Quitting their jobs

IMG_1872Three of my friends quit their jobs last week.  A fourth intended to quit on Friday, but she decided to do a bit more planning for her transition.  Do I want to join them?  Yes and no.  Not yet. I am learning new skills, writing job proposals, talking to people about jobs.  My time will come, and in the meantime my friends inspire me and make me wonder about this sea change in all of our lives.

We are five of us women, in our forties and fifties.  I think of all of us healers in our own ways.  Maybe, just maybe, we are a few of those women the Dalai Lama spoke of when he said “The world will be saved by the Western woman.”  It is not his words that motivate us, and none of us has a lot of money; in fact we are scraping by or in debt.  But we know we have to do something different in work and in life, something that comes from our hearts and that begins to set us on a gentler and more life-affirming course, beyond the consumerism and the reductionism in our healthcare system (we are all involved in social work, healthcare, or psychotherapy).

Why do I say we are healers, particularly since that word is not usually associated with jobs in our time?  Because I feel that is our essence.  My friends are all deeply spiritual, and two are natural counselors whose intuition is keen enough that they sense the larger issues of a person’s life or circumstances.  They are able to convey their awareness and help others find their own deeper motivation.  Another friend, a teacher turning psychotherapist, is deeply intelligent cognitively and emotionally:  her clear awareness and compassion a gift to those who work with her.  One is a musician who works with people with disabilities.  She fell recently and experienced a severe concussion from which she healed through brain integration therapy, and she is learning this modality herself, exhibiting a natural ability for using acupressure and energy to help others with head injuries, learning disorders, and physical/emotional integration struggles.

Me?  I am drawn to write and educate, to support new models of health and mental health care.  To help people rediscover the wisdom of their bodies through movement, mindfulness, and inner exploration. To communicate new ways of being to our society, and to be part of a new sustainable economy.

When I get discouraged, or feel like I will forever be underemployed, I think of my friends, of these wise and gifted Western women.  Of their insight won from struggle, from continually listening to their hearts, from living in a great deal of uncertainty while remaining committed to meaningful work and their own authenticity.  We cannot ignore the awareness of a need in our society to change direction and live more gently on the earth, and these friends help me remember that truth.

There is something greater at work than our getting and spending, then our procurement of jobs with money and benefits, than our struggles with alienation or of feeling we do not fit.   I think of wise native people who remain clear in their awareness of spirit and nature, who consult the wisdom of the elders and honor the sacredness of earth, humanity, animals, and plants.  As we five women step forward we carry a trust in the necessity of doing our work, of making a stand for humanity’s  richness and creativity as well as its inseparability from the earth we live on.

Avant-guard psychiatry

IMG_0193When I encounter people working in alternative energy or holistic health, I find a purity to their work born from having personal experience with their modality and a conviction in its importance.  There is a clarity in their words and a humility in their demeanor.

At the moment I have in mind a psychiatrist named Will Van Derveer whom I heard speak in Boulder, Colorado, last week.   Van Derveer is soft-spoken and articulate, a lean middle-aged man with clear skin and the centeredness that stems from meditation and wisdom.  He spoke on a holistic approach to psychiatry, one that takes into account gut health, neurotransmitter fluency, chemistry, genetics, attachment disruptions, ego structure, trauma, relationship, and spirituality.  As someone who has studied psychology but often finds something missing, I reveled in hearing a perspective that made sense to me on every level.

Van Derveer does prescribe medications, but he keeps his sights on the truth that it is still the relationship between therapist that is the heart of healing, as research has shown for decades now.  He also works with natural medicine to determine if someone has adrenal fatigue, candidiasis, gluten intolerance, lyme disease, or some other issue underlying mental dysfunction.  He may order neuropsych tests as well.  He works with somatic experiencing to address trauma, and he uses a natural supplement to help those who wish to come off meds.  It’s a very complex job he has, and his clientele is varied, their symptoms sometimes mysterious.  But he listens, seeks the advice of colleagues, and recommends a variety of treatments, including yoga, tai chi, and meditation.

Many MDs do not even recognize the validity of adrenal fatigue or candida, and Van Derveer acknowledges that these issues are more often the territory of naturopaths and sometimes of a few integrative medicine docs.  But he believes these disorders are real and much of his clientele does too. He follows studies and can describe case studies in which clearing up candida or adrenal issues clears up depression, lethargy, or anxiety.

