Sunday, July 31, 2011

Climb every mountain... every stream. Follow every rainbow, til you find your dream.
~ Rodgers and Hammerstein ~

When was the last time that your heart was so open that it felt both wonderful and excruciating at the same time?

Last weekend I was visiting one of my dearest friends. As I drove the almost 6 hours to see her, I had the experience of seeing the world open up to me. Driving through the trees, up and down the winding route suddenly - past the lush green trees I was within - I could see the faint line of the mountains blending into the sky. It was absolutely breathtaking and I felt a surge of energy rise up from deep in my belly up to my chest where I was greeted by a fullness and then some kind of opening. It was incredible, and then agonizing, all at the same time.

I was so moved. I felt my heart opening up, right into the sky in front of me. And with it came memories of past loves, fantasies of life yet to come, and thoughts of the things that make me joyful today.

I wondered, during the trip, why don't I feel like this all the time? What might that be like? To have my heart so open that I could experience all of life as that uplifting fullness at all times... Maybe it is because of the pain - maybe it is too much to feel that way all of the time? I don't know.

But I do know that mountains often spark this phenomenon in me, and I could absolutely do with more mountains. Something about them - seeing them and being in them - helps me find the space to breath more fully.

I have a list of things that make me joyful, in that kind of a way where I feel exuberant and anguish all at once. I created it when I was at camp as a youngster - and I called it my happy list. A few of us had them and we used to generate entries together.

I spent some time reflecting this evening on some of the things that have this affect - the true yin/yang of life. Some of them are: falling in love, the first buttercups in Spring, classical music, a slice of NY pizza, the smell of my mother when she hugs me...

This reminds me that I am alive, and teaches me that I have the capacity for so much, to experience so much emotion should I choose to, and to be more present to what is happening around me. I have the capacity for my heart to be so open that I see the beauty or the pain in all things around me - I can live into that if I want to cultivate it.

It's a neat little exercise, to go out into the world and purposefully design a scenario where I can be in the presence of something or someone that fills me with overwhelming joy, and where I am reminded that with all joy and love, comes sadness and pain. Access to both is where the spirit lives freely. Maybe.

Give it a try, and let me know how it goes.

Note: Yin and Yang represent the light and dark - the cold and hot - they are opposites and yet one cannot exist without the other. Often expressed as day and night, where in the daytime there is always shade available and the moon is visible and during night the starts light up the sky; each is present within the other.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Guest Blog: We’re all one, damnit

I’m only half crunchy. I still wear antiperspirant while eating local, organic cherries and studying my acupuncture notes. So when I say “we’re all one”, I’m not saying it after coming from a tree-hugging retreat (although I did happen to hug a tree last week). I’m echoing what science, religion & philosophy, and our bodies have been teaching us for centuries.


Science tells us that everything is constantly in motion. Every atom is constantly dancing around in relation to the other atoms around it. Tables, bricks, human cells – everything is in this state of movement. Atoms literally float all the way through, into, and out of our bodies. What this means is that we are permeable; we are not completely solid. We are physically growing, shrinking, moving, soaking in moisture and giving off steam all day every day. So where I physically end and you physically begin is not clearly definable, even by scientific terms. We literally blend into one another.

Religion & Philosophy

Every religion and philosophy in the world began with a fundamental underlying theme: oneness. Then, just like our favorite cereals, additives and special combinations were introduced to define one set of beliefs from another. Distinctions arose like ‘those who call themselves followers of this particular god are one’, or ‘you can call yourself one with us if you simply believe what we believe or act the way we act’. None of us can prove which of these distinctions define who is and who is not actually united; we’re all just waiting for the afterlife to prove that for us.

