Thursday, June 27, 2013

A rant about tick borne diseases

Though not as gruesome, not as immediately lethal for most people, tick borne disease is the AIDS epidemic of this decade. Lyme is horrible but by no means the only one, and probably not the worst. Here's a link to the CDC site that lists all known tick borne diseases.

Tick borne diseases are difficult to diagnose because symptoms vary wildly from person to person, also because they're hard to detect through blood tests even though that process has been refined in recent years. Lyme doesn't remain in the bloodstream for very long. The antibodies don't show up for weeks, or in those with compromised immune systems, months - or never. Blood tests are not an ideal way to diagnose these conditions. Once the infection settles into the body, it is very difficult and perhaps impossible to cure.

Even worse than the difficulties involved in diagnosis, no one agrees about how to treat these diseases. Some doctors think a simple round of antibiotics should do it. Even when their patients continue to suffer, if they don't find the spirochete in the blood, they refuse to believe the person is still sick.

This is one of the problems I have with modern medicine. If the numbers are right, the conclusion is that we're healthy, no matter how awful we feel. I bristle at the use of the word "psychosomatic," as it puts the blame on the patient, not on the doctor who can't figure out what's happening. Remember Chronic Fatigue Syndrome? One of my clients who was bedridden for years with CFS finally found a doctor in Seattle who diagnosed Lyme disease. She is currently on a five year course of antibiotics that are administered via a port like the ones they use for chemotherapy. She's back on her feet at last though still not well by any means. Her doctor also has her using a Rife machine, and swallowing handfuls of supplements. I hope she can recover. Before she got sick she was a journalist living in Guatamala. It's a horrifying story.

I'm on about Lyme and other tick borne diseases after reading this excellent New Yorker article.
Nearly everything about Lyme disease -- the symptoms, the diagnosis, the prevalence, the behavior of the borrelia spirochete after it infects the body, and the correct approach to treatment -- is contested bitterly and publicly. Even the definition of Lyme disease, and the terminology used to describe it, has fueled years of acrimonious debate. 
Lyme and the other tick borne diseases are evil. They are shape shifters that can look like a million other afflictions. Left untreated, the bacteria can spread to muscles, joints, the heart and the brain. And though many doctors swear it's easily treatable, the clinical reality for many people is that it is never cured.

Those who have it suffer terribly, those who are working on it are in violent disagreement about every aspect of the research. I've had clients who couldn't lie still on the table; their bodies jerked and writhed and yet their doctors insisted there was nothing wrong. I'm telling you, Lyme and the other tick borne diseases are evil. I don't use that word often. The soul of the disease is what's evil. I don't blame the ticks - they're just living out their lives. They're infected, too. The spirochetes themselves: evil.

Please, I am begging you, do NOT get infected. Be aware. When you're walking through grass or are out in the woods, tuck your pants into your socks, spritz yourself with DEET, wear a hat. When you come in from your walk, check yourself from head to toe. If you get bitten, save the tick and get to the doctor as soon as possible.

Do NOT wait for a bullseye rash to develop. In 25% of the people who are diagnosed, there was never a rash. If your doctor poo-poos your request to get on antibiotics, find another doctor.

There's no way I can be emphatic enough here. This is not something to be nonchalant about. This is serious. In the next few years we will hear a lot more about these diseases. The modern medical community will finally recognize how nefarious and long lasting these diseases are, how pervasive and difficult to diagnose and treat. When at last someone officially compares Lyme to the AIDS epidemic, I'll say, as I tend to often, Who said it first?

Do NOT get Lyme disease. Do not. That is all.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Charity begins at home

Does planet earth need healing? I'm not so sure. It seems to me that the mother of all things takes good care of herself. She recycles the ocean floors through subduction while the weather circulates and recycles the atmosphere. Periodically, she erupts, bringing the fertility of aa and ash to the surface. Earthquakes are Mama Gaia's version of an osteopathic adjustment. Every now and then she develops a big fever, detoxes herself of nearly every living thing, starts fresh.

