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.