Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Tail of the Secular Year

It's Christmas Eve. Happy Christmas!

Whether you've been stressed out, rushing around, trying to get everything done, or excited, happy as a clam, or relaxed about it, at some level - for most people - the arrival of Christmas is a relief.

I doubt the solstices were ever that big of a deal in places close to the equator, since there isn't a dramatic change in the length of days and nights, but the further away from the equator you get, the more profound it becomes to welcome back the daylight. It's certainly a big deal in the United States where we celebrate many different versions of the solstice rite. The Jewish solstice is Hanukkah, the Christian solstice is Christmas. Pagans celebrate the solar solstice and in the secular world, January 1 marks the solstice.

I believe we are hard-wired to enact sacred dramas to honor and celebrate the return of the light. It's a mid-brain activity which can not be rationally explained away. Light and warmth are necessary for survival. We sense the solstice at the deepest level of body and being.

The cards and gifts we give are offerings to Brother Sun, a way of showing him we wish for the return of longer days and more warmth. We give them to each other, mostly. It's also our custom to be generous at this time, to give to those in need. This, too, is a wonderful way to honor Brother Sun. Offerings are a part of almost every human ritual. It probably doesn't matter to whom we give, only that we're generous.

When the longest night finally arrives, however you mark it, at an instinctual level, it's a relief. Even the most blasé about the holidays can sense the change. The gifts are all wrapped, everything is in place. The sun is reborn and now we can celebrate its return. Our work is done. We can finally relax. Cheers!

After Christmas, in the U.S. we enter the odd tunnel between the old and new secular year. There are people who go to work, because they must or because they're required to. The office workers who go to work between Christmas and New Year's puzzle me. All offices should be closed. What can be accomplished? I mean really. There is a strange kind of non-energy between Christmas and New Year's. It's hard to be productive. I think maybe we should try not to be productive, to rest. Maybe.

The astrology of this Christmas is powerful. In the auspicious environment created by the movement of our extended family in the sky today and tomorrow, it would behoove you to visualize carefully how you'd like 2015 to unfold. Set in place the pattern for the months to come, in your mind and heart at least. How are you doing in body, mind and spirit? What do you need in the coming year for ensoulment, completion and wholeness?

Imagine only the best year for yourselves, ok? OK. And may it be so.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Medicine, sports, and superstition

Health and sickness are more a matter of luck - good and bad - than anything else. We have to try to figure out how to stay healthy, also how to heal when we're down and out. We are curious animals and we do not want to suffer.

Even though the healing arts have has been practiced for a hundred thousand years, still, what "works" - as we say - remains mysterious even to the most brilliant medical minds of all time. We're just guessing, prone to trends of the moment. We have to try! Looking back on some mainstream, accepted practices in the past can be alarming.

Blood letting.

Doesn't it make you wonder what medical procedures we are currently
 using that will seem as ghastly in a hundred years? I wonder.

There are treatments and medicines that work much of the time, though there is no medicine that works well for everyone in every situation. The placebo is certainly effective, not only in the form of the sugar pill, but also in surgery. I read about a massive study in which they were able to determine that if the pill was green, people felt calmer, if it was red they felt energized, blue helped people sleep through the night. We are so suggestible!

However, even a placebo doesn't always cure us. The mind is powerful, but not all powerful. We are much more than chemistry sets that only need balanced numbers in order to work optimally. We are complicated beings.

Because healing is so mysterious, medicine is an extremely superstitious art. I'm talking about every kind of medicine.

Remedies for the common cold abound. The reason there are so many is because there is no cure. I think the body takes on a visiting virus every now and then, to flex its muscles, to become stronger and better organized, to cleanse the body of detritus. There is no cure. It's a systemic detox in the Reyaverse at least. It's not the virus's fault. We take it on every now and then.

Once ill, you can hamper some of the symptoms, you can rest and eat chicken soup, you can power through it - everyone has their own approach - but you can not avoid it. It has to run its course.

Still, everyone has a remedy they swear by. You HAVE to eat raw garlic mixed in honey, or you must have this soup or that juice. At the first sign you must take zinc, or the homeopathic stuff. If you guzzle Nyquil and sleep 10 hours, you will wake up well. Etc. Could go on and on, right?

I have my own ritualized behavior for contending with a cold, of course! Don't you?

I'm thinking about this because of the World Series. Watching a tiny part of the first game, it came to me that professional team sports are sacred dramas that enact the immune system when it's fighting off a virus or bacteria. That's why sports team loyalty is so powerful and addictive, and always has been, ever since the first stadium was constructed. The Colosseum is an early one but it might not be the oldest.

In sports, just as in medicine, the superstitions abound, among the players but also powerfully among the fans. They have to drink the right beer or wear a certain color or watch from a specific place. It's intense, and unlike other kinds of ritualized behavior, sports superstitions are welcomed in my society. It's interesting.

Winter is right around the corner in the American midatlantic. That means flu season. May you somehow avoid colds or the flu this winter. May it be so. If you should catch something, remember you are playing in the World Series and must be at the top of your form. Just the way athletes pray right before they play, pray for the victory of your immunity over the invading horde. Send in your best players, whether that's a hot bath, a hot toddy, or a jigger of Nyquil. Follow all your own best advice. May you prevail! May it be so.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Spacious Life

What is patience? In the Reyaverse there is no such thing. There is impatience, oh my yes. Impatience is a form of anxiety brought on by rushing.

In my opinion, the antidote to impatience is spaciousness. I learned this by doing massage. During the first years of my practice, on days when I had a lot of clients, I often found myself thinking ahead, while in a session, to how many more clients I was scheduled to see that day. Doing massage is a vigorous workout. On days when I was a little off or tired or whatever, sometimes I became anxious. The urge was to push through the day of work, get it over as fast as possible. I would find myself speeding up. Clients feels impatience immediately; often they too become impatient. It does not make for a satisfying experience. I've received many a massage from chronically impatient therapists. Impatience has no place in a massage session.

I learned to identify the urge to rush after which I tried to mindfully, purposefully slow down. The moment I decide not to hurry, there's plenty of time/space. The hour seems longer than when I'm anxious. Impatience disappears, and everything works a lot better.

I've applied this valuable lesson to the rest of my life whenever possible, to my great benefit. I don't generally race down the street like most Washingtonians. I stroll, amble. This allows me to look around, to notice where I am. This is how I am able to take my pictures. I do walk fast sometimes. It's exhilarating. But too much fast walking makes me impatient. I don't want to stop for the traffic lights, people in front of me annoy me. I start dodging in and out of people, to keep up my impatient inertia. Silly, I know.

If you google "learn patience" you will come across a selection of absurd articles, like this one from Psychology Today, about practicing patience. She suggests that we learn patience in the most trying of circumstances, like standing in a long line at the grocery store or while in a traffic jam. That is absolutely the worst way to practice patience! To associate patience with frustration will not help anything. It's like suggesting that people learn to love walking by parking at the far edge of a shopping mall parking lot, then walking across the car park to the store and back. A terrible idea! Walking through a parking lot is no fun at all, and kind of nerve-wracking since someone could pull out suddenly or come wheeling around the corner. Ridiculous! If you want to learn to love walking, take a walk in a park or along a beautiful street with nice sidewalks. What are these people thinking?

