Grief and love

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Dust in our eyes our own boots kicked up
Heartsick we nursed along the way we picked up
You may not see it when it’s sticking to your skin
But we’re better off for all that we let in

– Indigo Girls, All That We Let In

Everyone who lives experiences grief.  There’s no way to escape it.  If you try, it dogs you.  The only way out is through.

So I try to walk through.

Some days it feels like I’m walking through fire.  Other days it feels like a light rain.  Some blessed days, the sun is shining and the birds are singing.

The past couple of days have been unrelenting furnace.

http://nonnetta.deviantart.com/art/Fixing-a-broken-heart-65913383

There are a few thoughts, now that this intense crushing heartache seems to be receding to a drizzle with the sun shining down.

– There is no grief without love.  In the worst of my pain, I touched the deepest of my love.  I was shocked to see it there.  But I embraced it, and I felt thanks for it.  There is a comfort in knowing I am capable of deep love, even if it’s discovered through the experience of deep grief.

– When grief wears you down, minor hurts feel major.  A paper cut can feel like an amputation.  It’s good to remember that it’s both.  Appreciate the stimulus was small, but the effect was large.  Be honest with yourself.  Hold others accountable.  But be gentle.  My response is to eventually find my way to gratitude that I can still anticipate love, and my hope is still intact.  Grief has not broken me.  Not even close.

– Those paper cuts can bring the waves of grief crashing down on you.  Unrelated though they may be, everything in your psyche can be connected.  There is a phenomenon called cumulative grief.  When a different or new kind of hard shows up, it just might bring back the grief you thought you’d started to get a handle on.  Adding a little more to the pile can make it feel like you’ve not made any progress at all.  It’s not proof you are regressing.  It’s just opportunity to move through it.  Again.  Until you are on the other side.

– When the pain feels more than you can bear, pray.

That’s right.  Pray.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m not big on prayer in the standard sense.  But I do believe there is goodness and assistance available for the asking.  I believe in intention.  And I believe in recognizing the power of grace and mercy.  No, I don’t know where it comes from.  But in my most desperate hours, I pray.  I call out for help psychically, and eventually the sun comes up.

– Reach out to those who love you and support you.  I don’t feel comfortable crying on just anyone’s shoulder.  It’s not appropriate to cry on just anyone’s shoulder.  But if you have a shoulder to cry on, use it.  Tears are healing.  It doesn’t feel like it when there is a seemingly bottomless ocean of them, but eventually they subside.  Eventually you laugh at something through your tears… little by little, you find there are less tears and more smiles.  Like waves, they’ll be back… but appreciate the sunbeams when they appear.  It’s all part of the process.

– Understand that while support is so important, no one can do or say anything to take away the pain of grief.  It belongs to you.  It’s yours to manage, to work through, to walk through.  Don’t think that if only the right words are said or the right man (or woman) holds you or the right child kisses you or the right friend or relative says or does the right thing, you’ll get a pass.  You won’t.  But you will get moments of relief, and those will strengthen you and renew you.

– This last one is the most important: grief is worth it.

Considering the absolutely hellish amount of pain grief can bring, I’m not saying this lightly.  But grief is worth it, because “grief is the price we pay for love.”  (That quote is attributed to Queen Elizabeth II.)  And for me, love is worth it.  Deep, no-holds-barred, bottom-of-my-soul love is worth it.  Worth it enough to suffer deep, no-holds-barred, bottom-of-my-soul grief.

But I only feel strong enough to say that when the sunbeams start to appear.

That is how we know

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Sometimes our inner wisdom speaks to us in ways that seem so odd and incomprehensible to us that we imagine we are being attacked from within. Our bodies have an innate wisdom that is intricately linked to our wellness on the whole. At times when we feel we need ourselves the very most, maybe our selves let us down. We can’t do what we thought we could. We can’t pursue what we thought we wanted. Sometimes when everything breaks down and we feel we must be falling to pieces, it is for one purpose only: so that the phoenix can rise from the ashes.

As dramatic as that sounds, maybe it does not take a complete destruction of the things we thought we loved and the ideals we hold dear to our hearts. Maybe it doesn’t take a complete disruption of the values we imagined to have for ourselves. Perhaps it just takes a series of minor disruptions before we release our resistance to letting go of that which we were sure we wanted and that which we felt we must do. We get so focused on the way we have seen it done by other people, the things the world expects of us, the times we’ve succeeded with techniques we’ve mastered over our lifetimes of adaption and response to every situation put before us. We do what we think works for us.

Until one day we come to understand that what works for us is really just a set of constructions that we created. We thought we knew what the best path would be because it’s the path that worked for us in the past. We don’t know other paths, and we find it hard to imagine them, let alone look for them or think about stepping on them. We are creatures of habit, and we feel lost when our habits no longer bring us to successful realization of our goals.

What does it feel like to fail? What is failure for? Could it be that failure is simply our very own magical way of putting up a great big arrowed sign pointing in the direction we never thought to look? We feel immense and we assume that what we know and what we see and how we’ve always done things is the only way that makes sense and maybe even the only way forward or the only way that exists. What inspires pioneers? What brings someone to the realization that there is another way, that there are infinite ways… that our way is never predetermined – by anyone? Not by society, not by the universe and whatever known or unknown laws may be in play, certainly not by our very human selves. What causes an inspired soul to step out? What sparks the creativity that leads to finding a new way and embracing that way when no one you’ve ever known or even heard of has done it that way before? What leads to innovation? What gives one the courage to try that path?

Maybe it is failure. Maybe other options have been taken from you.