The earth prevailed beautifully for several billion years before any of us were here and I assume she will continue to do so long after we're gone.

This is not an excuse to be wasteful, greedy and/or stupid. Our cleverness, coupled with the fact that our species has overpopulated, is creating an environment in which we and many other species are suffering. I'm alarmed when I read about how much garbage is in the ocean, about the melting ice caps and glaciers, the species that are dying off. Holy cow.

That said, in a billion years there will be no trace of us left on earth. Our existence is but a blink in the eye of Mama Gaia.

In the meantime, we are here and we've not only been wildly successful as a species, but we've created a hot mess with our large brains, opposable thumbs and intense fertility. There are lots of people who think we need to clean up our mess. We surely do - or else.

There are many who believe it's up to we humans to go beyond cleaning up, beyond changing the way we live. There are those with what I believe to be overblown ambitions: stop global warming, heal the planet, save the planet. There are many variations on this idea, all of them - if you ask me - ridiculously grandiose. We are so sure of ourselves! We are an optimistic species with a "we can do it!" attitude. It's a blessing and a curse.

As optimistic and grandiose as our species can be, we are also prone to self loathing. I know a lot of self-blaming people. According to them, everything toxic or damaged on the planet is our fault, everything. Everything. Really? Are we that powerful? You tell me.

I believe both the grandiosity and the self loathing keeps us from doing as much good as we might.

In addition, the thought form in which we believe our species to be separate from what we call "nature" does a lot of damage. We are part of nature, not separate, not above it. We are not a supernatural species, I assure you.

Do we call hives "bee made," or dams "beaver made?" Are nests "bird made?" Why is it that when we shape our environments, we call it "man made?" I think separating ourselves from the world is a gross distortion of our place on the planet. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. We are a part of planet earth, believe me.

A part of feeling separate from "nature" involves the idea that we are the dominant species on the planet. We say we dominate, but do we? I think cockroaches have got it coming and going over us, and don't even get me started on bacteria and viruses. It's our minds that say we're on top of the food chain. We are not.

I'm on about this today because I've been working a lot lately with people who wish to save the world.

Some are environmentalists who are sleep deprived, malnourished and miserable from their ninety hour work weeks, but who can somehow not understand that their bodies are not separate from what they wish to save. Disregarding the needs of their bodies will not save the planet, no matter how hard they work. I say it over and over, but they can not take it in. When they finally become so miserable or are in so much pain that they can barely focus, sometimes they come to see me. They're reluctant, but sometimes they just have to. When they at last come to me, their bodies, laid out on my treatment table, reverberate at the same frequency as clear cuts or strip mines. It makes me sad especially when they think one massage is going to reverse all the damage.

At least the environmentalists I know eat well. I also occasionally see people who work in the justice system, all of them doing righteous work to help make the system more fair, equitable. They are wonderful people who can not wrap their minds around the idea that fair and equitable includes allotting themselves sufficient time for rest, sleep, and fun. In addition to sleep deprivation, these people usually don't eat well. Their bodies on the treatment table resonate like the toxic remains of a landscape after fracking. It's not pretty. Their hearts are always very heavy.

I do what I can to help these truly valiant people. They're wonderful - with a blind spot. What they do to their own bodies is reprehensible. They would never treat their work for the environment and justice so poorly. This kind of thinking is not only accepted throughout our society, it is celebrated. The body is expected to put out without question, like cows in factory dairies, strapped all day into the milking machines, like polluted oil fields, like children working long days in horrible factories. The sad irony of the way they treat themselves while working for the greater good escapes them completely.

By ignoring the needs of our miracle bodies until we are stressed out, broken down, or chronically ill, will we heal the planet? You tell me.

May you treat your miracle body with respect, love, and may you be in awe of all your body provides. May it be so!