If you want to practice patience, start with experiences you enjoy, but rush through habitually. If you like to cook, take extra time so you don't have to push and hurry. Turn on some music, pour a glass of wine, take your time. It completely changes the experience for me. Start with the small things that give you pleasure. I take my time putting on makeup, for instance. Self adornment is an age old art. I think about it that way, slow down, and enjoy the process. I only have to add 5 minutes to the time I spend with make up. It changes the experience.

In this way I reduce my impatience.

Emotional impatience arises as a result of intolerance for strong emotion. In a moment of strong emotion there can be an urge to rush quickly through it, get it over with.

I could write a long post about enduring strong emotions, something that is taboo in my society, with the exception of anger and happiness. An entire range of strong emotions is meant to be ignored or discouraged. Emotion is a physiological event that begins long before we are conscious of it. Once we identify the sensation, it becomes a feeling. We judge our feelings as if it's possible to control something already underway. These judgments are not rational.

I understand why we try to squelch sadness, fear and such. These states of being are not comfortable. They aren't fun. The practice of tolerating powerful emotion builds character. It isn't easy, especially in my society. We are shamed when we allow ourselves to fully feel. It causes so many problems.

Stuffing emotions creates a kind of impatience that's harder to address. I use the idea of acceptance to create a little space around these difficult emotional states. Sometimes I ask myself, "Can I be in a place of acceptance?" When I can, I'm more patient with myself and others. I can't always say yes, though, unfortunately. Just like others, I try to cajole myself out of my emotions sometimes, deny them. I try the fake-it-till-you-make-it approach, too of course. Occasionally it works.

Besides tolerance, there is breath. Slow, deep breaths help me tolerate strong emotional states. Nothing I've tried seems to make the experience spacious, though. How does one stroll through strong, unpleasant emotional states? You tell me.

Life is short but we can be spacious, we can take our time. The impatient life is a waste. We don't have to do it all. Believe me.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Whatever works

I heard a remarkable story about healing this morning. I should say I heard another remarkable story about healing. I hear these stories more often than you might imagine.

Today's story involves a young woman I saw a few times a couple of years ago. Poor thing. She was suffering from multiple phobias, eating disorders, and what seemed to me like PTSD, though it is out of my scope of practice to diagnose that. I was just guessing. She had been in therapy for years without making a lot of progress. She tried psychiatric drugs that made her suicidal. She received acupuncture, saw an herbalist, nutritionist, and so on and so on. She came to DC to spend some time with her grandmother after a horrible breakup with a boyfriend. The grandmother, unclear exactly how to help, sent her to me. After a few weeks, though she was no better, she went home to her parents' house. I hadn't heard anything further about her until this morning when I ran into her grandmother. She had a horrible accident - fell off a roof - smashed her face, knocked out all her teeth and broke a leg and an arm. How awful!

But something happened in that fall that turned things around for her.

After she got out of the hospital, she was somehow able to pull herself together, got a job while still on crutches, found a place to live away from her parents, met a nice man she's now dating. What a miraculous story. And mysterious, oh my.

It reminds me of a client whose knees always hurt her. There was nothing structurally wrong. She lost weight, did physical therapy, saw an osteopath, came to me for bodywork and still her knees always hurt. One day she tripped on the treacherous Capitol Hill brick sidewalks, came down hard right on her kneecaps. After that, her knees stopped hurting. No on can explain how that worked, no one. No one ever will.

I had a friend in San Francisco who suffered from a very rare blood cancer. He did well with the serious chemotherapy they used at the time to treat it, though the chemo never put him into remission. When he was at his worst, he would go to India and take photos, his favorite thing. Even though travel to and from India is arduous, not to mention uncomfortable, it was well worth it to him. When he returned from these trips, the doctors couldn't find a trace of the blood cancer. After a few weeks or few months, the cancer always returned. Incredible that traveling to India put him into remission. Go figure!

He travelled there once or twice a year for ten years. I have no doubt that his pilgrimages were what kept him alive. His pictures were wonderful. When he at last succumbed to the disease, his wife went to India alone. When she came back, she drank herself to death. It's a true story. May their spirits fly high.

The point being: the essence of healing is mysterious even to the most brilliant medical minds of all time. There is no one system of healing that always works for anyone. People swear by this system or that system. I personally swear by Chinese medicine, but it doesn't always work and does not work for everything. The type of medicine we swear by is a clear indication of personal philosophy, but not much more than that as far as I can tell.

We have to try to understand healing. When we suffer, we have to try to alleviate that suffering by whatever means makes sense to us. But we don't get it, even though human beings have engaged in the healing arts since forever ago. I believe medicine is the oldest art, no matter how the joke goes.

Good health is mostly good luck. It's important to work at it, to think about it, to try. If you're healthy, maybe stop right now and say thank you to the Universe for your good fortune. If you aren't healthy, please remember, it's not your fault. Also please do not fall off a roof because it probably will not work for you. OK?

To your health! L'chaim.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Become Stronger

A popular opinion in my society is that humans are "destroying the planet," or will destroy the planet. That's silly. A couple of million years after the last of us dies, there will be no trace left of us. Other species will rise. A couple of million years is nothing to Mama Gaia.

Of course we're really talking about earth as it exists at this moment in time, all lush and green with many species. Homo sapiens has overpopulated and is actively despoiling the habitat. This happens often on this planet - the overpopulation by one species and subsequent destruction of habitat. After that, there is a die off.

It happened during the Permian extinction. It happened to the dinosaurs. It will also happen to us. We are not separate from the earth - we are part of the biosphere of planet earth. The thought form that produces language like, "nature is good for you," or "get out into nature," -- inaccurate and, I think, dangerous - is a vestigial remnant of the old idea that man is at the top of the food chain, above the rest of the world, better than, smarter than, every other species. Oh the hubris. My goodness.

Many animals shape their environments. We have opposable thumbs and big brains so our nests, dens, and hives are really fancy. Though, if you look at a robin's nest and realize they did all that with only a beak - well - it's humbling in a really good way. Extraordinary we are, but better than? More talented than? Smarter than? No way.

Our species will experience a big die-off, and eventually, extinction like every species. It is inevitable. Me? I think it will be a virus or bacteria that gets us, like Ebola, for instance. The outbreak of Ebola in Africa scares me. They say they will be able to contain it. I hope they're right. It's much stronger now than when they started tracking it. With each outbreak, the virus gets smarter, and stronger. If not this time, maybe next time. Or maybe it will be another virus or bacteria. This is my doomsday theory. Cheers!

I was thinking about the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1920. For the world population of that time, it was a significant die-off. A hundred years later there are many more of us and much more of our environment has had to bear the impact of that. I think we're due.

I hope I'm wrong.

In the meantime, though, or - even if we aren't headed for a big pandemic of some kind - it behooves us to become stronger. In my society, we have weakened ourselves tremendously since World War I. We no longer engage in physical work unless we choose to do so. Even simple tasks like sweeping the floor, washing the dishes, raising and lowering a garage door, opening and closing car windows with a roller, standard transmissions and no power steering, though minor tasks in and of themselves, add up over the course of a day. The drudgery of the mundane is strengthening. Now we press a button and become weaker every day.

I understand our inventions are miraculous. I'm certain no one set out intentionally thinking of ways to make us weak and helpless. We are a very optimistic species, never anticipating the problems we create when we invent something new. We are so creative, we can't help ourselves. It's only with the 20/20 of hindsight that we realize where we went wrong.

Please become stronger.

Grunt work is strengthening!  Walk up and down stairs, wash the dishes by hand, scrub those pots and pans. Clean out your refrigerator or oven. Dust. Sweep the floor.