The Right Brain

I recently was falling asleep and found myself in a half-awake, half-dream state. What I was half-dreaming was like an acid trip or a 3D Johnny Depp movie. I saw patterns and colors swirling in my head, and I lost sense of where the boundaries of my body ended and began. I saw myself as an intricately colored sheet of light gently waving, like a curtain being blown by the breeze from an open window. The next day I vividly remembered this image, and I was reminded of Jill Bolte Taylor’s story. Jill is a Harvard-trained and published neuroanatomist who had a stroke, and as a scientist, analyzed her stroke as it was happening. She recounts what her experience felt like in her amazing book, My Stroke of Insight (also summarized in this TED talk). Her left brain seemed to short out while her right brain seemed to take over. At one point during her experience, she described losing sense of where her hand ended and the bathroom wall began. She described sensing the world in color, light, and motion, and she could sense other people in the room even though she couldn’t communicate with them. My trippy dream state was like this right brained experience, and it gave me a new perspective on what I am and am not. I did not feel fully solid; I did feel permeable, like a collection of constantly moving molecules of light and color. I was aware that whatever I identify myself with (my left brain in action), whether it’s a belief or a religion or a race or an emotion – they don’t have anything to do with who or what I really am, which is the same cluster of colorful molecules that you are. Every label that I assign to myself as “me” (pale-woman-daughter-sister-wife-redhead-animal lover-anti hoarder-etc.) is like a balloon that I tie on to myself and choose to own. These are merely attempts at distinguishing – separating – me from you, yet they are only minute descriptors of the prism that is me, that is us.

Science, religion & philosophy and our bodies are all pointing to the same thing, that there are no clear cut, laser sharp, black and white boundaries between us. I’m not pointing to oneness to paint a warm and fuzzy picture; I’m ok with being one with the Dalai Lama, but do I really want to be one with the guy who cut me off in traffic, or say, a rapist?

This is where I insert the ‘damnit’ into ‘we’re all one’. What oneness does is level the playing field. I’m no better than any criminal. And I’m no worse than the Dalai Lama. I may share the same molecules with either one. What this translates to in the treatment room is that I see you intermingled with – but not defined by – the labels you carry. Our self-created identities have dramatic affects on how we live, eat, breathe and walk through this world. Some identify themselves with martyrdom, giving so generously that they are exhausted. Some carry secrets like the weight of the world on their shoulders, triggering pain and tension. And how we walk through the world spills into everyone else’s space too. Our sleeplessness and angry moods rub off on each other. When I think about us all being one, I have compassion for your aches and forgiveness for my pains – because I see that I can’t help but soak up yours and leak mine.

Like a science lab, a place of worship, or my right brain, there is no judgment in the treatment room. There are just your molecules, my molecules and some needle-shaped molecules between us. This is where movement can flow.

“…The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive…

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving…

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one…”

- Thich Nhat Hanh, from Call Me by My True Names

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tidbit Tuesday: All systems a go?

In our complicated world of science, diseases and technology, sometimes I forget to go back to basics. Gratefully, I am in a program which serves as a daily reminder to take a breath, resurrect my curiosity and get clear on things by using the best tools in my box: my senses. We can do quite a bit for ourselves with smell, sight, taste, touch and hearing.

So here is real time application:
  • Body temperature: Do you perspire? an appropriate amount?
  • Solid waste management: How are your bowels? Do things move, at least once a day or on another regular pattern?
  • Liquid waste management: What about urination? How often - is it appropriate for the amount you drink? Is it so much that it is disrupting sleep and activities?
  • Sleep and rest: Are you sleeping? Do you have trouble falling asleep? Do you stay asleep? Do you wake during the night? Are you rested upon waking in the morning?
  • Nourishment: What is your appetite like? Are you nourished or undernourished?
I have simplified here, because as acupuncturists we may go into great depth about each of these. And yet, it is this simple at the same time. If you pay attention to these 5 systems, you can be really clear about the state of your wellbeing. These are the systems that inform us of our state of ease and dis-ease (mind, body and spirit). In dis-ease, these systems will get wonky, they may even fail altogether over time.

