Friday, December 21, 2012

Last Lap

Solstice is here at last, a sure sign that the lengthy, stressful, wonderful holiday season is coming to a close. From Solstice to New Year's Day we are in the chute, as it were. The energy rises fast now in preparation for the grand finale, like on the Fourth of July at the conclusion of the show, when they bring out all the biggest, brightest, most colorful and loudest fireworks, then set them off all at the same time.

Even people who love the holidays become exhausted and frazzled by the end of the festival of abundance that began at Thanksgiving. It's so over the top (as it should be, in my opinion). There are those of us, the introverts mostly, who struggle with the inevitable sensory overload that is the result of too many parties, a whole lot of feasting, shopping in clogged shopping centers, brightly lit landscapes, lurid sweaters and so on.

Every year extraverts and introverts, lovers of the season as well as grinches, work hard to make the holiday successful - whatever that means (people have very different interpretations, of course). Our efforts are appropriate and can be very enjoyable, but all the extra activity and expense takes its toll, spiritually, mentally and physically.

Whether you love them or hate them, or something in between, my suggestion for getting through the final days of the festival is to let go of what hasn't yet been done so as to relax and enjoy the holiday itself. In any event, it will all be over soon. January will arrive, dreary perhaps but for almost every one of us, a relief.

Let there be light. Happy Solstice. Shalom.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Get hot, y'all

I have never had a flu shot. Even a few years ago when swine flu was being touted as horribly dangerous, I thought about it for five minutes, then decided not to.

Contemporary western medicine is designed to keep people going 24/7. It is meant to keep us upright, working and living our lives without interruption. There is a perhaps unspoken assumption that good health means you should never have to call in sick so as to spend a day in bed. You should never have to cancel your tennis date or avoid going to the gym - never, not EVER.

It's a bizarre and distinctly mechanical way to think about health. Should you, a typical human being, develop a symptom, there's a pill to counteract it, or to help you ignore the messages your body is sending you. I think this is crazy, blowing off your health so you won't miss that important meeting at work? What is that all about?

Sometimes, in the drug store, I stop and stare at the painkiller aisle. From floor to ceiling the shelves are packed with every kind of pain killer that can be sold without prescription. In my society, you really are not supposed to have any kind of physical sensation. It's alarming.

Most over the counter pain killers are also anti-inflammatory, which means they will reduce a fever. That, until very recently, was seen as a good thing. A fever is uncomfortable and unnerving. But recently, it has been revealed in the world of what I call "Well - DUH" medical research, that developing a fever in response to infection by bacteria and viruses is Very Therapeutic. Well - duh!

Fevers clear all kinds of crap out of the body including serious diseases. Hyperthermia is the new big thing in cancer treatment. There is plenty of evidence that a high fever can shrivel tumors. Here's a link to a story about someone whose leukemia was cured completely by way of a high fever.

If a fever can kick cancer, it can surely help us in many other ways, right? If you google "fever therapy" you'll find tons of serious - also tons of silly - websites about the miraculous impact a fever can have on a variety of ailments.

Catching a cold or what we call "the flu," once or twice a year, and therefore developing a fever as a result, is a sign of a vigorous immune system. It's a natural, healthy process. When this happens, the smartest, most beneficial thing you can do for yourself is to call in sick, get in bed, eat chicken soup, drink tea, watch stupid movies or read magazines and sleep. Monitor your fever of course. For adults, it shouldn't go above 101 F. Wrap yourself up, let the fever do its job. If it climbs too high, take one aspirin to bring it down to 101 or below. If the fever lasts for more than 24 hours, call your doctor. After a few hours, the fever will "break" with a big sweat and a feeling of relief.

At that point, take a nice warm shower and sleep as long as you can. When you wake up, take it easy for a day or two. In this way, you will return to your regularly scheduled life renewed, cleansed and usually feeling far better than you did before you got sick.

Every time you kick a cold or "the flu" without medical intervention, you strengthen your immune system. A hearty immune system is the backbone of good health. That we continually attack our own immune systems not only with pain killers but also with antibiotics, in order to make sure we never stop working, never stop going going going full blast, is very unfortunate.

People who say they never get a cold? They creep me out. I wonder what is festering inside them that could be dispensed by a fever, some congestion and nose blowing, and a couple of days of rest. Yikes.

This advice is for healthy people. People whose immune systems are compromised have to be much more careful. However, even those with weakened immune systems can slowly rebuild the body's natural response to unwanted bacteria and viruses, but please do so in conjunction with close monitoring by your doctor. And if your doctor thinks it's stupid of you to want a hearty immune system, switch doctors ASAP, please.

May you be well. When you come down with a cold, may you respect that moment, may you respect the messages your body sends to you. May you dare to break your routine for a few days and in so doing become stronger and more resilient. May it be so!

Shalom and Gesundheit. To your health!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Under pressure

The holidays take their toll on us, physically, mentally and emotionally. They do. Even those who love the season find themselves, at some point, at the end of their ropes.

I'm a romantic, hence I like to imagine that once upon a time, people were not expected to do everything - and celebrate the holidays. I imagine a world in which, during the holidays, ordinary pursuits were put aside to make room for the tasks of gift procurement, gift wrapping, gift giving, card sending, cookie making, tree decorating, carol singing, costume wearing, traveling, partying and the eating of Many Very Rich Foods, the drinking of Insane Drinks Such As Eggnog. (Yuck. Who can drink that stuff?)

It would only be fair if the holidays were the way I imagine they were, once upon a time. It's a fantasy, of course. During the "good old days" people had to get dinner on the table, keep house, take care of the animals and such. The holidays then, just as they are now, were probably both joyous and harrowing, fraught with family drama, exhausting. When I snap out of my romantic illusions, the thought comes to me that on some level, the holidays are the same as they ever were.

Though, it's probably more complicated now than it once was. In 21st century America, not only do we expect ourselves to find and purchase the perfect gift for everyone on our list, but now we're supposed to shop locally, buy gifts that won't hurt the environment, yet still fulfill the expectation of perfection. And we wonder why, by the time New Year's Day rolls around, we're ready to snap.

I don't have any advice about getting through the holidays that you haven't heard a million times. In fact, I have a quarrel with those who suggest moderation. It's ridiculous. The holidays are an ancient human ritual designed to keep us warm and cheerful during the cold, dark nights. The holidays are a sacred drama meant to convey to the gods that we look forward to the return of the light. We're wired to gather, drink too much, get too loud. That we shame ourselves because we participate in this ancient tradition is very sad and only adds to seasonal stress.

My strategy for making it through the season involves remembering my sense of humor. It's also great to keep in mind that the holidays don't last forever, thank god. The cold quiet of January is something I look forward to, even though there is inevitably some degree of detoxification that will take place, especially early in January, the result of coming off the feast foods and drinks.

I find our devotion to the ancient rituals adorable. We homo sapiens are willing, more often than not, to throw ourselves into the fray. Why not? This is the beauty of life lived in a body. We make mistakes, we surely do, but by and large, we are a lovely species.

May your holiday season be enjoyable. May you prevail. Shalom.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Feast and be grateful

The masseter is the strongest muscle in your body - well, except your heart which, though technically a muscle, is a completely different kind of tissue. When the masseter contracts, your jaw closes. Sometimes your jaw snaps shut with incredible force. If not for the masseter we could not bite, and if we can't bite, we die.

I'm thinking about this magnificent muscle on the American harvest feast day we call Thanksgiving, not that the masseter has to work overtime on T-day. Most traditional Thanksgiving foods are very soft and easy to chew. You could practically eat Thanksgiving dinner without teeth. But you still need your masseter.

I digress.

I'm not here to deliver a big lecture about the hazards of overeating, overdrinking, and/or getting into a screaming fight with the family member of your choice.

Thanksgiving is a pagan ritual of abundance, a sacred drama in which we act out our deepest hopes that we will be well fed throughout what was, once upon a time, a long, cold, dark winter.

The ritual requires a sacrificial animal, of course. We roast it and then display it proudly before feasting on it. There's a whole thing about placing the turkey on the platter and adorning it, before carving it, then displaying it so the dinner guests can oooo and ahhhh at the perfectly roasted bird. There is also a thing around who carves the turkey. It is an important role in the ritual. I swear the Romans could not have designed this ritual any better than we have. It is so pagan.

For the best results in rituals of this sort, as a participant, you're supposed to overeat and drink too much. There should be too many people, too much food, too much drink. There must be some period of chaos in the putting together of the ritual foods, to stir the energy and capture the attention of the gods. There should be a huge mess afterwards, evidence of the sincere devotion of the participants. It's a ritual of abundance; hence the too much factor should apply universally.

