Are you getting the (health)Care that you deserve?

Do I have a story for you!  I think you will resonate with it.
 
This is about two medical doctor interactions that I recently had.
One demonstrates a “don’t do this”.
The other “do this”, for me and how I approach my health.
 
This story’s also about:
What it’s like to challenge the accepted norms.
What I look for (and most importantly: avoid!) in any kind of healthcare provider – from a massage therapist, to an acupuncturist, to a general practitioner, and so on.
 
This path, life, isn’t always the easiest.
But it is definitely made easier with community, sharing, and knowing that you are not alone.
And boy do I have some doozy stories from years gone by.
 
This is the first of what may be many “healing journey” stories. It’s time to share with you what my story has been so far. About what’s possible when you step on this path. Then, you can understand not just who I am, but why I work the way I do. How I started on this path, and the myriad twists and turns. Also, maybe, about that one time I did a liver cleanse and had a job interview moved up a week that I went to, reeking of garlic and who knows what else…
 
I’ll share what I’ve learned, and where I’m at now.
(Spoiler alert: BETTER THAN EVER! GETTING BETTER EVERY DAY! Yep, all caps for that one.)
 
Ready? Let’s dive in!

Last week I had a really, truly, crappy experience with my general practitioner (GP) at my annual physical.  I went so that I could keep an eye on certain blood markers, and so I could have an emergency-use (for migraines) prescription refilled.
 
This experience reached peak terrible around how to “treat” my thyroid condition.  I left the appointment feeling bullied.
Like worse than Mean Girls bullying bullied.
 
This GP berated me for not wanting to medicate thyroid medication. And…
 
For not needing thyroid medication to manage my Hashimoto’s thyroiditis in the first place.
 
And then she questioned my endocrinologist (the one doctor I see very regularly), and suggested that I was some sort of irresponsible person for, gasp, not wanting to take unnecessary medication.
 
I know I don’t need this medication because I see my endocrinologist several times a year, closely monitor my health between observation and lab work, and discuss the entirety of my health-life with my endocrinologist at my appointments.
 
Did the GP ask me these things?
 
No.
 
And here’s the thing that had me all worked up the entire weekend:
 
Patients should not be bullied or made to feel bad, or infused with fear, over how they are managing their chronic conditions. Especially when they are a success story.  And even moreso if they are struggling!!!
 
Being educated about one’s condition should be considered a GOOD thing. Not something seen as a liability, a form of defiance or combativeness.
 
Successfully managed chronic conditions should not be weaponized against the patient.
Heck, no doctor should be weaponizing a patient’s health and health-history in the first place!
 
How the GP acted and reacted is not how medicine (of any kind) should be practiced. Period.
 
Medicine is about doing no harm.
 
It’s about bringing people to more health through compassion, and care, not through bullying and shame.
 
Doctors should not be saying, “you are here so I can fix you” to a patient with long-term, complex, chronic conditions.  Especially not without engaging in more inquiry about the situation, person, and so on.
 
Or, I don’t know, asking if the patient wants to, or feels they need, “fixing” to begin with?
 
This is especially true when that person sees you once a year or less for a 15 minutes appointment.
 
This approach is not only downright arrogant. It’s harmful.
 
Everything I have experienced on my long health-journey tells me that true health and wellness is not rooted in arrogance.
 
Acting from such an arrogant place severs the bonds of trust between patient and practitioner, between the medicine and the potential benefactor (the patient)…
 
Arrogance is also a barrier between myself and my own wellness. Between me and the world. Between me and God/Source/Universe/Spirit. Between me and love. Me and others. (Gosh, any time I’ve gotten arrogant about anything in my life, it has done nothing but cause harm!)
 
Arrogance severs and prevents connections.
 

This interaction exemplifies why I said, “screw this” and began turning to “alternative” medicine 18 years ago.

It’s why I enrolled in a clinical herbal program when my health was in the toilet.

I knew there had to be another way. 

On the other end of this spectrum with a medical doctor…
 
I had a wonderful recent experience with my endocrinologist.
At our last appointment, I challenged a recommendation of hers and said I was more comfortable approaching this recommendation from a different angle. We discussed it, and she said, “sure, if that’s what you want to do. Just know, this delays any measures we can take until this testing is done.”
 
I was fine with that. My endocrinologist was too. She got it.
 
When I told my endocrinologist about my GP visit, she rolled her eyes. My endocrinologist assured me that what I said to the doctor was SPOT ON regarding thyroid health, treatment, labs, and so on, that I wished I could have hugged her.  I was so relieved.
My endocrinologist and I talked about my lab results, how I’m feeling, what’s going on with me outside of the labwork health-wise. Oh, and that recommendation that we shifted to testing first so I was more comfortable?  Yeaup: didn’t need to do anything.
At the end of the appointment, she said, “well, your labs look great! See you in six (6!) months! Keep up the good work!” Can’t argue with that. (This is the first time that she’s said see you in 6 months since we started working together. Usually it is one, two, or three…)
 
As you know, I spent the weekend in a tizzy over how my GP talked to me last week, and this appointment was just what I needed.
Speaking up pays off.
 
 
It’s really hard for me to “stand up for myself”, to stay rooted in myself, when there is a huge conflict such as my appointment last week.
I’m getting better at it, but this is a huge challenge for me.
Advocating for yourself is not easy. 
 
You have to educate yourself and then advocate for your health needs.  You have to remember that you are the expert of your health, that you know you best.  You have to observe how you feel, what works for you, what doesn’t, and act accordingly.
 
This is especially true if you have a complex chronic health condition, or multiple conditions. Or don’t want to be taking medication when a dietary change will do.  Or, if you want to be the gorgeous self-empowered human that you are!
 
Self-advocacy is the key to well-being.
Self-advocacy is what gets you eating those vegetables.
Telling your practitioner, “that’s not going to work for me because…”
Getting out and exercising because you know you feel better when you do.
Getting enough sleep every night.
Not eating that food that you know aggravates your health condition.
 
