Monday, November 28, 2011
No pain, no gain. Hmm...what does that mean? Does it mean be tough, don't be a sissy, prove your strength by enduring pain? Well? What else could it possibly mean?
Pain is the body's way of saying STOP. It seems clear as a bell to me. Remember, the body never lies. Though it is not my intention, sometimes during a massage, I get a bit further into the tissue than was needed. The client's body will react with a quick spasm, sometimes the client even says "ouch" out loud. I normally say "I'm sorry," - to the body I'm apologizing, to the living tissue I've inadvertently attacked. You would be surprised how often clients say, "It didn't hurt. I need this." They need me to hurt them? Huh?
I don't care what their minds believe to be true, when a muscle spasms as the result of too much pressure, it DID hurt. It's an interesting disconnect.
The idea of "pain threshold" is very popular. Some people are proud to have a "higher" pain threshold than other people. I wonder what that really means - that they truly do not perceive pain, or they're great at denial, or they believe what doesn't kill them will make them stronger? The answer is probably a combination of many things, including physiological differences. I'm also fascinated by the phrase, "I don't believe in pain killers." Can anyone explain what that's all about? Fear of addiction? There is a place for pain medication. If you've just had your gall bladder removed, I advise you to take anything they'll give you. That really hurts! The trick is to wean off the meds as you begin to heal.
Being tough is an instinctual imperative, or was back when our survival depended upon physical strength. Once we became weak, we were put out to pasture. And though at this moment in history, we do not have to be physically powerful to survive, I worry about those who avoid pain at all costs. They are in a habit of taking pain relievers, mood enhancers and stabilizers, and antidepressants. I'm not talking about clinically depressed people or those who suffer from conditions that are always painful. Those people DO need these medications in an ongoing way, I'm talking about regular folks who go into an odd funk, get on the meds but then never get off them. A lot has been written about how glazed we Americans are as a result of all the psychoactives we take.
Many aspects of living in a body are painful. People suffer from pain on every level: physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally. How much pain (of any kind) is strengthening? At what point do we tip over into a kind of numbness from enduring too much or too little?
Healers have been trying to work this out forever. It's not likely I'm going to come up with the conclusive answer! Do you have an opinion?
May your day be pain free, so may it be. Shalom.
Saturday, November 26, 2011
I've been wondering what - if anything - I should write about successfully navigating the holiday season. Of course I could offer the usual (and completely useless) advice: try not to go overboard, avoid sugar and alcohol, keep exercising, etc. Please. The holidays are about going overboard! You can go on a diet in January. Avoid sugar and alcohol? The people who write columns like that - what planet are they from?
Once upon a time, before electricity, winter was dark, cold and scary for most folks at least. Even if the harvest was bountiful, no one knew how long winter would last, no one knew for certain there would be enough food in the root cellar to keep the family fed until spring. As the days grew shorter, people regularly gathered around blazing fires, sang songs, danced, told stories, drank, got crazy - to generate energy, warmth, and to forget their worries for awhile.
We are very high fallutin' now, many of us, I should say. We flip a switch, touch a pad, et voila! we are warm and cozy, which makes it harder to understand why we feel compelled to attend every holiday party, why we feel we MUST buy EVERYONE the perfect gift. It is instinctual, the stress and frenzy. It's a part of human DNA. The survival instinct is really powerful!
One sad complication of modern life is that not only are we frantic to celebrate the season, we also feel compelled to keep up with the everyday stuff: working, going to school and such. It's not actually possible, as there are only 24 hours in a day, but we try. We try so hard.
It helps me to remember, when stuck in a traffic jam, running late, still needing to run several errands, that the frenzy I and all those other people stuck in traffic are engaging in is instinctual. Think of all the thousands of generations of ancestors who preceded us. Electricity is a recent invention. We are hard-wired to react as we do, though it can be hard to remember while standing in a long line at the supermarket, for instance.
The other thing I try to remember is to relax my jaw. Here's how: part your lips slightly and your teeth slightly, now relax your tongue. Relax your eyeballs. Seriously - this helps. (If you don't know how to relax your tongue and eyeballs, pretend you know how. You will quickly figure it out.) Now take three deep breaths, slowly inhaling until your lungs are full, then letting the exhale escape all at once. If you can, let a sound accompany the exhale. Ahhhhhh is a really good sound.