We gather with our blood clan, or adopted clan, or both. Initially it's a pleasure to bring everybody together. As the festival days wear on, tempers begin to flare and fights inevitably break out. Rituals need energy in order to work. The crankiness, shouting, crying as well as the laughing and joking, adds to the energy of the spell which is not complete until the last of the leftovers have either been consumed or relegated to the compost pile.

Some choose to eat way too much, until they are in pain. Others will eschew the rules of abundance, and pick at their food. Each must choose according to his/her values and sense of what's proper. Most will eat just a little too much, in accordance with the Tao of Goldilocks. By being slightly overfull as the result of our feast, we show the gods we wish to be well fed all winter. May it be so!

When I say everyone is a shaman, I am not being facetious. Everyone really is a shaman today in the U.S., enacting a sacred drama of the harvest.

May we never hunger. May we never thirst. Shalom.

The sacrifice, elegantly presented.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Why we hoard

We homo sapiens are shapers of the world, not so different from beavers, wasps, birds or gophers. We have huge brains and opposable thumbs, and can balance on two feet, hence what we shape tends to be fancy. We like to make stuff, touch stuff. It is perfectly natural to like what we make with our clever hands.

The nomadic peoples of planet earth like stuff but have no sense that they should hang on to it. I loved learning that in Genghis Khan's culture, it was much more important to give things away than keep them. This is why the tribes convened every now and then on the steppe, to give everything away. The Norse had a similar tradition. I think those values have to do not only with generosity, but as a sign that the giver is not ruled by the objects he/she owns. It's a gesture of liberation that indicates strong character.

Twenty first century America is the opposite. We are a society of hoarders. Rich beyond belief in terms of what is available to all of us 24 hours a day, we are utterly seduced by the urge to acquire. I don't have anything against it. What I wonder about is why we can't stop, why there's never enough stuff, and I do mean NEVER. There are several "reality" TV shows based on people who become literally buried by their stuff. It's shocking, and strikes a chord for many people, which makes for good TV.

Here's a link to a book review from the New York Times, about how to stop hoarding. Hmm. You're supposed to buy/acquire something to learn how to not buy/acquire more stuff? Unclear on the concept, are we? Yes we are!

The review made me a little sad for the reviewer. She speaks of drawers so jammed with swimming suits she can't even get them open. She reveals many tips from the book about how to lessen anxiety while decluttering, assuming it's going to be a horrible experience for everyone. She never once mentions the catharsis made possible by a newly cleaned dresser drawer or closet, she doesn't mention how great it feels after such a project is complete, how liberating it is to know what you have and where it is. I wonder why.

Why do we do it? Here's what I think. I think we are too rational, that in creating a society based on knowledge and reason, we have in so many ways come to discount activities that cultivate and nurture the human soul, the old rituals that we have always performed since the beginning of our species. What isn't "real" is discarded. I'm not talking about religion here, but something more fundamental: the life of the spirit. We ignore our powerful dreams, visions, crazy ideas that come out of the nowhere. What does the phrase "It was only my imagination" mean? Only? Creativity is not rational, nor is the life of the spirit.

Human imagination and creativity is incredible, powerful, healthy and extremely entertaining. To toss it out with everything else that is unproven or irrational impoverishes us spiritually. We try to fill the emptiness with stuff, but nothing you'll ever see at CostCo or Target can provide what our soulful birthright as mystics can. We are mystical beings every bit as much as we are scientists. We flatten our humanity in my society by tilting so far into the rational. It's very unfortunate.

We wanted to be less crazy with ourselves and each other, we wanted to understand and control our incomprehensible behavior. That's what the Age of Enlightenment was about, a way to become less violent, less destructive, more predictable. I get it, what we were striving for, you know - truth and justice, two things well worth pursuing. But we have thrown out a huge chunk of what makes our lives rich by being so overly rational.

In America, we seem to have reached the limits for hoarding, thank goodness. May we relax our hands and hearts and simply let go. May it be so.


Thursday, November 15, 2012


How I would love to gather together the community of medical researchers for a day outside the lab. Though I could very well be wrong about this, and of course it varies according to the individual, I imagine these people in general as super smart nerds, sitting in front of their computers, munching on a sandwich through lunchtime as they gaze at the screen, puzzling over numbers, etc. I don't see them out and about, sitting in a cafe for an hour to people watch, or just watching stupid TV, you know, activities that would bring them around a little bit, help them be a part of what is called the "real" world.

Why am I going on about this? Because the studies these people conduct can be so silly. Here's a link to a story in the New York Times about a study meant to determine whether or not doing housework is good for you.

Seriously? Ha. The headline, "Can Housework Help You Live Longer?" made me laugh out loud. Of course an editor wrote that, not the researchers.

A part of the findings in the study show that strenuous house chores, like weeding or mowing the lawn, are more likely to extend your lifespan than milder activities, such as doing dishes. Can you imagine spending your days and nights focused on this? Who does dishes anymore anyway? The image they attached to the article has to be from 1960. Of course that, too, was chosen by the New York Times, not the scientists they interviewed.

I know this is part of how science works, singling out very narrow arenas, then trying to get enough data to point to a particular result. But I wonder, did anyone working on this study ever stop to think maybe there might be better ways to spend their time? I wonder who paid for the study, and why.

It's clear that a sedentary life is not good for us. Moving around doing almost anything is a lot healthier for mind and body than sitting on a couch or at a desk all day, especially creative or productive actities. We are working animals and need to be useful in order to be happy. OK. But is it necessary to compare the specifics of how we move around? As long as we move around and make sure to engage in activity we enjoy and find satisfying, isn't that enough data? I guess not!

Another question I wonder about: is good health analogous to long life? Apples and oranges, if you ask me.

I get snippy when science is stupid, because I love science. When science is smart I am so intrigued. When it's stupid, I feel embarrassed for it. Do you know what I'm talking about?

May your point of view be expansive and may your sense of humor prevail. May it be so. Shalom.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The peaceful face


I saw a guy yesterday wearing a tee shirt that said, "Every smiling face is beautiful."

It's true, isn't it? A smiling face conveys happiness, and happiness is always beautiful.

The human face tells a million stories, conveys a million emotions that most people believe they can keep secret. Even the stiffest face reveals what is going on inside, yes? I say yes. My goodness. I think about it a lot since I see mostly unvarnished faces in the massage room. Sometimes the way my clients' faces change during a session, from tense and twitchy to smooth and calm, is quite dramatic. 

Last weekend I took a Jin Shin Do class focused on the head and neck. It was a great class. Most of my work as a massage therapist has to do with tight shoulders or an achey lower back, legs tight from running or cycling, arms stiff from too much time on computers. I do love working on the head and face of my clients, too - now more than ever. A calm head, a calm face, can bring relief to the whole body. I experienced that last weekend after receiving a couple of acupressure facials in class. All I can say is: wow.

Is your face tense right now? If so, try this: Part your lips slightly, part your teeth slightly and relax your tongue. If you don't know what that means, pretend to relax your tongue - it really works. Now let your jaw relax and let your eyeballs soften back into your head. Take a deep breath. Feels good, doesn't it?

People will say, "You look great today!" They might think you've lost weight or just received a nice haircut, but really, it's your relaxed face they're picking up on. 

Every calm face is beautiful. It certainly is. Shalom.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Which way to acceptance?

The election is over at last. I, for one, feel tremendous relief and also as if I now have access to a lot of energy that was focused on the campaign. When energy is trapped, it spoils, gets rancid. In the case of politics, trapped energy inevitably turns bitter, then biting and at last, vicious.

It's a human trait to long for perfection in oneself as well as others. Of course there is no such thing as perfection, hence we judge ourselves and one another on a daily basis, reserving the most intense forms of that way of thinking for public figures including, of course, those who rule the roost.

Judging hardens the heart, stiffens the jaw and closes the mind. It is isolating and demoralizing. It's not good for us physically or spiritually, and yet, it's tempting to go to that place. I've been wondering why, especially during the last few months when the mood in the U.S. became so dangerously angry.

My theory du jour revolves around the idea that we are still, in so many ways, social predators who feel safe only when we know our place in the hierarchy of the pack. Judging seems to me (this morning anyway) a way in which we try to find our place in the human hierarchy. We are challenging the alpha when we decide he or she is not as deserving or noble as we think he or she should be.