Everything I thought I knew about where life might be leading me, as murky as it might have seemed, found a place in my plans. I assumed I knew what it was about, what it was all for. I assumed if another way was necessary, someone or something would show me how and point the way. When there is no guidance except exhaustion and rebellion from my own faculties, my own intricate system that strives to keep me in balance no matter how hard I resist… how can I find the courage to let go of my ideas? How do I reach inside and embrace the creative spark that is leading me to a better way? How do a learn to value myself and trust the process of life enough to take a leap of faith? How do I make it ok to fail?

Maybe it just comes down to trust. I have to trust in more intelligence than I can reach with my reasoning, rational mind. I have to trust that if my system protests, there may be something I am missing. I have to appreciate the path I have taken and recognize that the next steps I take may not follow any path I expected to find under my feet. Maybe from the outside it doesn’t appear all that innovative or radical – but from the inside, it is wildly innovative and radical. Maybe it challenges all the assumptions I had about myself. Maybe it shows me how much stronger and how much more valuable I am than I ever knew I was.

What is it about breaking down that is so important? What is it about softening to the point where no resistance can be maintained? What if exhaustion is really a gift?

I must trust myself. I must trust that my limitations are as important as my strengths. I must understand – really understand – that both are equally important, as fluid as they may be. Can I learn to humble myself before the alter of possibility? Can I learn to trust that all is as it should be, no matter the losses I feel or the frustrations I experience? Can I learn to know, to tap into my inner knowing that reminds me of the irrepressible human spirit that by birthright I share? Innovative, resilient, dynamic, creative… all the things I feel do not apply to me when things start to break down… I might be learning that in life maybe we do not retain any understanding of who we are and what we are capable of.

In times when things are hard and the skills we’ve come to rely on are failing us, it just comes down to trust – you trust that there is a core of (something) within you that won’t let you fail, something that will push you to grow no matter how ridiculous or far-fetched it might be to release what you’ve gained through your life’s hard work. We all work hard to make our way, we all find what works for us. Maybe the only difference between dysfunction and truly, meaningful, personally valuable success is how long we resist allowing old lessons to pass away, how long we hang onto our hard-won knowledge of how the world around us and how our own lives “work.” We are masters of change. All we need to know is right in front of us if only we can stop fighting and follow where the road leads. Maybe it always feels like it leads away from safety. Maybe that is how we know…

Impulses

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Oh how I love the moments of grace where thought becomes understanding that can be translated to action.  Those shifts are magical, and they can’t be forced.  So often, it’s just a twitch away from something you already know yet somehow haven’t been able to integrate.

This is the case with “should.”  How often have I heard “Stop shoulding all over yourself”?  And how often have I wanted to but could not figure out how to shush the shoulds?

Have you ever had a book on your shelf for years and then suddenly feel the impulse to finally pick it up and read it?  That happens to me frequently.  Maybe it only happens to those who collect books, as I do (I can’t seem to break myself of the habit).  The book that jumped out at me this week was Kurt Leland’s Menus for Impulsive Living.

These simple but potentially life-changing moments often happen, for me, with the sense of something getting rearranged in my brain.  That’s what happened when I read this:

What is an impulse?  In our view, it is a message sent to the ego either from the soul or the body.  This message indicates that a certain action is appropriate at a certain time.  When the message comes from the soul, the action will have something to do with the process of self-realization, of becoming who you truly are; when from the body, it will have something to do with physical survival…

…[T]here is no such thing as a self-destructive impulse…

From our perspective, actions motivated by such powerful emotions as rage or hatred are not impulsively but compulsively motivated.  There is a certain neurotic aspect to such behaviors, which indicate a severe misalignment of ego and soul.  The same would be true, but to a lesser extent, with individuals who feel the compulsion to shoplift or commit other minor transgressions.

… It is never appropriate to refuse or ignore impulses… True impulses have a certain persistence about them.  They will not vanish from your awareness until they have been acted upon.  In order to refuse or ignore them, the ego must talk itself out of noticing and acting upon them.  Whenever you try to persuade yourself to do a certain thing, you are ignoring and impulse against.  And whenever you try to persuade yourself not to do a certain thing, you are ignoring an impulse for.  A rather typical technique of persuasion is concealed in the word should.  Whenever you tell yourself that you should be doing a certain thing, there is always something else that you are trying to talk yourself out of doing.  If you say, “I should do X,” you are actually suppressing the second part of the sentence: “instead of Y.”  By reversing your position – doing Y instead of X – you will have acted on the true impulse.

Did you see the light bulb that just went on over my head?  I get so caught up in shoulds, my shoulds have shoulds.  Sometimes there are so many shoulds in my mind upon 2 minutes of awakening, I feel overwhelmed and want nothing to do with my day.  The list of shoulds is so long and impossible, and I can’t seem to choose which shoulds to address.  Even if I choose one or two, I tend to feel like the Red Queen – running, running, running and never getting anywhere.  Is there really a process so simple that I can turn these shoulds on their head?  Is there really a beacon inside me that guides truly to the things that most benefit myself and those around me and which things might be rejected because they are best left for another time… or best left undone?  Is there really a way to know, in each moment, which action will lead me to wholeness and true balance?

The questions above help me see that I’ve been pretending my whole life.  I pretend I know how to be a responsible adult.  I go through the motions.  Sometimes they feel good and other times they feel horrible.  I have trouble believing I’m the only one who has looked for a formula or a routine that will make things easier.  I suppose I’ve concluded more than once that I’m a flighty person for needing different things on different days, that a strict self-imposed routine has never worked well for me, and that while self-flagellation does not appear to be particularly effective, I’ve found no better approach.  Passion is unreliable, “laziness” too powerful.