There is no escape from instinct, no matter how much you insist you're past all of that. Your cerebellum is one powerful hunk of brain matter, believe me. When - or if - you get stressed out during the holiday season now upon us, cut yourself some slack, ok? You are a human being, linked inextricably to your ancestors through blood, spirit and karma.
It helps to remember this, too, shall pass. The solstice will arrive and the days will begin to lengthen. We're going to make it through the winter, what a relief.
Monday, November 21, 2011
We Americans suffer from a shared delusion that more is always better. I have clients, for instance, who have to wear special inserts in their shoes, braces around their knees, etc. so they can quench their addiction to running. Anytime I suggest they try some other kind of exercise, their eyes get wide and they look a little panicked. Then they say something like, "But I'm only running 10 miles three times a week! I've cut back." Wow. Exercise is good for everyone, but when your feet and knees are falling to pieces, it's clear you're running too much, yes?
Our cars are too big, our homes, too, though we fill up even the biggest houses with unbelievable amounts of stuff - not all of us, but many. Acquiring more and more is part of the American lifestyle. More shoes and clothing, more kitchen gadgets, more pets, more kids, more money. It is our national personality to be jovial and expansive. That point of view - that more is better - seeps into every corner of the American mind.
So it seems rather hilarious that we celebrate Thanksgiving, a ritual of abundance. Like we need more abundance - for heaven's sake.
A lot of well meaning healers would now launch into a big spiel about moderation and good sense on Thanksgiving. Why not avoid the carbs maybe or make sure you get out for a brisk walk after dinner? It's almost cruel to suggest we shouldn't really, whole-heartedly, celebrate the feast, ridiculous to suppose we should hold back and think about calories. Holy cow, I would never suggest such a thing! No way I want to rain on your parade.
You don't have to be a Viking on Thursday, showing your prowess at eating and drinking, but by all means, feast. Enjoy. Laugh. Wear your sweats so you'll be comfortable. Thanksgiving is our national prosperity ritual. Don't be stingy - enjoy!
We are so lucky to have far more than we need. I am thankful for that. Cheers!
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Thoroughly unprepared, we take the step into the afternoon of life. Worse still, we take this step with the false presupposition that our truths and our ideals will serve us as hitherto. But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life's morning. For what was great in the morning will be little at evening. And what in the morning was true... at evening will have become a lie.
~ Carl Jung
Oh now Carl, it isn't that bad. Some things work no matter what age you are, some things never work whether you're young, middle aged, or old. C'mon.
Based on this quote, I decided yesterday that, at age almost 59, I am in the happy hour of life. It is a very happy time.
Coming of age usually means moving from childhood to adulthood. But I think there are so many comings of age in a human lifetime and no I do not compare them to hours in the day. This is yet another thing I could write a non-fiction book about.
Being in the happy hour of life means I'm about to come of old age. There is no way around it. I read somewhere recently that no one has yet written about old age in a way that helps other navigate through it because no one survives old age to reflect back upon it. Hmmm. One thing I can say for sure about old age, even though I'm not quite there yet, is that Bette Davis was absolutely correct, it ain't for sissies.
Early adulthood is about expansion. People marry, have families, work hard, rise in rank in their careers, buy houses, then bigger houses. They are coming of adulthood with its many challenges during those decades, hence they rarely have time to think about what kind of coming of age lies ahead. This is exactly as it should be.
The decade of the 40s is about building character. It's a challenging decade in which aging first becomes obvious for contemporary Americans. We mature young and age late at this moment in history.
The recognition that it's happening - that we're aging - can be kind of a bitter moment for some people. The mind does not age, that's why it's such a shock.
The realization is sobering. People think, "Oh my god! THIS is my life? This? What about all those other lives I planned, like being a brain surgeon or living in Paris half the year?" An urgency to kick it into gear accompanies the decade of the 40s. Time's a wastin'. At age 45 we can still believe we can have it all; we try hard to expand even wider and grander than in our thirties. We push ourselves. It's kind of a bitch.
I say we but what I mean is me and a whole lot of other folks I know and have known. A bunch of my clients have just entered the decade of their 40s. I'm watching them begin to wake up to their mortality. It's interesting to observe.