Friday, June 14, 2013

The non eternal now

If you google "How to be in the moment," in less than 2 seconds, 1,190,000,000 results will appear. Wiki-how: How to Live in the Moment: Seven Steps. The Art of Now: 6 steps to living in the moment, from Psychology Today. There are five Buddhist inspirations for being in the moment. One of my favorites is this Huff Post link: How to "Be" in the Moment. Why the quotes? I didn't click through.

Googling "improve memory" only turned up 232,000,000 results. Both "setting intention" and "goal setting" only brought up a measly 50,000,000 results each.

My conclusion is that either it's more difficult to be in the moment than remembering and planning, or that at this time in history, it's more interesting. Or both.

Mindfulness practice (different than being or living in the moment) is an important, evolutionary behavior for so many reasons. I could go on and on. In fact I did, in this post from last year.

But we can not always be mindful. We can not always live in the moment. It's actually not good for us to believe we should. There's a lot of chatter out there that makes it seem like it might be possible, and is important, to live only in the present moment - an idea that rankles the likes of me.

Memory is crucial. Ask anyone with memory impairment if you doubt its importance. Can you imagine starting fresh every single moment? Every morning you would need to re-learn how to brush your teeth. You would have to experiment with your coffee to see if you like it black, or with sugar or milk.

I exaggerate of course, but I'm serious. Memory is history. Those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat the same mistakes, right? Yeah. Memory is also healing and a part of our creative expression, hence beneficial to spiritual and emotional health. Without memory there is no story telling. We would be unable to remember our beloved dead. It would be awful. We wouldn't even be human without memory.

Likewise, the capacity to plan, set intentions and look to the future is not only crucial, but healthful. Hope would be completely inaccessible if we didn't try to divine the future. Visualizing possible futures stretches the imagination, opens a space for inspiration. Without an imagined future, life would be pretty depressing, don't you think? Good lord.

I dislike the phrase and idea of being in the moment. I prefer the term mindfulness. I practice mindfulness every day formally when I sit to meditate, also when I'm working. (I can't let my mind wander when I'm working on a client's body. I have to pay attention.)

When I'm not working or meditating, I often let my mind wander far and wide, backwards and forwards in time, into alternate realities and wild imaginings. This is a part of my humanity and therefore beneficial to my health. The mindfulness practice is important. It helps me remember to return from my flights of fancy when it's time to do the laundry or cook dinner.

Go ahead - daydream. Just not while driving please. And remember your life's stories richly, please! You must also meditate, if you want to help humanity evolve. But meditation is just part of what we do, part of how we think. Important, but not the end-all be-all in terms of being a healthy human being. Yes? I say yes.

Seize aujourd'hui, hier et demain. Shalom.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

I'm OK, you're OK

Once upon a time, people did not celebrate diversity. The common wisdom held that we should do exactly the opposite. We stuck with our own kind.

Tribal identity was very important at some point in every culture I've studied. Lineage is something that seems hard wired into humanity. Who were our parents? To whom are we bound by blood? To whom are we bound by karma and spirit? Who are our people?

It probably began as an instinctual behavior rooted in the survival instinct. Instincts are powerful, a lot more powerful than we usually give them credit for. The life force runs hard in us. If food was scarce, if the weather was harsh, once upon a time we humans knew to circle the wagons and shoot at the outsiders, the others. Otherwise we would die. I think this is how prejudice began.

I tried to google my way to the origin of the phrase Celebrate Diversity. I'm guessing it was coined sometime during the 1960s. The idea took hold on a certain level for many. All of a sudden we weren't supposed to harbor prejudices we'd held all our lives, passed down from our parents and families. We were supposed to open our minds, hearts and arms to those different from ourselves.

It seems to me we tried to evolve all of a sudden, to shift from tribal mind to global mind overnight. Snap! We are so ambitious.

