+effective+studies and see for yourself. Part of why we believe in pills has to do with their form. They're pleasingly small, smooth, expertly crafted, a circle or oval or capsule. Pills are designed to be especially reassuring. Oh yeah, pills are designer creations, you better believe it! Everything about the marketing side of the pharmeceuticals is very sophisticated and expensive - the research that goes into these things, the meetings of execs sitting around looking at various designs for the Next Big Drug, can you imagine? I can.
I'm not against acts of faith, by any means, though I believe that everything, and I do mean everything, deserves scrutiny. Watch the pharmaceutical TV ads: the middle aged couple on a sailboat, living the dream of retirement, soft music in the background, while the crawl at the bottom of the screen is saying if you take this you could have seizures, a heart attack or die. "Side effect." That's jargon for a possible impact of the drug that you might not want to experience. SIDE effect? Who came up with that? It's brilliant - and cold blooded! Pharmaceutical advertising is profoundly well executed, and creepy as hell if you ask me.
Here's the thing: when a person believes a pill is going to fix everything, less attention is paid to the situation that lead up to the malady in question. It's like the ailment arrived from another planet. The pill is meant to vanquish the invader, after which the common wisdom holds that we should go right back to our regular lifestyle - the environment in which the problem developed in the first place. Huh?
Some people know they need to change the way they eat, quit smoking or whatever, and many do make changes in their lives to help themselves stay well. A big ole gassho to those who do it. Not many believe they would have had the strength of character to make the changes under normal circumstances. They got good and scared (interesting phrase) which lit a fire under their butts (also an interesting phrase). A good scare always helps those of little faith get with the program. What I'm saying is that whenever we find ourselves at the doctor's office, it's a little scary. We are open to suggestion at times like that, more vulnerable than "normal." When the doctor prescribes a pill, we relax a little bit. Pills to the rescue!
Even the metaphoric symbolism is apt: we swallow pills whole.
I go on and on about pills, don't I? Perhaps I'll stop here.
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Everything is both poison and medicine, depending on how it is given, also how it is taken, and of course how much is administered.
Wise words. Honestly I can't remember where I learned the above, from a teacher, a book, or maybe from the depths of my highly active imagination. No matter where it came from, it rings true. For instance, a little bit of honey is medicinal - it's mildly antibacterial, soothes a sore throat, helps some people with asthma and allergies. A lot of honey gums up the digestive system, overloads the kidneys, pancreas and liver. Too much honey is poison.
For some people, chemotherapy is miraculous. They are constitutionally able to tolerate the chemical cocktail; their bodies know how to use the treatment to heal. Others react terribly to chemo. Someone I knew became so ill while undergoing chemotherapy that her doctor told her she had about eight weeks to live. She went off the chemo since she thought we was going to die anyway, after which she miraculously went into remission and lived six more years!
The medicine of choice at this moment in time, in my society is pills. Oh man, we are really into our pills. It doesn't really matter what's in the pills - apparently - since placebo pills work almost as well as 'real' medicine. A recent study showed that placebos are far more effective now than they were thirty years ago. I'm telling you, we love pills!
I'm not just talking about 'western' medicine; have you ever seen how many supplements are a part of naturopathy? I know people who swallow buckets of supplements every day on the advice of alternative healers. Holy cow, it makes my liver hurt just to imagine trying to process all those pills.
The next time you go to the health food store, check out the vitamin aisle. At the drugstore, look at the pain killer aisle. I think if pills were withheld, people would riot in the street.
And now please do not get me started on prescription drugs. I won't even go there, not in this post. All I'm willing to say today is that I'm grateful for the miracle of prescription drugs, but they should be used sparingly, only where actually needed.
I often wonder whether we would stop worshipping pills if we realized, really took it in, that EVERYTHING is medicine and poison. The world is not a neutral place that has no impact on us as we live our lives within it. Everything has an impact that is healing or toxic - sometimes both! If we began utilizing what's at hand for our healing, maybe we wouldn't think we need so many pills.
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Though I don't currently have a pet, I learned during fourteen years with my dog Jake that living with animals is good. Dogs, cats, birds, fish, turtles, horses, goats and chickens - we have lived with these and many other animals for unimaginable numbers of generations; it's part of being human.
Many studies have shown that hanging out with animals lowers blood pressure and raises morale. Animals help people with Alzheimers, heart disease, cancer, and depression.
One of the most healing animal/human programs I know about is one in which prison inmates are taught how to train seeing-eye dogs. There's no down side, think about it. Wow. I'm sure it helps all beings involved from the trainers to the inmates to the dogs and the people who are helped by the dogs once they've completed their training. Dogs are working animals; I'm sure they're proud to do the work. Someone told me the rescue dogs at Ground Zero after 9/11 became depressed at finding so few survivors. They are a noble species.