We all need and deserve a care team that honors our lived experience.
 
You deserve someone who understands that you are unique, that your experiences are your own, and that there is so much healing that can happen simply by working with the whole picture.
For me, having a care-team involves not just “alternative” practitioners and practices, but the standard allopathic ones as well.  I know what I get from each practitioner and how it fits together, but it took me 18 years (holy moly, I still can’t get over that) to get here. 
For you, and your team, the bigger picture will be different.
No matter what your picture looks like, in the end…
 
All that matters is that you are getting the care that you deserve.
 
Self-advocacy and being health-empowered help you winnow out the people who are not right for your care team.
 
The process can be exhausting. Enraging and frustrating.
It can leave you feeling unheard, invalidated, dismissed, bullied, “fired”… I’ve been there.   I’ve been fired by doctors on more than one occasion.  Yet, all this has been worth it.
 
It’s worth it because ME and MY HEALTH are worth it.
 
If all you have is one person who “gets it” – that can make a world of difference.
 

That’s whats taken me to the next step, on more than one occasion!

How are you taking your next step towards living a health-empowered life?

Safety Within

Well… here we are.  In NY, it is week 10 of shelter-in-place.

No matter your particular situation:  How are you doing?

How are you feeling: physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually?

Have you been learning new things about yourself, your life, your world?

Discovering challenging things, uncovering pearls of wisdom or inner gifts? 

Do you have things coming up from a long time ago, asking to be released, held, healed?  

Are you experiencing new feelings, or feelings that you would typically work to avoid, ignore or otherwise deny?

Are you working with this time?  Are you fighting this time?  Is this time a boon or a bane? Both a boon and a bane?


I’ve had my share of “ups” and “downs” throughout these past few months.  Today, as I post this, I’m longing for living life differently than I have been, in a place different from where I am because without the things that keep me “here”, I want to be “there”.

I’ve written and re-written this post for several weeks, because this liminal space is… uncharted. It’s, wild. There are no paths to follow. Only the experience of the moment. (And maybe even a cup of tea or two too…)

Here in this moment, I have felt a great sense of stability amidst the chaos and uncertainty of the world, and a sense of blossoming like I’ve not felt before.  It’s as if I’ve been on the open ocean for so long, that I see there’s something on the horizon, I just can’t quite make out what that something is yet. It is exciting, and scary. This is amidst the pain, suffering and grief throughout what is currently happening the world over.

I’ve been tapping into some core feelings that I’ve not been able to make space for – and that in and of itself is a great gift even if opening it seems to leave scratches, like walking through a rose or berry thicket.  

This time feels like a holding, an awareness, of both the blossom and the thorn.

Yet, just like wrapped gifts and roses and berries, there are treasures if we persevere through the uncertain parts; only if we stop, if we take a moment, a breath, and watch what’s happening. If you stop in a blackberry thicket, you cease to get pricked and scratched and seemingly grabbed and held ferociously by the thorns and canes. You can feel a sense of calm within this wildly thorny place. We can possibly safe in this, if we let ourselves.


As a survivor of domestic abuse, the survivor of workplace emotional and psychological abuse, and the spouse of a recovering alcoholic, I can without a doubt say that none of this, and I mean none of this, is fully accessible without a sense of environmental safety. If you are not safe in your home, are living with an abuser or in an otherwise abusive environment, getting yourself safe is your top priority. You deserve to be safe so that you can grow and thrive as who you are meant to be and who you truly are. If you are in an unsafe position, please refer to the resources below.

Here’s how I see it. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can grow or heal without feeling safe, without feeling held and nurtured.  Seeds don’t grow until they’ve found their home in the soil, on a tree limb, in the water, etc.  We all have seen plants growing in the scarcest of conditions, but there the seeds have landed, with conditions that are “good enough” for them to take their chance at thriving during their time on Earth. 


From my years of undergoing therapy for PTSD, the very first order of business was establishing a sense of inner safety where my body did not feel like it was spinning out of control, or on hyper vigilance mode all the time.

I didn’t know what it meant to feel relaxed and safe in my body for more than a short time until this past fall. Making safe havens within ourselves takes time. Much like the formation of earth, sand, trees, patience – or the willingness to keep returning to these practices with the tenacity of a tree growing in a sliver of a sidewalk crack- is required.

My vision of safety is not living in a utopian dreamworld, where everything is our idea of perfection or consistent certainty. This is obviously not the safety such as in greenhouse uber-controlled conditions where the soil, humidity, water, light, and nutrient conditions are closely monitored.


Safety is that which we know within ourselves, that we can look within and feel a sense of inner trust, compassion and a general feeling of “I’ve got this”. It’s courageous stuff, especially as a woman in this society who is told all sorts of things about who I am supposed to be, what I am supposed to want, how I’m supposed to behave, and what relationships I’m supposed to have.

It’s hard to feel “safe” when the world-at-large is telling you that you are not to be trusted: that who you are and what you want is somehow not acceptable or good enough. It is hard to feel safe when you don’t know what you are coming home to after work. It’s hard to feel safe when you work in an abusive work environment.


It starts small: making one promise to myself every day (this started with meditating daily), and has grown from there.***

From these small acts, we cultivate safety that becomes trusting oneself in the wildness that is living life.  This wilderness is the ground upon which we stand in the here and now.  This wilderness is filled with all sorts of interesting things to navigate along the individual’s path – and each path’s terrain is different. This can be the place where we explore in meditation (and other internal practices), in our creative work, in therapy/self-exploration, in our physical world, and in our relationships – but only if we dare to learn the terrain that is our inner world. 

We learn what is predictable, what is unpredictable, what season or cycle we may be in, and where we fit into it.  We can let go of our notion of control: control over our environment, thoughts, finances, relationships, and so on. We can return to ourselves, and learn to trust in who we are and our place in the world.