Consider conducting a once-over each day as you prepare to launch your personal vessel out into the world. After all, it's your body, your life...!

Thank you Bob, dear teacher, for reminding me of this as I participated in your class on Monday.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hopping the red light...

On my way to school this morning, like many mornings, I sit at many a red light on Rt. 29. Today, as I probably have in the past, I scooted swiftly through a yellow light - just as it dropped to red realizing to myself that I could have been more patient with the roads.

No sooner than I pondered this, that the very next light dropped from a quick yellow to red and I came to a near screeching halt. Immediately I realized that in trying to hop the light - it had caught up to me anyway. For either no reason or some reason, the greater powers of the universe wanted me to stop at those lights today.

I sat in my car, considering my patience and my desire to rush. And then I thought, wow, this is really no different whatsoever than the pushing through I sometimes do to my body: hop the red light = push through the red flag that my body is giving me.

I knew this was true for me today because I have been phenomenally sleepy this week, with good reason of course, because it is summer! I have been running myself ragged hanging out with buddies, taking weekend travels, seeing a midnight viewing of Harry Potter and going to bed way too late. And it caught up to me for sure. Because today, despite my greatest attempts to be alert, I found my eyelids winning at the drooping game during class.

This was the big red light for me, falling asleep during class, is a sure sign for me that I am depleted - no ifs, ands or buts about it. Here is what I managed to hop or push through earlier this week and last...
  • crazy dreams such that I wake up equally as tired as I was before going to bed with confusion on top
  • night sweats
  • my eyes pasted shut so impressively upon waking that I may have walked into some furniture on my way to shower
  • a serious lack of desire for make-up or hairstyling
  • total lack of patience for people on the road, people asking me questions...well people in general
  • a frequency of a red rudolph-esq nose and lack of color on the rest of my face
So, here is the thing: If I know - and I do know because I have tracked these little signs over time and they continue to provide evidence that I am on to something here - that any of these bullets is a big flashing traffic light telling me to get some rest, why didn't I listen earlier? And, equally as intriguing, when the light dropped yellow today, why didn't I just slow down and take a moment to hang out at the light instead of trying to beat it?

Hmmmm, curious indeed.

The moral of the story? Whether its a traffic light or night sweats (insert your own symptom here), when the gods and goddesses of our various faiths or simply our bodies, want us to stop - they will find a way to throw a red light. I promise. Now all we have to do is look at the signals and follow directions!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tidbit Tuesday: Going with the flow...

There are some fascinating items on the market these days to help women "deal" with their periods. Some of the most interesting include the category of birth control methods that reduce the amount of periods, or flow altogether such as Seasonique and Mirena. And there are a variety of items (natural, homeopathic and allopathic in nature) that suppress menstrual related symptoms or support a woman in managing them.

I am in a constant flux with myself about where my beliefs are about what is right for me. And, truth be told I rarely settle on one belief for too long.

One thing I do know though is that I like my flow! I really do. I recall almost 10 years ago having a conversation where one fellow woman mentioned how much she appreciated being a woman and that her cycle was a gift. She went on to describe how powerful she feels each month and that she is grateful for the ability to menstruate and have children. It gave me a new appreciation for my menstruation.

Here are some things I acknowledge about my menstrual cycle:

  • I am fortunate to have the opportunity to reproduce; having my flow lets me know that there is a possibility of giving life to a child

  • I consider myself lucky because I have one additional cleansing mechanism for my system. Each month, my body - by the will of nature - collects and discards of any additional byproducts that my body does not need.

  • I can track things like breast tenderness, cramping, my emotions, and the actual flow itself (amount, consistency, length, color and etc.) to gather significant information about myself and the state of my wellbeing

So, I am happy to have my flow and all that comes with it. And while I do not necessarily love experiencing a symptom like cramps or a headache, I am appreciative of the symptom to let me know that things are moving, I am changing and I am alive. It keeps me aware and teaches me how to care for myself, and for that I am quite gracious.