I find fascinating the recent trend in cities in which people are beginning to keep chickens and geese again. It was common practice in Washington DC up until the 1960s when it became illegal. The group "Hens on the Hill" is advocating for that law to be changed. I'm all for it. Chickens are total characters, I'm told. I wouldn't mind having a couple of hens, though - given where and how I live, I'm not sure how I could pull that one off.
Yes, animals shed. You have to deal with their poo, feed them, pay their vet bills, wash them and care for them. It's a lot of work, when done well. It is such great work, though, supremely satisfying and healing.
Today's pictures are of my dog Jake who died of old age a couple of years ago. Isn't he sweet?
Sunday, September 4, 2011
A great many people have studied and written about life's stages, and why not? Fascinating stuff. Recently I read somewhere that the definitive study of old age does not exist simply because no one has ever survived to reflect upon it. Old age is a mystery!
I'm thinking about this today because I have a rather remarkable number of friends who have just turned 40 or are about to. I feel for them, faced with what comes after the first half of life. It isn't easy.
"It" begins in earnest in the 40s - growing old, that is. I know folks in their thirties are able to intellectually understand aging. The thoughtful ones have given it a lot of consideration, but it isn't until one is IN the forties that it becomes visceral - our mortality, that is. In my culture, we mature early and age late. After awhile, it's easy to believe it will never happen. But it always does, believe me!
Two of the many things that happen to the body after forty have to do with drying up and hardening. It's gradual, but it starts to happen right around that age. Only after forty do people, after sitting for awhile, have to stretch when they stand up. People begin to notice many different ways in which they are becoming, slowly - so slowly - a salty concentration of the juicy youth they once were. It's sobering, to say the least. Hence the mid-life crisis, hey? Oh yeah.
In the decade of the forties, many people begin to come to terms with the life they have lived, which is a part of every life story, should say. Many folks question previous decisions and choices. I know I did. The luxurious feeling that your life can be anything you want begins a slow fade at forty. After forty, the thought that comes to most is something like, Wait! THIS is my life? Not all those other lives I imagined for myself? What??
I think the decade of the forties builds character. Without character, getting old is a miserable situation. But if you are able, in your forties, to shine while considering the inevitable next phase in life, you'll be fine. My forties were extremely wonderful in many ways, harrowing in others. I was at full power in that moment, having been around the block a couple of times yet only beginning to noticeably age. In my 40's I went to massage school, I became a mighty priestess, travelled and taught in the U.S., Canada and England. I learned how to cook, or should say, became confident enough to give it a go. I moved from San Francisco to Washington midway through my forties. That's when Jake came into my family, during my early forties.
From forty to fifty - well, wow. It's a powerful, expansive, challenging decade. (Thanks Ellen for reminding me to say so.)
Even those who get hair implants, buy racy sportscars, leave their spouses (that's what I did), or engage in other crazy, mid-life antics, need not worry. After fifty, many of us settle down whether or not we've developed character. We think, OK. This is my life. Could be better, could be worse. It's all good.
If you're on the brink or have just entered your forties, may the force be with you. Keep breathing. Life begins at forty, it really does.
Saturday, September 3, 2011
I wonder if the guy in the picture is breathing comfortably as he naps. Doesn't seem like he could get a good breath in that posture, but maybe. The physiology of breathing is really cool, at least to anatomy nerds such as myself. For instance, inhaling feels active as a sensation, but what's happening is that the diaphram drops, creating a vacuum in the lungs. Air rushes in. Exhaling is more active, the diaphram lifting, pushing the air out. You know that's what asthma is, right? Having a reduced capacity to push air out of the lungs.
Here's a simple breath meditation that can increase lung capacity which is good for everything, believe me: everything. It is also supremely soothing and relaxing.
GROUNDING AND CLEANSING BREATH MEDITATION
Sit or stand with your spine fully extended, open your shoulders. Let your head sit comfortably on your neck, your spine sit comfortably in your pelvis. Feel your feet on the floor. Stand up straight but don't strain, be comfortable. Imagine a silver or gold cord extending from the top of your head, gently lifting the top of your head. Imagine a green, deep brown or burgundy cord extending downwards from your feet, holding you securely to the earth. Now relax your jaw. Let your lips part slightly, part your teeth slightly, relax your tongue.
Now breathe. Take two or three breaths at your own pace, as deep as feels comfortable. With the next breath, let your lungs fill with air (remember your diaphram drops, the air rushes in, so you don't have to push). When you exhale, let it all go. If you aren't too self conscious, say Ahhhh out loud with the exhale. (The "ahhh" makes your exhale a sigh which soothes your liver.)