We learn that big, traumatic, things can happen and we can still feel safely held by ourself, the world, you name it and that we can be true to ourselves and navigate these waters. That even amidst great upheaval, there can be growth, healing, expansion into the deeper self because of this feeling of holding, of inherent safety within our beings. This feeling can be touched upon and returned to repeatedly.


This sensation of being safely held and returning to who we are is connection to the Dao, Universe, Heavens, God, Spirit, Gaia, Great Mystery, etc. I don’t really have a word for it, and I know of some people who call it magic. We feel held within this connection by our Yīn.

Yet, in our society today, we are very Yáng focused. Yáng is described below in detail, but it is outwardly moving, bright, heat, and loud. Yáng has taken over our world, and this is a big reason why we are seeing climate change: the balance between Yīn and Yáng is terribly off. Instead of an ice-age of Yīn, we will have a heat-age of Yáng. We are already in this transition, and if we do not cultivate the balance within ourselves and society (and our treatment of the natural world) through Yīn, our whole world will collapse.


Yīn (陰) is the female principle in the Yīn -Yáng dynamic.

Yīn is defined as the following: shade, shadow, cold-lit, dark(ness), dim(ly), north side of a mountain, south side of a river (especially regarding place names), cold(ness), inactivity, declining strength, seasons of autumn and winter, cool vapors and aura of autumn and winter, cold wind (especially north wind), feminine principle (opposite of a Yáng), associated with the moon, earth, darkness, cold, weakness, softness, hiddenness, latency, stillness, etc.; the broken lines in Yijing hexagrams, symbolic of the number 6 as the most fully Yīn of the nine fundamental numerals, below the surface, secretive, out of sight, retract(ed), suggest(ion), intimation, innuendo, pertaining to the reproductive organs.[1] 

Yīn Organs in Chinese Medicine are those that hold the vital energies and spirits: the Heart and Pericardium hold the Shen (our life spirit), the Liver holds the Hun (creative spirit), the Spleen holds the Yi (our integrity), the Lungs hold the Po (our instinctive-animal spirit), and the Kidneys hold the Zhi (our innate wise spirit).


Neat factoid:

There is also a variation in pinyin spelling (yìn) that utilizes the same character set that means: afford shelter, protect, benefit, cover over, conceal, hide.[2]


Yáng (陽) , on the other hand, embodies brilliance, light, the south side of a mountain, warmth, lively, full of life, the seasons of spring and summer, superficial, surface, the masculine principle that is comprised of the sun, heaven, light, warmth, strength, hardness, height, mastery, potency action.[3] 

Yáng Organs are the organs that move internally and externally: Small Intestine and Triple Warmer move food and the heating-cooling fluids of the body, the Gallbladder moves bile, the Stomach moves food, the Large Intestine moves waste material, and the Bladder moves water.


With our enforced yìn-Yīn time here in the United States (during the shift from the Yīn to the Yáng time of year at that!), we are afforded the opportunity that we no longer get during autumn and winter: a time for stillness, to peer into our inner stillness and shadows. 

This is, of course, terribly poor timing for all we want to do is be out in the world being active and we’re forced to remain within ourselves and our homes (however that may look for you).  It’s no wonder that as these weeks continue on we may be feeling stagnant. This is the time of year that we move all that’s been accumulated during the winter into action.

Yet, I see this yìn time in that we have the opportunity to shine the Yáng light into the Yīn darkness that all too often are unable to do. This is where this time can be a boon – but again, only if we already feel some sense of safety, some kind of holding. And, as I previously stated, for a lot of us, that’s just not the norm and that needs to come first.


This is only possible if we have that safety, that feeling of being held.

The Uncertainty guide offers practices which open you up to your inherent way of being. To help you learn to feel safe in yourself again.

Once you have that…

the Fire that’s in your Heart can shine like the sun into the depths of your being, allowing you to discover your unique treasures and gifts. You can transform through this uncovering what you’ve taken on that is no longer useful. You can courageously move through your fear and create what the Ancients call: wisdom, benevolence, integrity, rightousness, and propriety.

Stay tuned for more on these transformations!


References:

[1] A Student’s Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese by Paul W. Kroll

[2] In A Student’s Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese by Paul W. Kroll,

[3] In A Student’s Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese by Paul W. Kroll,

[4] Lonny Jarrett, Nourishing Destiny, pg 153

[5] Larre and Rochat de la Valle, The Seven Emotions, pg 95

_________

Resources:
***The Holistic Psychologist is a great resource on Instagram, YouTube and her Inner Circle group for clear instructions on how to help you return to yourself. I wish she was around when I started my journey years ago, because everything she discusses is what I’ve explored and her work is just phenomenal. Simple, clear, to the point.

Resources on Domestic Abuse, Alcohol Abuse, and other:

If you are a domestic abuse survivor, FreeFrom seeks to provide opportunities for income generation and independence: http://www.freefrom.org/

CapitalOne Bank offers online accounts without receiving paper mail. This is a great option for you to squirrel money into in case you need it. You can use ATM’s with your debit card to make cash deposits. Here’s the link to the free checking account: https://apply.capitalone.com/index.html#/getting-started?productId=4000&Product=360Bank

ProtonMail is free encrypted email: https://protonmail.com/signup

Domestic Violence Hotline: https://www.thehotline.org/help/

Futures without Violence: https://www.futureswithoutviolence.org/get-updates-information-covid-19/

If someone in your household is abusing substances and you have no recourse to leave, Al Anon may be of help in helping you get through this time. https://al-anon.org/al-anon-meetings/electronic-meetings/

If Alanon is not for you, there are other 12-step type options.

Speaking with a therapist (which should be free of copays at the moment) may help you during this time as well.

Living with a Brave Heart

When we begin our own healing journeys, it’s scary to dive in and make all of the changes that are requested, if not outright demanded.