Stress could be described as the state of being in need of something that you purposely deny to yourself – by telling yourself that something else is more important.  To live impulsively requires that you get rid of the system of values that supports this kind of thinking.

The details beyond these introductory ideas are interesting.  Things are broken down into categories and specific advice is given for various types of impulses.  The focus is on paying attention to the pull to do something or not do something instead of sticking with your ideas of what should or should not be done, in what order, and at what time.  From the basics of bodily functions to various activities, explanations are provided regarding the importance of structuring your life to accomplish ready response to impulses as they arise.

Whether the details about how to structure response to impulses speak to you or not, I find the concept of simply paying close attention to my impulses – all of them – to be a new and valuable tool.  I spent the day at work yesterday doing my best to value the bodily impulses.  I peed when I felt the urge, I drank water the moment I realized I was thirsty, I ate what appealed to me among the available options, and I stopped eating when the impulse arrived. (Okay, I admit, I did eat an extra 2 bites of pasta salad after that point – what can I say?  I’m learning.)

This morning, I woke up with my overwhelming list of want-to, need-to, and should-do items running through my head.  As usual, the mental list was superhumanly long and complicated.  As usual, I felt my anxiety rising.  As usual, I opted to lay in bed for many long minutes rather than greet my day with anticipation.  And then I began to breathe, and I reminded myself I am human, and I asked myself what my first impulse was.  So I started my day with a trip to the toilet (Leland claims that your body will tell you it’s time to wake through your bladder – if you have to pee, it’s time to get up… hmmm…) and I did not eat an early breakfast because I did not yet feel the impulse to eat, and I accepted that I can work with this concept of one moment leading to the next and embrace these impulses with joy and appreciation.

After driving kiddo to school, the impulse came to make a list of leisure activities that I feel may bring interest and joy into my life, regardless of whether I feel I have time for them.  Then the impulse to write appeared, and so that’s what I’m doing.  And the next impulse is to grab my mat and go to yoga, which I will also do.  I suspect the impulse to eat will follow that, but we’ll see… and then my afternoon may be taken up with any of several activities, but for now I’m trusting that there’s no need to plan.  The list will remain, but if I follow impulse to impulse, I won’t get paralyzed and I won’t feel the need to go to bed and pull the covers over my head.  Maybe I’ll play with the dog.  Maybe I’ll do the laundry.  Maybe I’ll lay in bed and read.  I won’t be surprised if the list gets done on its own if I respect this process.  It’s an experiment I’m willing to try.  In this moment, I sense the wisdom in this approach… let’s see if I can live it.

Nested

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Orion asked me to think on/study the concept of twin souls if I wanted greater understanding of the soul relationship between myself and a friend with whom I seem to share an intense connection that I’ve never really understood.  I did read some stuff about twin souls after I got that advice, but most of it didn’t ring true to me, either in general or specifically in reference to me and my friend.  However, I began reading Gary Zukov’s The Seat of the Soul (I can’t believe I’ve never read that before!) and jotted down some brief notes and diagrams inspired by some of his material.  This is a more complete examination of the ideas that came to me.  Orion has since said that these ideas are a good way for my mind to metaphorically grasp these ideas as I continue to work on non-linear ways of knowing.  Really, the exact words were “The insights you had… can assist you in helping your rational mind to have something to focus on as you begin to further embrace the non-linear ways of knowing.  We are pleased that you have come to understand that literal and rational knowing are… merely one tool to help you along your way when your logical mind might prefer something to focus on.”

In The Seat of the Soul, page 86-8, Gary Zukov says:

The higher self is the connecting link when the soul speaks to its personality.  It is the dialogue between the personality and its immortal self.  The personality-soul communication is the higher experience, but the personality does not communicate with the fullness of its soul.

All of the energy of the soul does not incarnate.  To incarnate, the soul creates a personality from those parts of itself that it wants to heal in the physical environment and from those parts of itself that it lends to the process of healing in that lifetime.

So powerful is the energy of the soul that it could not advance into physical form without, literally, exploding that form.  In the creation of a personality, the soul calibrates parts of itself, reduces parts of itself, to take on the human experience.  Your higher self is that aspect of your soul that is in you, but it is not the fullness of your soul.  It is a smaller soul self.  Therefore, “higher self” is another term for “soul,” yet the soul is more than the higher self.

Picture a cup, a gallon, and a water tank.  The water tank is the soul.  An aspect of the soul becomes a gallon.  That gallon is still soul, but not the fullness of the soul.  It is that part of the soul that is on a mission, so to speak.  The personality is the cup.  The cup contacts the gallon, the higher self soul, but not the full-bodied water tank.

Communication between the personality and its soul is an in-house intuitive process.  It is a process that is organic to your own internal system.  For example, decision-making, which is your process, can be an intuitive process in which you pull data from your mind, your heart and your intuition, relying upon the guidance of your higher self.  Each of these sources is a part of your own system of energy.  Your personality and your higher self are of your soul.

Intuition can also permit the personality, through the higher self, to receive information from other souls of higher process, souls that are not its own soul.  Sources of guidance other than your own higher self can come across on the same radio station, so to speak.  This is not the same as an intuitive process.  This is a process of receiving guidance through intuitive channels.

Receiving information through intuitive channels is significantly different from receiving information through intuitive processes.  Receiving information through intuitive processes is cooking at home.  Receiving information through intuitive channels is ordering out.

