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.