Thursday, August 14, 2014

What is Wrong With Everyone

In my experience - and I am just one little case study - American medicine has it all wrong, much like American Zen.  In both cases, they're really good at some things but miss the big picture.  In the case of Western medicine, it's been preoccupied with fixing people and only now starting to think about how to be healthy.

For big-picture medicine, turn to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or Ayurveda or, I suspect, many other native healing systems.  It is the gift of what we call primitive people that they don't think in terms of the laboratory or the gold-standard study* as Western science does.
*The gold-standard study in medicine can be defined as a study that follows specific protocol,  indicates correlations and possibilities, and concludes by saying more study is needed.
What is that big picture? Context. We are not isolated individuals. We live in environments.

You sometimes saw contextual medicine in action in the TV series House.  Dr. House was a radical misfit who valued his intuition and often sent his team out to search someone's house for toxins and secrets.  He watched family interactions and quizzed family for information. All that stuff was more interesting to him, and the viewing audience, than lab results.

Our context right here now is Weather. It is actually everyone's context, no matter how much time you spend indoors.  Here in mid-America it is high summer - mid-August - and this brings about different problems than mid-winter, which is happening right now in Australia where my sister lives.  (In mid-winter in Australia you actually have to use your space heater!) And there sure is a lot of weather, drought here, flooding there, as if some climate change is happening.

Weather affects people differently depending on their constitutions.  Both TCM and Ayurveda see human beings as made of elements. And so the elements affect them.

In Ayurveda I clock in as a Vata-Pitta, or air-fire person.  The fire in my temperament is easily disturbed.  And oh, August, season of too much ripeness, as you know if you grow tomatoes or zucchini.  August is Too Much. It's not just the heat or humidity, it's the light.  Lately here we've been getting a little relief with small batches of autumn days down from the North Pole or Canada.

Canadian air is nice.  It is fresh and coolish and breezy. But uh-oh, wind is really not good for Vatas, who are made mostly of air. In Chinese medicine there is actually a disorder called "wind devil."  I relate to that.  To prevent it, we are advised to cover the head and neck, that is, wear what my mother called a babushka. This makes you look like an old lady even if you're only 12, not that I care, as I am 71 11/12 years old.  If I did care I could get a special hat.  They even come in Desert Sunrise. It's a thought.

I notice a lot of fire people looking haggard these days, running around in the heat and the noonday sun. So this post is a sort of public service announcement.  If you don't know whether you're air, fire, or earth, Banyan Botanicals has a little test you can take that may indicate more study is needed. They will also sell you various oils and things, which are helpful to me me (I am not paid for this).

They will also advise you on your diet, since you are composed, in part, of what you eat and drink.  Bear in mind that alcohol is sometimes called firewater.  Yes, it is a heating food.  My own diet at the moment includes nothing hot and spicy, no raw onion or garlic, more cucumber and peppermint tea. I have tested this empirically. It is interesting to me that these ancient folk traditions see mood disorders as an imbalance of fire.  Worth investigating, since Western medicine is notoriously poor at managing them.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Lapcat Meditation

Like so many people, I have felt a current of sadness braiding through my day about the death of Robin Williams, which may have been suicide.  We've probably all known someone who committed suicide. The true saying is, It's a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Despair does lift eventually, if you stick around.
Scott [Robinson] Columbus 
Tonight my mind went to a friend who did not kill himself, but died of a massive heart attack at age 49 at a moment when he was in love and loving life.  Just like that.

Scott was in meditation groups with me about ten or twelve years ago.  Like many people with difficult moodswings, he searched for a spiritual practice.  He called me once to talk about his difficulty with sitting meditation. Sitting meditation can be the wrong thing for someone with major depression.  Today I would suggest listening to, becoming, and making music, letting it move your body, being music, but I didn't know that then.  Scott loved his cat, Bartholowmeow.  So I suggested lapcat meditation.  He knew immediately what I meant.

I found myself doing it tonight with Tashi.  I don't hold her on my lap as much as I'd like to because I'm dreadfully allergic to her.  But once in a while she requests it by tentatively coming up on the table or my lap and putting a paw on my shoulder.  She is always polite, looks to see what I think.  I usually let her come up, and then get her down from shoulder to lap.  Later I will take off the clothes she touched and put them in the dryer on air for half an hour, or just wash them.  Also wash face and hands, and do a nasal rinse.  Love is complicated.

We had a very pleasant sit tonight, her on my lap with one hand supporting her underneath and the other stroking her.  The kitchen was getting dim in the twilight, no TV or radio on, the windows closed, only the sound of a train at the Cooke Road crossing.  After a bit I realized I could feel the rise and fall of her breathing in my hands. When I paid closer attention I detected the pulse of her heart as it took the oxygen from her lungs and infused it into her blood, then sent that blood out to the body.

Once during our thirteen years with Sherlock he happened to lie against me in such a way that I felt vividly the entire action of his little heart, all that fast, muscular pumping. It had the effect of filling me with awe at the intricacy of this living thing. So did his death, years later, also on my lap. Rest in peace, loved ones.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Way of Tom, and my Knee

How amazing is that?  I, "a little old lady in tennis shoes" as some jerk once referred to me online, just downloaded that picture directly from my phone.  All self-taught.  These are demanding times.

I once read in a short story by T.C. Boyle that you never recover from anything that happens to your body over the age of 21.  That was a character speaking, but the character was a doctor, and my experience is that he was right.  I suppose my knee will be like that.  It just hurts a little when I walk much, but I have a lot of miscellaneous aches, what's one more?  On the upside, I can hobble around in a brace over a stockinette, as shown, or over long pants (otherwise the brace abrades my skin) and maybe someone will think I got it playing soccer.