Gary Zukov’s explanation of personality/higher self/soul may go by different nomenclature elsewhere.  In Jane Roberts’ Seth material, there is reference to the oversoul.  This is not the first mention of oversoul – Ralph Waldo Emerson defined oversoul as being the collective soul of humanity.  But for my purposes, I understand the oversoul to be a larger soul than the individual soul and one that may have reference to more than one individual soul.  This understanding came from reading Jane Roberts’ novel The Education of Oversoul 7.  Yet, the concept I carry of “oversoul” and how I use it in this discussion is that it is not the ultimate collective soul of all humanity.  I believe there are many oversouls… I will explain further, but the definitions and words between various people talking about the same thing are often different.  In my mind, I define personality as the human form we occupy; the “higher self” that Zukov references, I simply call “soul.”  And the “soul” Zukov references, I identify as oversoul.  I am going to take that concept one step further than Zukov did in the writings I referenced above – this was my jumping-off point in this meditation on the theme.

So, Zukov uses the metaphor of cup/gallon/water tank.  I like that metaphor a lot – it helps make something more clear that is difficult for us to understand.  I don’t think it is necessarily entirely literally true, but I believe our human minds are somewhat limited in what we can understand of the true nature of reality.  Metaphors are helpful in this regard, and I don’t believe it’s important that we know the precise fullness of truth, neither is it practical or possible.  I believe we grasp what we can, and it leads us to higher truth if we allow it.  I believe that is good enough and all that is necessary/expected in our current incarnated state.

In reference to thinking on the concept of twin souls, I’m not sure that Orion directed me to this concept because it necessarily has anything to do with me and my friend per se.  (In fact, I am told frequently lately that part of the divine purpose in our knowing each other is that we spur each other to necessary lessons about relationships, connections and love that are larger than either of us individually.  And it’s fascinating to me thus far that no matter how personal things seem, the lesson always seems to extend out far beyond our individual interactions, misunderstandings, and current limitations.)   I’m not sure I believe that everyone has a twin soul (or twin spark), and I believe that most of what is put out there about twin souls is actually a manifestation of our cultural spell that everyone has an ultimate soul mate who will complete them.  I do not deny or degrade the experience of those who feel they’ve found their twin soul.  I accept this as possible and maybe even probable.  I just don’t buy into a lot of the explanations I’ve read and have no knowledge or experience of it myself (maybe someday…).  My understanding of the concept is that twin souls are formed from the same spark of infinite intelligence to create two souls who together form a complete yin/yang complement.  Perhaps this is a more personalized expression of the concept of our oneness.  Perhaps the idea of twin soul is so popular for the same reason metaphors help us understand larger truths – it helps us wrap our brains around something that ultimately our brains can’t understand.  But for my purposes, it is my jumping-off point, and here are the connections between Zukov’s metaphor and my extension of it.

So I’ll call the cup the personality, the gallon the soul, and the water tank the oversoul.  Starting at the cup level, what if the twin soul concept involves two cups in one gallon? That is, what if two personalities share the same soul?  I could buy this, easily.  I don’t necessarily think there are always two cups in each gallon container, but I could be wrong.  And maybe there are more cups than that in each gallon container.  Wouldn’t surprise me.

But let’s look at the oversoul – the water tank.  I totally buy the concept that each water tank contains several gallon containers with their corresponding cups.   That is, each oversoul has “calibrated itself,” in Zukov’s words, not just into one smaller part (or maybe it’s better to think of it as a more limited part or a more specific part), but into several smaller parts, or aspects.  It is not too difficult to understand the idea that if there is one aspect the oversoul would like to heal through the experience of physical existence, there may be several such aspects.  It would distill “those parts of itself that it lends to the process of healing in that lifetime” to the corresponding aspects.

So, imagine a water tank.  Inside this big water tank are open-topped gallon containers – several of them.  (Why open-topped?  That’s just the way I visualize it because it makes it easier for me to imagine how connected we are if we are each exposed to the same body of water despite our  separations.)  Inside each gallon container are open-topped cup containers – perhaps more than one in each.  The tank would represent the oversoul, the gallons the individual discrete souls (or what Zukov calls “higher selves”), and the cups represent our human personalities.

But let’s take the concept a bit further.  What if these open-topped water tanks with all their enclosed aspects are, themselves, contained in something larger – a swimming pool, perhaps?  What would we call that which is over the oversoul (or under and around the oversoul, for that matter)?  Well, it doesn’t matter… let’s keep on going… what if the swimming pool is not the only swimming pool in existence but it is, itself, housed within a larger body of water?  What if the ocean holds many swimming pools?  How far does this go?  The concept I’m working with right now is that it goes all the way to God.  What we define as “God” is simply the largest and most complete aspect, the one that holds everything else.  This metaphor helps us understand how we are all God, how we are all One, how all life and all things are connected… and yet we still have a frame of reference for understanding our individuality.  We still have a frame of reference for understanding why we feel so much more connected to some people versus others.  If we are sitting in the same gallon with another personality, we might feel extremely connected.  If Zukov’s metaphor holds truth, this would mean that two personalities may share the same intuitive processing system.  That would likely create a very specific and powerful kind of intimacy.  The concept of a twin soul, to me, makes more sense in that context.  If we are sitting in the same water tank with other “gallons” or souls, it makes sense that we might be more intuitively connected with those souls compared with a soul sitting in an entirely different water tank.

There’s another metaphor that I have the privilege to pull from, something that is not within most people’s frame of reference.  Growing up, my mother suffered from multiple personality disorder.  That’s what they called it then.  Now it’s referred to as dissociative identity disorder (DID).  If you have no concept of what DID is, the cable TV series United States of Tara illustrates this, albeit in an overly-dramatic, less-common presentation than is usually the case for people who live within this complex situation.  It is believed that if severe and constant trauma occurs during a child’s formative years, the personality can split off into different aspects (personalities) as a means of survival and maintaining sanity.  DID is chaotic, to be sure, but it’s not insanity.  Now, I want to be clear that I don’t really understand DID, and I am pretty sure no one really can unless they’ve experienced it.  Many psychiatrists still don’t believe it actually exists, that those diagnosed DID are merely misclassified somehow.  But because of my exposure to the disorder, it’s more on my radar than it probably is for most people.