We don’t know what we might become, or how our lives will change – will we be better, worse, lonely, more connected, joyful, or angry? It is what keeps a lot of people, including myself at times, from taking the leap.

I wanted to share a story that may help you if you are afraid of taking the leap.

It isn’t about eliminating food from your diet, adding in a regimen of herbs, making sweeping exercise changes (or additions), or anything like that.

It’s about how we connect what we want to do and become, with who we are right now, and those paths and bridges in between.

The other night I was having a conversation with my husband, it was about people who talk about doing things, and people who do the things they talk about. I want to be in the latter category, with everything in my life, because I want that kind of integrity and to develop that kind of character. To be someone who knows that what they say is what they do, and vice versa.

I do my best to practice this with my diet, exercise, sleep, meditation (over 600 days of daily meditation and going strong!), relationships (self, and others) and with other things in my life – without making excuses for my behavior.

I’m not perfect: I’ve slacked on exercise this past year because I’ve been so impassioned with my violin, and thus regained a few pounds that I had lost – but you know what? I’m still finding the balance between practicing the violin and practicing body movement. (Tangent: I think it might always be a juggling act, we all only have so much time in a day and so much energy. I figure, the more I can cultivate in my life, the more I can do and give and partake in, and the more filled and happy I can be.)

Then I remembered an adage that I’ve been quoting for a while: that if I’m afraid to do something, I’m going to go ahead and do it – especially if it is somethign I’ve always wanted to do or feel particularly compelled to do.

I don’t want to spend my life being so afraid that I don’t get to do any of the things that I want to do and wind up not feeling like I’ve experienced what I wanted to in life.

I think of my grandmother, who passed away three years ago, and how all she ever wanted to do was go to Hawaii. She never got there because she was afraid of airplanes and boats. I vowed that I would not let that happen to myself, as much as I can take responsibility for what I do, I will do my best to work through those fears and excuses. (Now, there are very, very valid fears out there, and I’m not condoning dangerous behavior or behavior/actions where you do not feel safe!)

Since before I started playing violin again, I talked and talked about how if I started playing again I wanted to learn “this piece of music”.

When I first heard it, it gave me goosebumps, brought a smile to my face and caught my breath. I thought, “oh to be able to move others how I’ve been moved, to play with that finesse, sense of freedom and boldness.” Months and months went by, I was talking but not doing – mostly because I didn’t have the technical ability to do, but…

I’ve been learning a new piece of music for the past couple of months: “this piece of music”.  I have arrived!

This piece is hard, it’s bold, it’s asking me to be brave in a way that I have not been asked with previous music that I’ve been working on since returning to the instrument almost a year ago. I didn’t realize that this music was asking me to be brave, well, it’s demanding it actually, until the other day.

You see, there are multiple chords wherein three or more notes are played at the same time rather quickly in succession and the fingering is tricky. I’d been hesitating in this one section because of the awkwardness between one chord and the next, and then the next two. I saw myself slowing down and being afraid of that one measure of music, as if it were telling me I couldn’t do it. But I’d been practicing this particular section daily for over a month – that’s enough time (say 15 minutes per day, for 30 days – 7.5 hours) and I felt that I must know it by now, enough to trust myself that I could go for it and see what happens.

I dove in, took a deep breath, played it, I went for it, and the world opened up. I didn’t die. My violin didn’t explode. I saw for one moment what I was missing…

By hesitating, mostly through a lack of self-confidence, I was missing what was most important in this piece: a strong heart, filled with conviction and courage, one that lives with the not-knowing that comes with playing music, with living our life “to the fullest”, and stepping into the moment – all the way.

When I in that one moment, dove in, I felt and understood how a flower doesn’t hesitate to open it’s blooms in the summer, or how an ocean wave doesn’t hesitate to crest or crash to the shore, and how lightning isn’t afraid to strike the ground (or a tree).

Playing music can be the same thing, and by playing with a sense of inner strength, I might be able to express some of that to someone else, or at the very least keep developing my sense of inner strength and determination. (I have paralyzing stage and performance fright, as I work through that, I’ll be sure to write another post for you!)

This is the essence of cultivating wisdom (or zhi in Chinese Medicine), to let the Heart’s Shen inspire the flow of life with our intention (yi) sending our energy in a directed manner, despite (or in spite of) the fear that also gets unleashed. Our creative spirit (hun) grows and fruits in concert with all of these other actions to help us manifest our Heart’s desires and dreams. When we cut ourselves off too much (typically the function of an overactive, ill-balanced Metal element metaphorically clear-cutting our life), we feel the grief and loss of connection between ourselves and the world-at-large. We are not able to nurture life in a way that yields the fruits of our labors.

By diving in, by overcoming my fear – or rather taking action alongside my fear, not because of it – I saw that there was nothing stopping me but myself. My Heart-Kidney connection (the shen-zhi connection) was restored, and since then I feel like maybe, just maybe, something has shifted in my playing.

I don’t know that I’ll ever think that my playing is any good, or something to be admired in any way, but I now feel that maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to set my fears aside long enough to do some justice to the pieces of music that deeply move me. Maybe this will fuel future actions where I’ll be able to walk alongside my fear without being rattled by it (like play in front of others).

Maybe you will be inspired to walk with your fear, so that you can do something your heart is calling you to do. If you are, please share what you did and how you felt in the comments below, or email me. It doesn’t matter if it was a big leap or a small step – every little step brings you closer to your goal: the more fruitful, deeper and truer connection to yourself.

And last but not least:

APOTHECARY OFFER!
If you want some herbal assistance in helping you make these types of connections, I’m offering a special package, a short and sweet 30 minute consult, and includes one 2oz bottle of customized Tug Hill Herbals tincture, shipping not included.

We’ll talk about what you want to work on from this perspective, and you get to try out what I’m calling a “clearing the way” approach to formula creation.  It is a recent approach, and one that I have received a lot of client-based positive feedback.

