Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Take your medicine - but only if it works, please!

Once upon a time, tennis shoes were not fancy. Before the era of ergonomic, scientific design, there were just Keds-like sneakers and Converse All Star type sport shoes. That was long ago.

I remember buying my first pair of technically futuristic shoes. The salesperson convinced me the shoes would be uncomfortable for awhile as my arch adjusted to being supported, something it had never experienced. I kept wearing them, but my feet were so unhappy. When I mentioned this to my great osteopath/homeopath he said, "If the shoes hurt your feet, don't wear them."

Ah the brilliance of common sense! It wasn't about the shoes, or even my feet. The problem was that my feet and those shoes could not find common ground. They were all wrong together, like Nicolas Cage and Lisa Marie Presley. 

No matter how diligently I wore the shoes, no matter how exquisite their design, they were not going to work. Never again have I worn uncomfortable shoes, no matter how great they're supposed to be. Duh!

My doctor's concise summing up of the situation works in many arenas, including the realm of medication. One of the reasons there are so many different kinds of medicine is because nothing works for everyone. Some medicines work for some people but not for others. Some of us are able to benefit from many different kinds of medicine, while for others it's hard to find anything that helps. It's just like shoes. This is one of the reasons health and healing are vexing even to the greatest medical minds of all time. It's complicated.

Do you take medication of any kind? When you take it, does it do what it's supposed to? It's well worth taking the time to notice, because if it doesn't help, it's nothing more than a burden on your poor, overloaded liver and kidneys, nothing more than that. Also take note of "side effects" (brilliant marketing term for the discomforts you would prefer not to suffer). If your doctor says to continue taking the medication even when it doesn't help or makes you feel worse, why not get a second opinion? Well?

Please don't just go off medication without intelligent supervision. Going cold turkey can be as bad for you as continuing to swallow pills that do not keep their promise. Be gentle with your poor body, will you? It's doing the best it can!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Use common sense. Please?

Germs are not always, or even usually, the bad guys, believe me. Or don't believe me, believe Michael Specter, who wrote this fascinating article in the New Yorker last year. If not for germs, we'd be dead. From the article:

We are inhabited by as many as ten thousand bacterial species; these cells outnumber those which we consider our own by ten to one, and weigh, all told, about three pounds—the same as our brain. Together, they are referred to as our microbiome—and they play such a crucial role in our lives that scientists have begun to reconsider what it means to be human.

Weird and cool, isn't it?

I'm thinking about it today after reading that this year's flu season is already rampant in the U.S.

Please don't let the bad news about this year's flu season lead you in the direction of antibacterial soaps and cleansers which do nothing except kill the weak bacteria while helping the strong bacteria become more virulent, OK? And skip the hand sanitizer which has been linked to muscle pain and weakness. Here's a link to an article from Smithsonian magazine about the dangers of hand sanitizer. It kills the weak bacteria, strengthens the virulent bacteria, and wrecks your hands.

Please do wash your hands with plain soap and warm water. Don't just rinse your hands, work up a lather, then rinse thoroughly. Washing your hands is a great way to avoid the kinds of germs, both viruses and bacteria, that will make you sick. Use common sense: when you come in from being out and about, wash your hands. Before you cook, that sort of thing. You don't have to be OCD about it. Remember there are lovely bacteria on your skin you actually need to stay healthy.

If coming down with the flu was only about contact with the virus, then virtually everyone would catch every flu. That is never true, though. There are other factors at play. The how and why some of us get sick and others don't is in most ways mysterious even to the greatest medical minds in history. We are complicated beings!

If you ask me, an aggressive flu season calls for aggressive self care. Please make sure you're getting sufficient sleep, stay warm, try not to overdo it at work or at home. Stay active but don't go crazy at the gym. Eat real food. By taking extra good care of yourself, your body will be primed to meet and defeat the invading virus should you come into contact with it, which, if you live around other humans is bound to happen.

If you should succumb, and believe me, it happens to everyone once in awhile, get in bed. Eat soup, drink tea, watch old movies and sleep as much as you can. Please don't go on about your business as if you're not sick. It's reckless behavior that will not help you get well any faster, nor will it make you more popular at work. Be reasonable. Stay home.

While you're sick, let your fever rise. Fevers are so beneficial, they are beginning to treat even diseases like cancer with hyperthermia. Don't let it get too high. For adults, a fever of 101-102 F. is about as high as we can safely go. If it spikes above 102 F., take two aspirins.

After a few days, in almost all cases, the congestion will begin to clear, and your energy will begin to return. To me, it always feels as if the clouds have parted after a storm. It is a glorious feeling, also a relief, to recover even from a minor ailment like a cold.

