GMOs: A Bigger Picture

The topic of GMOs can bring up a lot of different responses and emotions. Many people don’t think about GMOs much, or just believe the conventional party line that they are safe and nothing to be concerned about. But anyone who thinks for themselves and looks into the issue generally gets all fired up.

I can see their point of view, but we need to approach GMOs with reason as well as emotion. The topic of GMOs is complex. There are many different ways that foods are genetically modified and different strategies have different potential health consequences. What is true for one kind of GMO may not be true for another. GMOs cannot be lumped all together as a single sound bite.

But, no matter their health consequences, we have a right to know what is in our food. GMOs should be clearly labeled, just as the protein, fat and carb contents ought to be clearly labeled. You have a right to choose what to put into your body. (Even in the current climate, you can still choose, if you are willing to do the research and shop and eat out in the right places.)

On one hand, if GMOs are as safe as Big Ag claims that they are, they ought to be able to convince us with clear, unbiased scientific studies. On the other hand, that Big Ag is so actively involved in controlling what studies get done and what studies get published, cutting off the funding for any institution that does not do their bidding, putting their executives on the boards of scientific journals and forcing the retractions of damaging studies that have been published, spending millions of dollars fighting state GMO labeling initiatives, and other such behaviors just raises the suspicions of those of us who are skeptical that we are being told the truth about GMOs.

But, like I said, GMOs are a mixed bag. For example, the first genetically engineered food product approved by the FDA in 1990 was a form of E. coli engineered to make the enzyme chymosin, which promotes the ripening of cheese. Roughly 80% of hard cheeses sold in the US are made using chymosin from these E. coli. But this is the same technology that is used to train E. coli to make human insulin. The vast majority of the insulin now used in the US comes from genetically engineered E. coli. Does using a genetically engineered enzyme in the production of cheese make the cheese more harmful to you? I would find that difficult to believe.

On the other hand, one strategy used to make corn less susceptible to soft-bodied caterpillars is to genetically engineer the corn to make Bt toxin within its tissues, so that when the caterpillar eats the corn, it dies. Bt toxin is thought to be safe for humans. In fact, farmers can spray the bacteria that make Bt toxin on their plants and still meet government criteria for being organic.

But there are two problems I see with eating corn impregnated with Bt toxin. First, Bt toxin kills the caterpillars by increasing the permeability of the membrane lining their intestines. Increased intestinal permeability is called “leaky gut syndrome” in people. It eventually leads to body-wide inflammation and the development of food allergies and auto-immune diseases. Bt toxin, by itself, probably does not cause leaky gut in humans, but it has recently been discovered that Bt toxin binds with a protein commonly found in mammalian intestines and the Bt-protein complex causes leaky gut. (http://www.gmofreeusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/2011_11_JAT_CytotoxicityOnHumanCellsOfCry1AbAndCry1AcBt.pdf) Since conventional medicine ignores food allergies and leaky gut, these influences would not be noticed in any food toxicity studies. The rate of auto-immune diseases in the US has skyrocketed since the introduction of Bt corn in the US. (Just a correlation, so far, not a proven causation.)

The second problem is that a bacterium that causes tumors in plants, Agrobacterium tumefaciens, can transfer genes into plant and human cells. It is used in genetic engineering. It is a natural bacterium in soil and in your intestines. It can move the gene that makes Bt toxin from the corn you eat to the friendly bacteria in your intestines, turning your own microbiome into a pesticide-producing factory (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mercola/bt-corn_b_2442072.html). Once your own friendly bacteria start making Bt toxin, how do you get them out? This may be one more cause of leaky gut syndrome and, thus, chronic inflammation.

Also, glyphosate, the active ingredient in Round Up®, was first patented as an antibiotic. It kills the bacteria in the soil and in your gut. Very little is yet known about the microbiome of the soil and your intestines so, again, adverse reactions to altering these things would likely be missed in toxicology studies. Yet, all of your physical health starts with the health of the soil. And the more we learn about your gut microbiome, the more important it looks. Eating foods with glyphosate residues and spraying glyphosate-containing compounds around your yard are very likely detrimental to your health and the health of everyone else.

There are many more details about the health effects of foods with different GMO strategies, I just presented a couple for illustration.

So, some strategies for genetic engineering are probably safe and other are probably not. It is not accurate, nor wise, to lump all GMOs into one category. What is clear is that GMOs are here to stay. So we really need to get politics and corporate profits out of the way of good, unbiased science and take a clear, honest look at what we are doing to ourselves and the planet with this technology. 

GMO—Another Possible Root to Chronic Illness

Something is going on. In the Nineties, it was fairly easy to help a chronically ill person get better. Have them stop dairy and rheumatoid arthritis would go into remission. Lose a few pounds and their blood pressure would normalize. Now days it seems like chronic illnesses are more common, they are happening to younger and younger people and they are much more difficult to get to go away. Why?

It’s not genetic. Sure it is partly genetic in that your genes participate in how you respond to your environment. But the recent increase in chronic diseases is not due to changes in your genes. Genes don’t change that quickly. Epigenetic regulation of your genes may be involved, as the epigenetics can change quickly in response to environmental changes. But that’s just the point. It all hinges on environmental change.

So what has changed in our environment that is creating all this chronic disease? Researchers have been trying to find the answer to this question for years. Is it the increased exposure to electromagnetic fields in the proliferation of cell towers, radio and TV stations, wireless networks, cell phones and such? EMFs do have health effects, in my opinion, but they probably only contribute a small factor to the overall equation of environment and health.

Could it be pesticides and herbicides? Rachael Carson showed as early as the Sixties that we can run but cannot hide from these things and their use and concentration in the environment has only increased steadily since then. I think these compounds are definitely a factor in our decreasing fertility, increasing miscarriage rate and increasing problems with ovarian cysts, perimenopausal symptoms, prostate, breast and ovarian cancers. But I’m not sure they are that related to the increase in inflammatory and autoimmune diseases in our society.

So what could it be? I’m going to make a case for GMO foods and the use of the specific herbicide Roundup®.

Almost everyone I’ve ever worked with who is experiencing a disease that is due to increased inflammation or autoimmunity has digestive imbalances. The imbalances may be at the root of the inflammation or may be participating in the self-perpetuating loops that are going in their bodies. The most common digestive imbalance associated with increased bodily inflammation is leaky gut, also referred to as increased intestinal permeability.

Down in your intestines, there is a membrane that separates your stool from your blood stream. Its job is to invite in all that your body needs from your foods, like water, proteins, vitamins and minerals, and keep out all that your body doesn’t want in the blood stream, like partially digested food, bacterial waste products and such. If you could spread that membrane out flat, it would cover a tennis court. And it is one cell thick. Anything that disrupts the integrity of that membrane allows the contents of your intestines direct access to the luxuriant bed of capillaries that are waiting to carry away all that gets absorbed.

Leaky gut is a problem for your body and, at the same time, a fairly common occurrence. So your body has three back-up systems to help that membrane out. First, you get a new membrane every three days, so that if it gets mechanically abraded, it heals quickly. Second, all the blood from your intestines goes to the liver first before it goes out to your body. That is called the “portal circulation.” It is then the liver’s job to inspect everything that just came in. If it is a food, the liver will prepare it so the body can use it. If it is a toxin, the liver will prepare it so the body can get rid of it.

So, what does your liver experience if that membrane is too permeable? Right. It gets swamped with toxins and gets overloaded. Leaky gut is one of the most common causes of liver-overload which causes symptoms such as PMS and hypoglycemia, as well as immune dysregulation. If the toxic load gets too high, the liver cannot clear all of them in one pass of blood and some get out into the circulation, causing brain fog, disrupted sleep, aches and pains in the muscles and joints, fatigue and such.

The third back-up system is that over 60% of your whole body’s immune system is in the gut. The white blood cells line up along that membrane ready to catch any bacteria or foreign proteins that leak across. If that membrane is too permeable, then your immune system is on all the time. Your immune system is supposed to be like the fire department. It is on alert, but those trucks are parked in the garage the majority of the day. What if they were out roaming around 24/7? Yes, they would burn a lot of gas, the firemen would get tired and not be able to respond appropriately when needed and they would probably be doing some things they don’t need to be doing.

