Saturday, October 29, 2011


A fleecy sky such as this always heralds the coming of a big storm.

When people get sick, I tend to be more interested in the conditions that existed before the illness than in the illness itself. What is the ground in which the virus took hold? Consider the source, when you catch a cold. In what ways was your resistance lowered?

Similarly, I'm not as interested in the substance or activity to which people become addicted as I am in what that addiction addresses. What is the body/mind getting from the behavior and/or substance? What is the body/mind trying to accomplish?

Tying one on occasionally has its benefits. People blow off steam, let go in ways perhaps they never would otherwise. DC is a drinking kind of town. People are so tightly wound; even if they exercise and meditate, sometimes it isn't enough.

But what is going on when people drink to excess every day? Perhaps this behavior suggests that the body/mind doesn't know any other way to relax, blow off steam. Sometimes it means there is something going on that the daily drunk is unable to face or tolerate. Or maybe it's a habit. It can be as simple as that. The drinking is not as interesting to me as what is driving the person to drink. I've known a lot of dry drunks who have successfully quit alcohol, but still have a ways to go in terms of addressing the basis for the addiction.

Alcoholism is just one example of addiction. It's not always about a substance after all. For some folks, anger, anxiety or another intense emotion is addictive, maybe because of the adrenalin rush that accompanies these strong feelings.

Everyone is addicted to something or another, at least I think so. Sometimes I believe at the root of all addictions is the overpowering human urge to control the uncontrollable. We so want to wrap our minds and arms around the mysteries of the world. I don't blame anyone for the tyranny of addiction; my heart goes out to those who suffer most from addictive incarceration. It is like being in jail.

Recovery from any kind of addiction is a form of soul retrieval. It takes spiritual heroism to recover! I am in awe of those who tackle and triumph over their addictions.

It's interesting to think about.

Happy Sunday from super cold rainy Washington DC. Shalom.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

School of Hard Knocks

A perfect autumn rose. You would not believe how good it smelled.

Have you ever heard anyone say, "I learned that the easy way." Yeah. Me neither. The truth (my truth) is that wisdom is heard earned and slow to accumulate, but well worth the blood, sweat and tears. Hence if people really lived as I suggested yesterday: knowing their limits, sleeping when tired, eating when hungry, etc. - well - what a boring world this would be.

Part of our mandate while we dwell on this beautiful, dangerous planet, is to, with some regularity, step outside the comfort zone in order to prove ourselves to ourselves, or for the good of others, or just because it was there. If we were to always adhere to our limits, mistakes would NOT be made, and nothing new would come into being except by virtue of natural disasters (small and large). Here's a link to a New York Times article about the art of building character, which is all about failure. Really provocative reading! (The link color is a little hard to see. Click on the words "all about failure.")

In fact I believe strongly that through the alchemies of injury and illness, on several levels we are working through things, locating strength, presence, compassion and power as we persevere and recover.

One of my great teachers used to say that the first step in healing involves disorganizing the pattern of the dis-ease. For deeply entrenched patterns, that might mean a terrible case of the flu or pneumonia, a serious bump on the head, or even worse. I know more than one person who quit smoking during a bout of pneumonia. They couldn't bear to smoke while ill, hence were better prepared never to pick up another cigarette after they recovered. When my sister was diagnosed with leukemia, she dumped her awful boyfriend and went to France, something she had always dreamed of but never seriously pursued. The impact that surgery, chemo and radiation has on the people who suffer with cancer is truly awe-inspiring. People are so much stronger than they might believe.

I'm a great proponent of common sense, taking care, and paying attention to the needs of the body. I also believe that life lived without risk, injury or illness is not possible, nor is it desireable. Just like everything else about health, striking a balance between living sensibly and taking chances is an interesting challenge.

May you live in interesting times! Shalom.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Listen to your body

We live in such a weird historical moment in terms of health and well being. There are standards, set in stone or so they lead us to believe, that indicate what is healthy and what isn't. We are supposed to eat certain foods, drink a certain amount of water, avoid eating and drinking various things that are allegedly not good for us. Some doctors will insist we follow the protocol, even if drinking that much water sends us to the bathroom every ten minutes. What is up with that? What are these doctors thinking?

According to the numbers on reports based on blood tests and such, we are healthy or not healthy, no matter how we actually feel. You know when you have a physical, after which the doctor says your enzymes or blood gasses or whatever are fine (or not), that diagnosis is based on a number which corresponds to a statistic that someone else decided was good or not so good. What does that have to do with you, except in the most general sense?

Having standards isn't the worst idea, but I wish these benchmarks were looked at as general guidelines rather than hard and fast facts. Because we are such unique creatures, there is no standard that applies to all, not that I see anyway.

