Health and Healing

Balance in the Middle of Things

This morning, while I was playing a balance game on my wii, I noticed how easily I could find my place at the edge of the pendulum. Yet, when I was required to balance right in the middle, I often faltered. I felt uneasy and tentative in the middle. This observation struck me as a broader truth in my life. How readily I am calm and focused in a crisis, yet how easily I lose my way when the drama is dialed down, In those moments of quiet, I find myself out of sorts. In times of emergency, I can feel quite brilliant and vital.

I know that it not only me, but many clients report how drama helps them to feel alive, that it serves as their centre of vitality. At the same time, it is exhausting and cannot be sustained interminably.

How do we learn to be comfortable in the quiet centre? In my experience, by going through the middle and living through the moments of boredom and dissatisfaction. By looking into the garden and noticing how the sparrow deftly balances on a twig, how an ant carries a bread crumb across the sidewalk. By noticing when your heart stops pounding and your  thoughts allow microsecond-long gaps, there is sweetness that defies all description. That is exactly where I want to be.

How Anger Heals

Anger has such deliciousness, it’s burning breath cleansing what’s stuck deep within me. Anger is a powerful, often too forceful, way to set my boundaries, to let the world know what are my bottom lines. Although I have long struggled to befriend and observe my own versions of anger, recent events have forced me into a closer relationship with it. A young person in my life has been suffering from neglect and abuse which of course incenses me. I have spent many hours in meditation and sacred space to transmute this anger into something more palatable to me like compassion. Still, anger rises up in me, heating up my core — and it feels good. In the rapture of outrage, I realize that it is the clinging to anger that harms. When I allow the energy to course through me and out, then I feel lighter and expanded energetically. This is indeed the healing potential of anger.

What We All Ache For

After spending some time with my father and stepmother in Texas, I noticed how different I felt in the last few visits. I was more relaxed and happy throughout the entire time! In so many previous trips, I got lost in anger and hurt and all other kinds of drama. At some point in each previous visit, I swung between desperately wanting to leave and an abiding sadness over our impending separation. I begin arguments with them, to convince myself at once of wanting to leave and wanting their attention. I felt as though the orbit of my unresolved childhood feelings pulled me in with irresistible force.

Oh, how I craved that perfect loving relationship with my parents. How I wanted them to nurture me, support me, protect me and be there exactly when and how I needed them. I spent so many years silently wishing for all of this. It never happened.

So, in unconscious ways, I felt bitter about this unmet desire. Then, in meditation, appropriately enough while on retreat in Texas, a realization healed me. I decided to let go of my expectations, however reasonable, and just enjoy my father and stepmother’s company. I relinquished perceptions of old hurts over abandonment and imperfect love. I opened to the truth that this is the only moment in which to live and to enjoy. I finally chose to be free from the suffering of wanting my experiences to be different. I knew that I/my ego –not the people closest to me — had created my suffering. I felt weary enough of the pain and set it down.

I have even applied this approach to my much more complicated relationship with my mother. When I was 23 years old, my mother died suddenly. At first, I was convinced that I would never be able to heal the wounds between us. I felt utterly discouraged about the cruel ending that the universe provided. Yet that ending was actually an opening. My mother and I slowly began to communicate between worlds, and started to engage in healing. She became more nurturing and protective, and I became softer and more compassionate. Our relationship has healed beyond my hopes over these years of her physical absence.

Now, to be honest, I have played off-and-on with the suffering, but am now more aware of its contours. I get much less engaged with it, and am more immersed in my immediate experience. How joyful!

Lessons From Texas

Well, I had taken a break from writing my blog while I enjoyed some rejuvenating time in Texas. Texas is such a fascinating land of contrasts between superficial and profound. There, junk food is elevated into an art form — deep-fried Twinkies and Frito pie anyone? At the same time, I am utterly charmed by the friendliness of the people. In many different contexts, I felt that strangers cared about my well-being, they took the time to really understand what I needed in the situation and offered genuine help. Despite the busy-ness of their lives, the Texans repeatedly impressed me with their compassion. While lost along the Gulf coast, a woman (in her gigantic Suburban) drove us to the restaurant we were trying to find. On many other occasions, people asked how I was in a way that invited a true and complete answer. Although there are certainly troubling aspects to the Texan way, I admire their sense of community.

My time in Texas inspired me to be more friendly and less reserved. I notice in Toronto how ‘nice’ people can be, but that we often lack friendliness. So, in this spirit of community, I will actually introduce myself to my new neighbours, and perhaps even try to start a conversation on the subway!

Seeing What’s Right In Front of Us

Although my role is formally to help others achieve their health goals, I am consistently in awe of how clients teach me the deep lessons in life. Recently, I have been working with a woman who has a chronic degenerative eye disease. Gradually, she is losing her central vision and may one day no longer be able to see. In one of our visits, she explained to me how travelling has changed for her. She said “You know, on previous trips, I could see the big picture — the monuments, the horizon, the birds flying in the sky. Now I can only see what is right in front of me.” From her perspective, this narrowing of vision is a terrible sign of the progression of the disease process. Her words, though, struck me. To see only what is exactly in front of me. That has been the goal of my hours of meditation! How I wriggle from its grasp, how I want to be caught in endless thoughts about my future and ruminations from the past. How many ways have I invented to avoid the present. This woman, who bravely yet reluctantly deals with vision loss, is the embodiment of presence. Sometimes healing is that bitter pill, the last thing we ever want to experience. I am blessed to witness so many of these hard-fought epiphanies. So, thank you to all the wise and brilliant people who have crossed the threshold of my office, to show me what healing truly is.