I can then take a breath, acknowledge my body and let nature take its course.

Whether you are a person who has a period, or not, where do you go with the flow? Where do you get stuck?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Friend, foe, frenemy...person.

Ah, once again I found myself at the mercy of my emotions, momentarily, while I pondered - then chewed on - then worried over - an email chain.

Yes, indeed I fell prey to the internal, then made external by my ego, conversation about what was meant in this string of emails I exchanged with some folks just recently. So much so that I kept hubby up for a few hours hashing through it, took it to bed with me, and then did not feel better until speaking with 3 other people about the email chain and gathering my evidence that I was indeed right to feel how I felt!

So, while "I felt better" about everything I was still disempowered by the attitude I had developed to a particular individual involved in said emails.

One may say, "so what?!" however, this was a big deal to me. This person is in my life and this person is someone who I have always enjoyed spending time with. I now was finding myself nervous to see them, talk to them and be with them. Yuk! Not an easy way to be at all.

I decided to employ compassion. Somehow, in the midst of the muck I was creating, I generated some room for the other person and put myself aside.

How? Well, one of my professors has been speaking to us in great detail about helping decipher between how someone is showing up (behavior) and what their underlying need is. So for example, I may (as we have learned from previous posts) act like a basket case towards hubby when we are trying to leave the house for travel - and what it looks like is a bunch of snooty comments, rolling of eyes, whining and possibly some snappy tones BUT what my need in the situation is that I am looking for help getting things accomplished. So, basket case behavior = need for this case.

So, in employing compassion I stopped to ask myself: what does this other person need? What might they need, that I can provide, and in the absence of this - the emails are seemingly inappropriate?

Since I cannot be this person, I had to take it on as if it was me (possibly dangerous, seeing as how we are each unique, yet an effective place to start I think). If it were me, and I had sent the certain emails, I would know about myself (because this is often true for me) that I am feeling insecure about something - maybe along the lines of feeling left out, as well as wanting to contribute and make a difference. With this in mind, I decided to honor this person as if this was true for them.

Thus, I set my intention to be welcoming, inviting and warm and also to create a big space where both my and his/her contribution mattered equally and greatly. After setting this intention, I did have two moments of mini-nervousness where I felt my stomach twirl a little, a bit of extra sweat and some mind-spinning. Luckily though, because I had been so clear with myself about this, I was able to call myself back to intention.

The outcome?! Well, the next time I had the opportunity to engage with the email crew at hand, I was full of love, was welcoming and warm and was genuinely interested in the particular's contribution to everything (both email related and not). And, it was a truly lovely and loving time.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tidbit Tuesday: Chronic back pain

Tidbit Tuesday is a new initiative I am trying out to offer some interesting things to think about in health and wellness, in a concise manner. I'd love to hear your thoughts on these and if there is anything you'd like to see a post about, let me know!

Chronic Back Pain
We all vary on our perspectives about taking medications. The spectrum is as diversified as the radical political lefts and rights. What's a person to do? We each have to decide for ourselves, absolutely. In a culture where acetaminophen, psuedoephedrine and ibuprofen are a part of daily routine, it's good to know that we do have some alternatives out there, if we want them.

Reuters health informs that new studies show massage can help relieve chronic back pain in the short term. A fabulous option if one creates the time and budgets this into their self care lineup. The benefits are even greater than the pain relief: at least 30 minutes of uninterrupted, quiet time all to oneself; a restful little nap; time to be a little selfish and have the attention all on you; and easing of tense muscles all in one sitting!

Now onto the next big thing...why do you have that chronic back pain in the first place? If it could talk....what would it tell you?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Vitamin D Dilemma

Recently I had some blood work run and one of the conclusions: a vitamin D deficiency. This seems to be the hot trend, like wearing black in New York. Though while wearing black in Manhattan is here to stay, vitamins and supplements have come and gone.