Now, doesn’t the concept of DID sound kind of like what we’re talking about here?  The personality under trauma splits off aspects of itself, forming discrete personalities within the psyche of one person, one body.  All these aspects are still ultimately one person, no matter how fractured that person has become (and the concept of soul retrieval is not very different, really).  With the metaphor I’ve outlined above, it seems no different than the fracturing we’ve all experienced on the soul level (or perhaps I should more accurately say on the God level?).  But here’s a curious concept – those with DID occasionally integrate.  That means that the personalities all come together as one integrated personality once again (and similarly, there are plenty of folks who have participated in soul retrieval rituals to recover lost aspects of themselves).  Integration represents a reality that the person with DID can scarcely remember, as they’ve been fractured since early childhood, and this fracturing helped them survive.  I can only imagine the challenge involved in the process of integration, and many with DID have no desire for integration.  My mother did integrate when I was 12.  She has told me some of the fears she experienced at the time – wondering if parts of herself would disappear, and which ones would “die” when there was only one of her left.  Of course, they are all still there, just not split apart into their individual aspects.  She retained all their memories and all their skills (although, she reports that since several of them had different fingerings for the same piano piece, there were a few she couldn’t play for a while because she couldn’t sort out which one to use!).  There is no need for the fracturing anymore.  The experiences she’s been through have made her perception of the world and her inner experience different from what most of us experience, even now, but she is again one personality, not 20.

Let’s use the concept of DID as a metaphor for our own spiritual evolution.  Mom tells me that as she approached integration, the personalities had to learn to work together.  They had to understand how they were connected and make peace with one another.  They had to work on their own healing, and they had to recognize that they were all one.  When we think of how our souls have split aspects of themselves off in order to experience our current reference of reality, in order to be physical beings, the question arises whether we will one day reintegrate.  I believe we will.  In fact, I believe that this is likely a good metaphor to understand spiritual collectives that offer us guidance though channels like Esther Hicks (Abraham), Jane Roberts (Seth), and Betsy-Morgan Coffman (Orion).  A close friend of mine has a personal guide who is a collective of three souls. These various guides have told us that they are actually collectives of souls, although they speak to us as if they are one entity.  I suspect that there may be more involved that just one of a group of individual advanced souls stepping forward to speak for the group.  What if these souls have integrated to some degree or another?  I think perhaps they have.  And if we are all one, if we are all God, if we all have the potential to return to God, how does this occur?  Does it occur through greater and greater integration? And is this why helping each other moves us along our own paths?

This can, of course, be a frightening concept – we don’t want to disappear.  We don’t want to lose ourselves in the collective.  We don’t understand how we can remain fully ourselves and yet somehow also be absorbed into something bigger.  We so value our individuality, and in our current reality, the grip of the ego seduces us to think that looking out for number one is the only way to survive.  The idea of being part of something bigger brings up fears of losing ourselves. Hell, how many of us struggle to become part of “we” in a life partnership, let alone working with the thought of integrating at the soul level?  It looks scary to us.

I have a feeling, however, that our fears are groundless.  Perhaps we won’t truly understand that until we reach a level of spiritual advancement sufficient to offer us the choice to integrate into our fullness, to join with our more divine aspects.  Until we enter a space of true understanding (and I don’t think it will happen here), we can use our guidance systems, internal and external (“cooking at home” vs “ordering out,” as Zukov says), to learn our lessons, to advance our souls as much as we can through our experiences.  We don’t have to worry about full integration right now; we don’t have to worry about merging with God in any ultimate sense.  We do our best to touch God and to recognize our divine natures… anything more is for another day and another time, or more likely for a time and place beyond time and space.

What are your thoughts?

Ivory-billed Hope: the future of medicine?

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Today, I discovered the website of Dr. Pam Pappas, MD.  She is a local psychiatrist and homeopath here in the Phoenix area.  In shuffling through her various writings, I came across the following article, which really speaks to me.  Thanks, Dr. Pappas, for your beautiful writing – and the dose of hope all true healers (even those of us “in hiding”) need as we navigate the mess that our medical system has become.  It is up to us to preserve and expand the habitat… and to find our place within it.

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Pamela A. Pappas MD, MD(H)
© 2005
Ivory-billed Hope

Imagine yourself deep in southern woods, your kayak gliding through swamp water studded with giant cypress and tupelo trees. Your paddle stirs decaying tannin-brown debris; pungent air fills your lungs and moistens your skin.    Your senses are attuned to beauty, movement and sound.  You know what lives here — or do you?

In these hardwood marshlands, there used to live a woodpecker so big, so raucous, and such a feathered spectacle that people called it the “Lord God Bird”.  Also known as the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, it was nearly two feet long in black and white splendor, had a three-foot wingspan — and beneath its red pterodactyl crest, had fearsome, glinting yellow eyes.  It definitely got the attention of naturalists wanting to shoot it or draw it!

Image courtesy birdinginarkansas.com

Alexander Wilson had done both in 1809, smuggling a live Ivory-billed Woodpecker into a Wilmington, NC hotel even though it shrieked loudly beneath his coat.  Locking the bird in his room, Wilson left briefly to tend his poor frightened horse.