I think even for the most fair and open minded among us, there's still an ongoing conflict between the old instinct and the new paradigm. It adds another level of dissonance to our already overblown expectations of ourselves and others. We're supposed to CELEBRATE diversity. Really? Just like that?

Those who are able to recognize inner sexism, homophobia, racism or other isms often feel shame. Others insist they have no prejudice, but then listen to them talk about politics or sports teams - as you can imagine I hear it all the time from Democrats about Republicans. And I have one friend who loves to trash Democrats all the time, too.

For some people, it's about weight. Everyone should weigh a particular amount. Everyone. Even though, if you look around at people, it's easy to see we are made in different sizes and shapes. Still, the weight people harbor tremendous prejudice against the people they consider to be overweight.

I could go on, but I'm sure you get the picture.

Those who think they hold no prejudices at all are not thinking broadly enough, if you ask me.

All the above said, I think diversity is reality in our biosphere and among our species. Learning to respect differences is an evolutionary behavior. It's important work, but it's not easy. It's stressful because it goes against what our lizard brains are telling us.

Why not start by tolerating diversity to whatever degree is possible, move forward from there? Next we could try to respect diversity, and then maybe, some day, we might really be able to celebrate diversity.

If you want to participate in this evolutionary moment, do what you can to open your mind and heart to that which is not in perfect alignment with your beliefs, but not to the point where it makes you anxious, please? Because I think when people try too hard to be "better" - whatever that means - there's a backlash. You can not force this kind of change.

I'm committed to the practice. I have to try, because I think we humans must evolve. Or else.

I find the edge of my diversity tolerance, sit with it. It's humbling and important. When I start wanting to tell someone off for their difference in outlook and opinion, I back slowly away from the edge, integrate and then approach my edge again. In this way I give myself the space I need to change from the inside out. OK, sometimes I snap at those with whom I disagree. But I try not to. It never helps anything.

It's Pride week in Washington DC. I am marveling about how dramatically American culture has shifted in its view of gay people since Stonewall. Incredible! I was never homophobic, hence it's easy for me to celebrate Pride week. I celebrate diversity of sexual preference. Oh yeah.

We are who we are and our instincts are powerful, but we can - and do - evolve in the direction of compassion, kindness and wisdom. Awww, I love our species. I really do.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Immunity is your friend

Here's an article published by Harvard Health Publications about boosting immunity. There is a lot of good information here. As with much of modern medicine, they have not taken into account the important role of spirit, mind and emotion in human health. None of the advice here is bad, but it is one-sided.

For instance:

The idea of boosting your immunity is enticing, but the ability to do so has proved elusive for several reasons. The immune system is precisely that — a system, not a single entity. To function well, it requires balance and harmony. There is still much that researchers don’t know about the intricacies and interconnectedness of the immune response. For now, there are no scientifically proven direct links between lifestyle and enhanced immune function.

True that there is no scientific evidence that lifestyle affects immunity, but what do you think? What does common sense tell you? The tunnel vision of science drives me crazy sometimes.

In the Reyaverse, building immunity involves taking care of body, mind and spirit. Ignoring any facet of our humanity weakens us and throws us off balance. To build immunity, practice what I call aggressive self care of every part of yourself, as much as is possible, that is. When you blow it in some way, forgive yourself and start again. By aggressive self care, I mean:

EAT WELL, as often as possible. It isn't always possible. Eat real food - no junk food.

GET ENOUGH SLEEP. Sleep is everything. How much sleep you need depends on you. Some are fine after just a few hours, but some of us need 9 hours a night. I'm one of the latter. If you fall asleep on the subway, at your desk at work, or in front of the TV, you are sleep deprived. You need sleep!

If you don't sleep well, try learning to relax while awake. There are so many ways in which you can learn relaxation of the mind, body, and/or spirit. Find something that appeals. Practice. As you learn to relax while awake, it will gradually become easier to fall asleep at night. There's no perfect cure - people have suffered from insomnia everywhere on earth throughout all of history. But we should at least try because sleep deprivation is bad for everything, really everything - including immunity.