I have been taking my prescribed vitamin D supplement and have also spoken to the doctors about how necessary this is, so far its inconclusive. In fact, I was given this article by one of the doctors at the practice who encouraged that I do some reading, and then decide on my own what is best for me.

In the moment where I was given the results of the blood work, I thought how funny it was since that seems to be everyone's diagnosis lately. Then I asked how this might show up - symptom wise. The doctor explained that fatigue is a big piece of the pie - and this made sense - as I am often pretty exhausted. I then followed up with, "Can I just get more sun?" He did some additional explaining about why this would not necessarily be an effective solution. So, reluctantly I made my way to the pharmacy (after checking in with my acupuncturist and naturopath to bounce it off of them). Since then, I have been peaceful with taking the supplement, and I am still not sure I will continue it.

But this really isn't about vitamin D per-say. I am making more of a point here about what we choose to put in our bodies, and why. I want to be clear that I am not a naysayer of drugs, in fact, I personally believe they can be a valuable aspect of patient care AND I am also not a proponent of taking drugs (including vitamins and supplements) when it is either unnecessary or other options can yield an appropriate response or impact.

What it really comes down to for me is knowledge and choice. In the spirit of ease, I find that it is helpful to fully understand what a doctor, magazine article or trend is recommending and to learn about my options. This particularly includes:
  • What exactly are we looking to treat with this drug/vitamin/supplement?
  • What are the side effects?
  • If it's over-the-counter (OTC) how do I know which to choose? How are the choices different from one another?
  • What are the benefits of taking this? What is the downside (not necessarily the same as a side effect)?
  • How do I feel about taking this drug? Am I comfortable with it? Scared? Excited?
  • What will happen if I do not take this?
Then, we can calculate where we stand, uniquely, about taking this external item into our system. Some of this may resemble what we discussed about food in to meat or not to meat, because the same considerations apply to anything and everything we choose to put into our bodies. Reminder: we are one in body, mind and spirit so whatever we take in affects the whole picture!

This vitamin D exercise is a hologram of a much larger conversation. One I am in with myself quite often about various prescription medications I take (or have taken in the past) and the impact of these both positive and negative. And, it stretches well beyond the prescription conversation as so many pills, tablets, tinctures and powders are available in drug stores and health food stores across America.

I have found myself in agitation when I learn that someone is taking any compound "because so-and-so told me to" (e.g. a family member, friend), or they read it in an article that "everyone needs more x" or "the doctor told me to, and I don't really understand why." There are specialists for this in the world - thankfully. People like pharmacologists, doctors, herbalists and such who really understand the body and the impact that a particular item will have when taken or used.

Some folks are supremely well studied however, conducting extensive research before heading to the store, as in research via reputable sites with reputable sources (like NIH, PubMed, the Mayo clinic etc), calling an expert who is certified, licensed and/or educated on the item and I have great respect for that.

These resources - our doctors, practitioners, pharmacists, herbalists, articles, websites etc. serve a wonderful purpose - they are our consultants. Consultants specialize in providing recommendations based on the best of their knowledge and skill to assist in making good decisions and carrying out our lives (in this case) with ease and success.

I am calling each of us to be our best advocate, to ensure that we are choosing the path with confidence - vitamin, drug, supplement what have you. Be in choice about your BodyMindSpirit and what will support it. It's one of the best gifts we can give to ourselves.

Note: This is not a replacement for the role that a physician or health care practitioner provides. In extreme cases, we may be advised or directed to take serious measures in order to protect ourselves and others. While I will always support the power we have in choosing for ourselves and educating ourselves, it is not to be mistaken for circumstances where interventions will serve. This is a gray area as it can relate to extreme disease such as progressive cancers, psychiatric concerns, emergency situations or others.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Polka dot, stripes, plaid...what's your pattern?

We all have at least one pattern, if you are me - many, of a particular behavior or conversation that comes up over and over again eliciting some kind of emotional response and/or interaction with the people in our lives.