There's also the truth that there are trends in standards. What is deemed "unhealthy" today could suddenly become "healthy" next year, or vice versa. Cholesterol used to be bad. Then there was good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. Recent studies have linked drastically stripped down cholesterol (from prescription drugs) to strokes and other rather major problems. Cutting edge research indicates it's inflammation of the blood vessels that makes cholesterol stick and block the flow. Maybe cholesterol itself isn't bad at all. Rather, it's the inflammation that's bad. These designations are based on studies but those studies, when repeated, often yield different results.

Besides the scientific standard, cultural perspectives play a large role in determining what's healthy and what isn't. In Germany, doctors tend to diagnose problems with digestion more often than anything else while in the U.S. we think in terms of infection and antibiotics. Does that mean that Germans suffer less often from infections than Americans, or that German doctors diagnose differently? Dr. Jerome Groupman's book, "How Doctors Think" speaks to the way in which these standards exist outside of actual experience, outside the context of individual situations.

We have learned not to pay attention to the obvious, for instance, a study was conducted to prove that children who do not eat breakfast have a harder time concentrating in school. They had to do a study to prove this? Wow.

Here's my common sense advice: know your limits. When you're tired, rest or sleep, when you're hungry, eat. If you have to go to the bathroom, don't hold it! Go. If you notice that your knee is swollen, skip the tennis game today. If there's a food that's supposed to be good for you, but you don't like it, don't eat it! Those new fancy sneakers? If they hurt your feet, don't wear them.

If you aren't feeling well, even if your numbers are perfect, pay attention. Your situation is far more indicative of what's going on than the number on a computer screen, derived from a test and according to a standard set by someone you will never meet.

OK? I say yes. These standards come and go, but if you tune in to your own body, you'll soon figure out what does and does not work. We are complicated beings.

Be well. Shalom.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Feel the love

There are people who are very suspicious of therapeutic massage. How can it be therapeutic when it doesn't hurt? Of course there are massage therapists who will hurt you, if that's what you need in order to feel you are benefitting from a session. I am not of that school of thought.

When I receive massage, the last thing I want to experience is discomfort of any kind. I don't want to be sore afterwards, or bruised. I want my therapist to warm my muscle attachments, push my blood and lymph through my tissues, smooth and knead my muscles in a way that creates a lot of sensation and the possibility of release. A top-notch massage helps me breathe more deeply, let go of excess tension, extraneous thoughts and cares. I look for an hour of peace on the table. If it hurts, that takes me out of the precious experience of true relaxation, which is the only condition in which deep healing can occur.

Should say, neither am I a fan of very light Swedish massage which feels to me as if the therapist is applying lotion or sunscreen to the very most superficial layer of skin. I can do that myself.

One reason massage is relaxing is because it creates so much sensation that the brain is flooded with information. At some point, there is too much information to process, after which the brain gives up. Ahhh, what a relief!

Beware of a therapist who asks if you like light, medium, or deep pressure. That conveys to me that the therapist is not going to be tuned in to my body. What I always say when asked that question is that I like light pressure in some areas, medium pressure in other areas and deep pressure in yet other areas. If I'm feeling feisty I will then say, "Please pay attention to what's going on in my tissues, thanks."

In order to truly let go of the sturm und drang of it all, you have to be fully relaxed. If you're on the table, thinking Ouch! Is she going to do that same thing to my other arm? you will be missing out on one of the greatest benefits of massage: bliss.

Pleasure, bliss, relaxation, or a shift in the nervous system from sympathetic to para-sympathetic - however you wish to think about it - is a state in which the brain integrates and recalibrates the neural network. If you experience the bliss of relaxation during a massage, your brain and body are more likely to think of relaxation as a good thing. Considering the crazy lives we live, it behooves all of us to think perhaps less fondly of the adrenalin rush that accompanies stress, more fondly of the benefits of letting go.

Feel the love on the massage table, take deep breaths, let go. You will not regret it! Shalom.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Dress for the weather

It seems pretty straightforward - when summer finally ends, it's time to put away the flip flops and shorts, start wearing warmer clothes. In mid-August, when it's boiling hot here in the swamp, I see people wearing suits with their ties snug around their necks, jackets buttoned up. When it's freezing cold I see women walking around without hats, their hair still wet from the shower.

Imagine my eyebrows knitted, my head slowly shaking back and forth. Seriously I don't understand it. There are good looking fashions for every season, so it isn't a matter of wanting to be stylish. There are great looking hats that can be worn over wet hair. There are also hair dryers, right?

Especially when the seasons change, the body must redouble its efforts to maintain homeostasis. All summer the skin opens, and sweats, so we don't get too hot. In winter, goosebumps are the skin's way of explaining that it's damn cold out there.

It strikes me as respectful to honor the valiant efforts of the human body by putting on a sweater or loosening a tie or engaging in any number of reasonable acts to assist and support the work of our bodies. Yes?

Maybe those who love summer feel that continuing to wear tank tops without a jacket, until Christmas, is an appropriate way to rebel against the reality of the changing seasons. Maybe.