Dust and flying bits of plaster greeted his return a few minutes later; the bird clung near the ceiling, having pecked a 15-inch crater in the wall for escape!  After a frenzied wrestling match, he tied its leg to the room’s mahogany table.  Then he
wondered: could the bird be hungry?  He ventured into town for something it might eat.  Re-entering his room (without any beetle grubs, unfortunately), Wilson found the angry bird atop what was now a pile of mahogany chips.  He drew quickly, while
the furniture lasted!

He later wrote:  “While [I drew him] he cut me severely in several places and, on the whole, displayed such a noble and unconquerable spirit, that I was frequently tempted to restore him to his native woods. He lived with me nearly three days, but
refused all sustenance, and I witnessed his death with regret.” *

Though it had previously ranged from Texas to North Carolina, people thought this bird extinct since the late 1800’s.  After all, the Civil War had left them with an insatiable appetite for wood to rebuild their homes.  So they cut down the forests in
which the Ivory-billed Woodpeckers found their food . . . and these majestic birds gradually disappeared.

That is, they disappeared except in the imaginations of a few optimistic souls who kept searching for them.  Every now and then someone would tantalize with questionable sightings, but the bird is frequently confused with its more widespread cousin, the Pileated Woodpecker.   Sporting a similar wild red crest and its own cacophonous drumming, it is certainly impressive to see.  But it’s smaller, black-backed, and has a grayish bill with a maniacal, laughing cry far different from the kank-kank-kank tin-horn sound of the Ivory-billed.

Again, imagine yourself kayaking in Arkansas’ Big Woods in February 2004. A huge black and white bird flies above you, and disappears behind a tree.  Could it really be what you think it is?  Heart leaping, you glimpse it again, and want to be sure.

You call in professional birders for help.  They canoe into the same area you paddled in, just a few days before . . . and when they see your critter flapping in their binoculars, grown men weep with joy.  These two experienced ornithologists simultaneously identify a bird that has not been seen in the US for over 60 years.  It is an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and a landmark discovery!

Science publishes frame-by-frame video footage, showing that conservation really can keep habitat alive.  Stirred at finding something feared lost, people galvanize efforts to save that deep forest bottomland.   According to John Fitzpatrick, co-leader
of the Ivory-bill search effort and director of Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

“Since the first sighting, this has consumed us. We have dedicated our time and our dreams to protecting and conserving this area. These woods are my church. There is no bird like this in the world.”

Organizations such as the Nature Conservancy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Cornell Lab University of Arkansas, and several others are banding together towards this goal.

It could happen in medicine too.

Imagine yourself in a swampland of managed care madness.  You wade through medical charts, endless phone calls, harried nurses, and patients with insurmountable problems overflowing their 8 minute appointment slots.  You’re hungry, having missed lunch; you have 12 patients yet to see and are on call tonight.  Your son has a soccer game that you will miss.  The insurance company is late with its payments to your practice this month, but regular with its ‘withhold’ fee. Mrs. Kleeman is dying of her cancer, and wants to talk with you about further treatment.   Her son wants to sue you because her tumor metastasized.  It is all too much, too chaotic; you just want to dictate your notes and get out of there.

In your heart there used to live a compassionate, gentle spirit who enjoyed caring for patients.  S/he felt called to medicine, and worked with genuine enthusiasm – where did this spirit go?  Its necessary habitat is dwindling, endangering survival.

Once a strong population, this physician species itself is declining.  People tell stories of having seen such individuals long ago, but are there current sightings?  Do any still live?

Yes!

I am one of the optimists, knowing that the Soul of Medicine does live – even when in the background. I seek this with passion, tenacity, and openness. Physicians embodying it can be covert, remaining in the underbrush for fear of being ridiculed
or worse.  However, with enough care and attentiveness, hearts and souls can be revived so that it’s safe to come out.

What habitat do we need to preserve, so the Soul of Medicine can flourish? Community, forgiveness, and regular doses of joy might be a start.  This would be accompanied by firm individual hold on boundaries – each of us knows the time and
circumstances required for our best work and most fulfilling life.

Connection with Spirit in our own personal way might help also.  Learning to accept ourselves and each other with kindness and respect would further replenish us.  How else but well-rested, supported, and fed, can we offer ourselves to patients needing
care?   We end up flailing with beaks and claws to escape, otherwise.  An alternative might be numbness, an equally dire outcome.

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker embodies 2 archetypal poles at once: extinction and lost glory on one end, perennial hope on the other.  Thanks to a team of committed and cooperating seekers, it flies exuberantly into our awareness — live, noisy, and
vibrantly real.

This robust vitality defies pronouncements of death.   And yet, what might have happened if that first kayaker had not appreciated what he was seeing, that beautiful day in the swamp?

“I thought, ‘It’s extinct.  You can’t see an extinct bird.’  I knew it was impossible, but there it was.  It was the most wondrous thing that’s ever happened in my life.” [Gene Sparling, that intrepid kayaker] **

I believe it can be likewise for us as physicians, and for the Soul of Medicine.  Each of us needs to trust, acknowledge, and appreciate what we find within ourselves – even if it seems fleeting.    Meeting in small, intimate groups such as Dr. Rachel Remen’s Finding Meaning in Medicine and others is a way to renew ourselves, and to collectively nurture needed habitat.  Carrying metaphorical or even tangible binoculars helps too – we can be open to the miraculous, despite what’s called “impossible”.

Are we anything like this mythical woodpecker who survived in a swamp?  Can we transfer this Ivory-billed hope to our profession and those we serve?  Lord God, what a bird!  And Lord God, I believe we can.

