Sunday, December 22, 2013

Self medication

Library of Congress, Jefferson Building

I don't remember if I read this somewhere or it came to me somehow, that every philosophical dilemma arises from the basic problem of reconciling homeostasis, the almost freakish consistency of temperature, respiration, heartbeat and so on inside the body, with the exterior environment which is always in flux.

Like Brother Wind who, though annoying, is simply trying to stabilize atmospheric pressure, we humans try to create conditions that will enable homeostasis to remain in place. When it gets cold, we put on more clothing (or -- we should), we eat soups and stews, we sleep more than we would in warmer weather. The skin is mighty but it is porous and thin. It can only do so much.

What we crave for dinner (chili in December, not so much in July in the northern hemisphere), how long we sleep, how we decide to spend our days, has at its foundation this never ending struggle.

Part of how we deal with the problem is, we self medicate. Every being self medicates. Food, clothing, activity (or not) could all be included under the heading of self medication. Many people only use the term to describe drug and/or alcohol use or abuse, but I don't think it's that simple.

One of the drums I beat regularly has to do with the truth that we humans are not chemistry sets, machines, or in any way predictable. It would be so great if health was directly related to the right numbers on our blood tests, how often or how vigorously we exercise, what we eat or drink or don't. Wouldn't it be wonderful if there really were only one Right Way to eat, live, sleep, work? Oh man.

Of course there isn't because we are not machines, we are not chemistry sets. No. We are complicated!

Caffeine, for instance, has different effects depending not only on who partakes, what time of day they partake, but also depending on who they are at that moment in time. I know that there are days when I can drink coffee and I'm fine with it. Other days, my hands sweat and my heart pounds after only a few sips. Tea affects me quite differently than coffee, even though allegedly, the craving for both has to do with my wish to self medicate with caffeine.

Tea clarifies my mind in a smooth, high-toned way. Coffee is more guttural. What I mean is, coffee kicks me in the ass, kicks me into gear. Caffeine is not the only important facet of these stimulants. I drink one or the other depending on what I need at the moment in space/time. I am self medicating.

Sometimes of course I drink the "wrong" one and end up even more out of balance than before I took my first sip. It's unfortunate, but very common. Self medication is a lifelong art to learn.

Chocolate is not just about sugar. Chocolate is holy, it surely is. I think of the Mayans, drinking chocolate without the ameliorating benefit of sugar or milk. Good lord. If I drank that stuff, I too could plunge my hand into someone's chest and pull out their heart.

OK, maybe not. But chocolate is powerful.

I could get into a whole thing about intoxicants, should I? Or tobacco? The Indians understood Brother Tobacco to be the perfect drug, both energizing and relaxing. They knew to only take one puff, then pass the pipe. It only became toxic when we decided that if smoking one puff was good, smoking an entire carton of cigarettes would be even better. And then we started adding all those toxins to the herb, wrapping them in carcinogenic paper. Nowadays we blame the tobacco, but it isn't the fault of that plant. It's our tendency to go to extremes that's the problem.

I could say a lot more about self medicating, but the point here is that right now, at the bottom of the year (in the northern hemisphere) we humans are battling -- raging, you could even say -- against the dark. Our self medication at this time of year includes rich foods, a lot of sugar, alcohol. We find ourselves in groups of people, bellowing over loud music, wearing funny clothes, drinking way too much, eating way too much, misbehaving.

This is how we fortify ourselves during the holiday season. It is perfectly normal. We are self medicating.

Come January 1st, a different need will sweep over most people; a need to cleanse, let go, detox. I recommend tea as self medication during January -- at least that's what I'll be drinking.

Ah but we aren't there yet. It's December 22. The effort to reconcile 98.6 F, 130/80, 70 heartbeats per minute with the dark, cold, rain/snow/ice involves a hell of a lot of self medication. It just does.

May you find balance between inner and outer as we complete the secular year. May it be so!


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