Engage in physical activity that's pleasurable. Please do this every day. That could be running or yoga or walking, dancing, sex, swimming ... do whatever you want. I don't include exercise "boot camps" under the heading of pleasurable.

Eat real food. Please? You can eat anything you want, including foods previously thought to be bad for you, like butter. No junk food. Empty calories only weaken us.

Get enough sleep. Do I have to explain why?

Spend time outdoors every day even if it's too hot, too cold, rainy, humid, chilly, windy or whatever. Shivering, sweating, cursing the weather - all of these are strengthening.

Learn something new every day. This strengthens your ability to solve problems and make good decisions.

Spend time with people you love. Being around beloveds strengthens the soul, it also strengthens the commitment to survive and thrive.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. When you come down with a little cold or something, let your body fight it off. Rest, drink water, sleep. Give your immune system a chance before knocking back the Nyquil. Avoid antibiotics unless you really need them. Avoid sensation killers, also known as pain killers. They dull every kind of sensation, which will make you weaker. I'm not saying be stoic and in pain all the time, no way. There is a place for sensation killers and antibiotics. Avoid them when you can.

Connect with something bigger than yourself, something that feeds your soul. Finding your place in the family of things strengthens perspective and helps cultivate hope, even when all the news is grim. It wisely reminds us that we control almost nothing. This is strengthening.

Forge a relationship with spirit, God, Goddess, or whatever you want to call it. The Greater Wisdom, The Greater Kindness. These are terms I sometimes use since God triggers all kinds of associations that might not strengthen the relationship. I'm not talking about religion necessarily. I am talking about faith. Individuals who believe they are the ultimate authority, once under pressure, crumble so much faster than those who understand there is a big picture and connect with that big picture. Faith is strengthening.

Oh man, this Ebola outbreak has got me spooked. May it soon be contained! May it be so.

In my society we have grown so weak and become so foggy. May we grow stronger. May it be so!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Enter the Center

The best teachers at massage school remembered to say, before we began working on each other, "Center yourself." Not one of them explained how to center ourselves, though, which puzzled me since balance is so rare. Human beings are not designed to be eternally balanced. All is change with us, always. We are dynamic beings: soulful, tender, ambitious, loving and hating. We swing out of balance all the time, every day. We are in flux.

Centering methods are always referred to as practices, like meditation, for instance. It's a practice, not something that is achieved once and for all. No matter what the method, where or when it was devised, becoming centered is not a matter of doing it once or twice and that's it. Oh no. We have to keep at it.

There are so many ways to come back to center! I wouldn't think of trying to name them all. It really helps to find one or two that work for you, and then practice, practice, practice, even though you will never reach perfection.

Here's a centering method I use all the time. I toss it into the pool of centering practices today because it's a very dynamic week astrologically, a great week to practice coming back to center.

The first part can be the hardest. Become curious. This requires some openness that is easier for some than others. You want to be empty, not like the wine glass put away in the cupboard, but like the glass on the table, an open bottle of wine poised above it, about to be poured. Be empty, yet welcoming. Can you?

The next part is easy. Ask these questions internally, pause to notice what comes up, then go to the next question. You don't have to do anything, just pay attention. Please try not to judge yourself since that will take you out of your center. If nothing comes to you, that's fine, too. Just notice.

Ask yourself, What story am I telling myself right now? 

Ask yourself, How does my body feel right now?

Ask yourself, How is my emotional weather at this moment?

Ask yourself, Can I feel my connection to God? If you don't like the word God, find something else that is bigger than yourself. Can you feel your connection to the greater wisdom, greater kindness, to spirit, soul, unconditional love, universal love, that sort of thing.

That's all you have to do. Simply asking these questions helps me find my way back to my center. Even if that lasts only a few seconds, it is well worth it. I have access to wholeness and wisdom only in those brief moments when I'm centered.

Here, I'll do it right now.

What story am I telling myself right now? I'm thinking, these people who read this blog need to know about this centering method.

(Maybe, maybe not! But that's my story for now.)

How does my body feel right now? I'm feeling some stiffness from sitting on the sofa with my computer in my lap. I'm well rested, a little sniffly, peckish but not terribly hungry.

What is my emotional weather at this moment? Slightly anxious, which is not abnormal, a little worried, a little cranky, too.

Can I feel my connection to God? Yes. Thank you!

Even as I'm typing this final paragraph I can feel my thoughts shifting in different directions. My anxiety is urging me to Be Productive, my body is begging me to Get Up and Stretch. But for a second there, I was centered, present, with all my dirt in one spot, as we used to say in the Midwest. Layers of my being aligned and I was whole. I was aware. I was clear.

If you don't have a centering practice, well, why not? Give this one a shot. Take a meditation class. Go to yoga or t'ai chi. Sit down and pray.

Centering practice brings out the best in us. Right now, at this insane moment in history, we need the best of us. We surely do.


Saturday, July 19, 2014


It is not a popular opinion, my sense that we homo sapiens, no matter how we wish to transcend matters of flesh and blood, are instinctually motivated, always - yes - always. Because of our humongous brains we're able to weave lovely narratives to describe behavior in ways that make what we do sound lofty, somehow above our instincts, beyond our limits. If only! It's ambitious, but of course that's a part of who we are as a species. Problems arise because we are so invested in our narratives. We believe them to be "true" - whatever that is. It's a conundrum.

I will survive explains everything we do. Survival is the god of instincts. Like the many arms on a Hindu deity, survival takes on many shapes, colors, descriptions. There is a lengthy spectrum of survival behaviors, from brutal violence to great philanthropy, and everything between. We are really complicated animals, endlessly creative, tender, soulful. All among us are driven by the instinct to survive, thrive, and make more of us.

I mention this because of the Malaysian airplane shot out of the sky, because of the ground invasion of Gaza by Israel. Here in DC, on FB, on the radio, in the newspapers, every story is full of horror and outrage. It's a completely understandable urge to think the Russian separatists are not like us. They're animals, unable to rise above their instincts. How could they?

Maybe they're like us, but less fortunate, way less fortunate than the president, members of Congress, also far less fortunate than the crowd at the coffee shop on Capitol Hill. We in my community, even the most desperate among us, lives a life far more luxurious than most of humankind has ever experienced anywhere on earth. Yes, we often take it for granted. I do, too.

I have no idea how anyone could fire a rocket at an airplane, but then I have never been truly hungry either. That I can't imagine that behavior betrays my incredibly comfortable life situation. My survival instinct expresses itself by way of duck and cover behavior. I hide, and I survive. In many situations, that wouldn't work out over time. I have a truly luxurious life.

How to do you survive? What's your strategy? Have you ever thought about it? What is the narrative of your strategy? It's interesting, at least to me.

Good to remember: humans are capable of love and compassion. It's in there, it is. Through love and compassion, we can move along the rainbow bridge of instinct from survival to something more opulent, a state in which we can thrive, in which we can become generous. To get there I believe the basic needs must be met: food, shelter, that sort of thing. It's hard to be generous when hungry or in pain.

Every person I know on Capitol Hill has the luxury of developing love and compassion because we live so well. My prayers today are not about vanquishing the bad guys, whatever that means, or even assessing blame, something many people are eager to do. My prayer today is that the hearts of those who can afford it will open in love, connection and trust instead of blame and outrage. Adding more of that energy can not possibly help unravel the tangle of this moment in time. Let our hearts and minds be clear and calm in the midst of the insanity. May it be so.