*Hoose, Phillip: The Race to Save the Lord God Bird.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004.
** Weidensaul S: The ivory-bill and its forest breathe new life.  Nature Conservancy, Summer 2005, pp 22-31.

Let’s talk about stevia

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So much to post, so little time.  Well, gotta start somewhere, and although this is not anywhere near the top of my list of recent concerns, I happen to be thinking about it tonight.

We’ve all heard a lot about stevia lately.  It’s a natural sweetener used for ages by South Americans and decades in Japan.  It’s touted as a healthy sugar substitute, and indeed, it appears to be – from beneficial influences on diabetes and hypoglycemia to dental health to blood pressure regulation to obesity to osteoporosis.  Like xylitol, it appears to retard the growth of oral bacteria associated with plaque and tooth decay.  I’m not entirely sure how effective it is for these purposes, but one thing appears plausible: its general safety.

So, let’s all go out and get our stevia!

Wait a minute.  You know that in the world of industry and processed foods, it could never be that simple, right?  *smirk*

In 1931, a couple of French chemists isolated two glycosides that give stevia leaves their sweet flavor: stevioside and rebaudioside.  Now, stevioside extract has been used in Japan for decades with no known ill effects.  Stevia accounts for 40% of the sweetener market, according to wikipedia.

While not conclusive, it certainly inspires confidence.  You can also use powdered forms of the whole leaf, although these apparently can taste more bitter and have a licorice-like aftertaste.  However, this article has some helpful tips on how to be sure you’re purchasing high-quality stevioside, which should result in minimal aftertaste and bitterness.  (The author of this article sells stevioside powder and therefore is not unbiased, but the information is compelling, anyhow.)

As stevioside is not a whole food product, I have questions regarding how it is extracted from the leaves – I read somewhere that it can be done chemically with ethanol or methanol.  Ewww.  But it can also be done with water extraction (score!).  According to the article above, many producers add impurities such as fillers (starch), maltodextrin (to cut the bitter taste of lower-grade products), or even silica!  Wow.  Bet that’s not listed on the label.

Now let’s talk a little bit about rebaudioside.  Rebaudioside-A is the form marketed as Truevia (a Coca-Cola product) and PureVia (a Pepsi Co. product).  It is also called Reb-A and rebiana.  Be aware that these products are not actually natural stevia!  As is the case with the vast majority of processed foods, a natural product is modified and or extracted chemically, combined with other substances (in the case of PureVia, erythritol, a sugar alcohol used to cover up the bitter flavor, and “natural flavor,” which is basically a carte blanche from the FDA to add whatever the hell they want without having to disclose it) – and then, believe it or not, legally allowed to call their product “all natural.”  You see, there is ZERO regulation on the use of the word “natural” in food marketing and labeling.  I could shit in a jar, mix in some NutraSweet, and label it all natural.  (Of course, it would, indeed, be “all natural”  if I refrained from adding the chemicals to it… well, assuming I ate a natural diet, which is damn near impossible in the United States… which leads to another point – just cuz it’s “natural” doesn’t mean it’s something you want to put in or on your body.)

Studies suggest that Reb-A may have some effects OPPOSITE to stevioside – namely, that it may contribute to osteoporosis rather than help prevent/resolve it.  The two compounds also behave differently in the body – they are metabolized at different rates.  These are clearly not equivalent substances.

Even so, Reb-A appears to be a safer bet compared with artificial sweeteners like aspartame (NutraSweet) and sucralose (Splenda).  At least Dr. Mercola thinks so.  Personally, I am going to be on the lookout for a high-quality source of stevia leaf powder and/or stevioside extracted with water.  Might I occasionally indulge in a Reb-A product?  Sure… probably… but not if I have a choice between that and the forms I just mentioned.

Part of the reason I may not have the choice I just mentioned is due to the way the FDA operates.  Hang on to your shorts, dear readers, this is another example of what’s wrong with the FDA and why they are not to be trusted.

Stevia – natural stevia – WHOLE stevia leaf, as well as stevioside – were banned as food additives in 2007, deemed “unsafe.”  Despite 1500 years of use in parts of the world and decades in Japan, the FDA took it off the market in response to some research done on rats with exceptionally high amounts of Stevia (form unknown – I wouldn’t be surprised if the original research didn’t even bother to distinguish how the substance was processed or what additives might have been present – although I admit I haven’t looked up the studies to read them in detail).

Now, don’t get me wrong – if it was the way of the FDA to ensure reasonable safety prior to allowing foodstuffs on the market, that would be one thing.  Except they are notoriously poor on this count.  Take their recent stance on BPA as just one of numerous examples.  The FDA historically have not had a problem allowing industry to use the population as guinea pigs whilst they take years to complete their analyses… they’d rather err on the side of the industries with powerful lobbies in Washington.

And this is what the stevia issue is ultimately about.  Stevia is a natural substance.  Therefore, it cannot be patented.  Many believe (and I’m inclined to agree) that the banning of stevia was effectively a trade limitation presented to the artificial sweetener industry in a nice gift-wrapped package with a big ol’ bow on top.  However, the irony comes in with the recognition that stevia has been available commercially since 2007.  As a “supplement.”  That means you can buy stevia by itself but not as a part of any food.  And it can’t be marketed as a food or a sweetener.  Interesting, no?

If you weren’t already aware, the FDA treats “food” and “supplements” completely differently, even though both are ingested.  There are problems and blessings inherent in this huge inconsistency.  The problem is that unscrupulous manufacturers can market and sell whatever they want to whomever they want for whatever reason – and not have to prove safety, bioavailability, or purity.  But the flip side is that, currently, it is often the only way legitimate products that the FDA is trying to block for their own unscrupulous reasons, can be made available to the public.  If you weren’t aware of this issue, you are now, and there is really only one thing to say: BUYER BEWARE.