With the next breath, imagine you can breathe past your lungs, filling your whole body with clean, fresh air. If you can't imagine, then pretend to imagine. When you exhale, imagine that the air travels down through your feet, through the cords down deep into the earth. When you inhale, imagine that you are drawing breath from both head and feet cords, filling your body with starlight, moonlight and sunlight, also with the deep, rich, fertile energy of the earth.
When you exhale, let it all go.
The above takes two or three minutes. It always helps in every situation. Give it a go.
Breathe easy today, y'all. Shalom.
Friday, September 2, 2011
If you stop breathing, you won't live long. In terms of what one needs to survive, breath is at the very top of the list.
There is nothing more soothing than the soft, rhythmic sound of the breath during sleep - unless the sleeper snores, of course. Indeed, deep, rhythmic breathing is the basis of so many healing and spiritual arts, it's mind boggling. It makes sense when you remember has basic breathing is. The reason we have to practice deep, rhythmic breathing is because we humans often interrupt the patterns of breath, sometimes consciously, though ordinarily it's not something we do on purpose. Gasping, sighing, hiccupping, coughing, hyperventilation, sneezing, sobbing or laughing out loud all break the rhythm. Talking is one way we consciously break the rhythm though not many of us are thinking about breath when we talk.
I believe all of the above serves some purpose. For instance, in Chinese medicine it is believed that sighing helps release stress on the liver. I'm sure that's correct, I feel it when I sigh.
Breath is far more complicated than inhale/exhale, hey? I ask my clients all the time if they are breathing. More often than you might expect, this question makes them smile, after which they tell me how often they find themselves holding their breath. Breathing helps bring emotions into awareness, helps the breather understand how she/he is feeling in the moment. When difficult emotions arise, many of us try to shut down the mechanism that brings various discomforts to the surface. I've done it, haven't you?
So tell me, are you breathing right now? Is it shallow or deep, slow or fast? How is your diaphragm this morning? Tight? Soft? Numb?
Tomorrow I'll post some simple breath meditations meant to help us make better use of this most basic living function. Until then, take two deep breaths, please. Then relax your jaw, part your lips very slightly, your teeth very slightly. Relax your tongue. Take two more deep breaths. Ahhhhh. Shalom.
Thursday, September 1, 2011
In my opinion, good health is mostly the result of genetics and luck. Would be great if we had more control over it, wouldn't it?
Think about it: there are many humans around the world who do not have access to all the things we in the U.S. believe create good health, such as clean water, high-quality food, decent shelter, highly educated doctors and sophisticated medicines. Still, even in what seems like extreme conditions to coddled Americans, people thrive. Here in the U.S., with access to anything we need to create good health, many of us suffer from a million different conditions.
Also consider: there are a whole lot of folks doing everything "wrong" (according to the experts) yet they are fit as a fiddle. So what does that say about all our efforts to be healthy? Hmmm. I love interviews with venerable people. Inevitably they are asked how they lived so long. Everyone has a different answer. Some say they prayed every day, or did good work, or took leisure time. Some say they drank whiskey and smoked cigars every day for decades - that's one of my favorite explanations. Really? Whiskey and cigars lead to long life? Wow. Some say they are too damn stubborn to get sick and die. Of course I love that one, too.
If you aren't the healthiest person, please don't blame yourself. No one knows why you aren't healthy, not really. We try to understand but the human condition is way too complicated for even the most brilliant medical minds. If you are healthy, stop right this second and give thanks for your good luck. (Excuse me while I do the latter.)
There are so many books out there describing EXACTLY what you should do in order to be healthy. Bless your heart, Dr. Weill, but really, eight weeks to optimal health? C'mon. If it was that simple, no one would be sick, right? I hope it was an editor who created the title of that book. Surely Dr. Weill is not such a simplistic thinker.
Following is a list of eight things I believe contribute to good health, beyond the genetics and good luck, that is. (I chose eight as a tribute to the good work of Dr. Weill.) Just as with every list, every article, website, blog and book on the subject, take it with a grain of salt, please!
EIGHT CONTRIBUTING FACTORS TO GOOD HEALTH
1. Get enough sleep. I'm going to write a whole post about sleep, not today but soon.
2. Drink water, even when you don't think you're thirsty. WATER, not other liquids. (Don't drink too much, though. Drinking too much water is really hard on your kidneys.)
3. Take care of your teeth. You wouldn't believe how many health problems can be traced back to bad teeth and gums.
4. Cultivate your sense of humor.
5. Don't spend your time sitting. Get up and move around.
6. Eat actual food, not processed, packaged, or fast food.
7. Learn something new every day.
8. Breathe. Take some deep breaths right now. Feels good, eh?
Happy Thursday to all. May we be happy, peaceful, healthy and filled with love. May it be so.
(Here's the first post in this series about health.)