When people are suffering, have tried a myriad of treatment approaches that have not helped enough, or are inclined to minimize medication use, they seek out Van Derveer’s.  They may have to make some real lifestyle changes, but this doc is patient and understanding.  He understands the importance of community and social support in making changes and recovering.  He understands the problems involved in an unbalanced brain and in addiction.  He has compassion, and he is open to learning from patients, colleagues, research.

Here is a man in touch with the realities of his time, the evolution of medicine, the suffering of his fellow creatures.  When someone in the audience asked him why he often prescribes medications for a person in acute distress, he said, “fear.”  Not a common confession from a physician, but an honest one.  Another listener noted that compassion is also involved in wanting to help someone suffering deeply and using the most powerful or best known remedy at hand.  At another point he spoke of the need to accept a condition and the ongoing struggles associated.   For me, the daughter of a doctor, I am most impressed by one admitting his fears, the limitations of medical knowledge, and this awareness of the complexity of humans, our environments and the food we eat.  At the same time I am reassured that he is attentive to the latest thinking and research as well as the experience of patients.

Other things he said let me know he is aware of his own psychological issues, that he eats well, lives well, and learns from mistakes.  Here is the art of medicine in full relief:  open to mystery, employing intellect and intuition, considering the natural world, practicing what one preaches, learning from mistakes and from patients and colleagues of all ranks.   I call him enlightened.

The brave new world of work

IMG_0618I peruse the want ads online for that off-hand chance I’ll discover a job that I want, but also to learn of trends and new companies. Once in a while I see a job that is a good fit, but I have yet to land one. And while I look, I find that I am formulating a role for myself, one whose outlines have slowly emerged and brought me to a place where I can now fill in this little sketch.

The online world has stimulated my thought process. I read the blogs of entrepreneurs like Seth Godin, Penelope Trunk, and Chris Guillebeau. I see artists and healers make a name for themselves through their online presence. And I read about new professions, like digital media coordinator and web content manager, or ayurvedic counselor. New types of health professions are emerging, like navigators and coaches. Environmental fields are developing. As the world changes and consumer needs evolve, as healthcare and energy sources change, some of us will be taking on new roles. Seeing this change happening invigorates me: I like this direction and the values it espouses.

Some new businesses that inspire me include Mindbody Solutions, a nonprofit started by a yoga teacher paralyzed from the chest down. Matthew Sanford seeks to change healthcare and bring yoga philosophy to the process of rehabilitation. I see new companies developing solar energy products and new types of energy provision. New health insurance cooperatives.

I know a man who is a counselor who advises from a yogic framework. Physician Nita Desai and psychiatrist Scott Shannon in Colorado embrace nutrition and Eastern healing arts to help people heal in new ways. Brain imaging is changing the way we interpret some forms of learning or mental illness, and there are new perspectives on autoimmune diseases.

Meanwhile the digital age has made it possible for many to make their living through blogging, web design, social media, or online marketing. More folks are becoming entrepreneurs or advice distributors.

I feel that I am developing right along with all of these trends, evolving into a new kind of professional who will translate these ideas into words and “treatments.” I feel that I might finally bring together my knowledge, skills, and life experiences to serve, rather than hanging out on the fringes.

I am fashioning this conception of my work. It involves creating and running a web “magazine” on mental health in the digital age. One utilizing my knowledge of yoga, ayurveda, and mindfulness. My other hat will be educator/coach. I want to work with a holistic psychiatrist or an ayurvedic practitioner teaching about mindfulness, yoga, and yoga philosophy for the westerner. The third component of this work is facilitating support or discussion groups, in which people learn together how they are getting in their own way and how to apply mindfulness, nutrition, and energetic aspects of wellness.

Yes, in the meantime, I may serve in a good nonprofit or healthcare organization, most likely one that allows me the flexibility to develop my own endeavor. I may yet need to shed a few layers of my own armor, fear, and limited perceptions to embrace my creative power and take a fully realized role in my community. I know deep down it can be done.

I think of body workers who changed the “world” like Moshe Feldenkrais and Ida Rolf. Of academics, scientists, or clergy who thought out of the box: Einstein, Buckminster Fuller, Howard Zinn, Thomas Merton. People who tried to make it in established professions until creating their own niche, like Karen Armstrong, former nun who became the writer of The History of God, Buddha, and Islam. Throughout my whole adult life I have wondered, “Can we not do the work that engages our particular sensitivity?” It is the artists and somatic educators who inspire me: In them I see an engagement and fostering of life, a vocation that also provides a “living.”

For me the question is, What stirs my heart and serves the world? Though I have longed searched for my niche, it just may be that I have to create it.