If you are interested, send me an email via the contact page and we’ll set something up!

Meditation: Why Bother?

402 consecutive days of meditation: I wonder why I’m bothering tracking it, much less why I am bothering meditating every day regardless of where I am at physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

The tracking of meditation sessions is surely born out of a combination of ego-based satisfaction and accountability.  I fully admit to that.  It feels great to say that I’ve meditated every day for over a year.  Why not be proud of this “accomplishment”?

It would be so so so easy to say, “I don’t feel like meditating today” and not meditate. To have this number creeping higher and higher (along with my funny “prison calendar” of days marked with an orange slash to indicate that I’ve meditated) somehow holds me accountable to keep sitting even when I feel like crap, or plain old have a childish response: but I don’t want to, I don’t have to do this, I don’t feel like it!!!

And really, even with all of these sessions under my belt, my legs still go numb/fall asleep halfway through my session on my zafu, my mind still reels and tries to reel me in, and sometimes I cannot help but be caught – until I catch myself and let go.

Sometimes I’m so exhausted in the morning (or evening) and I fall asleep, and sometimes just before the timer goes off I really let go for a split second and I sigh in frustration over the session’s end.

Other times I let go right away, and my mind creeps in and holds on for such dear life that it’s like I’m a sinking ship and the rats of my mind keep clawing towards higher ground.

So, just like life, meditation has its “ups and downs” because it is what it is, and that’s that. It truly is what we make of it.

I’m applying these principles to other aspects of my life right now: daily violin practice. On Saturday I had a headache, but I had not practiced yet. Lo and behold! I practice for 45 minutes and the headache that I started with vanished within minutes of my practice session. How easy would it have been so say that I didn’t feel well and then not practice? How easy would it be to say, yesterday, that I saw one of the best violinists in the world and “why bother” practicing.

No excuses, show up, do the work, and who knows what beautiful things may happen, what I may discover, and what I allow myself to be. That’s why I bother to meditate.

Here’s one beautiful thing: my husband telling me that I am sounding so good after my one lesson with my new teacher, and me knowing that this compliment is sincere.

The Too Small Pot: Expand your Roots

 

I have a plant that sits next to my computer. It is in dire need of a larger pot.

In fact, it is so big it is growing up and out of the pot that it is in, yet the leaves are starting to wither.  The plant is starving and dying to grow – it cannot expand its roots thanks to the too small pot.

I cannot help but think of this plant, its too small pot, and the energy that all of us expend to stay rooted in the same ways of doing things.

What holds people (including me) back from taking on more of the life we individually dream?  We all wonder, worry, and fear if this new pot that we want to move to is not going to be right, a good fit, too big, make us suffer or feel uncomfortable. When we stay rooted in our current situation, we expend an immense amount of energy and complexity involved in maintaining the status quo.

We expend tremendous resources to reroute the energy that should be expanding outside of the status quo, growing into something new, and end up expressing this energy in unconstructive ways that ultimately hold us back.  In doing so, we resist the deep inner call to step outside of our self-limited spaces.

We get angry, irritable, depressed, anxious, downtrodden, and listless. We can develop strange symptoms that are seemingly unrelated, and can make ourselves crazy with chasing one thing after the next after the next. Have periods that are painful, outbursts of anger, or mood swings with insomnia? Hot-tempered or easily angered in situations that are not going according to plan, or running smoothly in general? Have bowel movements that alternate from diarrhea or loose stools to constipation, or belching, abdominal distention, or gurgling in the abdomen? Or, do you feel plain old stuck in life – like there are too many obstacles in your path that you cannot see or work around?

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Are you plain old stuck in a pattern that is no longer working for you?

When was the last time you looked at your roots?

Just like a potted plant or tree that has outgrown its home and is no longer thriving, if you have been in your modus operandi for too long, you may start to feel stifled, frustrated, angry, and have mood swings. If you have been forcing yourself to tap into your reserves of energy (i.e. pushing yourself to keep going even though what you are currently experiencing is no longer nourishing you), it is time for you to consider what sort of pot, soil, land, you are living in and how you are taking care of yourself, is your life taking care of you.

Is your modus operandi too small for the life you want, the life you are living?

Is it time to break out of your too small pot, to expand your roots?

In Chinese medicine, the creative – or Hun- spirit rests in the Liver. Much like life, the Hun and Liver operate on a cycle: sleep-wake, birth-growth-maturity-death; spring-summer-fall-winter; day-night; creation-destruction-creation from the destruction; menstrual cycles; and so on. We, as humans, go through creation cycles just as much as the world around us. The Liver energy is in charge of ensuring that these cycles run smoothly – that no step is missed or out of sync.

If we get out of sync (i.e. stuck in production day-time mode all the time), everything else suffers. We cannot function the way we were intended to, we cannot grow -nor rest- the way we need. We get stuck in a dysfunctional modus operandi.

This energy gets very frustrated when it cannot grow and move the way it needs to – sound familiar to you?

We all have a seed of potential within us that can be nourished and cultivated to manifest fully in our lives. It doesn’t matter if you live in a concrete jungle, or in wild unspoiled terrain – life finds a way to manifest in the smallest cracks, on rock cliffs, even deep in the arctic and the depths of the sea. It is all there, waiting to be nourished and to grow. As one season follows the next, our creative energy (Hun) follows our soul’s spirit (Heart, the Shen) throughout the cycle of life, in a dance between sleep and activity, creation and contemplation.

If we listen to, and follow, our Heart to manifest the potential in our life the Hun will ensure that we have creative solutions and plans to manifest those dreams. I think this is why, when we follow our Heart’s inner call, things seem to fall into place for us. Solutions which once seemed impossible spontaneously manifest, plans come together, teachers appear at the right time, help shows up, we flow and get what we need – all so we can follow our inner call.