What I know for sure is that when the seasons shift, a lot more people catch colds than at other times of the year. The body is rendered more vulnerable when it has to adapt to different external conditions. Why aren't people more considerate?

Today, please, dress for the weather, ok? Tomorrow, too. And so on. I thank you and your body thanks you. Shalom.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Brother Wind

Wind plays a large role in Chinese medicine. I don't know much about it; but I know that some kinds of wind are thought to be pernicious. (What a great word.) The acupuncturist I see is rather intense when it comes to the idea of wind. I take a tincture to make sure the wind stays without, as it should. I love the name of the tincture, Jade Wind Screen. Nice name.

Shaking and uncontrollable shivering, symptoms we might think of as neurological disorders, are, in Chinese medicine, what happens when the pernicious external winds are allowed to enter the body. Everything about Chinese medicine fascinates me, including this approach to tremors of all kinds. Wow.

During a particularly cold, windy winter I explained to the acupuncturist that when the wind blew hard, I felt compelled to curse. I joked about wind-inspired Turrets Syndrome. He didn't laugh though. He gave me the penetrating gaze I've become used to, then said the cursing was my body's way of trying to match the intense pressure that wind creates externally. He put some needles in me, gave me the Jade Wind Screen. Now when the wind blows hard, I don't curse, I just think, "Oh. It's windy." Power of suggestion? Who knows.

What I do know is that windy days are exhiliarating sometimes, but exhausting always. As a shaman I cultivate my relationship with the wind, who I think of as a brother, one of those overamped, high energy brothers, you know what I mean? Meteorologists would say that wind is what happens when atmospheric pressure is not in balance. OK. To me, the wind has a presence, a personality. I can't engage with atmospheric pressure, but I can - and do - engage with Brother Wind. Life is much more interesting that way.

Today is a windy day in Washington DC. I'll take the Jade Wind Screen when I go out in a little while. I will wear my hat and, this afternoon when the wind is supposed to get really gusty, I'll make sure I'm inside somewhere. Safety first!

Chinese medicine is incomprehensible to me, but even so, it works! Hence - back off, Brother Wind, yes? I say yes.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Nose Knows

Most people rely on vision as the go-to sense for understanding what's going on outside the body, of course, since eyes are actually part of the brain. They sit at the base of the two frontal lobes; the optic nerve goes straight to the center of the brain. Windows of soul, maybe. Eyes are windows into the brain, definitely!

What about your sense of smell? Do you rely on it? Have you ever thought about it? Close your eyes right now and breathe in through your nose. What do you smell? I smell the coffee I brewed this morning as well as traces of panang curry (last night's dinner), a whiff of lavender oil (I always sprinkle a few drops on the treatment table when I'm working). I can also smell the skanky air of the swamp in which I live, because the window is open. What do you smell? If you're not in the habit of consciously smelling (what a funny phrase), it could take some practice to get in touch with this primal sense. It's well worth it because, whether or not you're conscious of it, what you smell has a huge impact on your emotional and mental state.

What does I smell a rat mean? Or Something is rotten in Denmark. Both phrases convey the manner in which the sense of smell can expand understanding and awareness of things not visible or audible, but well worth noting.

Even if the date on the package of chicken says it should still be good, even if it looks fine, it's well worth giving it a sniff before placing it in the frying pan. Only your nose can tell you if that chicken is still edible. Same goes for other foods, of course.

The sense of smell can help you understand what your body wants at any particular moment. Before I decide if I want coffee or tea in the morning, I smell both. Sometimes one or the other smells delicious, sometimes one or the other doesn't smell right. It's not the coffee beans or teabags in that case, it's my body showing me clearly which way to go. Taste is smell plus texture and temperature. That's why officianados always sniff the wine before tasting, it's why chefs smell the soup before serving. Or at least they should.

Smell is a great diagnostic tool. People with untreated diabetes smell sweet. When people are even slightly dehydrated, they smell like burned paper, at least to me. Unless you never brush your teeth, bad breath is almost always an indication of something amiss in the digestive system.

How about pheromones? You can smell them whether or not you register that fact. Does your date smell good? If not, no matter how good they seem on paper, politely extricate yourself from the situation. If they smell funny, it's not going to work. Believe me!

Scents, aromas, even stinky stuff, can bring memories up into consciousness in the most visceral way. Smell is powerful.

If you have chronically blocked sinuses, you don't have access to a very important way of understanding the world. Try humming, go see the acupuncturist, use a Neti pot (but not too often because sometimes that practice pushes congestion deeper into your head). Unblock those sinuses, please! Life, including a well developed sense of smell, is a marvelous, many layered, complex experience. Without smell, all experience is flattened.

Close your eyes and open the nose, because the nose knows. Shalom!

Monday, October 17, 2011


When one tugs at a single thing in nature he finds it attached to the rest of the world. ~John Muir (Thanks, Val Baker, for this beautiful quote!)