Yesterday, I had the lovely opportunity to explore one of my own patterns, characterized by, as hubby says, "hypersensitive and frenzied" behavior. Yes, it is true, even someone as evolved as me (haha) can act a lil' nutty. This specific hypersensitive and frenzied-ness reared its face in the midst of our preparing to leave the house for weekend travel.

Thus, our holiday weekend started out with about 45 minutes of back and forth tight, nasty words in the car all the way up the highway until we took our first stop to pick up some items at the store. So far, it was turning out to be an amazing car ride together. Fake smile smiley face.

Broken down a bit more, it seems as though the following had occurred....
  • I, as always, wanted to make sure that everything was in order prior to departure and this includes everything from clean sheets, car clean, cats fed, toaster oven unplugged to trash out (seriously the list is longer and I will spare you).
  • Hubby was not fully aware of all of these items on my list.
  • I committed to "packing us up" and hubby thought this meant I would both select and pack all of his items, I thought that he would pull them for me and I would stick them in the bag (as this is what usually happens).
  • Hubby anticipated or expected we would be leaving later than the 10 a.m. specified time he had set and so, at 9 a.m., so in anticipatory fear of the super fun guy that pops out when we are late I started to have a mini private freak out.
  • I assumed that hubby had taken fully off of work for the holiday weekend thus was quite confused (and as you can imagine very pleasant to him) when he was checking email when he "should have" been helping me get the house perfect.
The patterns he and I continued yesterday included no less than: the we are always late (polka dots); the everything needs to be perfect before we go (damask); the why don't you help me get us out of the house perfectly; and the why are you acting like a nutcase (zig zags). Seriously, we are so good at these patterns we could decorate our house with them.

Here we have a classic case of living in the past and bringing into the future hence making the present quite unpleasant! This compiled with miscommunication AND expectations...which in case you have not heard are the cause of all human suffering (that's another good one I picked up at school!).

At any rate, these patterns of ours do bring us suffering and will continue to if we do not realize that they exist. Many of us are in the practice of having the same argument or conversation over and over again with a partner, sibling or parent or friend... And we may actually believe that it's about the other person; that they bring it out in us, or that its a touchy subject. Well, this is both true and untrue. They may be the person in our lives that can most push us against our edges - specifically the edges that will benefit us to be pushed. Yet, it is not about them, it is absolutely about ourselves.

Yesterday's chaos was a more benign pattern for us, though still disruptive and not a peaceful way to start a weekend away together. We did make some incredible headway in how not to repeat these in the future.

A more prominent and festering pattern however led to one of the best lessons that I ever had. I was in a pattern of getting upset with my husband whenever any conversation would escalate to the "who's right/who's wrong" stage. I would accuse him of trying to out-logic me and make me feel small and dumb. The conversation was unproductive, upsetting and excessively long each and every time. With a little push and compassion during a counseling session I realized that this pattern was coming from a totally unrelated and un-current place in my life.

I had been in a quite unhealthy relationship in college with someone who did want to make me feel small and stupid, who did try to win at every conversation and many other ugly things came out of that relationship. Now about 10 years later I was recreating feeling this way with my husband. In the 'a-ha!' moment where I realized this I was flooded with love and appreciation for my husband - who had been telling me for 3.5 years that he did not think I was dumb, never wanted me to feel small and was not trying to out-logic me. I had been living that pattern on my own. He has nothing but respect and love for me and I could not hear it because I was so in my pattern. That pattern has been interrupted indefinitely ever since that session. Life is definitely easier without it.

So whether its a smaller issue, like arguing because you are headed on vacation and the house is imperfect, or something a little bigger like your self-esteem, it could be worth while to look inward and be curious with yourself. Why does this keep showing up - what in me is bringing this about for myself over and over again? Is there something that occurred in the past that I think is current? Do I have an unmet need which needs to be spoken? You can even ask a loved one to participate, it's amazing how well they know us.