I don't usually blog on Sunday. Well, I don't "usually" blog.  And I take Sundays off from everything that feels like work.  That means I don't check e-mail or run the Roomba or go to meetings.  Well, I never go to meetings.  It took me a while to figure out how to do that.

But Tom says that today "a lot of people" asked him after church how my knee was while I slept in.  I love that! That's why I told Kathleen Fowler it was okay to do a caring card for me after I fell, and many people signed it last week.  I looked at it carefully, and appreciate it.  Good PR is important.  And I want to publicly thank Marian Clover for calling Kathleen, who is one of our ministers.

I did have a little thought today, though, so I thought I'd share it in a casual way.  It is a reminder of Reality:  you are influenced by the people you hang around with, including your partner/spouse and your cat.  Or dog, of course. I don't mean to exclude anyone, whatever their animal companion preference might be.

That same cat---look at those eyes, the intense determination to make her Mom's tote bag part of her personal territory---that cat was, as usual, preventing me from changing the tablecloth, which is part of my extensive cat-allergy program.  I was about to raise my voice at her, but then I remembered how Tom solves these things.  I looked around for a ping-pong ball and of course there was one nearbye.  So I picked it up, showed it to Tashi, and whispered, "Get it!" in an exciting tone of voice, the way Tom does, and threw it out of the kitchen.  Cat bounds off the table and goes for the ball.  I get to change the tablecloth.  Bob's your uncle, as the English say.

I thought, This is the Way of Tom.  It's getting something done with the least effort, which is one of those physical principles:  effort is work.  I thought I should note it, because you pick up a lot of bad habits from your spouse, but on the other hand, sometimes you learn something.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Getting Over Their Self

I have been enjoying Jeni's ice cream and thinking about writing a post.  I was touched to find three comments on old posts sitting there, waiting for moderation, going back to July 11. I think notifications are going to my old email, and haven't figured out how to change that.  A couple of people have also told me they tried to comment and couldn't, so I want to get on the forums and see if other bloggers are having that problem.

One of the comments asked me to write on deprogramming from an alcoholic family, which is such an interesting term. Makes you think of what some people did to young people who were sucked into weird cults, I'm thinking back in the seventies.  A reversal of brainwashing. Then again, it's interesting to think of your conditioning as brainwashing. Here is the insight that has helped me recently:  the past does not exist.

Meanwhile, I've been watching the above video of a talk by Thich Nhat Hahn about The Art of Happiness.  Tom liked it a lot when his Zen group watched it, and I like it.  Thay (as he is often called by students, meaning Master) says we can learn how to "make good use of our suffering." Joko Beck called this "Suffer intelligently."  This is where Buddhist teachings are about human psychology, but older and better, and might lead me on in this topic of getting out of the sucky quicksand of the past.  Okay, enough for now.
update:  When you comment on a blog, you might have to "prove you're not a robot" by transcribing some letters and numbers.  Scroll down and make sure you've done the whole thing.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Reverence and Otherwise

In the morning my thoughts float around in their zigzag way, and sometimes one lands on my hand. Today it was this:
All my deploring of things people do and the way things are has not helped matters.
This was triggered by morning coffee music with Pete Seeger, which was "Down by the Riverside." The thing about him, he meant it.
Ain't gonna study war no more,
Ain't gonna study war no more...
Now, the illustrious Pete, may his good work never end, meant it, he was against war and tirelessly sang and spoke about it.  And we still have war, don't we.  Oh yes, the bad bad karma of tribalism playing out in unfunny boy games in the Middle East.  God bless them, why don't they just give up their claims on a piece of earth and try to sneak into America like everyone else?

But one thing Pete did accomplish was give people, including me, a way to be in harmony together with our beliefs.  We all sang Guantanamero along with him, rocking a bit from side to side.  We all felt the sadness of the eternal cycle of unnecessary pain, flowers gone to young girls gone to soldiers gone to graveyards.  Gone to flowers.  The community we formed singing was a good thing, an excellent thing. I don't get to feel that much, other than in my women's meditation group, where the warm energy far from war goes round and round.

Last night Tom and I went out for ice cream, like our parents before us, though ice cream has changed since chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry.  Believe me, their toes would curl in alarm at the price of Jeni's Salty Caramel.

We got to talking a little about how as children we occasionally felt something in church I describe as shared reverence. I remember that especially on Easter morning and Christmas Eve.  Now I appreciate the sense of new clothes and spring hats - and white gloves on the ladies, back then - as a way of washing ourselves clean, resurrecting.

Tom went to a small-town Methodist church, and I went to a liberal Congregational church, but they had in common a shared acceptance of the Christian tradition.  In both churches there were those who got that it was not about the tribalism of Are you saved? but about love and unity. Certain stories were emphasized, like the parable of The Good Samaritan. It makes you sad to compare that with what is happening now on the Gaza strip.

I have had many good experiences in my Unitarian church, but have never felt that reverence in these 30-some years, despite our minister's many sermons on love.  I think this is because a percentage of the members there hate the very ideas of belief and mystery.  Atheists have long been vocal in the denomination. In my church, every summer we have a lay service by the Atheists and Skeptics, who affirm their belief only in what can be shown by science, which they revere more than I, who have been the victim of it.  In this service someone may talk about the mystery of life, but it is a head trip, not a spiritual practice, and does not go toward love and compassion. They would snort at the "notion" that Something loves us, and all is well.  They discard mysticism with the term "woo-woo."

I was recently told my group is woo-woo, O-kay, but I, too, have trouble with All shall be well when I watch the evening news.  Still, I enjoy experiencing the mystery and elegance of this great junkheap, even as I deplore the things men do.  For example, I am closely watching our tomato crop, pictured in its entirety here.
And, by way of the miraculous, I figured out how to download photos from my phone to my evil new computer, and then upload them.