The above is a half-formed idea that needs fleshing out. I might have to toss it entirely. Probably more to the point would be a contemplation of how we might go about unhinging the tendency towards judgment. How can we create a self satisfied feeling without blaming ourselves or others? Because, we love feeling self satisfied, we do.

How can we dismantle the Us vs. Them mentality that has, throughout human history, caused nothing but trouble?


May we holster our weapons, take deep breaths, and find a better way. May it be so! Shalom.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

For your health: hang loose, baby

We human beings are at our best when soft and flexible, because we are, in essence, all about movement. Even our bones are flexible, living things. They only turn hard and white when they dry up outside the body.

One of the most damaging effects of excess stress is that it hardens musculature. Hardened muscles are the source of stiff necks, leg cramps, debilitating back pain, temporomandibular problems, insomnia and headaches. Rock hard muscles create pain by putting strain on the joints, lessening blood flow and reducing range of motion.

The famous "six-pack" that is seen as so attractive is actually not a good sign. Overly tight abdominals interfere with healthy movement in the hips, yank on the diaphragm, making it harder to take full breaths, and impinge on digestion. How I wish we revered flexible, toned muscles instead of hard bodies. We are not built to be hard.

Cirrhotic livers are hard as rocks. A healthy liver is soft and flexible. Gallstones and kidney stones, and every kind of cyst and tumor, is a hardening of what should be soft and flowing.

Though not exactly accurate, arteriosclerosis is also called "hardening" of the arteries. It's not the arteries, but all the hardened gunk in them, when it attaches itself to the walls of the arteries, that causes the problem.

I could go on about the ill effects of hardening on our physical bodies, but I'm sure you get the idea.

The metaphors are spot on as well. For instance, being hard hearted is never a good idea. Emotion is about the flow of feelings. The word contains MOTION within it. Those who try to stop the flow of, or solidify, feelings can look forward to many years in therapy, should they ever be willing to release the hardened emotions. And good luck to them!

When you say someone is "hard" on others - or on themselves - you know what that indicates, right? Mean, judgmental, dismissive, cruel behavior involves hardness. Those with soft hearts tend towards compassion, acceptance, trust and humor. I should also mention how much happier those with soft hearts tend to be. Think of the Dalai Lama, for instance.

One of the saddest forms of emotional hardness is the ubiquitous grudge. When anger or hurt is solidified, it turns to a heavy, toxic emotional stone that can prevail over long periods of time, even be passed down from generation to generation. Grudges require a lot of energy to maintain, and may I say that the energy they require is energy that is completely wasted. Grudges do no one any good, not the person holding the grudge nor the grudgee either - though it is more harmful by far for the one holding the grudge.

The mind, too, when it becomes hardened, is not good for anyone. I think of every kind of fundamentalist as someone whose mind has solidified around an idea, whether religious fundamentalism or its evil twin: the virulent anti-God atheist, or anyone whose whole world view is based on an idea they believe to be rock solid, such as strict Vegans, for instance. A hardened mind sees the world as black and white, a very sad predicament that takes away the possibility for every kind of nuance.

A hardened mind is a mind that's shut down, that can't entertain curiosity, that can never learn anything new. It's a sad and scary thing, and no good for anyone.

We are dynamic, cyclical beings living in a dynamic, cyclical universe. We are meant to be mentally, emotionally and physically flexible, resilient and ever changing. Are you feeling hardness somewhere in your body, heart or mind? May I suggest that right now, you could soften your jaw, open your mind and have a good laugh? That always gets everything moving, a good laugh - or, if you're so inclined - a good, sobbing cry.

Here's a link to a New York Times story about the health benefits of laughing. Life is funny. Let go of your hardness, yes? Go with the flow, people, go with the flow. Shalom.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Golden Calf

Science is smart and science is stupid. Both are true and there could be studies done to prove it.

One of the smart/stupid things about science is the ubiquitous study. Studies are interesting but they do not reveal eternal truths. They provide a glimpse into one small, carefully cordoned off area of interest. Extrapolations from the data are based on statistics and therefore do not necessarily apply to individuals.

It's all well and good, except that in my society, we worship at the altar of the scientific study. We consider study results to be the final word, the indisputable truth, the word from on high. Oh man, wouldn't it be great if studies actually could reveal the final word? What a lovely fantasy.

Here is a link to a story from the New York Times that describes the parsing of information that lead to incorrect conclusions about the value of organic food in a very well thought of Stanford study. The writer is only interested in how the study was conducted, but never hints at the fact that perhaps all studies are flawed to some degree or another, biased and shaped in order to produce desired results. After all, in every study, information is parsed.

Meta studies have disproved all kinds of things that were allegedly true due to earlier studies. In one meta study about placebos, it was discovered that, while always effective, placebos are far more effective now than thirty years ago.

Whatever in the world can that mean? We believe in the power of pills, definitely, more so than thirty years ago - I guess!

We spend a lot of money on studies. I'm not trying to say they're worthless, but how I wish more in my society cultivated the questioning attitude. I wish we weren't so willing to swallow the results of studies hook, line and sinker. In any area of inquiry, there is never a final answer. Every answer should create more questions. Smart scientists know that. How I wish John Q. Citizen did.

May we open our eyes, cultivate the questioning attitude, and try not to be so gullible. May it be so.


Monday, October 15, 2012

No shit, Sherlock

Indeed, women's bodies are battlefields, now as always throughout history, almost everywhere from the north pole to the south pole. Almost. It would behoove our evolution as a species to spend lots of time studying the cultures where women were and are not demeaned, battered, sold, and demoted to second class citzenship. There are precious few. Why did those cultures develop differently? What did they know that we don't? What can we learn from those cultures?

Yes, I have many questions. But I should also say I understand why our bodies are targets. It's instinctual, it has to do with the fact that we make the babies. We hold in our bodies the mystery of life and death. Everyone wants a piece of that. Many want to control it because the mystery we embody is powerful. It's not rational.

The New York Times posted a story this past week in which they described as a trend for female TV comedians: "self acceptance as a new form of defiance." Here is a link.

A quote from the piece:

"Society makes a show of supporting people who make peace with their extra pounds, but we really celebrate those who declare war on their bodies. "

I've been thinking about that ever since, about the way that women in my society starve themselves, flog themselves at the gym, and devote at least part of almost every moment engaged in self loathing because of the size and shape of their bodies. It doesn't matter if they are thin or fat, fit or flabby - no, this has nothing to do with their actual bodies. It's about the self loathing. It's about our bodies as battlegrounds.

Apparently, even in a society that allegedly supports women's rights and freedoms, our bodies are battlegrounds. If the men don't do it to us, we do it to ourselves. Good lord.

May self acceptance take hold as a saucy, sassy, sexy and powerful new trend in my society. May it be so. Shalom.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Talk to your ancestors

A simple ancestor altar. From left to right, my father, my mother, sister Karen with sister Deborah and me, the baby. (I love being held in the arms of the ancestors.) At the right is my dog, Jake. The objects represent ancestors of spirit, animal and stone. This is where I talk to my ancestors.

Throughout human history, from the north pole to the south pole, in every culture I know about, we have talked to our beloved ancestors. We honor our lineages, we remember those who came before us, those who brought us into this world. In every culture I know about, there is a custom that addresses the need for contact with those who are no longer physically alive. Whether it happens in ritual, or during prayer, while visiting the grave or burial mound, while on our knees beside the bed with palms pressed together, whether aloud or in our minds or in our dreams, we human beings have always talked to those who came before. We tell our stories, ask for advice. We honor the memory of our ancestors. It is an essential part of being human.

The fact that we don't do this in my society at this moment in time is one of the reasons we as a culture are so spiritually impoverished. We buy more and more stuff, hoping to fill the internal void that should be replete with faith, awe, reverence, and mystery. Stuff will never fill that void! But we keep trying.

Now please don't ask me to prove to you that the ancestors are listening. I can't. No one has ever been able to prove it, and if someone does, well, I for one will be very surprised. Can you prove to me that love is "real?" Of course you can't, but you feel it - at least I hope you feel love. Good lord.

Talking to the ancestors is not a science, it is an art, perhaps one of the most sincere of all the arts. If you feel self conscious, you wouldn't be the first, nor will you be the last. Opening the heart to the incomprehensible is an act of valour. It takes courage. It's the proverbial leap of faith, hence challenging, but not that daunting, because it's a leap humans have been taking since the dawn of our species. In my society, we tend to forget we are the freaks, we are the anomaly, dismissing the ancestors as we do. Cultural hubris, in my society, knows no bounds. We hunger for connection but are too rational to allow ourselves the beauty of our old rituals. The rational mind can not feed the soul. Hence, we go shopping.