Once people enter the decade of the 50s, the mood lightens considerably. They still might think, "Oh god, THIS is my life?" But they'll also decide that their lives are fine. In the 50s, from what I've seen and in my own experience, we release many expectations. It's very liberating.
What age are you coming of these days? Whatever age it is, may it be sweet! Shalom.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Fall is when the green world cleanses. I love that squirrel nest, now visible as the leaves drop. It looks very cozy.
The digestive system plays a huge role in good health and immunity, oh my goodness. You are what you eat, people, believe me. This post is about the benefits of taking a break from your usual diet. I have some rules around what I think you should eat that are far less severe than you might guess, probably not even worth mentioning.
Here's what I think: less is more when it comes to cleanses and detox diets. Yes I agree, every now and then a minor fast is a good thing. I'm talking about a one day juice or broth fast, or skipping a meal here or there, giving your poor digestive tract a break.
As for the big ole seven and eight day fasts, the serious detox cleanse diets that go on and on and are very harsh - I'm against all that for the most part. Suddenly starving yourself is very hard on your liver, kidneys and heart. The body scrambles to make sense of the change, and until it catches up, everything is out of balance. The severe headaches and fatigue that often accompany these diets are as much about the distress of your internal organs as what the people who create the diets usually tell you, that you are releasing toxins.
The truth is, your body is always releasing toxins; it is part of the ongoing process of being alive. Does your body give up more toxins in the midst of a harsh cleanse? I'm unconvinced. Digestion takes a lot of energy, yes. People who eat too much put the same kind of stress on the liver, heart and kidneys, and suffer from the same kinds of symptoms, that people on extreme cleanse diets experience. Too much or too little - neither approach is helpful.
If you are very healthy, a big ole detox is fine - after a day or two, you'll be high as a kite. Don't take it too far though because you need healthy bacteria in your gut. If you wash all of it out, your stomach will hurt.
Harsh cleansing diets are also sometimes a good idea for people who are terribly sick. Sometimes a crisis like that can help disrupt whatever is making them so ill. I have a friend who says fasting is a cure for everything except hunger. But for the rest of us who eat well but perhaps too much or too little, and never perfectly, who partake of the pollutants of mind, body and spirit that are part of life in Washington DC, a harsh detox can be debilitating. I know people who go on these detox diets, but continue their usual insane work schedule. And they wonder why they feel so horrible in the midst of it! Whoa.
If you're feeling sluggish and think a break would help, drink clear broths and clear juices for one day, just one day. The next day, east simply and gently, eat foods that are easy to digest like soups and stews. Don't eat too much. After 2 or 3 days, you'll feel like a million bucks and so will your liver, heart and kidneys.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
If you love rushing around, then you can skip this post. Some people feel energized when they're rushing, pushing, going faster and faster through their day. I'm not one of those, but I believe it's possible to be fundamentally and temperamentally fast.
Some people rush around because they believe they're supposed to, they assume they'll accomplish more by hurrying (which is actually not always true). For these people, rushing is very stressful, but they do it anyway. It's easy to spot the people who could benefit from slowing down. They're the ones who get so very cranky if they're made to slow down, like in a long queue at the supermarket, or if they're stopped behind a car turning left. For these people, the sympathetic nervous system is cranked up to eleven. It's fight or flight all the way. They are miserable with stress, yet frantic to keep going ever faster.
Especially in an urban setting, rushing becomes the norm. I get it, I do, because on the rare occasion that I need to drive a car, I, too, am in a panic to get through the light before it turns red, even if I'm not running late. I have to tell myself over and over that a red light lasts about 30 seconds. What leads me to believe I can't I stop for 30 seconds?
One of the easiest ways to stop rushing for no reason is to make sure there is as much energy behind you as in front of you. Here's how you do it: imagine you're standing at the center of a chalk circle about 3 to 4 feet in diameter. Imagine the circle becomes three dimensional, a tube of light that extends upwards into the sky. Breathe. Pretend your breath fills the tube, with as much breath behind you as in front.
One of my theories about why we rush around so much is that people push all their energy out in front of themselves, giving no energy or awareness to the back body. Hence they are compelled to run forwards in a vain attempt to regain possession of the center of their energy. But as soon as they're there, they push the energy forwards again. Sigh.