May these horrible situations unwind without spinning out of control. May we survive - all of us. May it be so. Shalom.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Act your age

Four Cones, Ursula von Rydingsvard, National Gallery of Art, cedar and graphite.

Human beings are not designed to be healthy or live very long lives, no we are not. We're designed to be really motivated to, and very good at, making babies. As a species, we have excelled at the making of babies and oh my are we ever motivated to try. Sex is everything to our species. It is such a pleasure that we are now in a place where sex often has nothing to do with the instinctual urge to procreate. The instinct is there for sure, but we have added a lot of flourishes to it. We have turned sex into a high art of expression, connection, and creative inspiration. We are so clever.

We are down with the idea of sex, we surely are. It's the successful completion of pregnancy, and particularly labor and delivery, that is so difficult. Until very recently, women and babies died all the time in the process of childbirth. Our heads are so big. Babies and mothers still die regularly from childbirth, actually, though in my culture we have made some progress in helping babies be safely born.

I could write another post about this leap in evolution that we're now in the process of experiencing. Our brains are learning to function differently in order to adapt to the changing climate, hence we will not have to grow bigger heads to accommodate bigger brains as we have in the past. That evolutionary strategy, of increased cranial size, will no longer work. Instead, we are changing not only how we think, but how we think about how we think.

But that's not what this post is about. It's about we old people and how we just have to stop buying in to the idea that old age is so horrible. We have to stop pretending to be younger. We must stop - for god's sake - our grousing about how we wish we were young again. Old folks: KNOCK IT OFF!

I know it is instinctual to wish to be young, because it's only while young that we can make babies. This is the most foundational instinct we have.

Make. Babies.

Up until recently, there weren't that many old people. One hundred years ago the average life expectancy was fifty. In my grandparents' generation, living to sixty was an extraordinary accomplishment. Living to one hundred, almost unheard of. As a species, we have always been sickly, which is why healing is the oldest art, and why there are so many different approaches to healing. We are tender and need a lot of help. It was almost a miracle to live a long life until recently.

What I imagine is that old people before the modern era were revered for bucking the statistical probabilities, or were viewed in the same way as a foreign exchange student, unusual and therefore exotic in some sense.

Now there are so many old people, oh my. Folks of every age are scrambling to adjust. The greatest generation parents lived long enough to be put into assisted living, then nursing homes and wheel chairs, where they withered away. We boomers want none of that kind of experience. We dream of old people communes with younger people coming in to help now and again. Capitol Hill Village is a perfect example of the way my generation is trying to accommodate the reality of our long, long lives.

I wonder what the kids of my generation will do? They're too young right now to imagine it's going to be a reality for themselves. They're way too busy doing young adult things like expanding their fiefdoms, being successful, climbing the ladder in some way or another, establishing themselves. Also they are very busy making babies or at least thinking about sex all the time. This is perfectly healthy and normal. Old age shouldn't seem real to a 30 or even a 40 something.

One thing that would really help them figure out better solutions to this fortunate dilemma is to actually look forward to it. The only way for us to set a good example is to stand tall and be proud of our longevity.

I often decry the rampant ageism that's part of my society. It's every bit as serious as the weight thing. Yet we old people, who should know better, contribute to the ageism by lying about our ages, getting hideous plastic surgery, and using the word "old" as if it means being a total, helpless deadbeat who smells funny.

People: you can be a total, helpless deadbeat who smells funny at any age! I mean, really.

The fact that we can't have babies any longer, and mostly don't care much about trying, is a Good Thing. There are plenty of humans - we don't have to have more of them. What we need is a body of people who are willing to hold history, to be grounded and light hearted, active, thoughtful. We could be great elders, wise advisors, to the grandchildren. They could use some help from people who have been around the block once or twice. But why would they ask us when we're knocking ourselves out trying to pretend to still be young?

We could guide, reassure and encourage the grandchildren. We could show them by example how wonderful it is to live a long life. Why don't we?

Monday, June 9, 2014

It will not make you bulletproof.

The U.S. is suffering from an epidemic of gun violence. If you are not alarmed by the mass shootings, the sheer volume of gun murders and suicides, and recent pictures of people carrying rifles and assault weapons around in big box stores, well, I wonder why.

It is a serious epidemic. As with all crises, many people think they know how to solve the problem, in this case via gun control or more emphasis on mental health, both of which I support fully, I should say. Some people think more people should have guns. That doesn't sound right, does it?

As usual, I am uninterested in the politics of this crisis. I'm alarmed and afraid, but I don't think I have the answer, which is bound to be complicated, and I will not point the finger at any group or individual. It never helps to increase the energy of divisiveness, it never helps to intensify anger and fear, especially when so many citizens are packing heat, as they used to say. There's plenty of acrimony to go around.

I hope we're at the peak of the slaughter. I hope and pray that the epidemic will soon begin to wane through health care or legislation. Or maybe people will wake up to the seriousness of the epidemic and change their behavior, their mindset.


The evidence of this epidemic has found its way even into the world of health food. This is a link to a post I wrote in 2012 about health food.

There have been many fashions and fads in health food. What is thought to be great for everyone varies from decade to decade. I remember when food combining was the big thing. Another era I remember had to do with how much water we should drink, and when. It was thought that drinking water along with a meal was a Very Bad Thing.

Almost always there is some juice or tea that everyone swears by. A few of the allegedly magical elixirs that come to mind include wheat grass juice, pomegranate juice, green tea, white tea, Acai juice and coconut water. Smoothies and vegetable juices have enjoyed a long wave of popularity.

Ah yes, the Fountain of Youth from which we can drink and be healed. There's always something that's thought to be the answer to all our woes. Just before buttered coffee, I think the elixir of choice was coconut water, or maybe more recent than that is the kale smoothie as elixir. I remember way back to the wheat grass juice era of the 1970s. Oh that stuff was vile. During my mother's generation, castor oil and/or cod liver oil were thought to be elixirs.

There's always a magical healing elixir that will make you smarter, healthier and slimmer. We humans are, in many ways, predictable. That we can't remember the last elixir didn't do anything special is remarkable. We are tender, hopeful beings.

Another pointer to the seriousness of the gun violence epidemic is that the au courant health elixir, buttered coffee, is called "Bulletproof." We are so deep into this epidemic, what we want is a jolt of caffeine pumped up with protein. Do we hope that with a burst of energy we'll be able to escape the mad person with the gun around every corner? That might be a part of why bulletproof coffee is now so in style.

The name is chilling. We wish to be bulletproof. Oh man, the gun violence sickness is serious. Very, very serious. To those who hold fondly to the idea that health elixirs are the answer to anything, please listen: buttered coffee will not make you bulletproof. I guarantee it. We will have to find another way.

I pray for an end to this violence. I pray that people will lay down their guns, lay down their anger, soften and open to a better way. May it be so. Shalom.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Hold harmless

I can imagine few behaviors worse for health and well being than holding a grudge.

I'm not talking about anger, a "piercing" experience as Pema Chodron describes it, that can reveal the truth (whatever that is). Anger is a quick moving, fiery experience. If allowed to run its course, it can be cleansing and beneficial - as long as you don't take it out on someone else. If you cling to the anger, though, says Pema, it will burn you. Truer words were never written! Wow.