Listen deeply, carefully, and sincerely; then make the choice to start, take the first step, the next, and another, and another, ad infinitum. If we are moving forward, toward the dream, the goal, nourishing our inner call and potential, we are unable to stagnate and become root-bound in our too-small pots and lives. The world opens up for us, our roots can grow where they need and we can rise to the occasion free of the exhaustion and frustration of another dead-end or block, free of the feeling that we are stuck in the same patterns of living. You become free, your body and soul open up, take it all in, and uses that energy to catapult you forward.

What is stopping you?

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How To Meditate

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Lately it seems that a lot of talk around me is about meditation.  A client requested that I write a post about meditation and how I practice.   I am striving to write as little as possible about a big subject, and it is indeed a subject that many people have many different viewpoints, techniques and approaches.

Here is a simple guide for “how to meditate”, as taught to me by Lonny Jarrett, and what I have to say with the experience that I have:

Sit straight: sit comfortably cross-legged on the floor (on a pillow, cushion, zafu, etc.).  Sitting so that your hips are above your knees helps a lot.  For those of us who sit a desk all day, this will be a challenge. Keep at it, you will get used to it. (And if you do not, I recommend using the rowing machine/ergometer at the gym to build those back and abdominal muscles!)

Don’t move: that’s right, all you have to do is sit, not move, not scratch your nose or adjust your leg. You have no where to be right now, and no thing to do except sit, and not move.  (Note: if you are in pain, move into a more comfortable position!  Hurting yourself while meditating is not recommended, and it is not a failure if you have to change positions mid-meditation session.)

No relationship: have no relationship to what you are experiencing insofar as your thoughts, your physical sensations, your breathing, your emotions. No matter how many times that argument with your coworker, or the to-do list, keeps appearing, have no response, no relationship to it, do not engage with it.  It is “there” and you are “here”. Your “job” is to witness, to watch it as if you were a stone in a meadow with activity swirling around you. You are there, unmoved by it all. The rock doesn’t think, “oh I really have to make sure to call so and so tomorrow”, or “oh, these thoughts are really annoying, I’m so frustrated”. The rock just is, letting everything around it be as it is, un-moved and without relationship. Everyone has thoughts that move through their mind, creating waves and noise. Waves eventually settle into stillness, noise becomes white (noise) or like rain.

Focus on nothing: just like that stone in a meadow, you have no focus. The rock has no eyes to watch the butterfly, or the clouds, or the plants. Be like the rock: with a focus on nothing. Be like a person in a crowd of people: unable to focus on it all, so you focus on nothing, walking through the crowd. There is always nothingness, no matter how little space there seems to be, there is always a bit of nothing. (Quantum physics, baby!)

Let the mind go: You are walking through a crowd of people, in order to get through the crowd you do not focus on any one person (aka thought, feeling, sensation) and consequently move straight ahead. Making eye contact or engaging with a person in the crowd prevents you from moving forward. Likewise, the rock cannot reach out to engage a bird, or respond to the clouds in the sky. The rock is unperturbed by the activity around it, your no relationship, focus on nothing and letting your mind go has to be like a rock: unmoved, with a focus on nothing and no relationship to whatever comes up, letting everything go.

No judgment: what comes up in your meditation is not to be judged, it does not matter what came up, how “good” or “bad” the meditation was (or is), doing it is the important part. Your meditation is what it is. It is neither good nor bad. Assigning meaning to what comes up says that judgment is being made, remember to choose to let them be meaningless.

Practice every day: no matter what!  Practice every day no matter what, seriously.  No excuses, well, having a high flu-fever is a valid excuse; otherwise, no excuses!  Just do it, sit on that zafu, chair, or lay down and meditate.  You’d be surprised how that twenty minutes or half hour can fly by, or not, depending on your response, or no-response, to the material witnessed. No matter how tired, busy, worn out, congested, lazy, “not feeling like it” you are, no matter the dinner party you just had and you really don’t feel like it because meditating isn’t “fun” and dinner parties are… Just do it.

Remember: the sea is still the sea regardless of the number of waves.  Do not mistake yourself for the waves, you are the sea.

 

This instruction set is by all means not comprehensive, and I am not an “expert”.  I still have many years of practice to go, and even then I would still have many more left.  I’ve read that it takes years to get to a point where these instructions make sense internally.  Still, I show up and practice my meditation every day.  Some days meditation is fantastic, other days it is hard.  The hard days turn out to be the best ones.

 

Contrary to popular opinion, you do not need the following to meditate:

  1. A mantra or fancy breath work
  2. Music or guided meditations
  3. Specific clothing, incense, crystals, or what have you

Let go. Let go of it all, jump off the cliff, break through into nothingness.

Nothingness really isn’t nothingness anyway; it is emptiness, infinity, potential, possibility as yet unmanifested…

Recommendations for getting started:

– Stretch before sitting for your 20-30 minute session, your knees and hips will thank you.

– Get a meditation app (I really like Samsara) and check the volume of your phone before starting. There is nothing more jolting than having a bell ring at full volume.

– Turn all alerts, vibration, notifications, ringers, etc. off your phone if you are using a meditation app!

– Pick the same time every day to meditate, no matter what.

 

That’s it, that is how to meditate!  Anyone can do it, will you?

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Source: WikiCommons

This Much I Know…

When something happens to you, your responsibility is not in that it happened: it’s already happened after all, you cannot change what happened no matter how much you wish you could. Your responsibility is in your choices, actions, decisions and response after the event, now in this moment. What are you going to do with “it”, your Jabberwocky, your captor?

Are you going to dwell on it, turning the event and feelings associated with it over and over in yourself again and again, pocketing it, “forgetting” about it and suddenly feeling called to bring it out and up again? Or, are you going to do the work that must be done because to choose otherwise is to choose captivity?