Sometimes I have to rush; there is too much to do and not quite enough time to do it. But I try not to make a habit of hurrying. Life is short, I want to enjoy it while it's going by. Yes? I say yes.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Say you catch a cold. Once you realize what's happening, you treat the cold in whatever way you are accustomed, or according to your beliefs (as all medicine is faith based). When you're well, or, for many people, when you're almost well, you go back to work, after cleaning up the kleenexes and magazines scattered around your house. Back to the grind.
I think people miss a step in healing when they skip the last moments of sickness in order to get back to their usual routines. There's a lull at the end of every illness at which time the aches and pains have been vanquished, but the body is still in the process of return. The fleeting, fragile state of post-illness is one in which we are more vulnerable than usual. In this state, we're more open than usual, we take in the world at a very deep level. Just as during the first few moments after waking in the morning, we're a bit tenuous, slightly disoriented, neither here nor there.
Consciously encountering beauty at that time is strengthening, encouraging, and cultivates all the best things about being a human. At the tail end of an illness, its effect is potent in the best way possible.
What I mean by beauty is: go out and walk around if the day is gorgeous, look at the sky, smell the air. Or go to a museum, gaze only at the most beautiful paintings (leave the provocative art for another day). Or switch on your favorite, most beautiful music. Read poetry, or do all of the above.
You don't have to go on and on; one afternoon in a museum is enough to infuse your fragile energy body with the healing power of beauty. Encountering beauty brings everything back into balance. The next time you get sick, give this a try. The routines of work and mundane life will still be there waiting for you afterwards, perhaps stacked even a little higher because you took the extra time, but you will be far better prepared to take on the world with good cheer if you wrap up the loose ends of sickness with beauty. Yes? I say yes.
Take in some beauty today even if you haven't been recently sick, OK? Shalom.
Monday, November 7, 2011
A really nasty cold virus is making the rounds here in Washington DC - an excellent excuse to post my spiel. Everyone has ideas about how to deal with a cold, yes? I've heard so many different approaches, haven't you? When you start sniffling, people begin offering their suggestions, unbidden mostly. Chew raw garlic, drink a hot toddy, take some over-the-counter cold remedy, or dose yourself with Zinc. Etc. etc. etc. I could go on and on, right?
My ex housemate used to outrun his colds - a novel approach. He would drink tons of water, then work harder, move around faster, drive fast down the freeway for awhile. I believe he thought, at some level, he could outrun the virus. Very funny.
No matter what you do, your cold will resolve itself within 4-7 days, which begs the question of whether or not any approach is actually effective. Hmmm. Probably not, hey?
I think the "common cold" can never be cured because it is a healthy, normal way in which the body cleanses and detoxes. The immune system takes on a virus in order to strengthen itself. In the process of going through the internal battle between virus and immune system, we're given a chance to clean out and refresh, if we're willing to go with the flow, that is. There is no such thing as beating a cold, no matter what people tell you. I say take advantage of these opportunities to rest and detox. If you can't beat a cold, go with it!
My approach includes everything that will keep the flow going. Decongestants stop the sinuses from draining, allow the bacteria to ferment and develop into full blown infections. I avoid that stuff, always. If you just blow your nose, you can get rid of the bacteria and defeated virus. Mucus serves a purpose. It's sticky; it absorbs a lot of crap that can be expelled. I buy a big ole box of kleenex, then let 'er rip. To all the toxins gathered up and expelled during a cold, I say Hasta la vista, baby.
Dress warmly, drink only warm liquids, eat only warm food. No salads or cold drinks, please! Soupy, stewy food will not overwork the digestive system so the body can devote more energy to defeating the virus. Starve a cold? Yes. Don't starve, but don't overeat, don't eat super rich foods that ordinarily don't even sound good in the midst of a cold.
Sleep long and hard. Ask a neighbor to walk your dog. Take it easy - you're detoxing, remember? Read magazines or watch stupid movies. If you're really sick, just look at catalogs. Give even your mind a rest; that, too is cleansing. Lie around your house, let your hair get rumpled, let it all go, people! That's what a cold makes possible.
If you're still feverish and completely stuffed up after 5 or 6 days, then you have to go see the doctor. That means your body is not up to fighting off the virus and you need help. But give your body a chance first, if at all possible, please?