I've been trying, for days, to write a post about healthy boundaries. I thought I didn't have it in me to do so, most likely because my own boundaries are weak at best, even though I have worked diligently for years to cease and desist being codependent. It's a work in progress.

I'm not the only one with uneven boundaries, of course. It's a challenge in this society in which we are allegedly independent, separate individuals. Of course we aren't! We are empathic by nature, hence we tend to merge, emotionally and psychically, with those closest to us. But because we believe we aren't merged, it's easy to confuse what someone else is feeling with our own emotions. This is not healthy.

Even the use of the royal "we" is an aspect of merging, hey?

In massage school, there was little preparation for the merging that can happen during a session. My teachers talked about it a little bit, mostly telling us to stay centered and grounded in order to keep from taking on the energy of whomever was on the table. But no one taught us HOW to center and ground. Pretty words that didn't really help.

A couple of my teachers resorted to truly draconian techniques. One said that when working on someone in emotional distress, to imagine them inside a hermetically sealed cube, our hands inside gloves, simlar to the way techs work with radioactive materials. Whoa. Kind of extreme, hey?

I'm lucky to have trained extensively in sensate intuition with the luminous Cybele in San Francisco, also with Wendy Palmer, a great teacher as well. We practiced staying centered over and over again, first on our own, then in various situations of engagement, both emotional and physical. I always use those techniques during sessions - they work very well. I do NOT take on the trials and tribulations of my clients!

One of the simplest techniques for staying centered is to imagine yourself standing in the center of a column of light at least three feet in diameter. Begin to take some nice clean breaths. Imagine that by breathing in this way, you can expand your life force to fill the column. Make sure you have just as much life force behind you as in front, on the left and the right, above and below. Imagine the column has very clear edges, like a spotlight would create, for instance. This exercise is simple, but powerful.

In personal relationships, perhaps needless to say, it's much more complicated. If I try too hard not to fall into the center of someone else's gravity, I become distant and rather cold. When I plummet into another's center of gravity, I lose all sense of myself; I become a satellite orbiting the other person. That's never pretty! I'm a lot better at it than I used to be, but it's not easy with those I love dearly.

The Buddhists know we are all interconnected. Their practices of non-attachment create something rather different than what we non-Buddhists would call healthy boundaries. Buddhists are OK with being merged, as long as they can keep from grasping. Damn those Buddhists are so smart!

May you rest comfortably at the center of your own beautiful self! May it be so. Shalom.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Every bad mood has a physical component. Have you ever thought about it?

Those who insist on compartmentalizing emotion, as if it were separate in some way from body and mind, will focus (when in a bad mood) on the cause of the crankiness, for instance a big fight with a partner or someone at work, traffic jam, gloomy weather, bad news of every kind, etc.

But in truth, the bad mood was already firmly in place before the arguments or traffic. Life's circumstances act as fuel for the ill humor, but it was already there, waiting. If you're in a good mood, you'll simply crank up the stereo when the traffic jams occur, car dance until you get moving again. At work or with your partner, if you're feeling chipper (love that expression) you are more likely to be compassionate, to listen, and thereby avoid blaming and/or bumping heads.

When you get angry, it's not because of external circumstance. You were already angry. You know that expression, "Woke up on the wrong side of the bed," ? Yeah. It was there, waiting for a trigger. Some days it's only matter of another person looking at you funny; suddenly you're furious, judgmental. The temptation to blame the other is very compelling, but it never actually helps the mood. In fact, blaming external circumstance tends to make the mood even worse.

Bad moods (like every kind of mood) are complicated combinations of physiological, psychological and experiential circumstances. The psychological and experiential aspects of a foul mood are difficult to change. A traffic jam is a traffic jam, yes? But you can pay attention to the physical symptoms and circumstances. Sometimes simply by attending to the physical components of the mood, it's possible to turn things around.

Waking up on the wrong side of the bed often occurs after a bad night of sleep. Sleep is so important! Sometimes it's possible to trace a bad mood to a head or stomach ache. Sometimes those symptoms are very low level, hard to track. A hint of queasiness, constipation, heartburn, conditions you're likely not to notice, can be the foundation of terrible moods. In the aftermath of eating too much of anything, but especially sugar, bad moods are common. Too much caffeine is initially exiliarating, but a couple of hours later? When blood sugar crashes, so will your mood. Oh yeah. Need I even mention the impact of hangovers? Remorse, at the very least, is always part of a hangover. Hunger, too, contributes to bad moods. Are you on some kind of crazy diet? No wonder you're cranky!