Your white blood cells talk to each other with chemical called “cytokines.” They are to the white blood cells like neurotransmitters are to your nerve cells. When you have the flu, it is not the virus itself that makes you exhausted, feverish and achy, those are the effects of cytokines. If you have leaky gut, chances are good that you have elevated levels of cytokines in your system. That explains why you may feel fluish at times, or feel like you are coming down with something then it never manifests. If your immune system is on all the time, you are in a pro-inflammatory state. You can turn inflammation on easily but cannot then turn it off very well. You get over-use syndromes like carpal tunnel and tennis elbow easily, injuries may take longer to heal, you get stiff and sore more easily and such.

So what does all this have to do with GMOs? Well, it turns out that GMOs and Roundup® are causes of leaky gut. There are two main mechanisms for this, as I understand it so far.

Roundup® kills weeds. It does so through several mechanisms, the dominant one being interfering with the shikimate pathway. “The shikimate pathway (shikimic acid pathway) is a seven step metabolic route used by bacteriafungialgae, parasites and plants for the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids (phenylalaninetyrosine, and tryptophan). This pathway is not found in animals, hence the products of this pathway represent essential amino acids that must be obtained from the animal's diet. However, this pathway is found with microbes that live within animals in the gut microbiome.” (Wikipedia)

This means that, while Roundup® doesn’t kill mammalian cells, it kills your friendly bacteria. In fact, Roundup® has been patented as an antibiotic as well as an herbicide. Any residues of Roundup® in your food will disrupt your friendly bacteria, which causes leaky gut and autoimmunity problems through other mechanisms besides leaky gut. Since weeds are becoming resistant to Roundup®, it is being used in higher and higher doses. Also, even though wheat is not yet genetically modified to be Roundup®-ready, Roundup® is often now sprayed on wheat prior to harvest so that it is more uniformly dried out. If you are not eating organically, you are ingesting Roundup® in biologically significant doses.

In addition to being genetically modified to be Roundup®-ready, corn has a second genetic modification stacked into it. GMO corn, soy and cotton (ingested as cottonseed oil) contain a gene that makes the plant make Bt toxin within its tissues. Bt toxin is named for the bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis, that makes it naturally. Bt toxin kills caterpillars by three mechanisms. Some it kills by poking holes in the caterpillar’s intestines (sound familiar?), some it kills by stopping their digestion and they starve and some it kills by allowing bacteria through the intestines and they die from infection. Bt toxin has long been thought to be safe for humans but recent research shows that it kills human red blood cells and kidney cells. And, while Bt toxin by itself does not seem to cause leaky gut in humans directly, it can bind with up to six different proteins found in the human intestine and the Bt-protein complex then causes leaky gut.

Also, there is some concern that Agrobacterium tumetaciens, found naturally in the soil and human intestine and used by the biotech industry to insert genes into plants, can move the Bt gene from the corn that you eat and put it into your own friendly bacteria. If that happens, then your own microbiome becomes a pesticide factory.

There is a large body of science that claims that GMOs are safe for humans. Many are starting to question the veracity of that body of science as much of it comes from the biotech industry itself, obviously a conflict of interest. Also, many of the studies were not carried out long enough to see the real effects of GMOs. The bottom line, as far as I am concerned, is that a number of physicians, myself included, have observed that our patients with gluten sensitivity, chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases improve more quickly and to a greater degree when they eliminate GMO foods from their diets. Until the real truth of GMOs is better understood, if you are experiencing any long-term health problem at all, I would recommend eliminating GMO foods from your diet.

There are several resources to help you do that. The best way to avoid GMOs is to consult the NonGMOShoppingGuide.com or download the free iPhone app ShopNoGMO. Look for products with either the “Non-GMO Project Verified” or the “Certified Organic” seal. Avoid ingredients derived from the foods most likely to be genetically modified. These include soy, corn, cottonseed, canola, sugar, papaya from Hawaii or China, zucchini, and yellow squash. 

To your good health.

Six Lifestyle Changes I Wish All My Patients Would Make

No question, lifestyle choices have a huge impact upon your health. Studies show that healthy lifestyle can prevent or reverse most of the chronic illnesses in our culture such as obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, strokes and cancer. Most of these same advantages cannot be achieved by taking pills.

That’s too bad, of course, because taking pills is quick and easy (and believe me, drug companies continue to look long and hard for pills that could offer these same advantages but none have been found…yet. But they will keep looking) and changing lifestyle is something only you can do. But it doesn’t have to be hard; it doesn’t have to be a drag.

Conventional medicine talks about lifestyle changes to quit smoking, not over-drink and to exercise regularly. These are all good ideas and I’m going to assume you already know the evils of tobacco, alcohol and modeling your daily activity after a sloth. So I want to talk to you about my wish-list for your lifestyle in addition to the conventional ones.

1.       No GMOs. The biotech industry has done a stellar job blocking, censoring and otherwise obfuscating the information about the health effects of GMOs. How much time, energy and money they put into this massive cover-up should give you some indication about how bad GMOs are for you, even without any data. What do they know that is so bad that they have to work so hard to keep us from knowing it? What little data that does get through the cracks (and is credible) is very sobering. A recent study comparing pigs fed GMO soy and corn to pigs fed the same diet but with non-GMO soy and corn found that the GMO male pigs had a four-times increase in severe stomach inflammation while female pigs had 2.2 times higher rate of severe stomach inflammation. The female GMO-fed pigs also had uteri that weighed on average 25% more than the non-GMO pigs. I believe that someday the truth will out, as it generally does, but in the meantime, you don’t need to be part of the giant genetic experiment these giant corporations are conducting on us without our permission. Until we can organize a meaningful revolution, the best each individual can do to stand up to these giant corporations is non-violent non-participation. Just don’t buy their goods. I will go into more detail on the health effects of GMOs in later blogs.

2.       Eat as organically as possible. You can’t completely avoid herbicides and pesticides any more but a study done by the CDC demonstrated that eating organically lowers the levels of these chemicals in your body to as low as one-eighth the level of the general population. Since these things have hormonal activity, eating organically is especially important if you ever want to have children. Feed you children organically because they may want to have children someday. Not only do high levels of pesticides and herbicides affect fertility, they can increase problems with periods in girls and lead to cancers later in life.

3.       Figure out how to be healthy in the face of stressors. Stress is now linked to 70-90% of the reasons why people see a physician. There are two categories of stress: those inside your skin and those outside your skin. Stressors inside your skin would be physiological things like hidden infections, allergic reactions, leaky gut, poor quality sleep, autoimmunity and such. These things can be assessed and treated by a competent Integral Medicine practitioner. Stressors outside your skin don’t exist. All that exist outside your skin are potential stressors and they are only stress for you if they trigger the fight or flight reflex in you. Your fight or flight reflex is triggered any time you perceive yourself to be either threatened or spread too thin. The key word is “perceive.” One man’s stress is another man’s recreation. The difference between them is how they look at the experience. How you look at an experience is determined by your world view (guess that’s why they call it that.) Your world view is made up of beliefs. Through the practice of the Seven Tools of Healing, you can identify and correct your beliefs. The goal for reducing the adverse health effects of stress is to work your beliefs around so that the vast majority of what you face on a day to day basis does not trigger your fight or flight reflex. (I’m assuming you don’t live in a war zone, an inner city gang or are in the process of breaking bad.) Of course, you have to pick your battles. If you are in a stressful situation and there is anything you can do to improve the situation and you want to do it, you ought to. Only work your innards around to tolerate intolerable situations if you can’t change them. And may you have the wisdom to know the difference.

4.       Practice awareness. Your life is feeding you clues all the time from all directions: how you are feeling physically, how you are feeling emotionally, what you are thinking, how you are acting, patterns in relationships, your dreams, your likes and dislikes. Pick up on the clues and follow them back to the treasure (YOU!) Be uncompromisingly honest with yourself about the truth of your clues. If you are out on a treasure hunt and you modify all the clues you find to be more to your liking, chances are you’ll never find the treasure. We rationalize, sugar-coat, repress, deny, inflate, transfer and do all sorts of other Freudian things to our feelings and other clues and then wonder why we wander around lost so much of the time.