My two cents. I bet you all have your own cold remedy ideas. I would love to hear them.
Be well, or if you have a cold, gesundheit! Take good care, please? Thanks and shalom.
Friday, November 4, 2011
Yesterday's sunrise was beautiful.
I resist every kind of health, self-care testimonial because really, who knows why anyone gets well? It's conjecture as to why people get sick, too. We can connect certain illnesses with viruses or bacteria, but honestly there are zillions of these little guys in and around everyone. Why do some fall ill while others remain completely healthy? No one knows for certain, though many people have a theory or two. Or three.
We can connect wellness to treatments administered, at least sometimes, but the results of every kind of health care are impossible to predict. We keep trying which is a good thing.
Medicine - all medicine - is faith based. That's why people say things like, "I don't believe in Chinese medicine." That's like saying I don't believe in fishing. Of course to catch fish, you have to know how to fish. You have to be near a body of water in which there are fish, and after that a whole bunch of conditions must exist before the fish will bite. Also there is always an element of chaos (i.e. "The big one got away.") But - what does fishing have to do with faith? Fishing is a survival art whether you believe in it or not. So is medicine. (Thanks to Evan Rabinowitz for the analogy.)
Testimonials always kick my skeptical mind into gear - a good thing, I think. If there really was a medicine that always worked for everyone, no one would suffer, right? I'm glad that certain treatments work well for certain individuals. It's encouraging but it's never the whole story, not ever. Testimonials - for anything - are snake oil salesmenship, I tell you, preying on the human urge to believe. My two cents? When you are ill, try to briefly put aside your belief systems. Try the least invasive approach first - unless it is an emergency in which case you should call 911 immediately! Work your way through different approaches. Find a healer who cares about you, who is interested in what's happening, try what he or she suggests. Visualize. Then cross your fingers and hope for the best. It always comes back around to faith, every time.
All that said, my jaw is on the ground. I heard from one client today that a broken bone which previously would not heal has begun to knit itself together just since he's received Reiki from me. He is an athelete and a rational thinker. Reiki was his last hope. Now he is a true believer. !
Right after that, another client called. She had been suffering from abdominal pain and bleeding that led to the diagnosis of an ovarian cyst and uterine polyp. They did some ultrasounds and some other kind of scan - MRI? I can't keep track of all the scans - which lead to the diagnosis. She came to me for a couple of intense sessions of Reiki after she was diagnosed.
A few minutes ago, she called from the parking lot of the hospital following the latest set of scans to tell me the cyst and polyp are gone! She believes it was the Reiki that turned the tide. That's why she couldn't wait to call me.
Who knows why these two people are on the mend? Maybe it was the Reiki, maybe it was something or somethings else, or a combination of all of the above. I'm not going to lapse into a big ole spiel, no way. But wow. Wow.
May you be well! Shalom.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Uh-oh. The holiday season is right around the corner, or if you think the way retailers wish you would, it began on Halloween.
The holiday season is an intense time of SHOULDS, many of which clash with each other. We should feast and toast the season and each other, but we shouldn't gain weight. We should feast but not feast, in other words. It's so confusing. We should be jovial and celebrative, but we're supposed to also be productive at work which means we can't really let go and have fun, yes? We should be happy to see our families, but we have to fight our way through overcrowded airports, deal with delayed flights, or endure long miserable drives through inclement weather. We shouldn't get so stressed out, but due to the heinousness of travel at this time of year, we pick fights with those we love best when we SHOULD be relaxed and happy.
Those of us who are single and did not have children are called "orphans" or "strays" when we're invited to holiday gatherings. I know I SHOULDN'T be insulted by the well meaning people who want to make sure I'm not alone, but ... well ... I do find it insulting. Of course that's my problem.
The gatherings, feasting, toasting and celebration made sense once upon a time when these activities were part of a seasonal ritual. Work and other everyday activities were put aside in order to welcome the winter solstice, feasting was important since no one was exactly sure whether or not the food stored after harvest would last through the winter. The noise of gatherings and the lighting of many fires and candles was a ritual act that generated heat and light, much needed before electricity during the season of long, cold nights. It all made sense then.