BREATHE AND DRINK WATER. Take some deep breaths here and there, relax your jaw. A deep breath helps flush the large lymph glands in your trunk. The lymph system is central to strong immunity. A deep breath feels really good, too.

If you drink soda, especially diet soda, stop right now. That stuff is terrible for you. Drink water. We are mostly water. It's a no brainer. Water replenishes, helps everything work more smoothly. That improves immunity.

TAKE A WALK OUTDOORS EVERY DAY. The only exception to this would be if you live in a terribly polluted city, like Shanghai. There it's best to stay indoors. But for most of us, connecting with the weather, time of day and season is orienting, grounding, and provides crucial information to the immune system about how to stay well. For instance, during winter, a brisk walk out in the cold air alerts the immune system to be on the lookout for the kinds of viruses and bacteria that are typical of winter ailments. A walk is grounding, orienting and also very fun most of the time. We were made to spend lots of time outdoors. Living in hermetically sealed cubes is really bad for us, though I'm grateful for reliable shelter, believe me.

MOVE AROUND. We were not meant to sit in a cubicle for so many hours a day. Stand up, walk around. Go hang out with the smokers outside the office who regularly take breaks from work and stand in fresh air. I'm not saying you should start smoking, only that you befriend the smokers. It will be good for you. If you hang out with the smokers at work, and take a walk every day, you're well on your way to better immunity.

STEADY YOUR ATTENTION. Practice being focused and present. There are many different ways to learn this evolutionary skill. Find something that appeals, learn a protocol for steadying your attention. Then practice.

STAND UP STRAIGHT. It helps everything, including immunity. Standing up straight allows your internal organs enough space to function optimally. Slumping smooshes them together or they get pushed into the wrong places in your gut. It's a little gross to think about. Just - stand up straight.

TAKE CARE OF YOUR TEETH. Many diseases are linked to problems in teeth and gums. Floss and brush, go see the dentist.

SPEND TIME WITH PEOPLE YOU LOVE. I'm pretty sure even the most sophisticated scientists will never be able to prove that health is improved through healthy relationships, but it is. It surely is.

TAKE EVERYTHING LESS SERIOUSLY AND LESS PERSONALLY. We expend a lot of energy worrying, taking offense, blaming, etc. It's part of human nature, but if you can back slowly away from the sturm und drang, your immune system will become stronger.

HAVE FUN. Not too much fun, you know what I mean.

GO AHEAD AND BE SICK. An important part of building immunity involves allowing your body to fight colds and the flu without obstruction by medicine. Minor ailments can function as a boot camp for the immune system. If you allow your fever to rise (no higher than 101 F. for adults, please), if you can force yourself to get in bed and drink lots of water, sweat, shiver, sneeze, if you can bear to let the cold take its course without attempting to squash or ignore the symptoms, your immune system will learn, become more organized, build anti-bodies. This is a good thing.

Yes, you will have a headache. Your joints will ache and you'll have to blow your nose a thousand times. Stock up on kleenex. Let your immune system do its job. For this to work, when you get sick, you will have to cancel all appointments, you will have to call in sick. Give yourself space and time to fight it out. Afterwards your immune system will be smarter, sharper and stronger.

It's a hard thing for modern folks to do, but there are many reasons why a strong immune system is important. Here's an article published in the New York Times today about cancer drugs that utilize the immune system to treat cancer. How wonderful that we're turning away from chemotherapy and radiation as suitable treatments. I know we have to do whatever we can, whatever it takes, but standard cancer treatment is brutal.

Of course no matter what we do, there's never a guarantee that we can fight off everything that comes at us. Getting sick is a part of being human; it is a part of our interaction with the complicated world in which we live and breathe. But there are some things over which we have control. I say: practice aggressive self care. It can't hurt and will improve quality of life no matter what. Believe me.

May you be well. Shalom.