5.       Trust what you know. Trust is a choice.   

6.       Figure out how to be happy. There are so many very intelligent, very unhappy people in the world, I often wonder why they don’t use their intelligence to figure out how to be happy. “Seek and ye shall find.” It’s not “Seek and maybe you’ll find.” “Knock and the door shall be opened.” It’s not “Knock and maybe I’ll open the door if I’m not in the shower.” “The masters love the Tao because if the student seeks it, the student finds it.” Again, no “maybe” about it. These are famous sayings because they capture an important aspect of Consciousness. Your questions will be answered. Ask how you can be happy. Then start following your nose. Real, deep, unshakable happiness is independent of your life circumstances, it is an inside job. Health and Happiness often go together because they branch from the same trunk. You have that trunk inside of you; it’s part of being a human being. Seek and ye shall find. 

At Last! A Tenable Theory about How Consciousness Creates the Mind and Brain

In this blog post, I’m going to indulge myself and totally geek out. I’m excited because I have found a plausible answer to a question I’ve had for years. You see, I have never believed the current neuroscience dogma that the brain is primary and creates everything else by its activity. Neuroscientists believe that neuronal activity in the brain creates mind and consciousness. Yet when I look at their data, so many of their experiments make so much more sense if you think about it the other way around: that consciousness creates mind and brain.

Neuroscientists have yet to figure out how the neuronal activity in your brain creates your mind and I believe they never will because it doesn’t happen that way. For many years I have believed that the thought happened first and somehow created the neuronal activity in the brain that was then able to translate that thought into action by the body. The brain is then just an information relay station, which, by the way, is how it is constructed: much like the old telephone switch boards. But I was really no better off than the neuroscientists because I couldn’t figure out how thoughts created that physical response in the brain. But then Amit Goswami PhD (http://www.amazon.com/Quantum-Doctor-Physicist-Explains-Integral/dp/1571746552/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1426985231&sr=1-1&keywords=quantum+doctor+amit+goswami) gave me the answer. At least a very plausible one.

It has to do with quantum weirdness. A little background. Quantum mechanics deals with the behavior of matter, energy and information at very small scales, such as the size of atoms and smaller. At these micro scales, the Universe is very different from what we’re used to at our macro scales. For example, matter and energy can act like both a particle and a wave. Particles are discrete little bundles like billiard balls. The can smack into things, like x-rays hitting the silver particles in a piece of film. While waves can diffract and constructively and destructively interfere with each other like the ripples on a pond when you drop two pebbles at the same time a few feet apart, or like when sound waves wobble as you’re tuning your instrument. It is hard for us to imagine how something can be a wave and a particle at the same time.

How physicists resolved this duality is by realizing that what quality the quantum world reveals of itself depends upon what the scientist is looking for. If you set your experiment up to look for particle-like properties, that is what you see. If you set your experiment up to look for wave-like properties, that is what you see. The observer, by exercising conscious choice, determines what the quantum world serves up. This, by the way, is the same way that Spinoza resolved the mind/body duality a couple of hundred years ago. Goswami maintains that quantum mechanics requires the existence of consciousness: the same consciousness that is the missing piece in medicine.

So once the photon is emitted and before it is detected, it exists as a probability function with many possible outcomes. The very act of measuring the photon collapses the probability function down into the one manifest reality that is measured. Once the function collapses, the other possibilities are lost for that particular event. Now what is curious is that even though quantum weirdnesses only show up at very small scales, since the 1930’s observers have noticed an uncanny correlation between the quantum world and the workings of the human psyche. Fritjof Capra talks about this (http://www.amazon.com/Tao-Physics-Exploration-Parallels-Mysticism/dp/1590308352/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1427219753&sr=1-1&keywords=the+tao+of+physics.)

So imagine that you, as pure consciousness, exists as a quantum potential function. As each moment of your life’s experience gets “measured” as your conscious experience, that potential function collapses and becomes you in this very moment. And just as the potential function of a photon can collapse as either a particle or a wave, Goswami does a great job explaining how the human potential function collapses simultaneously into several “structures” in time and space. One is your physical body, another is your energy, another your mind, and another is what Gaswami calls the “supramental”. I see this supramental functioning inside you as your Inner Wisdom, your Buddha Nature, your Christ Consciousness, your Anandamayakosha or whatever you want to call it. The potential function that describes you simultaneously creates, when it collapses instant by instant, all the koshas in the Vedic model of a human being.  

So the thought in your mind doesn’t create the electrical activity in your brain any more than the electrical activity in your brain creates your thought. They are both created simultaneously as your potential function collapses into what you experience, or measure, as this present moment. An un-collapsed potential function exists within consciousness and, until it collapses, is outside of time and space. This fits our observations of mind/body/energy interactions where they each seem to be a correlate of the others, changes appearing simultaneously in all three aspects rather than one causing changes in the others. This explains how therapies acting on the energetic can change the body’s biochemistry or therapies acting on the mind can change the body’s biochemistry and vice versa. So this model fits a lot of what I see in my office every day as well as what the ancient Vedic sages observed over thousands of years.

And this idea of human potential consciousness simultaneously collapsing into these aspects explains yet another observation, that being that what you believe seems to play a very central role in both how you perceive and interpret your world and in what you are able to bring forth and manifest in your life. This central role of beliefs can now be explained if you theorize that what you believe influences how your potential function collapses. Just like whether or not you set up one slot or two slots for the photon to pass through determines whether or not you see particle or wave behavior, your own potential function collapses to be in harmony with, to be congruent with, what you already believe. Your beliefs are like the slots. The beliefs that you hold right now set up the experiment of your life, so to speak, to determine what the next moment of your life “measures” as the experience of your conscious self. So changing your beliefs changes how your potential function collapses and allows it to create different moment by moment experiences for you. The Seven Tools of Healing shows you how to find and change any limiting beliefs you may hold that are creating the things in your life you want to change.

I love it when something so simple can explain so many different things and be internally consistent across so many disciplines at the same time.

Getting the Most from Your Medicine

The placebo effect is one of the most important clinical observations that cannot be explained by the conventional medical model. Many clinical scientists have tried to deal with this outlying phenomenon by discounting it, ignoring it, subtracting it out of their data and other machinations (http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674669864) But if conventional medicine cannot explain the placebo effect, it can at least quantify it and learn to harness it for good.

In a recent article (http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/6/218/218ra5.full.pdf) researchers compared placebo to 10 mg of rizatriptan (Maxalt) in migraine headache. They compared the results from seven different scenarios. The first was the pain levels for a headache with no treatment as a baseline. The other six were a placebo labeled as either a 1)placebo, 2)50:50 chance of placebo or medicine and 3) 100% chance of medicine. And Maxalt was similarly labeled as 4) placebo, 5) 50:50 chance of placebo or medicine or 6) 100% chance of medicine.

They found some interesting results. First, placebo accurately labeled as a placebo still offered some pain relief compared to no treatment. Second, placebo labeled as 100% chance of Maxalt gave the same pain relief as Maxalt labeled as placebo. Interestingly, the best pain relief was in the scenario of Maxalt labeled as 50:50 chance of placebo or medication, though not statistically significantly different from Maxalt labeled as Maxalt. The take-home message? The patient’s expectations not only made the placebo work better but also the made the Maxalt work worse. Beliefs are self-fulfilling prophesies. People who believe that medications are poison are helping to create that experience for themselves.

Here is one way you can put this information to work for you. Real holistic medicine is inclusive, not exclusive. Real holistic medicine includes conventional medicine. Sometimes the power of pharmaceuticals and surgery comes in handy. If you are ever in a position where you need to take medications, you might as well get the most benefit and least harm from them. Years ago, I came up with this visualization that has helped many of my patients and I want to share it with you. I was working with a woman who said she was allergic to just about every antibiotic she had ever taken. At that time, she was having a severe sinus infection that was not responding to nasal saline irrigation, steaming with essential oils, antibiotic herbs, immune boosters or anything else we were trying. She did not want to see an ENT for surgery.