How do you think?

IMG_0886Students who acquire large debts putting themselves through school are unlikely to think about changing society.  When you trap people in a system of debt they can’t afford the time to think.  Tuition fee increases are a disciplinary technique, and by the time students graduate, they are not only loaded with debt, but have also internalized the disciplinarian culture.  This makes them efficient components of the consumer economy. 

-Norm Chomsky

This quote stopped me cold.  It is just as relevant years after college as it is right after, and it applies to our work and financial lives years after college.  It makes me really ponder the influence of debt, or high expenses on how we think, how we live.

I am very fortunate by birth and family background that I do not have debt and can work in nonprofit organizations.  Every day I am struck by my upside-down job (unusual by most standards) and my great fortune to hike in the Rocky Mountains and hear my own thoughts.  I know lovely people who work in the healing arts, in nonprofits, and in carpentry who look wryly at the consumer economy, whether through circumstance or choice.  Though our income is limited, there is enough to live on and room for commerce of minds, hearts, and hands.  Energized with meaning, connection, and work to be done, these folks do not worry much about money.

My own job involves working with people who are visually impaired.  I do a lot of outreach and education, helping the motivated learn assistive technologies and cane travel.  At my center I also teach yoga for people with disabilities, develop communication materials, assist the director, troubleshoot computer problems, and handle a myriad of other tasks from taking out the recycling to setting up for events.

I encounter people from all walks of life.  An Iraq-war vet from the Louisiana bayou who is psychic.  Kids who are developmentally disabled and help out in our office once a week.  University students studying human services or special education who visit or intern.  People who have had strokes or heart attacks or who deal with multiple sclerosis.  People who have experienced healing and people who have not.  Liars and saints and people changing through community.

Here again I see provision for needs, whether it be through laws, food banks, Habitat for Humanity, grants, donations, volunteer services.  Yes frustrations, limitations, and inefficiency are present, but I also see people working together in advocacy groups, wellness classes, yoga.  And I see organizations collaborating, a willingness to find help and resources for folks in need.  There is less bureaucracy, less ego, less time spent posturing than there might be in other settings.

Most importantly, I see people change.  Coming to this community, an individual becomes less reliant on doctors, medications, social services, family members.  As they learn about managing their finances or health, find ways to work even if volunteering, and take part in activities, they begin to feel better and they develop a different conception of themselves.  They make do with the resources they have, make more connection, work, play, and laugh.  Whether they struggle with a mental illness or physical disability or chronic illness, they can begin to relate to the world as Mary or as Jim, rather than patient or client.

I see parallels with this model of support in my community of healers and freelancers.  We work together on solutions or simply share ideas.  We barter, simplify, grow food, start business and meetup groups.  We find ways to get what we need and to contribute.

It is when we get taken in by debt or fear (this happens to me fairly often) or “The System” that we cannot think.  We think we cannot afford to question, or to seek out better ways of doing things, and we do not have enough time to connect with others to develop our thoughts or find encouragement for our ability to effect change.  We are not as receptive to the beauty and possibility around us.

Chomsky’s words remind me of a poem that has been circling through my mind since college.  The poem surfaces to my consciousness at odd times, stopping and refocusing me, in the way I assume that voices speak to others imparting wisdom or pointing toward a new direction.

The World Is Too Much With Us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;

The winds that will be howling at all hours,

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;

For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be

A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

If we are feeling subject to a disciplinary culture, as Chomsky says, we are more concerned about obedience to an economy that some of us think is destructive.  I think we are here to live this life.  To feel our bodies, to move with joy, to engage with our hearts, to use our minds to create art, bridges, healing practices, good food, and communities.  It seems that we as humans won’t survive if the system continues as is, so we may as well take a leap and try some brand new things.

Wrestling with bulldogs

IMG_0945Two years ago, after a year of unemployment, I began a new job at a disability center in a dilapidated building.  That same week, another woman was hired.  We bonded in the rocky adjustment to cluttered offices and murkily defined jobs.  Our shared discomfort in landing in this neglected corner of the earth, along with the familiarity of her Catholic sense of social service to my Methodist upbringing, created for me a strange sense of destiny.

We cleaned out our spaces, working through piles of files and discarded junk, dusting and sterilizing.  Then we began to define our jobs.  Months into this process, conflict arose. Katie, a Christian who had worked in mental health, is committed to service and motivated to serve.  She’s social, outspoken, and driven to help people change.  I, on the other hand, a strong introvert fresh off a year at home alone and two decades of writing work, was uncertain I should be in human services at all.