It won't hurt anyone if you try, will it? It can be our little secret. I won't tell, I promise. Find a time/space in which you're comfortable, grounded, and willing. Think of an ancestor you loved and who loved you, "beyond all reason" as one of my friends says. Then talk, just as you would have with these beloved people before they passed away. Talk out loud or just in your mind and heart. Say what you wish you had while they were still here. You can say anything - why not?

Most people discover it's a lot easier than they thought, once they get started. I'm not surprised. Human beings have been talking to their ancestors for aeons, literally for a hundred thousand years, probably longer. It's like riding a bike, even if you have never tried.

Talking to the ancestors is healing to body, mind and spirit. Also, don't dismiss the possibility that something very wise might come to you in the midst of the conversation. It has been known to happen!

May you feel the mysterious and comforting sense of connection with the generations that preceded you and the ones yet to come. We are part of a chain of generations; we are part of the human family. Knowing that helps everything. Believe me. Shalom.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

We still dream Ponce de Leon's dream

What is "health food?" It depends, doesn't it? I remember the health food of the 70s which included thick, greasy nut butters, lots of soy milk, sprouts of every variety, and whole grain breads so dense each loaf weighed about ten pounds, and brown rice. Always and only brown rice.

That food was quite unhealthy for me, that is to say, I was incapable of digesting most of it. However, that is what I ate because at the time I believed there was such a thing as food that's good for everyone.

Of course I'm not the only one who believed there was such a thing as a perfect food for all. A lot of money has been made by the people who write books touting the perfect diet for everyone - whatever that is. During the 70s I read Jethro Kloss's classic Back to Eden, and Diet for a Small Planet, by Frances Moore Lappe. No matter how earnestly I wanted to eat "health food," the nut butters and horrible dense breads were like lead balloons in my finicky digestive system.

I never liked herbal tea. There. I've said it.

There have been many fashions and fads in health food. What is thought to be great for everyone varies from decade to decade. I remember when food combining was the big thing. Another era I remember had to do with how much water we should drink, and when. It was thought that drinking water along with a meal was a Very Bad Thing.

Almost always there is some juice or tea that everyone swears by. A few of the allegedly magical elixirs that come to mind include wheat grass juice, pomegranate juice, green tea, white tea, Acai juice and coconut water. Smoothies and vegetable juices have enjoyed a long wave of popularity, as have supplements (puzzling to me since supplements are uber processed and very hard to integrate. They are hard on the liver and in fact unless you take them at the perfect moment with the perfect food, they will mostly be pissed out.)

I am tempted to get into a big rant against Veganism, the Paleo diet and the raw food diet, but I will restrain myself.

What is healthy depends on you, not on a particular set of foods or rules. It would be wonderful if it were as simple as eating what someone else tells you is best. Ah, but life is never simple, is it?

This is on my mind because I made a stew this week with grass fed organic beef that's available at the Tuesday farmers market at Eastern Market. Real beef is so ... well ... beefy! The flavor was very strong, much stronger than the high quality organic meat I buy regularly at Whole Foods. I was thinking, of course our ancestors hunted the bison. A little bit of real beef goes a very long way!

May you eat well by choosing foods and drinks that suit your body, digestion, and temperament. May what you eat be easily digestible, satisfying, nurturing. After a meal, may you be energized and grounded, i.e. well fed. If what you eat makes you tired or queasy, it could be time to think about making some changes.

May all in my society remember how lucky we are to be able to choose what is healthy and what isn't. What a luxury!


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Live long and prosper, y'all

Ageism is not healthy. Sad to say, it is rampant in my society. Old people are among the last groups it's OK to make fun of. If you made a joke about black people or gay people smelling funny, for instance, oh man - you could never get away with that in public in 21st century America - at least in east coast urban areas. But you can say any insulting, heinous thing about old people and still get a big laugh.

Old people have done nothing wrong, you know. They just haven't died yet. Why is the success of their survival funny? Or repulsive? Do they smell any worse than babies with poopy diapers or teenage boys, randy with hormones? C'mon.

Being old is a disgusting situation, supposedly. Yet we're supposed to take good care of ourselves so we can live long lives. It's a crazy paradox that doesn't serve anyone, no matter how young or old they may be.

I was thinking recently about all the carefully delineated developmental stages of human life from birth to around age 21. There's infancy, then babyhood. After humans begin to walk, we call them toddlers. After that comes middle childhood, then pre-adolescence, followed, of course, by adolescence. At around age twenty, we are pronounced young adults. After that, the trajectory of life blurs in terms of definition, purposefully so, I think.

Sometimes we hear the phrase "middle age." But what does that mean? When is a person middle aged? When does a person move from middle age to old age? We're told NEVER to call ourselves old, or that "you're only as old as you feel," things like that, which leaves us in a no man's land of perpetual middle age - I guess. In fact I have a friend who is in his 70s. He thinks of himself as being in "late middle age." Really?

Because being old is as repulsive in my society as being fat, it becomes the goal of aging people to pretend they're younger. They try to keep up the same pace as earlier in life. They work out harder, they try to get by with the same lack of sufficient sleep, they continue their grueling schedules in the office. And they have plastic surgery. Of course things go very wrong.

One of the many sad things about this behavior is that middle aged people feel betrayed by their bodies when they can't keep going full throttle. Shouldn't we be grateful to our bodies for carrying on? Shouldn't we appreciate our longevity, shouldn't we celebrate our long lives by being kinder than we were to ourselves earlier in life? Well?

How about if, between the ages of 20-40, we think of ourselves as young adults? During those years, by all means, we can push ourselves, full steam ahead. Young adulthood is a great time to broaden our fiefdoms, climb the ladder at work, partner, have kids, and Do Everything. Hell yeah.

From 40-60, it would be very healthy to understand that we are now in middle age. Instead of acting out by having an affair or buying a stupid sports car, or whining about how beautiful we used to be, it would behoove us to slow down just a little bit, figure out how to not work quite so hard, take our exercise programs down one notch, too. Between 40-60, downsizing in terms of stuff is a great idea. Once the kids are gone, do people really still need gigantic houses? To me it makes sense to move into smaller spaces before old age. During middle age, if we get into the habit of what I call "aggressive self care," we will fare far better than if we decide to ignore the passing years. In middle age, if we are not in the habit of exercising, we must get to it. Building strength and resilience during middle age will serve us on every level. Middle age is a great time to begin receiving massage on a regular basis, eating carefully, not drinking so much, making sure we get enough sleep. Middle age is also a wonderful time to stop taking everything literally and personally. Begin to practice letting go. By practicing aggressive self care in middle age, we lay a solid foundation for a healthy old age.

I think that, at age sixty, we graduate from middle age to early old age. From 70-80, we're in middle old age, and from age 80 onwards, we're in late old age. In every phase of old age, we need to learn something new every day, we need - more than ever - to listen to music, take in beauty, and laugh as much as possible. Instead of flogging ourselves with work, we need to kick back, let the younger people take on the heavy responsibilities we carried for so many years. I'm not suggesting that we retire. Humans are working animals; we need to be productive. But if it's possible, we need to slow way down, change the way we work so it is sustainable. This makes for a satisfying old age.

If there are things we've always done because we believed we should, not because we enjoyed or believed in them, when we enter early old age, we should begin to shed all that. Old age could be a time of liberation from the Shoulds and Oughts that attend early adulthood and middle age.

Yes we need to move around, but perhaps not so harshly as earlier in life. Instead of killing ourselves at the gym, why not take a yoga class, or walk every day? Switch on some music and dance around?

If we slowed down gradually, accepted and were grateful for the very long lives many of us are privileged to live, we would be far happier and healthier in body and mind. As it is, we want to live a long time, but also believe that right around age 40 we should pretend we aren't aging. That is crazy behavior that sets us up for a hideous few decades marked by denial and self loathing. It's very unfortunate.

Life is good, not just youth - all of life. I am grateful. L'chaim!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Thank goodness the imperial examination was so hard

A packet of Chinese medicinal herbs, before cooking.

The most truly unique aspect of Chinese culture - and the one with the most powerful legacy - is the Confucian examination system with which the Son of Heaven's empire was staffed with civil servants over the best part of two millennia. The Imperial examinations represented a remarkable attempt to create an aristocracy of learning, which in itself represents a remarkable advance over the warrior and hereditary aristocracies that dominated in the rest of the world. The Chinese examination system, archaic, laborious and daunting as it may have been, was nevertheless, a glorious attempt at intellectual meritocracy.