So I thought about it for a minute and said to her, “Do you know what it takes to get a medication approved for sale in the US? It takes literally millions of hours of people’s time and effort. And most of the people who work developing and testing new drugs, except perhaps for the top executives of drug companies who are actively manipulating the market, medical education, the practice of science, legislation and anything else they can get their hands on to increase their profits, are doing so because they honestly believe that their efforts will help someone somewhere. That means that that little pill represents literally millions of hours of people’s good will aimed at you. Hold it in your hand for a moment, give thanks to all those hard-working, caring people with your mind’s voice, swallow the pill and see it going to wherever in your body you need it to go, doing what it needs to do to help you and leaving the rest of your body alone.” She agreed to give it a try. I wrote her a prescription for an antibiotic, she took it, got better and had no allergic reactions or other side effects.  

Since then, I’ve seen this visualization help people tolerate chemotherapy better, not get usual side effects from opiates, blood pressure meds, antidepressants and such. You have a powerful mind. Learn how to use it to help yourself heal, increase your happiness and decrease your limitations.

“If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you’re right.” –Henry Ford

Consciousness as Medicine

The placebo effect is one of the most important clinical observations that cannot be explained by the conventional medical model. Many clinical scientists have tried to deal with this outlying phenomenon by discounting it, ignoring it, subtracting it out of their data and other machinations (http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674669864) But if conventional medicine cannot explain the placebo effect, it can at least quantify it and learn to harness it for good.

In a recent article (http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/6/218/218ra5.full.pdf) researchers compared placebo to 10 mg of rizatriptan (Maxalt) in migraine headache. They compared the results from seven different scenarios. The first was the pain levels for a headache with no treatment as a baseline. The other six were a placebo labeled as 1)  a placebo, 2) 50:50 chance of placebo or medicine and 3) 100% chance of medicine and Maxalt was similarly labeled as 4) a placebo, 5) 50:50 chance of placebo or medicine or 6) 100% chance of medicine.

They found some interesting results. First, placebo accurately labeled as a placebo still offered some pain relief compared to no treatment. Second, placebo labeled as 100% chance of Maxalt gave the same pain relief as Maxalt labeled as placebo. Interestingly, the best pain relief was in the scenario of Maxalt labeled as 50:50 chance of placebo or medication, though not statistically significantly different from Maxalt labeled as Maxalt. The take-home message? The patient’s expectations not only made the placebo work better but also made the Maxalt work worse. Beliefs are self-fulfilling prophesies. People who believe that medications are poison are helping to create that experience for themselves.

Here is one way you can put this information to work for you. Real holistic medicine in inclusive, not exclusive. Real holistic medicine includes conventional medicine. Sometimes the power of pharmaceuticals and surgery comes in handy. If you are ever in the situation where you have to take medications, you might as well get the most benefit and least harm from them that you can. Years ago, I came up with this visualization that has helped many of my patients and I want to share it with you.

I was working with a woman who said she was allergic to just about every antibiotic she had ever taken. At that time, she was having a severe sinus infection that was not responding to nasal saline irrigation, steaming with essential oils, antibiotic herbs, immune boosters or anything else we were trying. She did not want to see an ENT for surgery.

So I thought about it for a minute and said to her, “Do you know what it takes to get a medication approved for sale in the US? It takes literally millions of hours of people’s time and effort. And most of the people who work developing and testing new drugs, except perhaps for the top executives of drug companies who are actively manipulating the market, medical education, the practice of science, legislation and anything else they can get their hands on to increase their profits, are doing so because they honestly believe that their efforts will help someone somewhere. That means that that little pill represents literally millions of hours of people’s good will aimed at you. Hold it in your hand for a moment, give thanks to all those hard-working, caring people with your mind’s voice, swallow the pill and see it going to wherever in your body you need it to go, doing what it needs to do to help you and leaving the rest of your body alone.” She agreed to give it a try. I wrote her a prescription for an antibiotic, she took it, got better and had no allergic reactions or other side effects.  

Since then, I’ve seen this visualization help people tolerate chemotherapy better, not get usual side effects from opiates, blood pressure meds, antidepressants and such. You have a powerful mind. Learn how to use it to help yourself heal, increase your happiness and decrease your limitations.

“If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you’re right.” –Henry Ford

The Benefits of Listening

Learning how to listen to your own inner wisdom is the best skill anyone on a healing path can master. Case in point: recently, a patient I’ve been working with for years for her fibromyalgia has been going through a difficult time with insomnia. She falls asleep okay but then wakes up two hours later and cannot go back to sleep. She is very sensitive and often gets paradoxical reactions to both medications and supplements she takes. That means she often experiences the opposite to what the medication is intended to produce. For example, she tried trazedone, which was first developed as an antidepressant but was so sedating that no one could take the antidepressant dose without sleeping all day so we now often use a fraction of the antidepressant dose as a sleep aid. She took one dose and lay awake crying inconsolably all night. Antianxiety medications give her panic attacks and so forth. So we could find no medication or natural supplement that she could both tolerate and that was effective. She was nearing total melt-down after weeks of not sleeping.

For so many of my patients who get paradoxical reactions to medications, it is as if that is their body’s way of saying “Drugs are not your path to healing.” Most of them eventually find that consciousness is their path. My patient has been working hard on her issues with a therapist, making important changes in her life to take good care of herself, eating well, exercising; in other words, doing all the right things but all to no avail. One evening, in desperation, she was looking through her notes just to make sure she hadn’t missed anything when she came across a little yellow sticky note I’d given her at a recent visit. It read, “Cure and curiosity come from the same root word. Get curious about yourself, about your life and what is happening to you.” She told me later that she told herself, “I’m going to get curious about this insomnia. What’s at the root of it? What does it need?” Then she got still and the message “detox” came into her mind.

I would have not thought to recommend detoxing to her because she had already eliminated her reactive foods and her digestion was working pretty well. She sat in a sauna for 30 minutes, went home and slept for 9 hours straight. The next day she sweat for another 30 minutes and slept 8 hours that night. She said that she got the insight that her toxicity was actually her body’s response to her underlying chronic anxiety.

She has continued her listening and recently reported that she sees how she’s been trained from childhood to give her power away. Her inner wisdom has given her recommendations for what to do about that and recently, when her x-husband filed to sue her for increased child custody and child support because she makes more than he does, rather than get all stressed out about it like she would have, she, instead, turned around and filed her own suit against him for the six years of child support that he has not paid her. She is now inventorying her life and changing all the ways that she has been taken advantage of and given her power away. She is sleeping much better. 

Health Insurance and Water Bills

What if we paid for our water the way we pay for healthcare?

Say, for example, that you went to the bathroom and flushed the toilet. The water company would supply the water. They would then submit a bill to your water insurance company. If your water company is in-network with your water insurance company, the insurance company will knock thirty percent off the bill your water company submitted and pay that, assuming your deductible was met, then send you an explanation of payment for the flushed toilet.

But if your water company was out-of-network with your water insurance company, they might refuse payment all together or make your deductible twice as high as your in-network deductible.

But your water insurance company might need more information before they can pay the claim. They send you a form to fill out. Was that you who flushed the toilet or was that someone else? Do you have any other water insurance? Was that toilet flushed on the job? Then they deny your claim. Based on the information you submitted, they determined that you really didn’t need to flush right then. Or perhaps you’ve exceeded the allowed number of flushes this calendar year.

You call them and wait on hold for 40 minutes. Once you get a live person to talk to, they tell you that you have to talk to this other person. They transfer you and you sit on hold for another 40 minutes. This person tells you that you filled out the wrong form and that they really needed the information from the water provider. “Just have them write a note for you stating that you really did need to flush then,” they tell you.

You call your water company. They write a letter to your water insurance company. The water insurance company reviews all the records and determines that you did need to flush then but that you didn’t need five gallons so they are only going to pay for three. And to avoid all this confusion in the future, the next time you need to flush, just have your water company call and get prior authorization.

Then you go to take a shower. Your water provider asks you, “what part of your body do you want to wash today?” They inform you that if you wash your whole body in one shower, the insurance company won’t pay for it. And so on it goes.