A grudge is quite different from anger. It doesn't move. It is like a solid brick of sludge, heavy, obstructive, toxic. A grudge is an old hurt or betrayal that has become more than a sum of its parts. It is far more than resentment. A grudge is resentment solidified over time. It is resentment that has been preserved, cherished, even worshipped. It is so unhealthy!

Healers of every kind are quick to say that grudges are bad for us, but it's not as simple to let them go as some make it sound. For one thing, our culture reveres grudges, or maybe what I should say is we revere the idea of revenge. Many movies, books, and myths are based on some kind of heroic version of revenge.

"I shall have my vengeance."

I believe the message in this movie is that there is honor in holding a grudge if you are powerful and determined enough to exact revenge. I think he dies at the end of the movie - a good thing, probably, because once revenged, what would inspire him to get up in the morning?

Most of us are not Russell Crowe in a film that glorifies revenge. Thank god! Most of us do not get the chance to slash and bash and shoot the bad guy. So for most of us, hanging on to resentment of any kind - even if we think we are justified - cultivates the sludgy, sticky, heavy and unhealthy state of holding a grudge.

Grudges often afflict not only individuals, but family souls as well. Think of Romeo and Juliet, the Hatfields and the McCoys.

It's a big problem for which there is no dedicated, proven solution. For individual grudges, one can go to therapy, receive acupuncture, pray, open one's heart. It helps. Certain spiritual paths help cultivate the ability to release grudges, such as Buddhism and the sects of Christianity that lean heavily into the actual teachings of Jesus.

Sometimes we practice forgiveness for years on end, in all earnestness, but are still unable to release the grudge. Please don't ask me to explain why. It's no one's fault. The mechanics of full release are mysterious and probably out of our hands. But we have to try! Because grudges are heavy, unpleasant, and very bad for health and well being.

Coming up on summer solstice, I take time to think about my various resentments and grudges. The solstice itself is a sacrifice according to the old stories. It's a great time to let go of old stuff, including grudges, including fabulous fantasies of revenge. The old stories say that Brother Sun will take all the stuff we no longer need into the dark as the solar year wanes. In the dark, the stories say, the energy will be composted and can be used to enliven the world. It hasn't always worked for me, but I give it a try every solstice. Over time, the practice helps. All the practices help.

Are you a holder of grudges? If you're human, you surely are. Summer solstice is about to arrive in the northern hemisphere. Gather your grudges and put them on the solstice bonfire, yes? I say yes.


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Respect the body's limits

You should see my client's faces when I give them the Respect your body's limits talk. Sometimes they look confused, quizzical. Sometimes they frown. They look annoyed. I've seen incredulity on their faces, impatience, frustration.

At this moment in history, at least where I live, the body is expected to function perfectly, 24/7. Neither sickness, injury nor fatigue, neither snow nor sleet nor dark of night, nothing - and I do mean nothing - is supposed to keep people from fulfilling every one of their noble plans. We are supposed to work hard, maintain relationships, eat whatever the hell we feel like, exercise hard, complete every to-do list every day, no matter what. It is so unreasonable.

Once upon a time it was OK to rest while recuperating from life's inevitable upsets, ailments and setbacks, but not now. We're supposed to do it all without a hitch, also without decent sleep or a life enhancing quota of fun. When our bodies finally say enough is enough, we come down with a cold or another minor illness, or twist an ankle, or just feel tired, the culturally appropriate response is to be angry with our bodies - as if we are somehow separate from the tender, complicated, remarkable animals that we are. It's mean.

How about a little compassion for your body? I say that to people. I say, If this was happening to your cat or dog, would you yell at the animal? Of course not. You would care for it, make a nice soft bed for it, make sure the animal had everything it needed to get well.

I tell you it is so easy to dish it out. It is much harder to listen to my own advice. The weather in DC is spectacular this weekend and yet I can not be out there because this is the worst of the allergy season, according to my body. If I insisted on being out there, I could go into anaphylaxis, as I did a few years ago. That would be cruel and stupid, too.

Yes I take medicine both modern and ancient (Chinese) for my allergies. It takes the edge off but does not solve the problem. Really all I have to do is wait, be patient and kind to myself. All I need to do is take care of myself. The pollen season is about to end after which I can spend all day outside if I choose to. In the meantime, I'm trying hard to be as kind to myself as I tell my clients to be to themselves. It's not as easy as it sounds when I'm waving my finger at my clients.

Oh well. Closing the windows now, settling on the sofa with my book. Be kind, Reya, please be kind! OK. OK. Shalom.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Good Grief

We are tender, soulful beings, we humans. In my culture we don't want to think of ourselves that way. We like to think of ourselves as ruthless, aggressive, ambitious and unstoppable. That's part of human nature, too, of course. The problem (I see it as a problem) is that it's taboo to attend to the soulful, tender part of ourselves in 21st century east coast culture. Being tender and soulful is seen as a weakness. By some people, not everyone. Listen: it's not healthy to ignore the needs of the tender heart in order to appear powerful and relentless.

Because we can love, we must grieve. We have to grieve small things and large losses, missed opportunities, failures of every kind. It's inevitable. Grieving is not some kind of weak indulgence and it isn't unique to homo sapiens. Elephants grieve, dogs grieve. I'm certain many animals grieve. 

Is there any way to manage grieving? Because it is not pleasant and can be embarrassing in our culture of bad-assedness. In India you can hire professional grievers to do the work for you. What a concept! I wonder if one of the purposes of all the rituals around funerals and grieving is to remind us to go through the process whether we want to or not. These rites are of course mostly about remembering and honoring the ancestors, something humans have always done. My guess is that funeral rites are the oldest rituals. Grief is a part of us, it is not optional.

There have been times when I've swallowed grief, either because I wasn't in the mood for it, or engaged in something else (like working) or so far into denial I couldn't sense it. Swallowing grief is a sickening sensation that makes the throat tight, the head and stomach ache. When I swallow grief, I swear my intestines ache. Grief that doesn't move coagulates in the body, I feel it all the time in the stiff necks and backs of clients. It can coagulate in the organs as well as the muscles, which is never a good thing. It can be toxic when it doesn't move.

I love the idea of wearing a black arm band for a period of time after a loss. I've seen pictures of FDR wearing one after his mother died. When people saw the black arm band they knew that the person sporting it was in an altered state: grief. Part of the difficulty of grieving in our society is that we have to tell the story over and over. With the armband, people could simply say, "I'm sorry for your loss," and skip asking about the details.

When my dog died, I decided to wear an armband. I was a wreck for several weeks after he died, crying uncontrollably. It was horrible; I thought the armband would help. But Michael Jackson died the same week as my dog. It came to me that people would think I was grieving Michael. I couldn't do it.

Make time for grieving, please, for your health and well being. Let it flow, even though it's messy and unpleasant. The elephants understand this and go with it. The elephants are very wise.


Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Path of Wisdom

One thing I say to clients in the midst of a life or health drama is, Let it change you. I say it all the time. It's a counterpoint to the idea that an illness or injury of body, mind or spirit should not change anything. The idea, spoken and unspoken, is that we should see illness, injuries and endings as setbacks to be gotten over as soon as possible. Once we are well or healed or have grieved a loss or ending, we're supposed to get right back on the merry-go-round of our goals and plans, undeterred, but also unchanged. I wonder what that is about.

Determination is a beautiful human quality. Commitment, too. During a serious health or life crisis, we would have a much harder time surviving if we couldn't access determination, will, and a commitment to carry on.