The following is not common sense, it is Reya sense. The last step in healing from the flu, or anything actually, involves purposely taking in beauty. Before you go back to work, take an afternoon to visit a museum and gaze at beautiful paintings, or listen to beautiful music. A visit to the conservatory at the U.S. Botanical Gardens, which is always warm and humid (to accommodate the plants), is an excellent way to finish the healing process after a respiratory illness.

The last day of healing is not ideally suited to taking in provocative art or music; we're still too raw to contend with anything jarring. Beauty brings harmony to the emotional and spiritual body, and I bet it's actually physically good for you, too. Wanna bet?

I have never heard another healer overtly suggest the pursuit of beauty as the final step of healing, but it really helps. Our species is wired to appreciate beauty. Illness is discouraging. We need beauty to fully recover.

Be kind to your body through this flu season, please? It's doing the best it can.

Be well. Gesunheit. And shalom.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Right Livelihood

We have to be a part of something larger than ourselves, because our dreams are often bigger than our lifetimes. --Rosalie Bertell, Right Livelihood fellow

Much has been written about right livelihood, and not just by Buddhists. In Sweden there is an annual award for those who have worked for social justice or to help preserve the environment. Here is a link to their website. A quote from the site:

The idea of 'right livelihood' is an ancient one. It embodies the principle that each person should follow an honest occupation, which fully respects other people and the natural world. It means being responsible for the consequences of our actions and taking only a fair share of the earth's resources.
In every generation, there are groups of people and individuals around the globe who valiantly uphold these principles of right livelihood. They should be the stars in our human cosmos; instead their work often entails personal sacrifice, being opposed by powerful forces around them. The Right Livelihood Award exists to honour and support such people.
It's appalling to imagine how many people are engaged in wrong livelihood according to the above definition. For most folks, paying the rent and getting food on the table must be their number one priority. The rightness or wrongness of what they do must come second to the necessity for food and shelter. I'm not talking here about the greedy industrialist who makes a fortune at the expense of those who work for him, or ruthless people in positions of power who don't give a damn about the environment or other people. I'm talking about most people, living out their lives, doing the best they can with what they've been given and with their own talent or lack thereof. I don't judge them. Do you?

I'm struck by the idea that right livelihood entails personal sacrifice and personal risk. In other words, in many ways, right livelihood is not healthy for the person involved in the work. These people believe fiercely in what they do. They have to be brave and absolutely certain that taking on the sacrifice and risk is a necessary part of furthering their dreams for the world. They are a part of something bigger than their personal lives which must be extremely satisfying. But, is it OK to work oneself to death for a great cause? Is it OK for the persons killing themselves? How about their families? Is it good for them?

I admire these people tremendously, please do not misunderstand. Still, I wonder about the standard of sacrifice and risk in right livelihood. Are all the rest of us, we who will never be recognized in Sweden, those of us who are not Buddhist, are we wrong to work for safety and comfort for ourselves and our families? Is doing harm to oneself a part of right livelihood?

How about all the earnest people working (for instance) for not-for-profits, who spend their days sitting at a desk in front of a computer, ruining their health so as to do good in the world? Even if those people believe that what they're doing is for the betterment of others, is it OK for them to sacrifice their health and well being in that pursuit?

Buddhist descriptions of right livelihood are somewhat more gentle than the above. Do no harm is a basic measure of Buddhist right livelihood. It is also nearly impossible in most professions. Even as a massage therapist, I use massage cremes and oils that were manufactured in factories and are packaged in plastic containers. I bet the people who produce my lovely massage creme don't make a decent wage. Maybe I'm wrong about that.

After each session, I must wash the sheets, face rest cover and pillow case, and though I use environmentally friendly, non scented laundry detergent, I use a LOT of water washing all those sheets. I go to great lengths to make sure the massage studio is clean, which entails a lot of vacuuming, for example. Where was my vacuum cleaner manufactured? How about the HEPA filters I use in it? When I discard an old vacuum bag, it ends up in a landfill somewhere. I book appointments on my iphone. Nearly everyone understands how horrible the conditions are in Chinese factories where iphones are produced.

You see, even a livelihood as harmless, as "right," as mine does harm. It seems almost universally inevitable.

Everything is relative. I remain unconvinced that there is any such thing as right livelihood. If everyone did the best we could, while taking care of ourselves and our families, wouldn't that be good enough? You tell me.

If your work is making you sick or unavailable to your family and friends, I wonder if you might reconsider your priorities. Would you? Will you?

Be well, first and foremost. Life is short. It is not all about the cause, whatever that cause is. Believe me.