Addictions

My definition of addiction is feeling management. Any time you are doing something or thinking something to make yourself feel any differently than you do in that moment, you are practicing your addiction. That addiction can be anything from heroin to television, from Emotional Freedom Technique to affirmations. I like this definition for addiction because it points directly to the treatment: learn to be present with however you are feeling right now.

Learning how to be healthy with your feelings, no matter what they are, is the best treatment for addictions I’ve ever seen. All the rehab programs that are successful teach their participants this skill. And they encourage them to practice this skill until they can use it with even the most powerful feelings. Rehab programs that are not successful generally are teaching their participants other ways, besides drugs or alcohol, to avoid their pain and other feelings. These are nothing more than substitution addiction programs.

Being healthy with your feelings means that you are fully aware that they are there, that you fully accept the truth of them and that you follow them back to their roots, their genesis, their source (see Feelings – Part I and Feelings – Part II for more on that). Signs and symptoms, of which physical and emotional feelings are a subset, are clues that something in your system is out of balance. They are clues we need to follow.

So, let’s say that you and I are working together on a treasure hunt. We find a clue that says “Proceed three blocks east and two blocks north, look for an orange box.” You look at that clue, get out your pencil and start scribbling, “I hate going east. I’m changing that to south. I hate orange so I’m changing that to blue, and instead of a box, I’m going to look for a flag pole.” And off you go with your new clue that is more to your liking. How successful are you going to be in the treasure hunt?

In real life, your feelings are the clues and the treasure is a healthy, fully realized you. We alter our clues all the time, we don’t follow them and then we wonder why we don’t get better.

Your addictions are asking you to be impeccable with your feelings and to find and be your truest self, which is also a Spiritual path. Every addict I’ve ever met has three personality traits in common: they are all very bright, very creative and very sensitive. Put those three traits into the same person, drop them down into this cesspool of human suffering and it’s going to hurt. Addicts are often trying to get out of that pain. Rather than finding other ways to ignore the pain, it is better for the addict to learn how to find the blessings in those three traits, to turn them from being curses.

Here is what I suggest. Engage your intelligence in a challenge. Challenge it to help you find lasting real peace and happiness, not just a momentary escape. Keep challenging yourself, keep searching and stick with it until you figure it out.

Engage your creativity because chances are, you are going to have your own unique path to your peace and happiness. Other people’s journey might give you suggestions or encouragement, but you have to walk your own path in your own way. Again, look inside yourself at least as diligently as you look outside yourself for answers.

With your sensitivity, you can listen quite deeply. You will be able to hear inner information that others have to practice for years to access. Trust what you hear. Follow your heart’s knowing. It will help you navigate fears and limited beliefs and get through. Work with someone who gets addictions on this level.

Tom Green, Patti’s late uncle and a lifer in AA, was fond of saying, “The alcoholic is a Spiritual Seeker.” And how right he was.

Copyright 2013 Steven M. Hall, MD

Previous Posts in this Series: 1.  Healing Implies Change 2.  Emendation 3.  Faith 4.  Awareness 5.  Acceptance 6.  Compassion 7.  Feelings – Part I 8.  Feelings – Part II 9.  Feelings – Example 10.  Feelings and Diet

Feelings and Diet

How to use a healthy relationship with feelings to have a healthy relationship with food

The last three blog posts laid out a fairly simple method for how to be healthy with your feelings and gave an example of how easily we’re lured into feeling management which keeps us blocked from important information in our lives.

Being healthy with your feelings is important in its own right, but you can use that skill to be healthier in other aspects of your life as well. For example, until you develop yourself to the point where you transcend physical influences, how you eat is far and away one of the most important influences upon your health. Studies have shown that a healthy diet can promote healthy pregnancies, prevent heart disease, diabetes, obesity, strokes, Alzheimer’s, cancer and even depression. Health educators have done a pretty good job in our culture. Anyone who wants to know what a good diet is can readily find that information. You probably already have a pretty good idea about how you’re “supposed” to eat, what’s bad for you and what’s good for you.

Yet, how often do you eat that way? And why not? Any time you find yourself eating something that that little nagely voice inside bugs you about, why do you go ahead and eat it anyway? There’s information in all this. In medicine, we’re constantly telling people to change the way they eat but it is the rare person who takes our advice and builds themselves a whole new life with it. Years ago, I got some insight into why that might be the case.

I read an article about two tribes that lived on either side of a river that was a tributary to the Amazon. As neighboring tribes often are, they were enemies of each other. Both tribes had access to essentially the same food in the jungle, yet what was acceptable food for one tribe was taboo for the other. How you ate made you part of your tribe. For hundreds of thousands of years of human development, fitting into your tribe meant survival, being ostracized by your tribe meant death. When we ask someone to change the way they eat, we don’t realize it, but we are really asking them to change tribes. That is no simple request for our non-conscious minds! In addition, you may have other more personal reasons, such as needing to feel safe, etc, to keep you in your less-healthy eating patterns.

So if the way that you are eating is making you sick, or very likely to make you sick sometime in the future, how do you get yourself to change? I see two ways.

The first way is a great way to practice awareness and trusting yourself. When it comes time to eat, take a moment, get centered inside and ask your body what it wants to eat. Get some sense about what that would be. If possible, go eat that. About 30 to 60 minutes after you eat, tune in to how you are feeling now because you ate that. Over time, and with practice, you will get very good at hearing what your body wants as well as discerning whether you are listening to the little devil on one shoulder whispering into one ear or the little angel on the other shoulder whispering into the other ear.

No published list of shoulds knows your moment to moment biochemical needs so this way of eating makes good sense to me. As they practice listening, I’ve seen my patients get very good at detecting imbalances in their digestion that needed addressing, at picking up food reactions, at telling what combinations of foods work for them and what don’t and so forth. Also, being able to tell the difference between your real inner loving guidance and the saboteur is a helpful skill for other areas of your life as well. Knowing how to work well with your feelings greatly facilitates this kind of learning.

The second way to change how you eat is to pick some kind of diet—some kind of regimented way of eating—commit to that and then use your healthy relationship with your feelings to deal with any feelings that come up because of how you are eating. You may have to deal with feelings of deprivation as your diet does not allow you to have something that you love to eat. You may have to deal with feelings at pot-lucks or if you eat out with family and friends. But all sorts of feelings may come up: anger, fear, grief. You may find yourself trying to rationalize yourself out of your commitment. Remember, if you give up lightly on your commitment, it’s not much of a commitment. This is also a good chance to practice will-power and renewing your commitment to yourself one day at a time.

But stay very aware of your feelings. Follow them back to their roots. See where they are coming from. See if those roots are really true from a Spiritual perspective. Be kind to yourself as your stomach digests your backbone.

Copyright 2013 Steven M. Hall, MD

Previous Posts in this Series:
1.  Healing Implies Change
2.  Emendation
3.  Faith
4.  Awareness
5.  Acceptance
6.  Compassion
7.  Feelings – Part I
8.  Feelings – Part II
9.  Feelings – Example

Feelings – Example

We’ve talked about how feelings, both physical and emotional, are messengers bringing you information about what’s going on inside of you. By getting the message from the feeling, we are often in a position to take meaningful, appropriate action to correct any imbalance or problem that the feeling may be “talking” to us about. That imbalance could be a lack of water, food or specific nutrient; it might be we need to get up and move around; it might be that we are harboring a host of limiting beliefs. Physical feelings do not always have physical causes. Emotional feelings do not always have emotional causes. Each feeling needs to be listened to and followed to its roots in a non-judgmental, unconditional, honest way. Any fiddling with the feeling risks blocking you from your truth.

Elizabeth (not her real name) belongs to a fairly active and close-knit group of people who collect and distribute food to house-bound elderly in their community. She is generally self-assured, confident, energetic, out-going and well aware of the messages coming to her from her body. She is very health-conscious: grows most of her own food, eats organically, her lifestyle includes plenty of exercise, she treats naturally when needed, has a spiritual practice, great relationship…stuff like that. Not too long ago, a couple of women in the group decided to take a disliking to her.