Look To Where You Want To Be Going

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received was from a mountain bike instructor. Just before I embarked on my first ride through the woods in east Toronto, he told me ‘Always look to where you want to be going. If  you look towards the tree stump you want to avoid, you almost always hit the stump.’  As a confident novice, I ignored his words at first. Again and again, though, I narrowly missed the rocks, the tree roots, the puddles, and the stumps. I believed that the diffuclt path full of obstacles offered the greatest adrenaline rush. I suddenly recalled the instructor’s words, though, and soon was giddily traversing the uneven path. It was on the path of least resistance that I experienced ‘flow’, a oneness with nature. Only later, did I realize the full impact of the instructor’s words. How important is it to focus on your dream and not all the blocks along the way. Even though it is helpful to make note of the pitfalls, most of my attention needs to be on what elevates and inspires me. Not to take the most difficult path, but the one with the easiest route.  Not struggling against the tide, but being in the flow. Yes.

Solar Eclipse Shaking Things Up

Today is a powerful day in planetary motion as a total solar eclipse has been arching over the skies of the South Pacific. Whenever such events occur, they can create waves of momentum in our everyday lives. Depending on how we manage the wave, it can propel us or drown us. Either way, we are released from the inertia of our lives. I have experienced the chaos of bobbing on the giant waves of change and know how terrifying it can be. I have also had the pleasure of basking in the clarity after the torment. How I spent so many years trying to control every aspect of my life to protect against the storms, the waves, the earthquakes. Still, they all broached my carefully-planned defenses and delivered me unwanted misery. By turning myself directly towards the pain and fear, however, I found my way to peace. I gained precious freedom by sitting in the darkness with the menacing sounds of night all around me. My stillness brought the light and revealed the truth of love. Even today, while watching a play at the Fringe Festival, I was overcome with the realization that nothing really matters except love. With love, everything is possible. Love for yourself, love for the universe, love for your family, love for your friends, love for the earth, love for your colleagues, love for those who have hurt you. So I wish all of you love as the energy of the eclipse rolls through your lives. Hang on and embrace the exhilaration.

Recently, I read a poem by Derek Walcott that so eloquently describes this return of love:

Love After Love

The time will come

when, with elation, you will greet yourself arriving

at your own door, in your own mirror,

and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self.

Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart

to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored

for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,

peel your own image from the mirror.

Sit. Feast on your life.

The Power of Surrender

How many times did I catch myself in the heat wave this week, literally running around the city trying to accomplish so many things at once. Yes, I so easily embrace the hectic ‘yang’ lifestyle that’s endemic to Toronto. Only in this crushing heat do I have the opportunity to reflect on the ‘busyness’ of my life. Only then do I actually surrender to the languid rhythm of city heat. The energy of allowing is powerful indeed. Even though for most of my life I have been convinced of the efficiency of multi-tasking, I now endorse the widsom of focus, of surrender, of allowing the moment to unfold exactly as it should. I feel the time moving more slowly and deeply inside me. It is delicious indeed.

The Spirit of Mullein

While walking in the woods this past weekend, my heart was overcome by a sensation of trepidation. Pounding hard against my chest, my heart lifted my energy up through the top of my head. I could no longer feel my feet on the earth.  Oh no, I despaired, the panic has returned. Desperately craving escape, I ran towards the road, making my own trail between the trees. Just as I reached the road, I came upon a tall mullein plant. Mullein possesses a sturdy type of beauty with its upright backbone of yellow flowers. I stood before the mullein, as I dropped my book knowledge of the plant (it is a tonic for the lungs). I connected my heart energy with the spirit of the mullein.  What message had the mullein to tell? After several minutes, I became transfixed by a calmness deep within me. The mullein in its straight-backed posture guided me to stand solid in my own truth. In that place, my centre is found. The fear eased away gently and resolutely. I then realized that it was not actually the mullein plant spirit but rather the spirit in the form of the mullein plant which had healed me.

The Possibility Principle

Despite the risk of sounding like a science geek, I have to admit that I have been mining the widsom in my old physics and mathematics books. I recall how perplexed I felt when I first read about the Uncertainty Principle in physics. How could something be in two different places simultaneously?  I felt a know in my stomach just imagining the chaos at the micro-core of our universe. My logical mind simply could not make sense of it all. And that led me to the revelatory answer; that is, the universe does not work exclusively by logic. It has rules certainly, but they are cloaked in magic. The mind is powerful but not all-seeing. Once I relaxed into this understanding, I could actually feel how all things truly are connected, how all possibilities are real. In that spirit, I reclaimed the old physics proposal into the Possibility Principle.

In practicing medicine, I experience this Principle in action everyday. I see people with mysterious afflictions with no formal diagnosis that still manages to create great pain in their bodies, I see women who have been told they will never get pregnant actually become pregnant and bring little beings into the world, I see babies who clearly carry the weight of their ancestors’ suffering in their tiny bodies, and I have seen many times the joy of spontaneous recoveries when all seems hopeless. Indeed, the human experience is shaped but not entirely defined by logic. There is magic and mystery to everything, absolutely everything.