Katie is 70 years old and a great grandmother.  Raised by various family members and nuns, she brought up five kids on her own, earned two degrees, and became director of senior services in a nearby county.  She’s used to fighting her way through the world.  I’m an avowed introvert, and I was reeling in the chaos.  Since neither of us was given guidance or feedback we felt uneasy about our work, and we clashed.  Katie tried to tell me how to do my job while I struggled mightily to create my boundaries in an environment where staff and clientele seemed ready to intrude wherever possible.  While Katie attacked her job with a vengeance, calling folks to see if they needed services, developing new programs, and organizing new activities, I tried to see if I could provide service to the organization and clientele in a way that I could sustain, behind the scenes.

I’d hear Katie cajoling, challenging, and encouraging others.  But she pushed me to do the same, and I resisted, wondering at times if she was right.  We squabbled a few times over how I should do my job or the wording of a flier.  Yet she learned to let me be, and I started to appreciate her strength and to find my own.  I enjoyed her colorful stories of exotic pets, encounters with police, and her husband’s ranching family.

Slowly, I became better at outreach for my program and found ways to contribute.  I made a new website, redesigned the newsletter,  set up a series of workshops.  I learned and taught others about assistive technology.

I was adjusting, and at the same time coming to see Katie as a bulldog—indomitable, resilient, energetic.  On the other hand it seemed she couldn’t slow down and listen, and I felt like I was always wrestling with her.  We traveled to other cities together for conferences, trainings, and outreach, meeting with farmers and ranchers disabled by work or age.   Crawling back into my hotel room after a long day of meetings and lunches with my cohort, I could breathe again.

On the most recent road trip with my friend, she chatted away, ready to direct until we established a pattern of cooperation.  This week we went to a senior fair together in a small plains town in Colorado.  We’d found new sympathy for each other on that road trip, and when she started insisting on how a client needed to quit smoking, I laughed and pretended to bang my head on the steering wheel.  She laughed too.

At the fair I had an epiphany.  Seated along the wall adjacent to us were three tables, one for a senior living residence, one for assisted living, the last for a funeral home.  Katie commented on how the booths represented the stages we all go through and then started talking about her plans for where to be buried and with whom.  She joked about her sister in law and brother saying she could be buried in a stack three high with them, but she responded she didn’t want to spend eternity in between them.  “Well, we won’t be doing anything!”, said her relative.  Then Katie turned to the woman in the table next to us and began a lively conversation.  Sharing her experience as a gerontologist and spiritual director and learning about the other woman’s love of working with seniors in assisted living, I felt privileged to learn about work that is not often acknowledged and about these stages of life at the other end.  Here were two elders themselves helping people take their last steps on the earth.

My own process of changing in this strange job, of softening and opening, of letting go of my previous definitions of myself, seemed suddenly tremendously fruitful.  I felt wizened and blessed, strengthened by schooling about the stages of life and the forgotten areas of this human experience.  And I again had the sense of fate in my connection with this woman.

Here’s why:  Though we were raised quite differently, have different personalities and spiritual practices, we are also of the same ilk, fighters who have come to unusual perspectives on healing and wellness through our own experiences.  Katie is a strong spiritual being from a background of abuse and poverty, riches gained and lost, now in tune with the reality of aging and death.  A student of psychotherapy, Emotions Anonymous, wellness training with wellness wheel, and spiritual gerontology, she has wisdom to share in a world bent on material gain, youth, and fitness.

My life has been more stable, but early acquaintance with illness through my dad’s work made me a questioner, and my experience in Quaker meetings, with yoga and meditation, with managing health issues through holistic medicine, with mental health counseling and body-oriented psychotherapy, have led me to a perspective much like my coworker’s. We have the same sense of wellness as involving spiritual, emotional, and physical elements, of being a lifelong process of learning and letting go.

In this relationship, over time, our spirituality, our life struggles, and our experience with uncertain positions, led inevitably to a bond. So often, different languages, backgrounds, personalities, or fear and the need for clearly defined beliefs create barriers between us humans.  In this case, I now have a strong sense of crazy adventure and of a chance meeting of fellow travelers on the road, perhaps a cliché, but an apt one.

On that outing to the senior fair, I saw beyond the grind of a job into the precious encounter with the divine and a woman full of fire and spirit.  I felt I understood the biblical parable of Jacob wrestling with an angel.   I really thought I was wrestling with this bulldog, but it was definitely an angel, both the job itself and this bundle of love and courage that is Katie.