"The most truly unique?" Hmm. What a phrase. And - well - who knows about that? Though, it is remarkable that the Chinese created an aristocracy of learning because they wanted those who governed to be scholars. Here is a link to the essay.

The men who didn't pass the exam had the option of going into medicine, which was seen as a lesser occupation. Those who had to let go of their hopes and dreams to become bureaucrats brought to the field of medicine a huge body of knowledge about Chinese culture. To prepare for the imperial exams, they spent many years studying poetry, history, philosophy, math and so on and so on.

Chinese medicine is complete because those who became doctors, for a couple of thousand years, were so well rounded in their knowledge. The great Chinese doctors passed their comprehensive perspective down to their students. Chinese medicine is truly holistic and very refined.

Medicine in the western world is mechanical and near-sighted because we train doctors to function as if they are no more than technicians for the machine of the body. Who would think to suggest to a pre-med student that the study of poetry could help them be better doctors?

I just read a study that showed - "proved" - patients fare better when they are treated by doctors who feel empathy for them. They had to do a study to prove this? I guess so!

Western medicine is great emergency medicine. I'm very grateful for its existence. But it doesn't treat the soul. It doesn't treat the whole person. Western medicine has no poetry in it. I am wary of it, which is why I'm just now cooking the batch of herbs pictured above and why I will cheerfully drink the tea even though it no doubt is going to taste absolutely horrible. This terrible tea will help not only the machine of my body, but my soul, too. The healing will be not only corporeal, but soulful as well.

Wouldn't it be great if all those who wished to work in the U.S. government were required to assiduously study our culture, history, arts, music and philosophy in the same way the ancient Chinese did? I think we would be governed very differently, don't you? But that's a topic better suited to my personal blog.

Be well in body, mind and spirit. Shalom.

Monday, September 17, 2012


If you live in the northern hemisphere, fall is right around the corner. If you live down under, spring is almost here. Spring and fall are beautiful seasons of drama and change. And they are quite challenging to the human body.

All summer our bodies fight the heat. The blood literally becomes thinner, and the metabolism does all it can to maintain a steady inner temperature by sweating, thirsting for lots of cool drinks, hungering for cooling foods like salads and melons, and such.

But when fall arrives, the body must make a hairpin turn, thicken the blood, warm the body instead of trying to cool it down. Adjusting to the new season involves a lot of internal backpedaling especially after a summer as hot as this one was in the U.S. It's exhausting work which is why fatigue is so often associated with both spring and fall.

As your body adjusts to the new season, please do what you can to help with the transition. Though you may love your summer clothing, try dressing for the weather. On crisp days, wear actual shoes, long pants, maybe even a jacket. I see people every year at this time, still in flip flops and shorts, covered with goosebumps. It's sweet how attached they are to their summer wardrobe, perhaps, but the gooseflesh is their body's way of trying to shut out the colder air. The body sends a clear message, but these people do not want to acknowledge what's going on. I find this very weird.

Dress for the weather, please? Also, try to eat simply, and eat warmer, well cooked foods (if you're headed into autumn). Soups and stews are easily digestible which will help conserve the energy your body needs to adjust to the changing environment.

Try to get enough sleep. Move around, take a walk. If you're feeling tired, put your feet up, let yourself rest, will you please? Cut yourself some slack, at least until autumn or spring has fully established itself and your body has adjusted.

We expect so much of our bodies. I'm appalled sometimes to notice how we expect full bodily cooperation even when we're unwilling to support whatever it is our bodies are trying to do. It's so unfair, not to mention unreasonable - and disrespectful.

May this season of change, fall or spring, bring to you all good things. Be gentle with yourselves. Shalom.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Until November: duck and cover

Politics is a blood sport, as a friend pointed out today. Campaigns are a lot like a bloody boxing match, a dog or cock fight: crude, primitive, vicious.

Though they are always nasty, my perception of this U.S. presidential campaign, now in damn-the-torpedos mode, is that it is one of, maybe the most, toxic I can remember. My friend said it feels epic, like a mythical battle between the forces of good and evil. The energy, to me, feels carcinogenic, radioactive, fiercely poisonous.

For the John Qs and Jane Does, I mean those of us who feel it is our civic duty to listen to every hateful message, it is literally toxic.

In a world that was sane, we citizens of the U.S. would not need advertising or political analysis. We would check the voting, educational and business records of the two candidates, read what each man has actually said, not what is the result of news media analysis, then vote according to our ethical and moral values. After the election, if our candidate did not win, we would be good sports, understand that both parties want what's best for the country, we simply disagree on how to get there.

The world is not sane. Hence what I advise is to learn as much as you can, IF you can find a neutral source, decide for whom you will vote, then turn immediately to more vivifying pursuits. I have yet to find any truly neutral news source, but I'm not saying there isn't more or less objective reporting going on out there somewhere. Most of what is sold as news is egregiously biased, maybe purposefully confusing, and sadly, too, it is perhaps purposefully crafted to enrage those who take it in.

Stress, outrage, fear and anger are very unhealthy psychically, physically and emotionally. Tuning in too closely to the campaign will set anyone's liver on fire, no matter who or what you support. If you are one who needs to vent your spleen, tune in, vent a little bit, but then get out before you do yourself any lasting damage.

I am methodically hiding every political post on FB, no matter whether it supports the man I will vote for or not. I'm googling "ten cutest cat videos," watching silly movies, taking in beauty and listening to a lot of music in an effort to counter the bad mojo.

Though as citizens we are obliged to try as best we can to stay well informed, when the gloves come off as they have, from now to November, I think it does no one any good to be subjected to the poisonous, bloody sport of politics. You wouldn't purposely eat rat poison, right? I hope you wouldn't!

The ugliness is bi-partisan. There is no escape unless you purposely tune out.

May the best man win. Salaam, Shalom, Peace.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

How to receive massage

People laugh at me when I say there's a learning curve involved in receiving massage. I mean really, how hard can it be?

In my society, particularly in this city where we are crazy, overworked, and constantly stressed out, relaxation is an alien concept. Letting go, sinking into physical sensation, relinquishing the idea of being productive is damn hard for many, and yet this is what's required in order to benefit from a therapeutic massage.

Even clients who wish very much for an hour of peace find it difficult to become quiet and serene. I have clients who talk throughout their sessions, something I find so puzzling. It's their hour, so they should do as they please, but - are they trying to entertain me? Distract themselves from the process so they don't actually have to relax completely? You tell me. I don't get it.

Many clients are proactive; they turn over before I've had a chance to adjust the face rest or move the pillow from beneath their knees. They lift their arms when they know I'm about to reach underneath to scoop their shoulder blades with my fingertips, or present their fingers to me, one after the other, as I work on their hands. These people suffer from chronic anxiety, I guess, or are overwhelmed by a need to control every situation. It makes me sad.

I'm not talking about everyone by the way. I do have clients who are excellent receivers of massage. Inevitably these people are not beginners. They have learned, over time, how to dial their nervous systems down a notch or two. They get their money's worth from their sessions.

If you are among those who have trouble sinking into the table and letting the massage unfold, here's what I would suggest:

1. Give yourself time both before and after the massage. On your way to the appointment, slow down, take some deep breaths, let go of your concerns and plans. You can get back into hyper productive mode later. On your way to a massage, do not make business calls or try to cram a bunch of errands into your schedule. Try not to race down the street. Stroll, gaze at the sky, stop to smell the roses. In this way you can prepare to relax.

2. On the table, don't talk. Listen to the music or nature sounds and let your attention wander. Daydream or notice what's going on for you physically. If your massage therapist is talking, ask her to please stop. Try not to anticipate what's going to happen next. Let the therapist guide you. Breathe. Let go. If your therapist does anything that makes you uncomfortable, speak up. Massage is not supposed to hurt. A "perfect" massage (no such thing) entails the receiver surfing the hedonic edge, experiencing lots of sensation, flow and release, but not pain.

3. Afterwards, take your time. Take your time getting dressed, take your time walking away from your appointment. Take a half hour after your massage to continue the process of relaxation. Drink water, refuse to be in a hurry. Plunging directly back into work will detract from the benefits of your session, I promise you. Try not to be in a hurry. Just try, please?

There are many varieties of bodywork. What I'm talking about in this post is therapeutic massage. Situations like "mall massage" - an oxymoron if I ever heard one - is a very different thing. You can go into a mall massage completely stressed out and rushed, and walk away from it in the same condition. The technician who works on you can possibly get some blood flowing through your neck and shoulders during the 10 minutes she works on you, but this is NOT a therapeutic massage.