Just as culpable are the symptoms that follow an injury. You stubbed your toe and now it aches, so it's harder to walk, or, for that matter, do anything. That nagging pain could put Mother Teresa in a bad mood, hey? A stiff neck, back-ache and other muscular or skeletal pain, acts as a trigger for all kinds of bad moods. Think of phrases like, pain in the neck. Try to remember it's YOUR neck that hurts, it isn't the boss, partner, dog or situation at hand. Same goes for pain in the ass. That's YOUR ass that's hurting. Yeah.

Lethargy and depression are, if you ask me, the same condition. When I'm in a mood, if I can remember to get up, go outside and walk around briskly for awhile, or take a big bike ride, I will inevitably become more cheerful. People who exercise regularly are happier than those who don't. When those people can't exercise for one reason or another, stay away from them because lord, they get so irritable! Yikes.

There's no way to avoid bad moods altogether; it's part of our heritage as human beings. I always smile when I hear people say, There's no point in getting worked up about this, or some similar phrase. Moods are not rational, and will not disappear through the great, tyrannical powers of logic, no matter how much you might wish it. This approach is denial, pure and simple. Try as hard as you can, you can not think your way through a mood.

But you can attend to the physical aspects, if you pay attention. Instead of pointing your finger at another person or a situation over which you have no control, sit instead with your sensations for awhile. Does your stomach hurt? When was the last time you got out for a nice walk? How did you sleep last night? These are things you can attend to, if not control.

See, there are so many reasons to eat well, get enough sleep and exercise. It isn't just about physical health, nope. Living well will make you a happier person, I guarantee it.

Be well today. Life is good. Shalom.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Thinking outside the box

How much time do you spend outside every day? Some people don't venture out very often. They're busy or working or engaging in activities that can only take place inside. Some people have no idea what the weather is like because they go directly from a garage into a car into another garage and another indoor space.

I'm not blaming anyone for this way of life, but for those who don't purposely, purposefully, consciously and mindfully go outside every day, I feel very sad. An indoor life is limiting in many ways.

For almost all of human history, people spent most of their time outside, only entering caves to sleep at night. Later we made tipis and other portable structures which we used for cooking, meeting with others and sleeping. Now most of us in my society live in box shaped rooms.

A great teacher of mine used to say, We become the shapes we inhabit. Oh yeah.

Of course the boxes we inhabit must be Pythagorean in design, otherwise the buildings would not be stable. I'm amazed we can create these perfect cubes. But the effect of living in these boxes, over time, is limiting in scary ways. Anything slightly off plumb in terms of horizontal/vertical is very hard for people in my society to perceive and can seem "wrong" compared to the the neatly predictable rooms in which we dwell. Boxes convey the idea of order and precision which really has almost nothing to do with the way life unfolds. Living inside these boxes magnifies the urge to control everything, which, in most of us, is already exaggerated. The shape dampens creativity and curiosity, reinforces the idea that predictability is a good thing (is it?)

Fresh air is important. Having a look at the sky every day, as often as possible through the day and evening, is (ironically) grounding. "Tasting" the weather orients body and mind. We might look at the weather report before going out to understand how to dress or whether to take the umbrella, but the actual going out enables us to access, directly through the five senses, crucial, non-verbal messages about how to behave and respond. I think we should all get out there every day whether we think it's too hot, cold, rainy, windy, cloudy or whatever. Becoming physiologically aligned with the weather can make or break the rest of the day.

Have you been outside today? Had a look at the sky, taken in lungfuls of fresh air? If not - please, give it a go. You will be refreshed and inspired by the experience, even if the weather is not perfect, I promise. Believe me. (If you don't believe me, read The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It is one of my all-time favorite books.)


Sunday, October 9, 2011


Once upon a time, hospitals were places people went to die, mostly. The word "hospital" referred to what went on inside, not to the buildings themselves. During the Civil War, DC was full of tent hospitals. Buildings with large spaces became hospitals. Even the rotunda at the U.S. Capitol was a hospital for awhile.

Early hospitals were filthy spaces, full of flies and bacteria. Many people died from infections in early hospitals which is why so many folks dug in their heels, refused to go, were fearful of these awful places. They were grisly, gnarly, awful.

Fast forward to 2011. Hospitals in developed countries have become like space ships straight out of science fiction movies. Many of them are huge and labyrinthine, and even though I'm sure the trend is to make them seem more accommodating to humans, they are cold, soulless, and buzzy from all the electronic equipment.

My belief is that hospitals are not that great for anyone including the people who work there. It's not just the shiny floors and harsh lighting, terrible food and weird smells that don't contribute to healing, nope. The way they're set up is so hierarchical, it's like entering a feudal fiefdom. Seriously hospitals are more hierarchical than the military, more than the government. Everyone knows her or his place and believe-you-me, everyone, from the front desk receptionist to the most esteemed surgeon, knows where they are in the pyramid, who is above them, who is below them. The power struggles among hospital staff are petty, monumental and ongoing at all times. The competition among those of the same rank is epic. It is so bizarre.