But back to Reb-A – although the sweetener is NOT natural, NOT supported by long-term use, and in fact, chemically processed, the FDA considers it to be “safe” and has approved it as a food product.

*scratches head*

You too?

So, this is why I may occasionally succumb to the temptation to consume Reb-A in it’s various forms.  If I have a choice between (for example) a drink sweetened with NutraSweet and one sweetened with Reb-A, I’ll take my chances with Reb-A.  Unlike coffee, most items bought in stores or ordered at a restaurant don’t come with an “unsweetened” option – and let’s face it, I’m not likely to carry around my shaker of water-extracted stevioside powder.  I could be talked into it if I had the chance to substitute it for other sweeteners, but seeing as I’m not a coffee drinker, the action is of limited usefulness.

In short, I am happy to have either form of stevia available, as it appears a wise choice than more established, demonstratedly more toxic options.  I am also quite content to use sugar alcohols occasionally, although extraction methods are also a concern with these natural substances.  In our culture today, sometimes your choice is between uncertain and certainly worse.

Thanks to the authors of these articles, as well as those linked above:

http://www.myqute.com/2009/04/roundup-aspartame-splenda-sucralose-saccharin-stevia/

http://www.stevia.com/Stevia_Article.aspx?Id=2269

Let’s talk about Big Farm, Big Pharm, and BPA

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Sorry I haven’t gotten to posting the Ning alternatives yet, my varied and few readers.  😉

But while I’m trying to get time to publish the list I’ve compiled, let me ask you this:

How is Big Pharm like Big Farm?

I’m seeing a distinct connection.

I started thinking about this when I read the following on wikipedia regarding the Weston A. Price Foundation:

Much criticism of the foundation stem from whether one should obtain nutritional information from a group whose members include “many farmers” who directly benefit from the information the foundation promotes.

Excuse me a moment.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAA!!!

Srsly, folks?  Doesn’t this strike you as funny?

Weston A. Price Foundation supports SMALL, LOCAL farmers who provide natural, whole, raw foods.  The FDA and USDA, on the other hand, support BIG AGRIBUSINESS.

Who would you rather trust, generally speaking?  Those hard at work in their own communities to provide traditional dietary choices in the form of unprocessed organic food – or those with national or multi-national interests that offer highly-processed, chemically-laden, genetically- modified, mass-distributed quasi-food?

Hmmmm….

But back to my original question:

How is Big Pharm like Big Farm?

Perhaps the answer is obvious.  U.S. Government politics are supported by big industry – pharma and food/farm lobbies both.  To connect the dots even more concretely, just to illustrate the happy harmony enjoyed by those involved: Big Farm *supports* Big Pharm… and both are supported by U.S. politicians.

It goes something like this. Big Farm contributes to an increasingly compromised food supply of non-nutritive, low-nutrition, and quasi-nutritive foodstuffs, usually overly processed and filled with artificial ingredients either known or suspected to cause harm, some of the most common being endocrine and brain dysfunction. Additionally, very little of it is grown sustainably, most of it is laden with chemicals added during the growing process and grown in soils with run-off from the wastes of grain-fed livestock (read: E. coli), and a lot of it is genetically modified to make life easier and more profitable for the growers and manufacturers, even when doing so compromises nutrition and sustainability.

The vast majority of food available to the vast majority of people at affordable prices is the food mentioned above. As we become more and more innundated with this type of food, we observe more and more health problems, from obesity and diabetes to mood disorders, autism, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and various autoimmune disorders that have risen in incidence dramatically as we’ve seen this shift in our food supply. Instead of addressing the root causes for these epidemics (of which our food supply is a major one), we turn to Big Pharma to give us pills that fix our ills. Now, don’t get me wrong – some of what Big Pharma provides is nothing short of miraculous. But much of it is a tiny band-aid on a hemorrhaging limb, and there is little concern for treating the underlying issues or investigating stuff that can’t be patented (then tweaked slightly in a few years to invent a new chemical that does the same thing but is so much “better” than the old chemical that has since gone off patent).

So, you see, Big Farm supports Big Pharma rather nicely. If you think the FDA has any interest in supporting your interests over the interests of either of these two, I’d like to suggest that you pull your head out of the sand and start reading up on exactly what the FDA does and for whom.

Let’s consider and illustrative example.  I find the FDA’s current stance on BPA quite interesting:

…[O]n the basis of results from recent studies using novel approaches to test for subtle effects, both the National Toxicology Program at the National Institutes of Health and FDA have some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and young children.

…FDA is …supporting recommendations from the Department of Health and Human Services for infant feeding and food preparation to reduce exposure to BPA.

FDA is not recommending that families change the use of infant formula or foods, as the benefit of a stable source of good nutrition outweighs the potential risk from BPA exposure.

Say what?

Keep in mind that we only get to this level of “progress” when we have overwhelming evidence of risk – even then, it’s not enough to reign in the big guys – we wouldn’t want to inconvenience them any.  Reworded, the official stance of the FDA:

Parents – sure, do your best to limit your childrens’ exposure to BPA.  Just don’t expect us to help you by insisting manufacturers of baby food and infant formula cease and desist use of potentially hazardous substances that disrupt the functioning of your childrens’ BRAINS and GLANDS, even though we stand by our opinion that these foods are vital for your child’s nutrition (and paradoxically use this belief to JUSTIFY not compelling reform, as much sense as that makes).  We’ll think about it if it is deemed FOR SURE risky when our studies are complete.  Long after your children are grown.  Maybe.

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