Choosing to do the work means you will fall, stumble and pick through the rubble, get dirty, pick yourself up with what you know to be true for you, the “you” that is underneath all the crap that life can weigh you with, let your tears wash over you, unchain yourself from your captor, open your eyes, see for yourself what you have been chained to what is no longer serving you, choose to let that go, acknowledge yourself and forge ahead.

When you make the choice to do the work, no matter what has happened to you, or is happening now, you are not alone. There is help, there is support, there is a way out, connection, love, relationships – you are not alone.  No matter how alone you may feel, how isolated, how lacking in resources: you are not alone.

Find helpers (friends, teachers, therapists, acupuncturists, doctors, pets, etc.) who HEAR and SEE you for you.  Your network of support, your safety net, will be able to hold you without putting their shit on you.  This network takes time to weave, it takes care and conscientiousness.  There will be no conditions that you have to be one way or another in order for you to reach out into your network fto get the support that you need. You show up as you are, if it is a tangled mess, if it is glowing and happy, if you are in the pit and need a rope, you are who you are right now and it is okay, all of it: messy, glowing, deep in it… Your helpers will help you find the thread that can start the untangling process, they’ll rejoice in your happiness, they’ll throw a rope to you so you can pull yourself out, they’ll hold you while you cry yourself to sleep, they will be solid when you feel fluid.  They’ll tell you “you will get through this” as many times as you need to hear it.  They will tell you, “I am proud of you for doing this, for working on yourself, for your healing.” Most importantly, your helpers will listen to you and accept you as you are showing you that you are not alone, that you have a team to support you when you need it most.

If someone proclaims to know more of your experience, emotions, feelings, past, etc. than you – they are not your helper. The fact of the matter is, if you are asking your network for help, it is not the helper’s responsibility to place their burdens or to set the conditions/terms on how you should feel or act from one moment to the next. Their feelings, their crap, is not yours. They are not concerned about you, they are concerned with themselves; their Ego and perception of the world is at stake, and they are unable to support you with open arms and hearts. They are the burrs that trap you and prevent you from moving beyond where you are now.  If you have to give, give, give of yourself in order to receive a little bit of support, or if you have to fit yourself into a preconceived box in order to receive support, if you feel like you cannot speak  your truth – it is likely not the kind of support that is truly helpful: unconditional, filled with empathy, caring and compassion.

You do not have to tell anyone what you are going through, you do not have to work with who you are referred to, you don’t even have to confide in your closest friends or family members. It is your choice who you talk to, how much you reveal, and how often you talk.

People who hear and see you for you are those who see the light, the you that is not affected by this thing, the authentic eternal you.  These are the people who know in their heart of hearts that you are still there, needing support and cheer-leading, able to speak the words that make you feel like you are doing it, that you can do it, that you are capable of letting “it” go. Those are the people who can help you, those are the people you should hold tight.  They are priceless gems and treasures, treasures beyond treasures, full of empathy and love, caring, support, and guidance.

Because of this work, you will have to look at yourself and what you have gone through, you will have to process it (body, mind, soul) and do something with it. You will have to take responsibility for yourself and change; change your patterns of behavior and interaction. You will be met with obstacles, landslides, floods, downpours, quakes, fury and fire. You can make it through the storm, through those waves into the calm.

Through therapy and meditation, we start to see ourselves in a new way.  (As I am not a therapist, I will focus on meditation.)  Contrary to popular opinion or assumption, the goal of meditation is not to obtain a state of bliss or nirvana, contentment, happiness or joy. Wouldn’t that be nice?! To be all light with no dark! How do we know we are in light without having dark as a reference, a contrast, a comparison?

Meditation is about sitting, and letting whatever comes come, letting whatever comes go, and witnessing it without judgement (good, bad, right, wrong, fear, happiness, etc.). Meditation is about letting things be as they are, and letting our innate selves… grow.  The body and mind change around us, we do not change and move around them.  Just as a tree is a tree whether it is winter or summer, we are still us whether we are in a swirl of thoughts or a state of calm. Meditation is about embracing and being your choice, your freedom to choose your response, your action, your reaction.

Your mind, your thoughts, are empty, meaningless.  The clarity that emerges, can emerge, sometimes emerges, is what I think some people call “bliss”. To me, it is more of a state of peace and freedom. Freedom because you are no longer chained to your mind, your thoughts, or your feelings. YOU choose how you respond: you don’t jump on board with the runaway train that is your mind to get swept away, or scratch the itch at the end of your nose, do you?  When you love your partner, spouse, friend, child, pet and they do something you don’t like – does it mean you don’t love them? Underneath that layer of frustrated emotion, you still love them, don’t you?  If you feel angry, are YOU angry?  Is that your innate nature, your innate authentic self?

That is what meditation is to me (and what therapy):  underneath all the layers of crap I am me, I am here in this moment and I am discarding the crap that I’ve acquired that isn’t me. Who are you without all of the crap that you have acquired?

This work, this shit, can be hard and messy.  It takes time, effort, consistency, dedication, commitment. If you are being called within your deepest self to resolve your Jabberwocky captor, listen to yourself and do what you can.  You make the decisions, you make the choice, here, now.

Light takes years to move across the universe. And like the universe, we are infinitely small and large; your light is there, just because you cannot see it doesn’t mean you aren’t each moving towards each other right now. You can choose to look up from your “it” and go to the light, or you can let the light pass you by while you keep turning “it” over and over. How long do you want to look at, or run from, your captor and crap?

It will feel like interminable slogging, this work.  It will feel like it is taking “forever”, that you are a failure and a mess, that you are damaged, broken, beyond repair, and you will never get out of your rubble pile. We all have to do this in order to heal, to choose what we must bring with us on the next phase of our journey, to change or disengage from the patterns and behaviors that no longer work for us.  You are not broken, you are not beyond repair, you are not damaged, a failure or a mess – you are pulling yourself out of the rubble, you are becoming more of who you really are.  What a wonderful thing that is!