Spiral staircases and old friends

IMG_0914“. . . in my own life, I seemed to be going round and round and round, making the same mistakes, having the same failures, the same experiences – and seeming to make no headway. But in fact, even though you’re going round and round, you are going upward. You are moving towards up, as I hope, towards the light or in the labyrinth, into the center of yourself.”

Karen Armstrong, in an interview with Bill Moyers about her book, The Spiral Staircase.

The religion writer Karen Armstrong called her memoir The Spiral Staircase, a phrase from a T.S. Eliot poem called “Ash Wednesday.”  I love the reference, because I have had the experience many times of revisiting situations and making the same mistakes, but I do see progress.

Armstrong’s book came to mind two weeks ago when I reconnected with an old college friend.  Marlene called me and we talked for an hour.  Afterwards I felt like I took a strong shot of déjà vu, some kind of elixir that coursed through me like adrenaline.  I had flashbacks to our young selves, and I saw a clear continuity to my meandering path.  I noticed an enduring thread in each of our worklives.

Marlene and I caught up with family, work, health, etc., but we also caught up with a seed we both contained as young women, an inquiry into how people heal and into our own relationship with healing.  Each of us was looking for something missing from healthcare as we knew it.

In college we could not yet articulate what we were after, but we’d begun our search.   Marlene was clearer at the time, and she worked harder, studying chemistry, organic chemistry, nutrition, spending hours in labs.  I dabbled in many subjects, for a while pursuing a “liberal arts” major with concentrations in biology, psychology, and English subjects.  Psychology made me squirm with discomfort, while literature taught me more about human beings, so I switched to English with a minor in biology.   Marlene focused on nutrition studies while I looked into journalism, and after college we moved away from each other:  After we married we didn’t talk for twenty years.

Marlene worked in dietetics (which ultimately frustrated her), then entered chiropractic school and private practice.  I worked at a hospital as a neuropsychology tech and studied cosmologies, philosophies, and Jungian psychology, later becoming a health writer and yoga therapist.  We both discovered how very different our emerging conceptions of healing were from most of the world’s, and we continued our studies through reading and workshops and mentorships.

Our recent conversation revealed some very similar conclusions about health.  We have come to believe that healing involves so much more than a specific modality, nutritional approach, or medical treatment.  We found that our own illnesses and recoveries required deep introspection, prayer, withdrawal from everyday life and its values, connection with nature, and a transformation in our physical, mental, psychological, and spiritual habits and ways of being.

Marlene experienced fibromyalgia, then breast cancer.  A long-time health fanatic, she was riddled with pain from fibromyalgia and looked to her emotional life and spiritual faith to heal.  Through cancer she faced intense fear and physical discomfort, again facing her own makeup and calling on her faith as well as a strong sense of humor.  Her tumor, with the help of chemotherapy, shrank to nothing.

I studied yoga therapy and ayurveda, yoga psychology, and body-oriented psychotherapy, or hakomi.  I experienced a change in consciousness as I became more aware of my body and of sensation and changed old patterns of movement and perception.  In the midst of all this study and practice of yoga, I encountered candida, which weakened me and made me foggy headed, and led me to make radical changes in my diet, friends, and exercise patterns.

Where are we now?  Marlene became a confident chiropractor, focused on muscle testing and the storage of emotions and life stories in our bodies and working to free folks for better health.  I have become a published writer, a student of many modalities, a disability and wellness coordinator, a yoga teacher, a spokesperson and interpreter for integrative medicine and for a broader perspective on healing.  You could say we are doing the same work we started years ago in different forms.

But, as Karen Armstrong observed, we can only see this spiral staircase in retrospect.  It’s been a path that has often seemed faint and hard to see.  I feel strengthened and empowered by my reconnection with my friend.  I feel a little more whole knowing I have a long-term companion in my travels.

The trouble with Dr. Oz?

IMG_1356The New Yorker is my favorite magazine.  Every once in awhile, though, I encounter an article that really makes me scratch my head:  Actually a couple of these have been written by Michael Specter, including his recent “The Operator,” subtitle (in the contents), “The Trouble with Doctor Oz,” February 4, 2013.  (Specter is also the Author of Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives.)

I think Specter, along with some other Oz critics, is right to question the unbridled and hyped up promotion of herbs or foods, like raspberry ketones to burn fat, or green coffee beans for weight-loss, or red palm oil for Alzheimer’s disease, though I do think its helpful to bring attention to these things:  In my mind the hype and overemphasis is problem.

