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?


Monday, June 11, 2012

Beat the Heat

Some people love the sultry heat of a DC summer. I am not among them. The heat weakens me. The humidity makes me feel swollen, sluggish. I'm oppressed by summer in this city!

I used to cope by drinking icy beverages but my acupuncturist has convinced me that isn't the best way to cool down. The stomach is a slow cooker that needs to maintain 100 degrees F. in order to do its job. Throwing ice into the stomach slows or stops the process of digestion. It should not come as a surprise that after several icy drinks, I inevitably develop a stomach ache which, of course, does not help anything.

Another coping behavior I adopted, long ago in the midst of Kansas City's awful summers, was to hide in air conditioned spaces as much as possible. Not only was I cut off from spending time outdoors - never a good thing for any of us - but I was so intolerant of the heat that even a few minutes spent outside was a miserable experience. It's no way to live, hiding in hermetically sealed environments.

A more balanced approach is healthier and makes for a much happier experience of summer. I go for walks early or late in the day, and yes I take a thermos of icy water with me, but instead of drinking it by the gallon, I sip the water slowly. If I don't care what I look like (and it's hard to look good when it's furiously hot and humid), I pour a tablespoon or so of icy water on the crown of my head when needed. It's a shock but cools me instantly. Another great technique is to hold an ice cube on the inside of a wrist or in the crease of the elbow. It's almost unbelievable how well these techniques work.

I carry a folding paper fan with me wherever I go, and yes I drink lots of cool - not cold - water. Tea has an astringent effect making it better for sultry summer days than coffee. Lemonade is good, too. Mix them together for the perfect summer beverage.

On the worst, most heinously hot days most people avoid the direct impact of the weather, but there are always a few out there, running past the chateau at midday. I always wonder whether these people are oblivious to the heat or are natives of another planet. They are definitely not made of the same stuff as I.

It can't be good for even the most stalwart of summer lovers to run in 100 degree heat, though I suppose what doesn't kill them makes them stronger. I'm strong enough as is and no longer need to tilt against the weather. How about you?

Be well, stay cool. Shalom.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Metta for Good Health

In my society at this moment in time, it's very cool to be cynical, sarcastic, caustic. Maybe that was always cool, who knows?

I try to avoid those states of mind/heart. In fact I avoid them like the plague because I believe they are emotionally diseased ways of thinking and can lead to serious physical health problems. When I catch myself being cynical, what I notice is that my root - I mean my sense of connection to this beautiful planet, my fellow beings and the divine - shrivels, dries up and becomes so brittle it feels like it could shatter into a million sharp bits. When I can't feel my connections to the living world, I quickly become exhausted, lonely, and fearful. In my heart of hearts - believe me there is no scientific evidence to support my theory - I believe high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, congestive heart disease and many diseases of the lungs are in some way related to anger and its awful offspring, cynicism and sarcasm.

When I experience fellow humans who are proud of and intent on being cynical and sarcastic, I'm taken aback by the sharpness of their energy fields. It feels like if I try to connect to their energy, I'll be cut to ribbons. I used to harden when around cynics - it was protective but very uncomfortable. These days I try either to avoid these people or let the angry cynicism move right past me. Everyone should be allowed his/her own journey through life. What do I know? Maybe cynicism works for some.

One practice that helps me tremendously is metta prayer. Metta means lovingkindness. In the prayer we are not so much demanding results but rather wishing for good things for ourselves and other beings. If you google "metta prayer" you will find a million wonderful resources for learning more about this simple kindness. Below is a form of the prayer I was taught many years ago and practice every day. By practicing metta, I remember my place in the family of things, as Mary Oliver puts it. It's nice to be reminded that Buddhists all over the earth are wishing me well every day.

May your connection with planet earth and all the beings with whom we share this beautiful world be sturdy, nutritious and joyful. May it be so.

Metta Prayer

Sit comfortably. Relax your jaw and take a few deep cleansing breaths. Let your eyes gently close. Imagine you can breathe in and out of your heart, bringing fresh, beautiful loving energy to the center of human soul.

Ask silently for yourself and only yourself:

May I be happy
May I be peaceful
May I be healthy
May I be filled with love.

Open your heart now to the faces of those you love most dearly. You don't have to be thorough, just let a few faces pop up in your mind. Wish for them:

May they be happy
May they be peaceful
May they be healthy
May they be filled with love.

Open your heart now to someone neutral, like the guy behind the counter at the corner store, for instance. Ask for him/her:

May they be happy
May they be peaceful
May they be healthy
May they be filled with love.

Open your heart further to include someone with whom you're having trouble. Don't pick the person you're having the most trouble with. The practice is supposed to be easy and easeful. Wish for them:

May they be happy
May they be peaceful
May they be healthy
May they be filled with love.

Open your heart now to all beings on planet earth. Wish for them:

May all beings be happy
May all beings be peaceful
May all beings be healthy
May all beings be filled with love.

And now take a deep breath, let go of all beings, the neutral people, the people you're having trouble with and even your nearest and dearests. Breathe your heart clean. Wish for yourself and only for yourself:

May I be happy
May I be peaceful
May I be healthy
May I be filled with love.

Breathe in and out of your heart. Open your eyes and have a lovely day!



On days when I'm really feeling it, I wish for lovingkindness for all members of Congress and their staff people. I can't make myself do it some days - I'm only human!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Do you believe?

Healing is an art as well as a science. Even the most refined, rational, renowned, data-centered medical professional will admit as much, because the truth is, no one really understands healing. It can be described, yes, (i.e. the immune system mobilizes and kills the invading virus.) But why and how exactly the immune system mobilizes is a complicated mystery. A virus is a virus, but the way it interacts with us is not predictable. Some will get sick as dogs, others will feel mild "flu-like" symptoms, still others will not be at all affected. Sometimes those who "never" get sick (not ever true, but people like to say it) will come down with a much more serious version than those with compromised immune systems. Some sufferers will cough, others will suffer from head congestion, still others will become queasy. Some will have fevers, others won't.

I could go on, but I'm sure you get the picture, that we can apply science to our healing techniques - and I'm glad we do! - but hard science can only describe without fully explaining what takes place when we heal. Science can only take us so far.

Here's my truth: all healing modalities are faith based.

I hear people say things like, "I don't believe in acupuncture." It's an interesting statement. Does it mean the person doesn't believe acupuncture exists? Because it certainly does. It is practiced all around the world, has been practiced in China for 3,000 years. What the statement means (I think) is that the person doesn't believe acupuncture is effective, which again begs the question of how long it has been around, and how widely popular it is. Why would it prevail if it didn't work? What does "work" mean in this context? What does "work" mean in any healing context? Who knows!

When I question people who make such statements, their answers, no matter what they say, invariably refer to the truth that all healing modalities are faith based and that faith is extraordinarily personal, reflecting so much about the uniqueness of each individual.

I'm going to take this one step further and say that every time we take steps to become healthy, we are, in effect, praying. When we pick up the phone to make an appointment with the health care professional of our choice, do yoga or eat a well balanced meal, get enough sleep, change a bad habit, stand up and stretch, or take our medicine, we are sending a message to the universe, the divine, or however we see the big picture. What we're doing is praying for good health.

Practice the art and prayer of self care, whatever that means to you, please? Who knows if it  will work - but - it can't hurt, right? Self care makes possible a calm, grounded embodiment and enhances self esteem. I believe in self care. I do.