When the crisis has passed, that's when people turn their intentions toward getting back to life exactly as it existed before the illness, loss or injury. It's then that I will inevitably say, Let it change you.

Of course there are those who dive head first into transformations. As soon as they're able, they begin straightaway making rash decisions, before they have healed, before they've integrated what happened. In a certain way, the folks who all of a sudden quit their jobs, leave their partners, move to new cities or whatever, are also not allowing whatever happened to change them. They opt to make external changes that are often quite destructive rather than evolving from the inside out. I should know - I've tried this approach numerous times.

The people who can sit with what has happened to them, who can make changes in their lives that come from the inside out, become wiser, kinder and more compassionate. Sometimes they have to let go of a relationship or their profession. When those life changes come from wisdom, they are, in every case, sound, helpful, healing.

Life is a sacred drama, as full of loss, illness and sadness as it is with beauty and joy. Every experience can teach us something new about being human. I believe we would be hard pressed to ever learn anything if life didn't trip us up now and again. How we get back on our feet after a crash and burn is a sublime learning experience, or - it can be. There are people who are pretty good at avoiding the potholes - I guess. I've never met anyone who was able to avoid all injuries, illnesses and loss. But maybe there are some of them out there. Are there?

People who say they don't want drama in their lives confuse me. I think what they're saying is that they would prefer not to suffer. Well, who wouldn't?

May you be safe and sound. When the sacred drama of life in this form throws you a curve ball, may you prevail. May you take in what happens to you at the deepest level. Let it change you.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Who knows best?

I'm in the middle of a modern medical battle with my eye doctor. Actually battle is way too strong a word. He is a very nice person who wants to do right by me, he sincerely does. He has been in practice for a long time in an office downtown where he sees patients who are chronically sleep deprived, stressed out, poorly fed. His patients sit for many hours a day in front of their computers, squinting at numbers and letters under fluorescent lights, enclosed in hermetically sealed cubicles, or in communal work spaces where they must fight distractions in order to stay focused. These people drive around a lot, they sit in front of their TVs at night. The way they use their eyes is radically different than the way I use mine.

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail - hence he is trying to change my prescription as he would for someone who suffers from eye strain. Even though I've spoken and written at length (and quite eloquently, may I say) about the differences between me and the people he usually sees, even though I have been vociferous about explaining that the glasses I have now are EXCELLENT, that I see perfectly through them at a distance, while reading, and when I'm on my computer, even so, he can't help but think my prescription can be improved. He even agreed with me that my prescription does not need improvement, except - well - he wants to improve it.

The glasses I wear now are scratched up (because my old eye doctor didn't automatically include scratch resistant coating for the lenses) and the frames are crusty. I've said to this new doctor, verbally and in writing, many more times than once, that I don't need a new prescription, what I need are new lenses and new frames. But he can't hear that. He can not take it in.

The first round with the new prescription was a disaster. I couldn't read, and through the new lenses, when I looked at a photo across the room, my eyes crossed. He admitted he had overcorrected and that the measurements for the progressives were off. He asked me to come back into the office to have measurements retaken. He promised to redo the lenses with something more akin to the old prescription, but he still wants to make changes.

My confidence in the new glasses is not sky high since I had to show his assistant that the machine she was using when taking measurements was upside down. But I'm open to what happens next. I can still see perfectly with my old glasses, except for the scratches. If it takes awhile and several attempts before the new glasses work, I'm ok with that. I'm curious to see what happens next.

It's hard to stand up to modern medicine. It's a challenge to be assertive, even for me, and I'm kind of an expert in that endeavor. Modern medicine depends on tests and numbers and charts. Even though according to the measurements, the new prescription was scientifically better, I couldn't see through the new lenses. My eyes and my vision are not something that can be totally accounted for by medical charts and standards. I could be insulted that this doc is unwilling to believe me, except I know it happens all the time. It's not personal.

One problem is that within the realm of modern medicine, we are encouraged not to pay attention to sensations of any kind. We are told to accept what the doctors say and to follow their lead, because they know best. I have clients who feel like hell, but since all their test numbers are correct, the doctors tell them they are healthy. It is bizarre.

In many cases, doing exactly as the doc says, no matter how you feel, is the best course of action. I'm talking about people who swallow fistfuls of sensation killers such as ibuprofen, and try with all their might to ignore the needs of their miracle bodies - basic needs like sleep and good food, fresh air and relaxation, for instance. For people like that, modern medicine is important.

But for people like me who pay attention to every symptom and shift in the realm of the body/mind, modern medicine can be - at best - perplexing and at worst, utterly frustrating.

Who knows best what is going on in your body/mind? Have you ever thought about it? Well?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Take the long view

Sun dogs and clouds above the chateau.

How often do you stop whatever you're doing, look up, and gaze at the sky? It's easy enough to ignore the sky, especially if you live in a city and have the busy life that's exalted in our culture. Instead of the sky, it's more practical to focus on screens small and large, books, magazines, recipes, shopping lists, the dishes, the laundry, the notes you've written in preparation for a meeting at work. We also look at each other, our nears and dears, co-workers, kids, pets, friends and neighbors.

I have nothing against focusing on the dishes, by the way. Humans are working animals. Unless we're productive, we are dissatisfied, we easily become bored. But all work and no play, no matter how great or important the work seems, dulls the ability to feel pleasure, blunts the capacity for enjoyment. It's unhealthy and out of balance.

And yet, many people continue to flog themselves with work and busywork, focusing their minds on the minute details, focusing their eyes on letters and numbers. Is it any wonder that as a society, stress is crippling us? Good lord. We have to relearn how to relax. We need inspiration. We need to take the long view. One easy way is to stop whatever we're doing every now and then, and just look at the sky for awhile. Clear, overcast, day and night, the sky is ever changing and in almost every situation, beautiful. I'm not talking about a quick glance upwards. Spend at least five minutes gazing. Breathe.

Looking at the sky extends visual focal length which relaxes the eyes and the brain. Here's a link to a Scientific American article about why the brain needs down time.  The best ideas come to the relaxed brain.

Father Sky helps us see the big picture metaphorically and literally. People have always seen patterns in the stars and shapes in the clouds. Those patterns and shapes inspire, shift perspectives, help us think clearly. In Tibetan medicine, a treatment for depression includes gazing at the unobstructed blue sky. That would cheer up anyone, don't you think? It cheers me up, for sure.

There have always been people who focused on the minute details, of course, like scribes for instance, scholars, watchmakers, painters and the like. After work, though, like most humans throughout history, even scribes stopped to look at the heavens and marvel at what they saw.

It still works, if you can remember to do it. Looking at the sky helps everything. I highly recommend it.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Soul imbalances

Soul loss is an issue of extreme soul imbalance that healers have attempted to treat for 100,000 years. Soul retrieval is the oldest profession, I'm sure it is. It seems to be part of the human condition, the comings and goings of the soul.

Even in modern medicine, soul retrieval is practiced. We don't call it that anymore. We call it psychotherapy and psychiatry. There was a period of time when soul retrieval was not a part of modern medicine. At that time, people suffering from soul imbalances were locked up. It was very cruel, but no one knew what else to do. God bless you Grandfathers Sigmund and Carl!

Of course people are still locked up and hospitalized all the time. The practice of psychiatry is absolutely necessary for some people. I am not against the miracle drugs that make it possible for these people to function and live their lives without so much suffering. I'm grateful relief is possible for people when they need that level of care.