Burn-out is always a factor for the people who work at hospitals. Nurses are worked to death, as are doctors at every step of the ladder from intern to whatever the highest rank is. No one can remain compassionate, patient and open hearted through all that, though I will say that for the most part, the hospital staff I've worked with has tried, really hard, to avoid burn-out.

One way to avoid losing it is to become numb. I've seen that glazed look on the face of many a hospital worker, no matter their role or what's going on, though perhaps especially in emergency rooms. I don't blame them. Sometimes these people don't seem numb, but it's clear they're exhausted, bone tired. No wonder they lean towards sedating the patients, to keep them quiet. When people begin to recover, they tend to get mighty cranky. I understand the urge to press a button on their I.V., put 'em back to sleep.

There's also the geek factor these days. Hospitals are full of equipment and machines and surgical/medical techniques that allegedly save lives. (I always wonder what that means.) My guess is that people who know how to use these machines lean towards their use in most situations, just because they can. What's not neat, geeky cool about the gizmos, hey?

But meanwhile, the patients, oh god the patients. Most folks entering the hospital these days feel relief. They are in a setting with highly trained people and highly sophisticated machinery and modalities. The assumption that goes along with this is that they will be well cared for.

There's no way to measure the pros vs. the cons of hospitals. They are neither all bad nor all good. They are complicated places set up in a way that's bewildering even to those who work there. To the patients and the people who visit patients, they are very intimidating.

I visited clients in two different hospitals this week, hence the rant. Isn't the word hospital related to hospitality? Whoa.

Have a peaceful day. Shalom.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Letting go.

Autumnal rose.

The Buddhists have known it forever. We cling to the past, to our delusions, relationships, jobs, situations, long past their expiration date. We cling, and then we suffer. We are so controlling! We're responsible for everything bad - or everything good - we want everyone to behave in a way we approve of. We are controlling, and we suffer terribly from it. The next thing you know we are old or sick, and then we die, still clinging, still suffering.

What the Buddhists do is practice letting go, they practice every day. It's not the only thing they do of course; they also practice compassion and mindfulness, but oh my they are so smart to know how bad it is when we cling.

Clinging is different than commitment, by the way, yes? I say yes.

I could go on, but I think instead I will quote from a tribute to Steve Jobs that appeared in the Washington Post this morning. I've read a lot of great stories about him of course. The message in the following applies to all.

We spend a lot of time wishing for the past, carping about our gizmos and the sway they lord over us, while loading up our iPods with songs that were popular when we were in high school, while stalking old boyfriends on Facebook. That in itself is a pleasant form of grief, but it is grief all the same.

Jobs kept nudging us away from that. Under his leadership, Apple’s subliminal selling point was: Let it go. Let go of the uneasiness about computers. Let go of ugly, antique technology. Let go of the fantasy future of personal rocketships. Let go of something deeper, something resistant in you that romanticizes the past.

In 2011, so much of our culture — as well as our politics — feels as though we’re losing grip on the old, beloved things. Where did record stores go? What happened to letters that come in the mail? Where did movie theaters go? What about the books? Where is my Main Street? Where is my America?

Jobs had been teaching us to say goodbye to all that for decades — we just didn’t know it. Some of us said goodbye to typewriters in the 1980s when we finished term papers using MacWrite on a Macintosh Plus for the first time. Some of us said goodbye when we made PTA fliers and “Lost Dog” posters that were far and away better than their Sharpie-scrawled predecessors. Let it go, let it go: Take your CDs to Goodwill; give your books to the library sale.

It was therefore an irresistible metaphor, in these final years, when the auditorium lights would go down and the crowd would go wild for Jobs, who increasingly greeted his followers and touted the latest neat, new thing even as he wore the look of a person who was not going into that future with us. He would be getting off here; we were to proceed without him into the unknown. Let it go and look ahead was the message all along.

Let go and reduce your suffering, y'all! Be here now! Shalom.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


This family is experiencing a very happy moment at Peregrine Espresso. Beautiful.

Every now and then I take on the role of doula or birth attendant, normally for someone I've worked with while they were pregnant. Even less often I agree to doula (is it a verb? I wish there was a better word for it) for someone near and dear, which was the case yesterday.

As usual, the experience was awe inspiring, wondrous, nerve-wracking, epic. Every birth is. Because I dearly love the mother and father of the baby who was born yesterday, the experience was even more emotionally intense than usual, whatever "usual" means.

When I see how hard it is to give birth, how much work it is, what women go through, I wonder how it can be that there are so many homo sapiens on the planet at this moment in history. After the birth, walking home in the resplendent sunshine down Pennsylvania Avenue, I saw a lot of people, of course. I kept thinking Someone went through all of that to bring each of these people into the world.

May I take a moment to say the obvious: Women are NOT the weaker sex.