They think that she violated an agreement or something and no amount of explaining was able to change their minds. For months, these women would, seemingly out of the blue, bad-mouth her or back-stab her. Nothing she did made the situation any better. Over time, she started experiencing more anxiety and felt like she’d lost her Spiritual center. She was not sleeping as well and had become more hyper-vigilant. She also found it more difficult to listen to her body. She said she knows now how it feels to be bullied. She’s worried that the chronic, smoldering anxiety is planting the seeds of disease in her body and wants to “get back to” her sense of calm and confidence. She’s been meditating more, but it’s not working.

First, what she’s feeling is very common in people who are being attacked, whether the attack is physical, verbal or psychic. One often feels hopeless, trapped, demoralized, anxious and even depressed. She’s not used to feeling this way and now has more compassion and understanding for people who do, but she really wants to get back to how she was feeling before these two women started back-stabbing her.

This is a perfect example of what we do to ourselves with our feelings. We don’t like how we’re feeling now and we want to feel something different. So we often try to make the uncomfortable feelings go away with techniques as simple as ignoring them or as sophisticated as creating entire New Age philosophies to rationalize them. Even intelligent, psychologically adept and spiritually minded people do this. The trouble is, it doesn’t work very well.

We often try to make changes to the outer circumstances in order to change how we’re feeling. If there is anything that you can do to improve the outward situation and you feel called to do it, you definitely should give it your best effort. It was reasonable for Elizabeth to make a couple of attempts to clear up any misunderstanding that may have happened. But once that does not work, what others think, feel or believe, especially about you, is out of your jurisdiction. Unless you’re a whiz at advertising, you might not be able to effect much change in that arena.

Elizabeth was getting very clear about that. We talked about feelings and how to see them as messengers and how to stay with the feeling just as it is. We discussed the difference between thoughts and feelings. One does not need to indulge unsupportive thoughts and it’s okay to note that such thoughts are there and redirect your focus, but you want to really hear what your feelings are trying to say to you before doing anything to make them change or go away.

I spoke with her several weeks later and the anxiety was still there to some degree, but she had realized that she could not change these women so she wasn’t going to taking it so personally. She had concluded that she didn’t need to put any more effort into trying to convince these women of anything and instead was able to focus on the question, “What is the Universe trying to teach me through all this?” She realized that these women’s treatment of her bothered her so much because they were impugning her integrity. Her integrity was important to her and she didn’t like being misunderstood.

She decided that 100% integrity wasn’t enough. She resolved to keep a close eye on herself and live in “1000% integrity.” As she’s been doing this, her anxiety had been slowly abating and she’s feeling her confidence and energy return. She’s also opening back up to information from her body. Instead of seeing the anxiety and sense of disconnect as the problem that needed to be addressed directly, she was able to listen to the deeper themes underpinning the feelings and deal with them. As she did so, the feelings changed. In other words, the messengers didn’t have to keep bringing the same message once that message was dealt with in an appropriate fashion.

So often, when we go through trials in our life, if we work with them in a healthy way, we improve; if we work with them in an unhealthy way, we often get closed down. Whether you feel opened or restricted by the challenges in your life gives you a clue as to how you are working with them.

When we are able to be healthy with our feelings and keep our efforts where we have jurisdiction, we get clearer about who we are and how to make choices congruent with that, we get physical healing as our bodies start working better, we often have more energy and find it easier to “get in the flow.” These are indications that healing has happened.

Be present with your feelings. Remember, no matter how you are feeling in any given moment, you can still be kind to yourself.

Follow these steps to get the messages from your feelings and make the changes that your painful or uncomfortable feelings are asking you to make. You can do this.

Copyright 2013 Steven M. Hall, MD

Previous Posts in this Series: 1.  Healing Implies Change 2.  Emendation 3.  Faith 4.  Awareness 5.  Acceptance 6.  Compassion 7.  Feelings – Part I 8.  Feelings – Part II

Feelings – Part II

To be healthy in general, we want to be healthy with our feelings. To be able to continue to use the stuff of our everyday life to grow and reach our full potential we need to be healthy with our feelings. Managing our feelings, wanting to feel a certain way and not feel other ways, cuts us off to important information about ourselves and can keep us stuck. So far we’ve talked about how feelings are messengers, therefore they are innocent. All your feelings are valid. You never have to say, “I shouldn’t be feeling this way.” You don’t ever have to feel guilty for how you are feeling. Alcoholics Anonymous says that feelings are not facts, but the fact is, you are feeling that way. There is information in that. You want to use that information to the fullest to help yourself heal.

Some feelings you’re going to like, some you’re not. That’s just the Yin-Yang of Nature. The tide comes in, the tide goes out; the moon waxes, the moon wanes. One is not better or worse than the other. The same can be said about your feelings. Learn to treat them all equally.

Physical and emotional feelings are just two sides of the same coin. Learn to listen to yourself on both tracks simultaneously. That tension in your shoulders has emotion behind it. That frustration is causing physical changes in your body. See both, get the fullest picture of your truth in the moment that you can.

Become aware of how you are feeling. For some reason, this makes it a whole lot easier for you to work with it. Unconscious feelings have an interesting property: even though we’re oblivious to them, they’re obvious to those around us. That’s just plain not fair, (especially when you’re married) but nobody said life was fair.

Next, admit the truth of how you are feeling to yourself. No point in lying to yourself. Working with a distorted version of your truth will not free you from whatever malady you are experiencing. Denying, repressing, rationalizing, sugar-coating or putting any other kind of distorting spin on the truth of your present moment will keep you stuck in your present perspectives, beliefs and patterns. You may be able to force the content of your life to change, such as changing partners or careers, but the same feelings and patterns will keep popping up over and over, until you stop fighting and just let in your truth.

Once you fully admit how you really feel and what you really believe, see how they have been impacting you down through the years. See what experiences you went through that led to the formation of those beliefs. You might see yourself as a small baby before you have object permanence lying in a room all alone, unable to see or hear anyone else, feeling unimaginable fear and abandonment. You might see yourself as a small child being tormented by older siblings or being sexually abused by a neighbor or family member. Just trust what you see, even if it doesn’t make sense at first. Memories often start out vague and flesh themselves out over time.

If you are doing this exploration yourself, hold yourself to a very high standard of integrity. Avoid making assumptions or jumping to conclusions. Stay with the observing and asking questions and you will avoid most of the detours and dead-ends on your path. During this process, if you are working with a therapist, it is very important that your therapist also not make assumptions or jump to conclusions. They need to stay with non-judgmental, un-loaded, open-ended questions and let you draw your own conclusions.  Studies have shown that false memories can be implanted in susceptible people, especially during highly emotionally charged moments. People also have the tendency to embellish and amplify memories as well. Both of these distort and block the truth, interfering with your healing. Whether or not your memory is literally true or more symbolic is very important if you want to engage the legal system and prosecute a perpetrator. But if your major goal is to release yourself from a limiting belief, the distinction is less important. Whether or not something you remember actually happened is immaterial as long as you work honestly with the feelings that you are having.

For example, I’ve had patients who were convinced that they had been sexually abused as children. They exhibited all the symptoms of PTSD around intimacy and so forth. But upon deeper exploration they saw that they had picked up on the abuse some of their classmates were going through and internalized that. If you put thirty children in a classroom, statistically, several of them will have been or are currently being sexually abused. A sensitive child can pick up on that and possibly own it as their own, like they do with so many other energies in their environment. But whether or not that child was actually abused is immaterial. They feel abused and that abuse still needs to be healed in them. We are all interconnected and interdependent. If you hurt yourself or another, you are hurting the entire system. Conversely, if you love yourself or another, you are loving the entire system. Therefore, finding and living from your source of deep inner love is something real and definite that you as an individual can do to make this world a better place for everyone, whether or not you ever sign another on-line petition. But I digress.

So once you are in touch with the experience that led to the formation of the belief, imagine bringing your present day adult self back in time to be with your younger self as you are going through those experiences. Ask your younger self how it wants you to be with it right then. I’d be willing to bet that it won’t ask to be attacked or annihilated; it won’t ask to be judged or criticized. Most likely, it will just ask you to be with it, to be supportive and understanding, to be kind to it. This is the compassion piece. If you can, give yourself what you are asking.