The practice of psychiatry does not restore or balance the soul, it is a compensatory endeavor that helps people feel less haunted. I am all for it!

Psychotherapy is something I availed myself of often and for many years earlier in life. I wouldn't hesitate to go back to the couch if needed. Psychotherapy is a gradual and meticulous type of soul retrieval, a mindful type of soul retrieval. The process saved my life, more than once. I wish it was truly affordable and seen as proactive healthcare.

One of the reasons I love Chinese medicine is because it's a complete system. No matter what my symptoms may be, the acupuncture and herbs address soul imbalances as well as the physical imbalances. Chinese medicine is elegant, it surely is.

As a shaman, I am very interested in soul imbalances. I am a healer shaman, a kind of diplomat whose job it is to mediate between the seen and unseen, as best I can, to bring harmony to the body and soul of the person I am working with. There are shamans who go to the underworld to battle demons, or go head to head with sickness spirits. I honor these warrior shamans but it isn't what I do. I come in peace.

Hence I can't treat soul loss of a serious nature. I leave that to the warrior shamans, the psychiatrists, psychotherapists and acupuncturists. But I work with common, chronic types of minor soul imbalance all the time in individuals and families.

What is it with soul, that it's so ready to abandon us? I've been asking myself this question for many years. Naturally I have no answers. Many people have asked this question going back in time who knows how long. No one knows, but still, we wonder. I have a few theories, of course.

If you're feeling a little (or a lot) "off" but can't connect it to anything physical or external (like a situation at work, for instance), I suggest some soul balancing work. Acupuncture and therapy are excellent paths, but there are many ways to balance the soul. We always have, and still do need soul balancing. It's part of the condition of ensoulment.

May we be soulful, not haunted.
May we be peaceful and spacious.
May we be healthy.
May we love and be loved.


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

In February, Feed the Heart

The light is increasing (in the northern hemisphere where I live) but winter is far from over. Spring is quickening underfoot but it's too early to see the signs of spring. February can be challenging because it's not yet time to get excited about spring, but if you're like me, you're sick of winter. It's a kind of limbo, or it can be.

February is an excellent time to feed the heart. Eat cherries (real cherries please, not those hideous red things that come out of a jar. Those things haven't been cherries in a very long time.) Drink red wine, not too much if you can keep from it. Eat chocolate - again, not too much or you'll spoil the heart health benefits by making yourself ill or giving yourself a headache. Less is more with wine and chocolate, and cherries, too, come to think of it. For those who put their faith into scientific studies, here's a link to a Cleveland Clinic page about chocolate and heart health. This link is to an article about red wine and heart health, from Yale/New Haven Hospital.

I'm not a great believer in studies, though I believe we have to try to understand. I'm not against studies. I'm more of a believer in common sense. My common sense tells me that people who eat a little bit of chocolate, who drink a glass of red wine with dinner, have a joie de vivre about them. It's the joy that feeds the heart if you ask me. The eating and drinking of cherries, chocolate and wine are symptoms that point to an inner light and liveliness.

In Chinese medicine, the pictograms for the organs show what the organ does, plus a mark that indicates the function is embodied. For instance, the character for liver is a mortar and pestle with the mark "embodied." The heart is the only organ whose pictogram does not include the mark of embodiment. The heart is the ground floor of something vast and unimaginable.

As such, feeding the heart is far more interesting than eating the right foods. As I often say, we humans are not chemistry sets. We're complicated.

You can feed your miraculous heart by taking a brisk walk on a sunny day, or dancing around to music you love. Being active is a very important aspect of heart health on every level. To feed the soul, the activity should be enjoyable. If you're just going through the motions of exercise, that might be good for the body, but it will not feed the soul.

The heart is nourished, as well, with beauty. Go look at beautiful paintings, listen to beautiful music or gaze at a beautiful landscape outside your window. The heart is the throne where the soul resides. Make the throne opulent by taking in beauty. This feeds the heart. Though no study has been published that "proves" it, common sense tells me that we are tender, soulful beings who need a lot more than a kale shake to be whole and happy.

Feed your heart by connecting with the love you feel for your nearests and dearests. Bring their faces into your heart and let the love wash through. You know what I'm talking about, yes?

February is a trudge, a drudge. For many of us on the eastern side of the U.S., winter has been harsh. Getting through February can drain body and soul. Feed your heart, people, ok? Breathe in and out of your heart, feel the unexplainable miracle of love moving in and out.

Do not take your magnificent heart for granted. Don't assume it's nothing more than a pump. Do not deprive your heart. Feed it generously, yes? I say yes. Thank you. Shalom.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Cary Grant Cure

Every case of the flu is a crucible, indeed. But what happens when symptoms subside? The fever breaks, congestion dissipates, and sometimes within a period as short as a few hours, we feel "normal" again. We pronounce ourselves well. Then what?

Most people return immediately to a full time schedule the moment they feel back to themselves. Some folks have great constitutions that enable them to do this, but many of us need a little time to integrate what we've been through before putting our noses back to the grindstone of the mundane.

Even when everything is back to normal, it takes me awhile to rebuild my energy field. I feel raw, weak and/or vulnerable for a few days after recovering from the flu. I'm well, but not quite whole. Do you know what I'm talking about?

I believe that consciously choosing to take in beauty at the end of an illness is as therapeutic as chicken soup. Beauty files smooth the sharp edges of energy left after the flu. Beauty fills the gaps, brings structure to the energy field. The immune system fights the battle. After the immune system triumphs, things are a bit of a mess. Drag the dead bodies from the battlefield, mop up the blood, clear away the shrapnel, but don't forget to replant the trees mowed down during the fight. Beauty is the polish that completes the process. It's restorative. It's so important!

As you can see, I feel very strongly about this.

Beauty comes in many forms. Here are some of the things I do after the flu.

Sitting in the Botanical Garden conservatory, breathing the soft, warm air, gazing at green things, especially in the middle of winter, is always an excellent way to polish off the remnants of the flu. Sometimes I wander through the National Gallery of Art, gaze at beautiful paintings. My rule is to only look at the paintings I love. At the end of an illness, it doesn't help to encounter challenging art (whatever that means to you). I need to be well to do that. At the end of the flu, I'm soft and vulnerable. I need harmony and beauty.

Music is another form of beauty that's deeply therapeutic - always - but particularly at the end of a bout of the flu. Please, no Death Metal. Listen to something melodic, rhythmic and beautiful, something that will help you lay a sturdy but elegant energetic foundation. Illness is energetic chaos. To rebuild my energy, I listen to cello suites or piano variations by Bach, anything by Mozart. That music is architectural. It is so healing for me.

Going out to dinner with someone(s) I love can be a great way to take in beauty. If you decide to try it, please choose a restaurant that isn't too noisy, where the food is top notch.

I could go on with ideas of how to take in beauty, but I'm sure you get the picture.

Today my acupuncturist suggested I read a lot of poetry. Not only in the Reyaverse, but also in Chinese medicine, beauty is thought to be healing. It's a great idea. I will be reading a lot of poetry anyway, as is my tradition around the end of January and beginning of February. But it's a pretty sweet prescription.

The beauty that's working for me in the wake of H1N1 is in the form of a Cary Grant movie marathon. His beauty and grace on screen is bringing me back to wholeness. He was so funny, classy, and charming - but not oily. He had something, he really did. I could look into that face all day. Cary Grant is the opposite of H1N1. His movies are a perfect remedy.