The way women give birth is a huge topic of controversy within the circles of people who assist with the process. Doctors tend to want to medicalize birth, though far less than they used to. I was born in 1953 when in the U.S., childbirth was utterly medicalized; my mother was strapped down to a table, flat on her back, drugged out of her mind on ether, probably, as were most women at that time. Right after birth I was held by the feet and slapped around until I cried. Is it any wonder that so many of we baby boomers headed into therapy as soon as possible? For heaven's sake.

These days most doctors are far less brutal, though of course they tend towards medicalizing the experience since this is how they were trained. On the other side of the debate are the midwives who are fierce about "natural" childbirth. (I put that word in quotes since I don't think there is such a thing as unnatural childbirth. C-section birth is not unnatural. It is a highly assisted form of birth that does not exist in the supernatural, yes? I say yes. For one reason or another, vaginal birth is not an option sometimes, but that doesn't make it unnatural. At least not to me.)

Women are not as physically strong as they once were; many are not up to the task of going through labor and delivery without anesthesia and other types of assistance. For these women, who sit at desks all day for instance, it is brutal to insist that they give birth without pain relief. Among young, ambitious, uber-achieving mothers (which would include many Washingtonians) it is a badge of honor to deliver without anesthesia. That seems quite weird to me. It's so macho.

As a doula what I want to do is be of help. If the laboring mother is good to go without anesthetic, great. But if they need some help, I don't understand why that's such a bad thing. But then I'm not a purist in any way imaginable. I don't judge anyone for the choices they make around their health, even if their choices don't make sense to me. As a doula, I am there for the laboring mother. What she needs, I embrace.

Yesterday my dear friend cruised through labor and delivery without the controversial epidural. She was amazing as were the midwives and nurses at G.W. Hospital. Whitney Pinger was the attending midwife yesterday. It's no wonder she won an award from Our Bodies, Ourselves. She is a stupendous midwife! I've added a link under Healing Resources for the midwifery program at G.W. Hospital, even though they say straightaway they support "natural" and "normal" birth. What is normal in any situation or experience? Please explain! Even though they are fanatical about their approach, the midwives yesterday were top-notch.

What an experience! Wow. L'chaim, y'all. Cheers.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Slow down and feel better

Impatience is anxiety. Anxiety creates excess stress which is, as everyone knows, bad for everything.

But how do we keep from becoming impatient? It is a quality embraced by the society in which I live. Everything is supposed to happen instantaneously. Snap. Yesterday at Peregrine Espresso there was a long line of people waiting to order. The guy in front of me said to the cashier, "When I saw the long line, I almost cried."

Really? From the time he got in line ahead of me until the moment he began sipping his delicious latte, three and a half minutes passed. I know - I timed it. Wow. Of course I do it, too, waiting in line or at a stoplight, waiting waiting waiting impatiently for the light to turn green. It's only 45 seconds until the light turns, but I'm chomping at the bit. Is 45 seconds really too long to wait? If I don't step on the gas the microsecond the light turns green, people behind me will honk. We are very impatient people here in Washington DC, hence over-stressed and in no way the better for it.

There are many American slang phrases that pay tribute to the virtues of impatience. Hit the ground running, for instance. What does that mean? Why does everything need to be so fast? I could name other phrases, but you get the point, yes?

One of my great therapists used to talk about building the capacity for tolerance as a basis of good health. Tolerance is patience, it means you can sit with situations, people, emotions, that you can give these powerful things some space. Take a deep breath, count to ten, is a well known practice for developing tolerance. There are a million others.

Meditation as well as my work have provided ample opportunities to practice. I can't rush through a session of bodywork; it just doesn't work. When I'm feeling impatient I consciously slow down. It's a powerful practice I highly recommend. Say you're hurrying to get dinner on the table, rushing, pushing. Take a breath, light a candle, pour a glass of wine. Purposely slow down. What I've found is that when I slow down, time magically stretches out, and my impatience (as well as anxiety) abates a bit. In the case of dinner it might add 10-15 minutes to the time I spend cooking. Ten minutes. You don't have ten spare minutes in your day? If that's true, then something is very out of balance in your life. If you do have the time, but never take those ten minutes, try it. You might enjoy cooking dinner, who knows? You might. Your body will definitely benefit from it. And dinner will taste better, I promise.

Have a nice, slow Monday evening. Shalom.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Intuition Training, Wandering Aimlessly

It is my decidedly not documented theory that all intuition begins as sensation. There are clairvoyants who receive visions, clairaudients who hear voices and sound, and clairsentients who receive information through touch. I'd be willing to bet good money that every way of receiving intuitive information is preceded by sensation.

What I mean is that when intuitive information is received, sensate perception changes first, mainly from out of the nowhere. For example, you get the goosebumps suddenly, not because of a change in external temperature, or the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Your heart starts racing, or calms down, you break a sweat even though it isn't hot, or feel queasy, edgy, headachey. It's hard to breathe all of a sudden, or you start coughing though you are not sick and aren't suffering from allergies. Or maybe you feel extremely happy all of a sudden for no apparent reason. You're smiling, laughing - from out of the nowhere.