Time is a funny, subjective, thing: one minute can feel like an hour, and an hour can feel like a minute. Days can drag by, and months seem to disappear. Time is an artifice – ignore the ticking of the clock, allow it to turn into the sound of rain so you can focus on what is most important: your healing.  In the end, this will take as long as it takes, let it wash over you.

There is light on the other side – it may seem like it is at the end of the solar system, but it is there. Whatever your “it” is, “it” is not everything. “It” is something that happened, or is happening, but it is not your totality. “It” is not you. “It” seeks to keep you in its wake, drowning, deprived of the light that is you. Remember that: you may be in the pit or darkness now, but you were once in the light, and you can get reclaim it, to shrug off this veil that has been covering your eyes.

Sometimes we have to go underground, into the belly of our underworld, in order to learn and see that we need to pull ourselves out and get ourselves to a better place. Just like light and dark, if there is an underworld, there is an outer/upper world.

We are, each of us, unique, walking along our own paths, yet we are not alone in having to walk these paths.  We can stay where we are, nestled in and feeling how we feel, or we can fly out and live life, free and with the ability to choose for ourselves how to live, respond, feel. That is the journey.

The journey isn’t the end-game: the award, the diploma, the paycheck, the promotion, the climax of the book, it is what we do each and every day, the choices we make, to become more of who we are. It is tilling the soil of the earth, picking weeds, removing stones, cultivating and yielding the fruits of our labors, only to till the soil again and again, to pick more and more weeds, to remove more stones, to bear fruit time and again. The journey is showing up time after time and doing the work that needs to be done: to be more true to yourself.

Are you ready to get your hands in the earth that is you?

Some Thoughts on Traumatic Discharge and Release

As I delve into learning more about trauma and PTSD, I am learning how the best of intentions can lead a person astray in a regressing or damaging way.  Working through trauma, trauma release, or PTSD, is very scary and exhausting for the person suffering.

Everything feels like it is out of control: the mind, the body, even one’s soul.  A good community/support system is necessary for the person going through this change.  A trauma-informed therapist, especially one who specializes in trauma or PTSD and Somatic Experiencing (or other kinds of somatic therapies), is vitally important during this process.  The last thing you’d want is to work with a therapist who re-triggers the trauma, it is a terrible experience.  It can take time to find the right practitioner to work with, and you may develop a sense of hopelessness, that you’ll never find someone who can help you, but you can: be persistent, don’t give up.

I’ve learned that trauma can re-circulate if not discharged properly.  This re-circulation information has been eye-opening, especially with regards to trauma that releases without guidance from a trained professional (be it Somatic Experiencing, EMDR, acupuncture, etc.).

If the client has no body memory of a calm and happy nervous system, no amount of positive thinking/affirmations, herbs or meditation will help return that nervous system to an optimal state because the energy generated from the trauma needs to be discharged and the nervous system needs to re-learn what “normal” is vs “fight/flight/freeze”.

In TCM, the dictum is “treat what you see”.  I’ll probably get my herbal privileges revoked when I say this but, I’m not convinced of the use of herbs during trauma discharge aside from dampening down symptoms.  If the body has no “normal” memory, the trauma cycle will start up again – I suppose the issue may be time and patience as well as proper care/support, but even so…  I don’t have experience working with clients in this regard and welcome what those who do have to say about this topic.  Acupuncture Today has an article with a few cases, but they only discuss them in 2-4 week spans, what happened to those clients months/years down the line after they ceased taking their herbal protocols?   I don’t know.

So now I’m really questioning the use of herbs with trauma in terms of quelling/calming/adapting/etc. the nervous system, Spirit, adrenals, and so on.  Certainly everything has its time and place of use, but… I’m not sure how they fit into a protocol that involves trauma release when the cycle discharge and re-integration of the healthier nervous system is so important in terms of working with a therapist/acupuncturist who specializes in trauma.  I see where herbs are beneficial after that re-integration, most certainly.

The concept of grounding is very important with regards to working with trauma – and someone who has been recirculating their trauma for months or years can have the illusion that grounding is not possible.  For those who have suffered with trauma all their lives, they may not know what being grounded feels like and need a lot of guidance and support to help reacquaint the mind-body-spirit as an integrated whole.  So grounding via meditation is not necessarily a “safe” option for the person suffering, and other ways have to be employed.  (This is where Qi Gung and Tai Chi might be beneficial, though I do not have experience in with trauma and these practices.)I also feel compelled to state that recommending meditation to someone going through a trauma release is not necessarily the best idea.

There are several factors that need to be taken into consideration, one of the primary being “does this client feel safe in their body?” and “what happens when they close their eyes?”  If they do not feel safe, if when they close their eyes their nervous system takes over and spins them out of control – meditation will not help but in fact make things worse or prevent progress.  Being alone with oneself, when one does not feel safe in the body, is a scary experience.

EFT/tapping (even EMDR style tapping) can create a whole host of problems for someone who is caught in a cycle as well.  The body which is in a highly reactive state can have trouble calming when it is being stimulated by repeat, aka invasive, touches.

I keep thinking about how PTSD and traumatic release/discharge is, possibly, a variant of Vata-disturbance to the extreme (since it involves the nervous system, and the mind is unable to settle); how with TCM, the Qi and Blood are so scattered and disrupted, it creates a situation where the Shen, Zhi and Hun are unable to take up their proper residences and directions at the proper times.  Not to mention what happens to the Yin/Zang Organs of the TCM body in the long term which definitely would benefit from herbal approaches, situation dependent… I’ve written a little bit about that here.

I’m sorry that I don’t have a tidy wrap-up for this post.  I wanted to get these thoughts out since they’ve been rolling around in my head a lot.  There is so much to learn about trauma and PTSD, and my heart goes out to anyone who is suffering as a result.  May you find the help and support that you need, and find the resolution that you deserve.  You are seeking out help and resolution, you are taking care of your body in the way your body is trying to take care of you.