When my interest in Cary Grant movies subsides, I will declare myself cured. In the meantime, more Cary Grant movies! Fortunately, there are a lot of them. It's great medicine.

May you dare to dwell in beauty, balance and delight. Cary Grant did. Oh yeah.


Friday, January 10, 2014

Every illness is a crucible.

No one in his or her right mind likes being sick - why would we? There is no pleasure in it and it can be scary, depending on the severity of whatever we're grappling with. However, it is part of the experience of being human. It always has been, everywhere on earth.

In my society we've developed a ridiculous idea, that we should never get sick. Really? Says who? I understand the wish to never get sick, believe me. What I don't get is the expectation that if we do the right things - whatever they may be, somehow we will never fall prey to a virus or a bacterium. The expectation that we can control health, by any means we think is the right way, is yet another example of our tendency towards hubris. It's absurd.

I'm currently on the mend from a horrible case of H1N1, the notorious swine flu. I was really sick! As it turns out, the symptoms form a classic pattern in Chinese medicine, first written about during the Han Dynasty around 2,200 years ago. Humans have been struggling with the flu for ages!

I have received acupuncture and am drinking a medicinal tea that doesn't even taste that bad. In a few days I will be back to "normal" (whatever that means). One of the things I love about Chinese medicine is that there's always something that can be done to help. In modern medicine, you're supposed to get the flu shot which may or may not protect you. I have three clients who always get the flu jab but came down with H1N1 nevertheless. When they go see the doctor, they are told to stay in bed and drink lots of liquids. (I don't blame modern medicine for having no remedy, by the way.)

Immune response can be intense. The fever, chills, throwing up, coughing and congestion are not caused by the virus, but by our miracle bodies responding to the pathogen. Our symptoms create internal conditions in which the virus can not prevail. It's no wonder being sick is so uncomfortable.

Who knows what else - besides the H1N1 - was flushed out of my body during the nights of high fevers? Here's a link to a post I wrote about the benefits of fevers. Modern medicine is just now beginning to acknowledge what an important role fevers play in human health.

My immune system carries the antibodies now, and through the fight has become stronger and better organized, smarter. The foundation of good immunity I am devoted to cultivating is now more coherent. By fighting off this flu, I have become more adept. A part of the study of martial arts includes sparring. No great martial artist got that way by avoiding the fight. Yes? Good health, in my opinion, involves a good fight every now and then. In fact when I hear people say they never get sick, I always wonder what is festering inside them. It kind of creeps me out.

In addition to the physical benefits of having fought the battle head-on with H1N1, there are emotional and spiritual benefits. During the worst of the sickness I disengaged from what I think of as normal time/space, went to a liminal zone, a place from where many artists have created great works. I was taken out of my routine for awhile. This I see as a good thing.

The following is part of a review of the book The Alchemy of Illness, by Kat Duff, an incredible book.

Illness is a universal experience. There is no privilege that can make us immune to its touch. We are taught to assume health, illnesses being just temporary breakdowns in the well-oiled machinery of the body. But illness has its own geography, its own laws and commandments. Duff, a counselor in private practice in Taos, New Mexico, wrote this book out of her experience with chronic fatigue syndrome, but what she has to say is applicable to every illness and every one of us. For those who are sick, this book offers solace and recognition. For those who care for them either physically or emotionally, it offers inspiration and compassion. Finally, this fresh perspective on healing reveals how every illness is a crucible that tries our mettle, tests our limits, and provides us with an unparalleled opportunity to integrate its lessons into our lives.

In my practice I have seen miraculous changes in people as a result of illness. Illness softens and opens people, or at least, it can. I'm not saying it's great to get sick, not by any means, but there are benefits. Or - there can be benefits, there surely can.

The worst possible scenario is the person who tries to ignore the symptoms so as to carry on with the mundane routines of life. Is going to work every single day really that important? Those people seem to have no compassion whatsoever for the sweet animal of their bodies. It's just mean.

Another sad situation is the person who becomes angry about being sick. I don't understand that response, but I see it frequently. I also hear phrases like, "I don't have time to be sick." Do these people shout at their children that they don't have time to be ill or that they shouldn't be ill? They might. Most folks tuck their kids into bed when they're sick, read them stories, take good care of them. How I wish they would take care of themselves with the same level of kindness.

If you catch the flu this year, please be compassionate. Please take the most loving good care of yourself as you can. Bring everything down a few notches, eat simply, drink a lot of water. If you would like to get better with assistance, see an acupuncturist/herbalist.

Please be gentle with yourselves, ok? Your bodies are doing the best they can!


Before and after acupuncture yesterday. The difference is, as my sister said, like "dusk and dawn."

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Now what?

The holiday season is over, all except for the clean up, should say. January tends to be a rather difficult month, at least where I live.

Some of the citizens of the District will fling themselves directly back into their work. Many people here thrive on working like dogs, hence to them I assume the end of the holiday season is a relief on some level or another.

Others among us will feel sad that it's over. Those are the folks who love gatherings, don't mind the noise and chaos so much because of the warmth of feeling that everyone at least tries to embody at the holidays. We're supposed to practice being generous and grateful, loving, giving, with family and friends at the holidays. At all other times, in DC, we're supposed to be ambitious, focused, and rather cutthroat, if need be. But from Thanksgiving to New Year's, we're supposed to be nice.

For some, this comes easily; others struggle against their natural temperaments. Those who love the holidays will hesitate to take down the Christmas lights, will perhaps leave their trees up until they are dry, brittle, and have become serious fire hazards.

No matter how you feel about them, when the holidays end, it's kind of a shock. Some launch full tilt into exercise and diet regimens in an attempt to make right what has been, to their minds, Very Wrong. The idea is to fix it as fast as possible. Many overdo the exercise part, injure themselves or at least find no enjoyment in moving around, and are back on the couch by mid-February. It doesn't really work in the middle of winter, when we're supposed to hibernating, to suddenly ask our bodies to work in unfamiliar patterns, to transform like that. It's quite cruel. Start an exercise program in March or April instead. Go with the season. It makes the process so much more fun. Between January and March, walk around the block once a day, or turn on some music and dance around your living room. That's plenty of mid-winter activity for those who have been sedentary.

Here's a link to a post I wrote a few years ago about dieting in January. It makes no sense whatsoever and will only confuse your body even further. Please don't go on a diet!

It's not uncommon to become slightly depressed in January. It can be gray all day. The rain is cold, the wind sharp and mean, the sunlight too brief and quite thin. The days are allegedly getting longer, but it's hard to notice in January. A seasonal depression is one of the ways we adjust to the new year. In the Reyaverse, January Doldrums is a condition of mild psychological cleansing, a perfectly natural state of being. That blank feeling that we call depression is a cleaning of the slate. It passes with the season.

I'm not talking about severe or acute depression. I mean a state or period of emotional inactivity, stagnation. It's not pleasant but is temporary. Those who are severely or acutely depressed should seek help, not just in January.

The best medicine for the month of January is patience, self-compassion, and gentleness. Those attitudes go against the grain in the city where I live, at least. We aren't always that interested in the best medicine.

Recovering from the sugar, alcohol, rich foods, loud parties, terrible traffic jams, crowded shops and supermarkets, lack of sleep, travel nightmares and glut of presents is hard on the animal of the body, believe me. It takes time to detox from all that.

Try to be kind to yourself, please? Take some deep breaths. This month, too, shall pass. Thank you.

Happy 2014! May it be gentle. Shalom.