On the other hand, I strongly part ways with Specter when it comes to Oz’s showcasing of some “alternative” approaches to healing.  I am like Oz in not needing scientific proof that these approaches work.  If one thinks physicians should stick within the scientific, Specter’s argument is understandable.  But medicine is also an art.  In addition, science has shown us that sometimes placebos work as treatment.  Specter says that Oz’s practice of mixing “sensible” and scientifically proven information with unproven information is hard to understand—IS IT?  Science, after all, is sometimes used in specious ways to promote pharmaceutical drugs.

These are old questions representing two camps, the Western scientific and Eastern, the rationalist and the mystic, the chemical and surgical with the natural (the latter has not been studied as extensively).  Here’s where I come from.  The two major health conditions that have affected my wellbeing have been untreatable by modern medicine.  If they progress to cancer or blindness or an autoimmune condition, medicine will have an “answer” or treatment, but I have used alternative methods to reverse or stop the problem in their tracks.  These modalities, ayurveda, acupuncture, and herbal medicine, were off the radar of modern medicine, and science would not have given me reinforcement for pursuing them.

My experiences with keratoconus, an eye disorder, and candida/gluten intolerance, a digestive disorder, taught me how to address illness from a system, organic, natural, and energetic  angle.   Arresting of the keratoconus and resolving the candida issue involved processes that took quite a long time and a commitment to my health at emotional, spiritual, physical, social, and environmental levels.  I may not have healed had I not meditated, prayed, dropped unhealthy friendships, actually adjusted my way of exercising to a more gentle one focused on yoga and walking outdoors in the sunshine.   Without all these angles of approach, I would have become sicker and repeatedly visited my physician, who could only have given me temporary measures and helped me manage chronic illness.

Western science and medicine exist in one realm while some of the healing arts tap into another.  We have to acknowledge the limitations of our mechanistic medical sciences, to realize there is a realm of healing, of energy, that we do not understand with our rational minds.  We need a practice of mindfulness, of openness, of listening to the body, emotions, spirit, and chi, to old traumas and the need for radical self-care on all these levels.

This approach is not easy.  It requires time, energy, and an ability to go through upheaval and reorientation.  It demands an openness to uncertainty and to life changes.  It means loosening dependence on the rational, analytical intellect and paying attention to the body and its sensations.  I think the process also leads to examination of our culture, to a reengagement with our selves, and to a new relationship with the fruits of the earth, the herbs and natural foods. Not many of us will engage in such a process, particularly if we are working hard and are engaged with a profession of status, busy in our day-to-day lives.  It is easier to turn instead to the scientific, the prescription, the surgery.  Valid too, but sometimes not enough.

Specter quotes Oz:  “All I’m trying to do is put a couple of road signs out there.  I sit on that set every day, and that is what I am focusing on.  The road signs.”  Oz says he wants to erase barriers between patients and medicine, wants to raise issues that remain undiscussed, wants to walk the line that divides conventional medicine and alternative cures.   I am glad for his efforts.

Specter also says of Oz, “He describes modern medicine as a “civil war” waged between conventional physicians and those who are open to alternative cures for maladies ranging from anxiety to cancer; he considers it his mission to walk the line that divides them.  But more often his show seems to erase that line completely, with results that may be less benign than Oz and his many viewers realize.”

I tend to think the marriage of pharmaceutical companies and medicine is also less benign than many realize.  I for one think that Oz is doing important work inhabiting that zone between medicine and holistic health, between science and energy healing.  Many of us are grateful that he’s talking about these things, engaging with people out there seeking healing.  Medicine does not have all of the answers, and we need people like Oz to ask the questions and to present other sides so we might actively engage in our own healing in ways that involve our bodies, minds, and spirits.  I believe we need just such a wizard to catalyze a transformation.

Community acupuncture makes my day

IMG_0878I recently had some sinus problems that made it difficult to function, and a friend recommended that I visit the local community acupuncture clinic.   It seemed like a good idea to me, because the cost of most acupuncture is prohibitive, especially if I need multiple treatments.  So I made an appointment at the clinic online, filled out some forms, and went on in.

I entered a nice lounge with comfortable couches and a kindly male receptionist, was soon ushered into a private room to visit with an acupuncturist.  After we talked about my ailments and concerns I went into a communal treatment room with high ceilings and a large curved window on one end.  I sat in one of six recliners, and the acupuncturist put numerous needles in me and left me for an hour to relax to the sounds of gentle new age music and water trickling down a rocky fountain. I went into a reverie, truly relaxing, falling in and out of sleep. I left feeling serene and supported by a community who wanted to help me sustain my health.