There are massage therapists who believe that pain is an inevitable part of every session. These people make it possible for their clients to hang on for dear life to their beloved tension by using too much pressure. The client remains tense while the therapist pushes harder and harder. It's like a battle between therapist and client. Hence the massage hurts. There will be soreness afterwards, even bruising sometimes. There are massage therapists who will purposely hurt you. It's a very weird, macho approach that makes no sense to me.

If you're willing to breathe, take your time, and truly settle into the table, you can, over time, teach yourself how to relax. That skill is great in many circumstances, such as when you can't sleep, or when you're trying to have fun but you're so preoccupied with your stress that you can't let down. Learning how to get quiet and relax will help you become a better listener which is a great (and unusual) skill. In a state of relaxation the body can engage in a number of minor repairs that are not possible when we are in a state of agitation or even if we do nothing more than thinking ahead to what's next. In that state, energy goes to the muscles in anticipation of movement, not for repairs.

Only while relaxed can we digest. Indigestion and reflux are often the result of living life in the fast lane. There are so many benefits to relaxation. So many!

Learning to receive massage will not only benefit you during your session, but throughout the rest of your day. Over time the benefits will stretch out over a period of days. It is well worth the effort to learn how to relax. Believe me.

May all beings be peaceful, may it be so. Shalom.

Friday, August 17, 2012

How much is too much?

One of my great teachers used to say that all food is both medicine and poison, depending on the situation, the person ingesting, and the quantity eaten at any given time. This resonates as truth (whatever truth is) at every level.

I don't believe there are foods that are good for everyone, though I do believe there are foods that are bad for everyone. I'm talking about junk food here - over processed, partially hydrogenated, high fructose corn syrup laden, GMO modified food that has been sitting too long in a warehouse or a freezer.

But that's not what I want to write about today. As a result of reading some of Aleister Crowley's writing, after a lifetime of avoiding his work, I'm thinking about how perilous it is to try to connect too deeply to the divine mysteries. He was, as it turns out, incredibly brilliant, and yes indeed he tuned in at a very deep level to that which is just out of reach for most folks. But he went too far into it and it did him no good.

Everyone has access to connection with the divine, life-giving light/mystery. You can be a fundamentalist atheist and yet still experience wonder at a beautiful sunset for instance, or the depth of love you feel for your nearests and dearests. According to my cosmology, this kind of experience is the essence of connection with what I call the divine.

Artists, writers, musicians, athletes and dancers find access through their work. When they connect, they are blissful, in the flow. When they can't access the divine light, they despair. Indeed, divine light is kind of addictive.

Those who bathe too often in divine light inevitably develop physical and mental problems. Mystics are famous for their respiratory problems, for instance. Show me a mystic and I'll show you a person with asthma or respiratory allergies, or other chronic problems. I am among that group, by the way.

This is not meant to be a cautionary post. I'm not suggesting we eschew the divine light. That's not good either. Nor am I saying that we mystics (because I am a mystic) can blame every mental or physical symptom on the divine. That wouldn't be fair!

What I'm saying is that the Tao of Goldilocks applies universally. A pinch of connection to the divine light is a great, vivifying, life giving experience. Questions about the mysteries are great, but if you think you've found the answers, or that you must find the answers, that is not a good sign. Too much of that light and too much certainty can lead to a situation in which people end up running through the streets naked, writing beautiful poetry perhaps, but completely incapable of taking care of themselves, like the famous Indian poet Mirabai.

Or they channel the wisdom of the ancient Egyptians but get so twisted because of the overexposure that they turn out like Aleister Crowley.

For your health and wellbeing, please, just a spoonful of divine light. Dance with the questions, but forget the idea of finding answers.Yes? I say yes.


Poor Uncle Aleister

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Emperor has no Clothes

I have a problem with religious devotion to scientific studies. In fact, I have a few problems with any faith-based approach that disavows us of common sense.

Why am I on about this today? I heard a story on NPR this morning about reflux. They reported that some people falsely believe (my emphasis) certain foods cause reflux. Why is this belief false? In fact it is true. If you eat something and subsequently develop reflux, that's pretty solid evidence. When I eat yeasty bread, I get heartburn. Do I need a study before I stop eating yeasty bread? I do not.

If there is no definitive study proving something is true, the assumption we come away with is that it doesn't exist. It's not the science. Real scientists are endlessly curious. They know that what's "true" today could all change tomorrow as the result of learning something new. That's one thing I love about science. Real science involves understanding that truth is not fixed.

It's the thought form science conveys to we laypeople that points us in the wrong direction. We like to think that scientists are smarter than we are. They know what they're talking about. We begin to believe the conclusions arrived at after studies as The Truth. Everything else, including our own experience, is false.

If there isn't a study that says so, our symptoms and reactions to foods aren't real? That's crazy. Studies refer to statistics, not to individuals. You are not a statistic! Nor am I.

The first sad step away from good health is a tendency to ignore symptoms and changes in our own bodies, for whatever reasons. When we defer to the ubiquitous study or to those we perceive to be higher authorities, we surrender the ability to be discerning, to notice, and to trust our unique, complicated bodies. The most brilliant medical practitioners in the world can not tell you what you're feeling internally. Only you can do that. Only you.

For a long time I clipped newspaper and magazine stories about absurdly useless studies, such as lengthy, expensive studies that proved children who eat nutritious breakfasts are less likely to fall asleep in school than those who skip breakfast. They needed to conduct a study to prove that? Good lord.

May you pay close attention to the needs of your miraculous body today and every day. All the symptoms, the shifts and changes you feel in your body - all of them are very real. Very. It is respectful to acknowledge, to listen and feel. Studies are interesting but not definitive for individuals.

To your good health. Shalom.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Healing with Poetry

I've missed the mark on my last couple of posts. I thought I was writing about advanced directives, but people thought I was writing about hospice. Then I thought I was writing about those crappy magazine articles that tell people how to relax on their vacations, but people thought I was saying everyone should take their iphone on holiday, whether they want to or not. Mercury is retrograde until August 8th. Maybe that's what's causing the mixups.

Hence, instead of writing a post today, here's a beautiful poem posted on the Healing Words Productions website. It's an organization dedicated to using the expressive arts in hospitals. It is a worthy goal!

May you not wait until you're dead! Shalom.


My hazard wouldn’t be yours, not ever;
But every doom, like a hazelnut, comes down
To its own worm. So I am rocking here
Like any granny with her apron over her head
Saying, lordy me. It’s my trouble.
There’s nothing to be learned this way.
If I heard a girl crying help
I would go to save her;
But you hardly ever hear those words.
Dear children, you must try to say
Something when you are in need.
Don’t confuse hunger with greed;
And don’t wait until you are dead.

--Ruth Stone, Topography and Other Poems

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Withdrawal does not make for a fun vacation

I'll admit to being puzzled by "how to enjoy your holiday" articles. Who writes these things? What in the world is going through their minds? For instance, can someone please explain why it would be a good idea for EVERYONE to completely unplug on the next vacation, cut off every form of access to the internet through which we routinely connect right now in the 21st century? I've seen that idea put forth by a number of enjoy your vacation writers. Hmm.

I'm sure there are those who have decided to quit smoking, for instance, on a vacation. Perhaps it's effective but I doubt very seriously that it's enjoyable or relaxing, either for the one going cold turkey or for the unfortunate family and friends sharing the vacation, who have to deal with someone in full blown withdrawal at a time that is supposed to be fun and relaxing. Is it a reasonable prediction that people will enjoy the discomforts of withdrawal during the precious few days they aren't flogging themselves at work?

Seems crazy to me. What do you think?

Moderation is a fine way to enjoy a vacation. There's no harm in unplugging more than you're used to, dialing it down a notch or two. Sadly, the idea of extreme everything is a part of the American psyche, which explains the hideous sunburns, aching muscles and exhaustion that seem to be part of many vacation experiences. Add to that an extreme situation of withdrawal. Oh dear.

I know there are those who can't put the iphone down even when they're with their dear ones or out for a walk in a gorgeous setting. It's an obsession just like many others. For those folks, maybe a bout in rehab would work better than to imagine a lovely, idyllic vacation during which being unplugged is suddenly and miraculously relaxing. Yes? I say yes.

However you spend your summer vacation, remember, you don't have to be so harsh with yourself. Yes? I say yes. Shalom.

Monday, July 16, 2012

What is grace?