Usually, this is all it takes to get the limiting belief to change, to draw different conclusions from that original experience, to get the belief to align itself with higher Spiritual truths. Once the belief changes, then the feelings that are being generated by that belief change and that is often how you know that the change has happened. Any given experience has multiple possible interpretations. As you inventory the seminal experiences of your life, ask yourself, “How does God (or Spirit) view this? How does this look through Spirit eyes?” Trust what you know.

If you want to see an excellent, graphic representation of this kind of therapy, watch the Walt Disney movie “The Kid” starring Bruce Willis.

Copyright 2013 Steven M. Hall, MD

Previous Posts in this Series: 1.  Healing Implies Change 2.  Emendation 3.  Faith 4.  Awareness 5.  Acceptance 6.  Compassion 7.  Feelings – Part I

Feelings – Part I

So now we have a work-horse to help us make whatever changes we need to in order to heal. The healing we’re talking about is deeper than lifestyle changes. You can know how you are supposed to eat and exercise and participate in family and community and not stress out, but often getting yourself to actually live that way is problematic. Things just seem to get in the way. Ideally, the “doing” in your life springs directly from your “being,” from who you really are. Who you really are is a Divine Being, whole and healthy. Finding out who you really are, underneath all the wounding, conditioning and domestication is what we’re about here. On a foundation of faith in whatever helps us the most, we practice compassionate accepting awareness of what is. This brings us face-to-face with our truth and we can see how our own personal truth aligns with a higher Spiritual truth.

The practice of awareness, acceptance and compassion also form the foundation for a healthy relationship with your feelings. Why is that so important? Because being messed up with your feelings causes you a lot of grief, which is a metaphorical way of saying that it is not an optimal condition. Just think of the amount of human suffering that can be linked to misunderstanding our feelings. Over 20% of Americans are now on an antidepressant. Emotional eating accounts for a lot of obesity and type II diabetes. Addictions complicate millions of people’s lives and break up families. Domestic abuse, child abuse, employee abuse…the list goes on and on. All of these conditions and more can be helped by being healthy with your feelings.

Sometimes, like a panic attack, feelings are so powerful that they pull you completely off your center; you may even spend time in the Emergency Room thinking you’re having a heart attack. Other times, like depression, they are so insidious and grinding that you can start to believe that the only relief is in death. Sometimes your feelings drive your behaviors and you might do things that you later regret. Managing your feelings, especially trying to make them be a certain way, is my definition of addiction.

All of these problems with feelings can be prevented by knowing what feelings are, by knowing how they work inside of you and by understanding how to work effectively with them. That is what I mean when I say “have a healthy relationship with your feelings.”

So, what are feelings from the Integral Medicine perspective? First, let me emphatically state what they are not: feelings are not the problem. No matter how you are feeling, feeling that way is not the problem. So you don’t really need to do anything about the feeling per se. The feeling is caused by something; the feeling is a result of something. The feeling can be thought of as a symptom: a clue to what is really going on. You want to be able to follow the clues back to the real treasure.

A feeling is just a messenger bringing you information, it is not the message.

The message is buried in the feeling and your job is to figure out how to get the feeling to deliver its message so it can go on its merry way. A healthy relationship with feelings does that. Thinking that the feeling is the problem and/or the message is a big confusion for many people, including mental health professionals, in our society. This confusion leads to unhealthy relationships with feelings and ineffective counseling.

Your awareness of who you are, your conscious sense of self, is housed in your conscious mind. The conscious mind processes information by thinking. You become consciously aware of how you are feeling by thinking about the feeling. This is why it is sometimes difficult to distinguish a thought from a feeling.

I see feelings as messengers coming to the conscious mind from the non-conscious mind and from the physical body. Physical and emotional feelings follow the same rules and the same tools can be used to be healthy with them. (Recent research shows that physical and emotional feelings even use some of the same neural circuitry in your brain: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/tech-support/201308/the-science-heartache-6-things-you-need-know.) Your headache is just as much a messenger as is your angst. Both can be listened to; both can help you deepen your understanding of yourself, including what actions to take that are in harmony with who you are and what you need right then.

Some feelings are just reporting the status quo like, “Oh, ya, my foot is touching the floor.” Some are letting you know that an action needs to be taken like, “Oh, ya, my bladder is full, I better get up from this computer soon.” (That is a random example I just made up, this article is not to be construed as autobiographical.) And some feelings are trying to call your attention to aspects of your world view that need examination and perhaps updating like, “Oh, ya, I’m a big imposition on everybody around me.” (Oops, that part is autobiographical.)

Because feelings are just messengers and it is generally considered bad form to chop the head off the messenger just because you don’t like the message that they’re bringing, you can conclude that all feelings are valid. This means that you never have to say to yourself, “I shouldn’t be feeling this way.” The fact is, you are feeling that way. What’s behind it? Where did that feeling come from? What generated it? Those are better questions.

Some feelings you are going to just naturally like, some you will just naturally not like. Learn to treat them all equally. Equanimity toward your feelings is a very helpful skill if you want to be healthy with them.

Physical feelings and emotional feelings are correlates of each other. In other words, every physical feeling has an emotional feeling associated with it and vice versa. Another helpful skill to develop is the ability to listen to both tracks, the physical and emotional, at the same time. Sometimes it’s easy, like when you hit your head on the corner of the cupboard door. Other times take practice.

Try this exercise. Take a moment, settle yourself and your awareness into yourself. Put your awareness into your left hand. Just make a mental note of whatever sensory information you are getting from your left hand: the position of your fingers, the air temperature, any pain or tension, etc. Now become aware of the emotional tone of your left hand. What emotional feeling comes up as you put your awareness into your left hand. Now, pause for a moment, center yourself and then put your awareness into your right hand. Again, make a mental note of any sensory information you are receiving from your right hand. Then note the emotional feelings that come up as you put your awareness into your right hand. Are they different from those from the left?

When many people start this exercise, they cannot identify the emotional tone in their hands. Keep trying. Your perceptions sharpen with practice. Those who are able to sense the emotional tone in their hands generally see that they are different from each other. And well they should be. Your left hand has had a left-handed experience of your life and your right hand a right-handed experience. Generally one hand is preferred for certain tasks over the other and so forth. Some people are aware enough that they can easily move their awareness from hand to hand and identify the different physical and emotional feelings. Practice listening to yourself until you are in this group. This exercise can be repeated using your knees, feet, ear lobes or whatever.

So far we’ve gone over three perspectives and/or skills that will help you work with your feelings in a healthy way:

  • All feelings are valid
  • Develop equanimity toward all your feelings (hint: practice awareness, acceptance and compassion for how you are currently feeling about your feelings.)
  • Learn to listen simultaneously to both the physical and emotional aspects of your feelings.

Next we’ll go over ways to get to the message that the feeling is carrying and then what to do with the message once you get it.

Copyright 2013 Steven M. Hall, MD

Previous Posts in this Series: 1.  Healing Implies Change 2.  Emendation 3.  Faith 4.  Awareness 5.  Acceptance 6.  Compassion

Compassion

You want to heal. In order to heal, something inside, outside or about you must change…because to continue doing what you’ve been doing and expect to get anything different than what you’ve been getting is just plain crazy. And you’re not crazy…at least not in that way.

So we’re reviewing the steps that I’ve observed in my practice and in my own life that help to bring on healing change. If you’re just joining the conversation, this is the sixth post on the topic, so you may want to go to the archives and start from the beginning (Healing Implies Change).

On a foundation of faith that there are higher, self-evident truths, that the truest frequency in the Universe is love and that you are a part of the Universe and, therefore a part of that love, that you can find your way to a happy, meaningful, satisfying life, you pay attention to your life in order to seek the truth of your illusions. You then surrender the fight, stop deluding yourself, open and fully admit the truth of your life to yourself.

Change can happen at any point along these steps. Sometimes we have to go to the final step to get the shift to happen. So what is the next step? How does your inner loving, intelligent guide recommend you be or relate to whatever belief, memory or circumstance in your life that you just became aware of and accepted?