Sometimes people stand up and walk to a window before the guest arrives, head towards the phone before it rings. This is the body understanding what's about to happen, but before the brain catches up.

After sensation comes the story, vision or message. The hair on my neck stands up and I hear someone walking behind me. But when I turn around to see who it is, there's no one there. It is only then that I decide it was a ghost. (Most people would decide it was "just the wind" or some other, more rational explanation.) Whatever it is, the hair on my neck knew first, after which the frontal cortex cranked into gear to create the best possible story of what just happened.

To work with intuition, we need to be embodied as often as possible, so as to notice changes in sensation straightaway. If you can derail, even for a few seconds, the machinery of cerebral story-making, you'll catch a glimpse of the raw data before it has been interpreted, like the live feed off a satellite, before it is spun into "the news." Does this make sense?

Here's a great exercise. It's fun and interesting if you can be open to whatever happens. There is no goal here except paying attention. Gather your camera, phone, maybe a bottle of water, and head outdoors. Decide you have nowhere in particular to go, and will absolutely not run errands. Next, put one foot in front of the other, see where your body leads you. If you normally turn left on the sidewalk, stop before the habitual turn, check in with your body. Will you follow the path well marked and frequently taken? Does your body want to go in another direction?

Follow your body for awhile, at least a half hour. Initially it's likely you will feel self-conscious or your rational function (being the bully it is) might try to shame you by saying you should be doing something productive, or you're wasting time, or this is stupid, blah blah blah. My conscious mind goes on and on. For heaven's sake. I honor my skepticism but there are times when I need to place the tyrannical voice on the back burner. When I wander aimlessly is a great time to turn DOWN the volume on the bossy rational function. When I notice that my mind is harassing me, I invoke my curiosity, then go back to letting my body lead me around. I'm not hurting anyone with this behavior, and even if I walk in circles for a half hour, well, so what? It's fun.

If you can't connect with where your body wants to go, ask yourself, "Where is the most energy here?" Also, "Where is the least energy?" Watch what happens with your body when you pose the questions. Sometimes the eyes dart to the left or right, other times the whole body will turn in a specific direction. Do you want to walk towards the energy or towards a less active location? Follow your body.

I know it sounds silly. Well. It IS silly, but well worth the effort, if you want to work with intuition, that is. I remember one year at camp in England when my body literally turned 180 degrees, my head tilted back and I found myself staring at the sky micro-seconds before an aqua blue-gold meteor fireball streaked overhead. I saw the whole thing because my body turned me around. Amazing. I could tell a hundred stories like this, but I will spare you the details.

You will learn so many things about yourself if you try wandering aimlessly. Also needless to say it's great for your physical body to take a wander. Fall is here in the northern hemisphere, a great time to take a walk. Spring, too, is an excellent time to explore, don't you think? I do.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Intuition Training, the Games

A porthole window at a community garden. Very cool.

We start by guessing. Those of us who want to tap into the intuitive function (the birthright of every one of our species) begin by guessing. When the phone rings, before you look at the caller ID, ask yourself, "Who is that calling?" Rather than going straight to your rational function which will figure out the probabilities of who might be calling, pay attention to your body, are you relaxed? Did you tense slightly when the phone rang? Did you want to answer quickly or let it go to VM? Notice your reaction to the ringing. Then guess who it is, or ask yourself, "Is this someone I want to talk to?" See what comes into your mind.

Of course by that time the call will have rolled over to VM. I hope it wasn't important! Yikes.

Little games like this are harmless; you aren't in a court of law after all, and if you guess wrong, who cares? The thing is, these intuition games help you sharpen your sixth sense. I think about wine officiandos. When they taste wine they talk about floral, earthy, leather, smoothness, citrus tones (whatever that is!), a "long finish" (huh?), etc. What are they talking about? Mostly when I taste wine the best I can do is "I like it," or "I don't like it." But those who taste, pay attention, taste again, eventually hone their palates, sharpen the sense of smell and taste to a poetic high art.

One thing wine people do, to learn about wine, is blind taste, then guess - grape, vineyard, vintage. After awhile, they get really good at accurately identifying even obscure wines. I bet the maps in their brains for taste and smell are huge.

Likewise, those who work with intuition must have monumental brain maps for sensing the subtle energies. I wonder what my brain looks like in that regard? Kind of fun, kind of creepy, to think about.

What am I saying? Just like anything else, reconnecting to your intuition takes practice. It also takes a light touch. Start by guessing about the phone calls, when the doorbell rings unexpectedly. Use your physical sensation as a basis for the guess. See what happens. Have a little chuckle when you guess way wrong, hey?

Integrating the intuitive function leads to wholeness, hence good health. I could go on and on with more exercises. Should I?

Happy Saturday. Shalom.