I had a great anatomy teacher at the Shi'atsu Institute in San Francisco. One of the things I learned from him was how to distinguish between muscles of doing and muscles of being. Large, powerful muscle groups, like the quads on the front of the thigh, do the heavy lifting necessary for walking, running, and dancing. The quads, according to my teacher, are muscles of doing. Thank God for the quads.

He referred to the deeper muscles close to the bone as muscles of being. Under the brute force of the quads, there are smaller, more finely tuned muscles, such as the psoas and iliopsoas. He told us to pay attention to great dancers, also great athletes, whose movement arises from their muscles of being, rather than the muscles of doing. The reason they're so graceful, he said, is because they move from the inside outwards. The muscles of being generate the essence of movement while the muscles of doing carry out the intended action. Movement that originates from these deep muscles looks easy. Fred Astaire danced from his muscles of being, definitely!

Of course we need all our muscles to get from point A to point B.

That thought brings to mind something one of my students said about a kind of gracious presence that great healers bring into the treatment room. Where does that kind of grace arise? What I'm thinking about today is the difference between the energy of doing and the energy of being.

The energy of doing propels us - we need it, most definitely. Otherwise the dishes would never get done, the floor would remain unswept and who would ever take the trash out?

The energy of being requires focus. Those who resonate with the energy of being are grounded, centered in their own energy and have cultivated clean, clear, healthy and resilient boundaries. Most of them have to practice connecting with the soulful energy of being. They meditate, pray, do yoga or Tai Chi. These practices requires focus, patience and commitment. 

This morning I'm thinking about how the energy of being brings a gracefulness even to those with two left feet on the dance floor. It is well worth cultivating the energy of being. Oh yeah.

May you move from your muscles of being, may you vibrate with the energy of being. May the muscles and energy of doing take their cues from a more essential, soulful source. May it be so.


Friday, July 13, 2012

It's Complicated

Thirty years ago in the U.S., hospice was seen by many as immoral and even unethical. The idea of giving up did not exist in mainstream medicine. The technology of medicine was thought to be the greatest good. If something could be done to save a life, it absolutely should be done - in every case. I remember stories about people who would have died without artificial hearts - but once they had their mechanical hearts they were forever tethered to machines, in pain and pretty much miserable until they did finally die. That was an awful experiment, done for the right reasons, but oh my.

Of course there were - and still are - many who were kept alive for years on end, plugged in to ventilators, food tubes and other apparatus to keep the organs going, no matter what. A lot of time, money and energy has been invested in lawsuits and other forms of struggle over when to let go. It's a heartbreaking situation to have to face. No wonder we're confused.

The first time I heard the word "hospice" was well into the AIDS epidemic in the 80s. I remember when Maitri Hospice in San Francisco opened, and how grateful the families and friends of the poor men dying of AIDS were to have a place where their beloveds could pass away in peace and beauty.

It was a gift of that horrible era, the introduction of hospice into mainstream thinking. We learned that being kept alive by all means possible was not always the best choice and that indeed, sometimes these heroic efforts amounted to acts of cruelty - though of course no one ever intended to be cruel. Doctors were taught to save lives. It seemed black and white, but it's not so clear cut.

After that the idea of the Living Will and DNR orders came into mainstream thinking. At last people had a choice about end of life care.

A Living Will is a gift that everyone can give to their beloveds, some instructions about how each individual wishes to be treated in case of near death situations. Here is a link to the Mayo Clinic page about advanced directives. It's not a happy read, but definitely worthwhile. Check it out.

Even with a Living Will in place, I strongly encourage you to designate someone who shares your values around advanced directives as your medical power of attorney. This should be someone who lives in the same area, someone who can come to the hospital, have a look at you in intensive care, meet and talk to the doctors in charge. Every doctor interprets the idea of "heroic measures" differently. Every doctor has a different sense of when to resuscitate, when not to. These situations are not as obvious as it seems they should be.

Having someone clear headed and like minded on hand to make the call will be a blessing for you, your family and even the doctors in charge who will, more than likely, be sleep deprived, stretched thin and who probably know nothing about you. It's unfair to expect these frazzled individuals to know how best to proceed.

My medical power of attorney is a good, long-time friend whose values about advanced directives are aligned exactly with my own. Though my siblings would certainly make sound decisions about how to proceed in the event of a near death trauma, they are all at least 1,000 miles away from Washington. My medical power of attorney could be at any DC hospital within an hour. He not only shares my values around advanced directives, but he has a clear mind and great intuition. I trust him completely to know if and when to pull the plug.

My hope is that he never has to function in this role, but I'm glad someone can be on hand to help navigate the extraordinarily complex situations that arise all the time because modern medical science has outpaced ethics. Advanced directives are great, but in these situations, we need a human being to make the call.

Rather a grim topic, but important. Friday the 13th seemed like a good time to post these thoughts. Is that funny, or weird? Never mind.

May we be healthy, vital and happy. May we be well loved. May those who have to make these impossible decisions see clearly and compassionately. May it be so!

L'chaim. And Shalom.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Self Esteem and Reiki

I frequently see stories about bad self esteem in girls, adolescents and grown women. I'm sure it's a problem for men as well.

The people who write these stories bemoan the sorry state of affairs, but the truth is, our culture upholds and encourages poor self esteem. We celebrate everything that diminishes us and are embarrassed by every situation in which we are expansive. Codependence requires situations in which one person diminishes herself while others pump her up, reassure, and such.

For example:
Person A: I'm so stupid!
Person B: No! You're not stupid!
Person A: I am. I'm stupid and worthless.
Person B: No you're not.

This maddening exchange can go on for awhile. 

Imbalanced, unhealthy interactions like the above take place all the time. We (the codependent, I mean) reward those who put themselves down by taking responsibility for their self loathing so they don't have to do the hard work of coming into a more realistic understanding of themselves. I've done it, I do it often - I try not to, but it happens.

We're repulsed by decent, normal, balanced self esteem. For instance:

Person A: I aced the exam! I'm so proud of myself. I worked really hard, and that work paid off.
Person B: (ahem) ... Uh. Yeah. Great. (said with no enthusiasm whatsoever.)

Or sometimes Person B will turn it around by berating themselves to (unconsciously) coerce Person A into being the codependent.

Person B: I know! You're SO smart. I could never ace that test!
Person A: You could too!
Person B: No - I'll never be as smart as you.
Person A: Yes you are!

Now the conversation is no longer a celebration of the hard work of person A. Very sad.

Even our physical bodies are supposed to be in a constant state of deflation. When someone wants to extend a compliment, it's common for her to say, "Have you lost weight? You look great!" Whenever anyone says that to me, I respond by saying, "Actually, I've gained weight. Thank you!" Ha. You should see the looks on their faces. It's evil, but I can't help it. Try it sometime - it's hilarious.

I often wonder how the hell we're supposed to cultivate balanced self esteem when everything about our culture supports just the opposite. It's like swimming upriver against a very potent current. It's no wonder we flop around.

One of the wonderful things about the practice of Reiki is that it cultivates trust at every level. Receiving Reiki is not the perfect cure for poor self esteem, but it lays the foundation for a balanced sense of self by giving the receiver a sense of trust in the world as well as of themselves and whatever process they are currently navigating.

Can you imagine how much I would love to work with girls in their tweens? Not only would I do sessions of Reiki with them, but I'd like to teach them, attune them, so they can administer Reiki to themselves, each other, their pets, etc.

I relish the idea of empowered, Reiki attuned teenagers. Wow. Wouldn't that be cool?

May you dwell in beauty, balance and delight. May it be so. Shalom.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

It's Historic

I am a fervent believer in universal health care. In a world where I was in charge of these things, the health of the citizens of every country would be seen as a top priority. It's common sense, right? Keep people healthy = strong country. Right? Maybe that's uncommon sense.

I'm not the only one, of course. Every wealthy western nation supports universal health care - except the U.S. I am thrilled that Justice Roberts turned the tide.

When I heard the news, the first thing that came to mind was a client I had who helped write the bill. She got so burned out, she quit her job and went back to Minnesota. I do not blame her! There are hundreds, perhaps even a thousand people who worked on the bill. It is NOT "Obamacare."

Of course now there will be many messes, problems, legal snarls and such. I do not envy the people who will have to try to sort these things. Good lord. And, too, there is the condition of our medical "industry." I won't even begin to think about the impact of insurance companies on all of this. It would give me a headache to even try!

I was down at the Supreme Court when the announcement was made. I took the picture at the top of this post. It's pathetic in terms of conveying the circus atmosphere down there. This is one thing I love about America - people come out when historic decisions come down.