The visit was $25, and I was told the subsequent appointments would be only $15.  After the first treatment the inflamed and raw sensation in my sinuses calmed down, and by the time I had gone for three treatments, I felt relieved of headaches, sinus pressure, and a couple of other issues.  The third time I went I met the man who started the clinic, along with his wife, who does acupressure and Emotional Freedom Technique.   The owner said he is a social entrepreneur interested in integrating businesses as well as treatment modalities.  For example, he said, the clinic has a nutritionist who helps with weight loss, and when the clients run up against emotional blocks to weight loss, they see acupuncturists or his wife for additional support.

I went home and watched this video on the movement connected with community acupuncture:  Community Acupuncture Video

Watching the story of this community acupuncture movement in the US, I felt a strong longing to see it take hold in a bigger way.  I saw dedicated practitioners searching for a way to help more people, and I heard the stories of people who experienced deep healing through their treatments and through feeling part of a healing community.  I saw people working together to provide good healthcare, or really I should say, healing.  There is basically a movement afoot to provide true care to clients, and I feel we have a great need for such alternatives.

Here is a statement from the People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture (POCA):  “Our mission is to work cooperatively to increase accessibility to and availability of affordable group acupuncture treatments . . . Multi-stakeholder cooperatives recognize that producers and consumers are mutually dependent on one another, and that the health of the relationship between these groups is connected to the health of the larger community and economy.”

We need a great deal more of such an approach to healthcare and community.  Community acupuncture provides a crucial service, makes it affordable, and empowers healthcare practitioners.  It helps people take care of themselves and lead lives that are not only freer of suffering, but maybe even more fulfilled.  When we can obtain healthcare at affordable prices, see practitioners in environments that are good for both of us, feel a part of community, and know we have greater ability to affect our well being, we are more energized and engaged in general.

As healthcare gets more expensive, as I grow more reluctant to pay out-of-pocket for treatment because of my high insurance deductable and feel more stressed out by the bills, the tests, and the meds, I long for this simple and affordable care.  I am truly not against mainstream medicine, and I use it when I need it.  But I am also for this natural, preventive, healing, and empowering care.  Thank God it exists.

I love knowing my practitioner is as dedicated to health on a community and political level as I am, that she respects the body’s mysterious ability to balance and heal.  That she can perceive my current ailments through a wider lens encompassing my constitution, my overall health, my life story, and assist my healing on many levels.  I feel a great deal of gratitude, and I feel inspired to work myself in a manner that is good for my whole community, both local and beyond.

Will it make me well?

I teach yoga to a few people who have multiple sclerosis, and I find this illness scary and mysterious.  The medical profession continues to grapple with the cause and best course of treatment, and researchers remain mostly in the dark about it.  This week though, I heard a perspective that provides a handle on how to understand and manage it:  It came from a talk by a woman who was diagnosed with MS 20 years ago and who is virtually symptom free.

Carol was once told she had an aggressive form of the illness and that she would quickly deteriorate.  She had already lost vision in one eye and had trouble walking.  And yet she only used the recommended medications briefly, then went off them because they made her feel sick and were terribly expensive as well.

She looked instead for a different doctor, one who might have other suggestions besides drugs.  She discovered an orthomolecular specialist in Denver who spoke with her sympathetically and recommended homeopathy.  Carol took his advice and addressed her diet as well, eliminating gluten and sugar and eating grass-fed beef and a variety of vegetables.  Today she is symptom free–walking, talking, and practicing as a homeopath herself.  She now sees dietary issues, particularly gluten and overall imbalances, as a key to understanding MS.

We’ve all heard stories of such turn arounds, but I’m very interested in two things about her story.  One is that she came away from her experience with doctors and medication, then homeopathy, realizing the most important question to her when it comes to treating her illness, is, “Will it help me to be well?”  Her determination to seek a treatment or healing path that made sense to her and would support her wellbeing impresses me and, I think, was part of her ability to heal.

Second, I was struck by the part of her story in which she encountered her first doctor, the one who diagnosed her and gave her such a dire prognosis, in the hardware store.  Seeing him, she immediately began to feel nauseous, weak, and confused.  She greeted him and hurried out of the store, recovering her strength outside.  What better example is there of the power of authority and the enduring strength of social conditioning?  Of our passivity in the patient role and the godlike qualities we ascribe to doctors?  After leaving the doctor’s presence Carol felt fine again.  Free of his influence, she felt her health and her body’s remarkable ability to heal.