Now, it's harder to connect with the reasons we celebrate the holidays. In the cities, it's never dark. If you're cold, simply crank up the thermostat. Hunger can be satisfied quickly and easily. Is it any wonder it's so hard to connect gracefully with the pressure around celebrating? What's the point? Why make and celebrate feasts without gaining an ounce when we aren't hungry, why must we buy and give gifts without going broke when we aren't afraid of the coming winter (gifts are offerings to God, or were), why must we get into "the holiday spirit" when our last nerves are frazzled?
Even for Christians, the celebrations have to be somewhat confusing. What do snow covered evergreens and fat Nordic dudes dressed in fur trimmed red outfits, flying around in reindeer driven sleighs, have to do with the birth of Jesus? Well? I don't think it ever snows in Bethlehem.
It's a lot easier to get worn out during the holidays, hence a lot easier to get sick. You SHOULDN'T get sick you know, because you will never finish all your holiday-related tasks. If you succumb to the viruses of early winter, my prescription is: cancel all plans and make no apologies, climb into bed with a cup of hot tea and watch any Hugh Grant movie. When you feel better, schedule a massage. It really helps.
May the force be with you through the holidays! May we remember why we celebrate, keep a sense of humor, and try not to feel so pressured. Cheers! and Shalom.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
There are many reason to cultivate emotions such as gratitude, brotherly and sisterly love, forgiveness, and compassion. Experiencing these feelings creates a ground substance in which healing can occur on every level, including physically. All of these emotions create mental spaciousness, lower blood pressure, reduce stress, help the muscles relax.
Of course there are also emotional states that do not contribute to healing, such as bitterness and resentment. Anger can be, as Pema Chodron says, a "piercing" experience that reveals the truth. But if we cling to anger, it will burn us. Pema is very smart.
One of the most destructive emotional states is blame, both self blame and blaming other(s). In every case, this emotional state is disempowering. Worst of all, blame leads to punishment and revenge, bitterness and resentment, rarely to healing. Blame raises blood pressure, increases stress. When you blame yourself or others, you hold your breath, clench your jaw. Yep. Blame is not good for us.
Blaming creates a false reality in which every situation is black and white, in which one person or side of a situation holds all the cards, "good" and "bad." When we blame others, we blind ourselves to the role we played in the situation.
Self blame is a form of grandiosity, a state of mind in which we convince ourselves no one else participated in what went down. It's a nefarious type of controlling behavior. And it is never true. Life is complicated, and shit happens, pardon my french. It would be easier if the world were black and white, but it is not.
In my society, assigning blame always takes precedence. After a snowstorm, it's the power company's fault when trees limbs cut off the electricity. In relationships it's the partner having an affair who caused a rift, etc. etc. There's a way in which it's a relief to feel blameless even though that includes powerlessness, or to take on all the blame. It simplifies things, I guess, but it is not healing.
In a perfect world, people would examine their motivations, consider the ways in which they contribute to situations gone wrong, learn from the experience, then move directly towards compassion, forgiveness and healing. In the case of the snowstorm, perhaps the power company is culpable, but there's also the truth that we demand electricity 24/7 while, in most of the world, that is a ridiculous expectation. Should we blame the trees for growing too big? Or the weather gods for dumping the snow? Or should we try to figure out ways to use less electricity, cultivate a sense of humor for when the inevitable takes place, invest in candles and flashlights?
I do NOT blame people for getting upset when the power grid goes down. It's scary - the survival instinct kicks in at times like that. I get it. But I also think we could learn to deal with these situations perhaps slightly more gracefully. Yes? I say yes.
I know this isn't a perfect world! Hence: lawsuits, finger pointing, disempowerment, and, in the aftermath, a lack of time/energy to truly heal. I have demonized, pointed the finger, thrown away my own power many a time. What a waste of good energy!
Anymore, when I hear about a divorce, or that someone has been fired or suddenly quit their job, I don't ask what happened. The answer is, the marriage or job wasn't working, so it ended. When I can manage to avoid blame, it's possible to lend energy to the recovery from these sad events.
I try to avoid blame whenever possible. The more I practice, the closer I get to living a no-fault existence. I have a ways to go, of course. Am I a dreamer? Maybe, but I'm not the only one. May your day today be blameless, no fault. Shalom!