May all beings be healthy. May it be so. Shalom.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Why you have to meditate

"You can deny the power of your thoughts, but you cannot limit the power of your thoughts." ~Marianne Williamson

Thought is powerful, it is. Some scientists believe the reason placebos work is because the expectation of healing creates a chemical and physiological response. When the patient believes he is going to get better, the body prepares to heal, and often improves, sometimes dramatically. Fairly astonishing to consider, isn't it?

Studies of optimism show that those who think they can, can. Those who think they can't sometimes succeed, but it's a whole lot harder.

Athletes who visualize themselves engaged in their sport or activity become better, more skilled. The muscles of these athletes actually change to accommodate the activity. Of course, practicing the activity is faster and more profound by far, but still - simply engaging the mind's eye changes one's muscles? That's amazing.

The mind is powerful, but it's not ALL powerful. The mind's function is as storyteller, the part of us that interprets and explains, as best it can, the mountains of incoming sensation as well as the goings on inside the body. Some of the stories it spins bring peace, health, and happiness. Some, however, trip us up, drag us down, confuse and obfuscate.

Because of its power and its tendency to spin some fairly wild stories at times, the mind needs restraint. And that is why you HAVE to meditate. You have to.

I am annoyed by the phrase "monkey mind," which is often used by meditation teachers to describe the way human consciousness jumps around from thought to thought. I think this is insulting to monkeys and also ignores the fact that human consciousness arose in a very dangerous environment in which our survival as a species depended on the ability to listen for predators while building the fire and watching the offspring. Having the ability to jump from one thought to the next enabled us to survive long enough to figure out how to live more comfortably and safely. It is part of us, that wildly jumping consciousness. I honor it.

But for many of us, the fight for survival is long past. We have the luxury of safety, we are well fed. We have the basics, hence it isn't often that primal consciousness is useful or helpful. In fact, the jumping mind hinders sublime pursuits. If the athlete can't concentrate, he'll never benefit from visualization practice. The optimist might believe only good things are headed his way, but if he can't focus, he will have one hell of a time succeeding at anything.

We call it Attention Deficit Disorder because we love to pathologize everything. Some are worse than others, but all of us in my culture struggle with the jumping mind to one degree or another. The way we live (i.e. channel surfing, walking and texting, "multi-tasking") exaggerates the problem. We are at a crucial moment in evolution, comfortable physically, but out of control in terms of how we think. 

Meditation is an evolutionary practice. What we need now, at this moment of human development, is to learn to steady the mind, because we are already really good at mind jumping, yes? No need to practice that.

Do you meditate? If not, start right now. There are classes, books, podcasts through which you can learn. Sign up, order a book, stream a podcast and get to it. In the interests of full disclosure may I say it's REALLY HARD. I know because I've been meditating for many years. I do not actually enjoy the practice very often, but it is necessary. Little by little, I am learning to focus which makes me a better bodyworker, cook, photographer, reader, thinker and listener. It helps everything.

It's a daily reset button, a practice that ushers me into my body, helps me understand what I can and cannot bring into my day. It's my nod to the evolution of our species. And it's good for my brain.

Here is a link to Krista Tippett's interview with Richard Davidson, a long time meditator and researcher, about the benefits of meditation. 

Neuroscientist Richard Davidson has studied the brains of meditating Buddhist monks, and now he’s using his research with children and adolescents to look at things like ADHD, autism, and kindness.

You must meditate, you simply must. Yes? I say yes.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Why I don't have a pet

Pets are therapeutic, or so they say. Allegedly, pets bring cheer to the depressed, get sedentary people off their butts, lower blood pressure and add meaning to their owners' lives.


I had a dog for fourteen years. I'll admit he wasn't a good dog, so perhaps this is why I'm biased. What I remember is that it did not lower my blood pressure when Jake tried to lunge at the UPS man, (which was every single time we saw him), or when I found a favorite pair of shoes chewed to tiny bits. I did not find calming any time when Jake was ill. Walking Jake was tricky since he was liable at a moment's notice to decide that the dogs passing on the sidewalk should be destroyed.

We had plenty of good walks, and many wonderful, soulful, loving moments, I should say. I loved Jake without limit or condition through all the years of his life, from the time he came into my life until the day he died. He was one of the greatest teachers I have ever had. I loved him so dearly that after he passed away, I cried every day for a month.

Mourning for Jake was not healing, therapeutic, soothing or good for me in any way whatsoever.

When people adopt pets, they take on a huge responsibility. Keeping a pet healthy is time consuming and very expensive. And, too, there's something wrong with every one of them; it's the nature of embodiment. Some will shed freakish amounts of fur, some can't help but slobber, or hump your friends' legs. Some have allergies or chronic skin or stomach problems, and then there is the huge realm of problems with socialization. Dogs are territorial animals and though they have adapted to living with us and sharing turf with many other dogs, there are moments in every dog's life when they can't quite cope on our terms. That's when they start fights, become aggressive in other ways, or run away with their tails between their legs. All of this is normal behavior for dogs but can cause uncomfortable, non-therapeutic issues for their human owners.

I can't get behind the theory that owning animals is a happy, fuzzy, carefree experience that will bring nothing but good vibes into your life. There are good times and not so good times. It's not without its rewards, but it's a lot of work!

In truth, I would like to have another dog, but I live alone, there is no outdoor space where a dog could hang out and catch some rays or root around. I don't have a car so if the dog should have to be taken to the vet, the logistics involved could be ridiculously complex. When I had Jake, I shared a house with other dogs owners, so if I was sick or running late, they could get him out for a walk and a pee, feed him and care for him when I was out of town.

I don't have that kind of back up now, and though I love dogs, I know that bringing a dog into my life, all on my own, would be anything but therapeutic. It makes me wonder why people write articles that make it sound as if being a pet owner is like a nice drive through the country on a Sunday afternoon, or a relaxing walk on the beach. It really isn't!

Nevertheless, when I see a dog who seems friendly, I always stop and say hello. As I walk away from the encounter, it's inevitable I will be smiling. If only it were that easy, hey?


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Healing with Color

What is color? Throughout human history, everywhere on earth from the north pole to the south pole, artists, also probably just as many scientists, not to mention fashionistas, have explored color in pigment and in light. Color plays a major role in human experience.

Color is a visual vibration, a phenomenon of absorbed vs. reflected energy interpreted by our brains. Color, like noise, can be healing or disruptive, sometimes both at the same time. Color is powerful, it really is.

Color has not only physical properties, but character as well. Yellow is a happy color, blue is soothing, red is sexy, or angry, lustful, earthy. One of my teachers said green is healing, but also allows us to take the next step towards health. (Of course the traffic light that tells us to GO is green. Of course.)

White is super reflective. I used to wear only white when I began my practice of therapeutic massage. I was still learning how not to absorb my clients' energy; the white clothing really helped. I wonder sometimes how well it works for medical professionals who, less and less often these days, wear white coats. Brides wear white because everyone knows white is about purity. White is cleanliness, godliness. Too much white is, to me, quite boring, but I appreciate its powers.

I hardly ever wear black clothing and pretty much avoid it as often as possible. It's a beautiful color, but I want to tumble into the center of it, be absorbed and never heard from again. The vibration of black is not good for me. Cool, night owl type people wear a lot of black. I wonder if this is because they are nocturnal. Black absorbs pretty much all of the light that lands on it. Because the cool people in my romantic imagination stay up till dawn playing jazz, writing poetry and smoking cigarettes, they of course must sleep in late which means they often miss the light of day. Maybe they wear black all the time because they need the absorbed light. Who knows?

Why oh why are prisoners dressed in orange? That seems so weird to me. They should wear soft sage green or deep royal blue. Purple would be excellent.

Have you ever thought about the colors you benefit from, the colors that don't quite work for you? Some people are so sensitive to color that they react on a visceral level to colors that appeal, also to the colors that don't appeal. Others barely notice color. Of course there are people who are physically color blind as well. I have many theories about non-sighted people, but will not get into that here.

Where do you fall on the spectrum of color sensitivity? Do you respond strongly to it? If so you can put that sensitivity to work as a gentle healing modality. Feeling a little down? Wear a color you find energizing or cheerful. Had too much coffee? Maybe wear a color that's soothing. Feeling cranky? Wear a color that will help you keep from overreacting.

Perhaps color does not have the power to make or break your day, and will most likely not save the planet, but it can give you a hand up, bring in some cheer or calm, put a smile on your face. Mindfully choosing color is an enjoyable aspect of self care. Why not, hey? Why not?