Also attending her talk was a young man named Dave who sees Carol as a client.  A former forklift operator turned oil and gas employee, he said he also was told he had an aggressive form of MS after experiencing vision loss.  He then experienced pain in his left leg and later lost feeling below his waist.  He stopped working, sat around on the couch dealing with sickness and sleep deprivations from the medications.  He gave up.  His wife, though, did some research, found Carol, and Dave saw her for help with his MS.  He now takes homeopathic remedies and follows a gluten-free diet.  He too is walking, working, and playing ball with his son:  When he does experience numbness or pain he goes to see Carol for remedies and dietary changes.

I am quite struck that these folks had to strike out on their own to get well.  Both learned about the politics of food supply and pharmaceutical use, making their own decisions about their treatment.  And both made radical changes in their diets and sought natural remedies.  It isn’t easy to turn down all the sweets and fast food coworkers bring to work, says Dave, but he knows he must to be well.  Both sought doctors who support their perspectives and partner with them, and both are prepared to challenge conventional “wisdom” on their illness.  While neither is Both against allopathic medicine, they truly do want to support their bodies in more natural ways, and they want to do things that make sense to them.

When Carol and Dave do see doctors, they seek practitioners who acknowledge their needs and the validity of their own approaches to their illness.  There are some who know how to partner with them in their chosen approach, in their quest for wellness, and there are some who do not.

Out of step or a foot ahead?

Change is coming.  So said a healthcare recruiter to me a few days ago when I interviewed with him at the local hospital.  The company has been preparing for 10 years, he said, to develop new IT and wellness programming.  Wellness is included since new healthcare legislation is designed to instigate reimbursement for keeping people out of hospitals.  Finally!  But I’ll wait and see.

It’s the kind of healthcare I have been awaiting for a long time.   I want the hospital to hire me.  As a mind-body therapist.   I interviewed to be a wellness specialist/yoga teacher.  The description was for a health educator really.

The weird thing is that six years ago I had a job as an education coordinator in a holistic center associated with this same hospital.  I ran a yoga/qigong studio, coordinated classes and workshops, and supported the administration and holistic pharmacy.  It was part-time, and I had health insurance.

I loved that job.   I loved being a part of a holistic center within a medical center.  And I loved developing an integrative approach to healthcare and providing wellness services to the community as well as people in the hospital suffering from illness and injury.  We helped people through chemotherapy with acupuncture, people going through rehab with massage, people with chronic illness with nutrition, kids with ADD and depression with a more natural approach.  We also  supported dying people with reiki.  Our classes, open to staff, patients, and the community, included meditation, infant massage, and other healing approaches.

This center was closed down.  The healthcare company sponsored an exit lunch for us in which we talked about keeping our commitment to the cause alive in our individual work.  But it’s been lonely.

Yesterday, I talked with a recruiter for 45 minutes, took a break, then interviewed with two wellness managers and did a yoga demo.  Turns out all this was for a temporary position to teach two yoga classes a week.  While I wish for something more substantial, the wonderful part of the interview for me was the conversation with these three folks and the awareness I had of the growth in me since I last worked there.  I am bolder, stronger, and more articulate about wellness, yoga, and mindfulness and their role in the healthcare system.

Dan, the recruiter from a temporary staffing company, asked me why I was interested in wellness.  I said that I want to help people live healthier lives, to tap into their own immunity and stay well or find supportive therapies when they get sick.  I hoped to teach yoga to help people gain a sense of their inner healing capacity.   Dan looked at me and said, “that’s where our company is heading.”

When I sat down with two female managers from Wellness, one said to me, “You worked for the holistic center?  It was ahead of its time:  If it were created now, it would thrive.”

Will things really change?   We still don’t know what will happen with the latest healthcare reform bill.  And we don’t know how far policy changes will reach.  But healthcare expenses are getting too high, and more folks have less money and will be excluded from care.  When things begin to affect the bottom lines of hospitals and insurance companies, or when the people make enough noise, a shift will certainly occur.  We already see stirrings of movement.

In the meantime, us mind-body types will hang in there, learning about embodied experience, the immune response, healing, and inner work.  Practicing stress reduction and renewal, exploring our connection to ourselves, each other, and nature.  But there really isn’t time to spare:  We and our world will become much sicker if we don’t move forward.  I’m ready to work, and I think others are too.  Let’s get the behemeth moving a little faster.

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