Over and over again, when one of my patients gets to this point in their session, their guidance says things like, “Just get off your back about that.” Or, “Just be kind to yourself about that.” Or, “See the pain that person is in, just open your heart to them.” Advice like that. I call this step compassion.

No matter what you are experiencing, no matter how much pain you are in, how fatigued you are, how addicted, how abused by others, how abusive you are to others, no matter what, you can be kind to yourself about it. Kindness cures.

In fact, in my thirty-some-odd years of practice, I would have to say that compassion is the only thing I’ve ever seen actually heal somebody.

How could that be? Compassion is the only thing that heals? That’s a pretty bodacious statement. What about all the treatments encompassed by conventional and alternative medicines? Surgeons are fond of the saying, “To cut is to cure.” What about cutting? Doesn’t cutting cure? Bummer, I like to cut. Drugs and supplements do some pretty amazing things. Doesn’t taking drugs and supplements heal you? Some pundits are claiming that lifestyle is the root of all your health problems. What about changing your diet and exercise? What about acupuncture and energy medicine and body work? Lots of people have had amazing healings from all of these things.

All of these things have their place, many might be just what the doctor ordered (literally), but if you looked at all of the possible therapies out there, all the possible supplements to take, all the kinds of energy medicine to try, all the different diets and theories about exercise, which are right for you? Does any practitioner know you well enough to make the best recommendation? Is any practitioner knowledgeable enough about all the options to fully inform you of your choices? Is there enough time in an office visit to even go over them?

You often need to seek your inner guidance to know what outer treatments are right for you. That connection with your deeper guidance often comes when you are in an aware, open-hearted state of consciousness.

What is the difference between supporting your body/mind/energy complex and healing? When it comes to picking a treatment, what is suppressive, what is supportive and what is curative?

Many people I’ve talked to have never explored these questions.

Much of what we do in conventional medicine is suppressive. Take blood pressure, for example. From the machine metaphor, your heart is a pump, your arteries and veins are pipes and the blood is the volume of fluid. If you want to decrease the pressure in the system, you could slow the pump down, make it not pump as hard, drain some fluid out of the system or make the pipes bigger. We have blood pressure medicines for each of these approaches. But your high blood pressure is not the cause of your high blood pressure. Forcing your blood pressure down may help prevent the damage that high blood pressure causes, but does nothing for why your blood pressure is high in the first place. Conventional medicine uses the same approach for high blood sugar and high cholesterol, for too much inflammation, for tumors, for allergies…the list goes on. These treatments are helpful and important and have their right time, place and person. But the mistake conventional medicine makes is stopping there and not digging to the roots.

Some things we do in conventional medicine are also aimed at detecting problems early (Pap smears and mammograms) or preventing future problems (vaccines) but I’m having a hard time right now trying to think of a good example of a conventional medical treatment that is supportive or curative. Perhaps psychoanalysis, but most doctors think of such treatments as supported by soft science at best.

Much, but perhaps not as much, of what we do in alternative medicine is also suppressive; we just use herbs or supplements to do the suppressing. But more treatment approaches are supportive, such as good diets, nutraceuticals, exercise, body work, energy work and such. Many doctors would now consider lifestyle changes as part of conventional medicine, but that is a welcome transition that is still happening and not yet universally adopted, in my observation.

Practitioners generally know their little slice of the therapeutic pie and just hope that the people who choose to see them happen to need what they have to offer. Patients know this and often visit several to dozens of practitioners before they find the one who can help them. Maybe this is the best healthcare delivery system we can devise, but I can’t help wondering if there isn’t a better way for people to get the help they need.

Perhaps it is serendipity, perhaps people are listening to their intuition more than they know, but if people look hard enough, they generally find the supplements, treatments and people who can help them. I believe that “Seek and ye shall find” is one of those universal truths. This searching and all that you learn along the way is part of the emendation that I spoke of earlier.

But I’ve noticed an interesting pattern: people generally find the therapy that works for them at about the same time that they are willing to embrace and respond to whatever symbolic or meaning work their health issues represent for them.

(The danger here is that people often give the credit to the treatment, not to them doing their emotional/symbolic work. If you have had a serious health issue and underwent a treatment that completely resolved it for you, look carefully at your experience and see if you didn’t also learn something important about yourself, free yourself from a limiting belief or find the inner strength to take the reins of your life into your own hands in some way. I bet you’ll see something of the sort also happened inside while the treatment was doing its thing.)

To shift the limiting beliefs, to free yourself from the weight of your own criticism, to value yourself enough to step up and claim your power…in other words, to really become your true authentic self in your life…all of these curative changes often require the application of compassion to pull them off. That is why I say that compassion is the only thing I’ve ever seen actually heal anyone. You can take supplements and exercise until the cows come home (Are these agrarian metaphors even comprehensible these days?) and you won’t heal until you love yourself.

What if there were something you could do to get ready to do your deep inner work sooner rather than later in your search? If you apply these steps to your situation, if you embrace these ideas in your life, I believe that you will get to your answers sooner.

If you think about faith as the foundation, then awareness, acceptance and compassion are the workhorses for change built upon that foundation. Awareness, acceptance and compassion work together as a seamless unit.

I have an affirmation that helps me put this all together:                     I practice compassionate, accepting, awareness of what is.

“What is” is the here and now, the present. This affirmation helps me stay in the present moment with open eyes and an open heart. This has been a very difficult skill for me to learn, especially when I’m at home. I have compassion for anyone who takes on this challenge. But the practice is worth the effort. Like any skill, the more you practice it the better you get at it.

As your compassion grows, you are able to see yourself and others in a new light. You are able to see things you didn’t see before. You are able to make different choices that you didn’t know were open to you before.

This is how your life changes. An important result of healing is that you become more of your true authentic self. I believe we are ultimately divine beings of incredible wisdom and open hearts. If this is true, then the practice of compassion allows you to be more of who you really are. That is another reason why kindness cures.

Faith, awareness, acceptance and compassion are also the components of a healthy relationship with your feelings.

Every aspect of your life is packed with clues that can lead you to your truth, but your feelings, both physical and emotional, arguably offer you some of your best clues. Learning how to follow them to their roots has helped more of my patients than any pill I could prescribe. Next we’ll discuss how to be healthy with your feelings and how to use them to speed your healing.

Copyright 2013 Steven M. Hall, MD

Previous Posts in this Series: 1.  Healing Implies Change 2.  Emendation 3.  Faith 4.  Awareness 5.  Acceptance

Acceptance

We’re talking about a way of working with the mystery of healing that has helped thousands of my patients. Start with a foundation of faith. Practice strengthening your faith until it reaches certainty. Have faith that you can heal, that you can be happy, that you can be successful, that you can live a life that is pleasing to your soul. Your life is full of clues about what is really going on inside of yourself, what you truly believe. How do your beliefs and conclusions compare with higher truths? Pay attention to your life so that you can pick out the clues and follow them back to your own personal truth. Forget for the moment whether or not your personal truth is really true from a higher perspective. The important point to note for yourself is what you actually believe for yourself, your own personal truth.

After faith and awareness, the next step is to open to and fully accept your personal truth. So often when we see some aspect of ourselves that we don’t like or that we know immediately to be untrue, we do something to alter it. We deny it, repress it, rationalize it, intellectualize it, sugar coat it or a whole host of other Freudian things. But how well have those things been working for you? People pay me a lot for my advice, but I’ll give it to you here for free: stop doing those things! Just admit the raw, naked, unadulterated truth of that aspect to yourself.

Years ago, when I was still a Resident in Saginaw, Michigan, my wife and I would go to Quaker meetings on Sunday mornings. These meetings were mostly silent opportunities for inner reflection. I remember one morning I was thinking about what it meant to be a doctor and how to be a good one. I knew I needed to be able to meet any patient right exactly where they are in their process and accept them just as they are and then gently lead them at their own pace to resolutions to their problems. Therefore, a doctor should not be judgmental, I concluded. I told myself that I wasn’t going to be judgmental. Unbeknownst to me, in that moment, I started an inner struggle that would take me years to realize and resolve.

When I finished my residency, I went to be the only doctor in a small town in Maine. I did obstetrics as part of my family practice. One of my patients had a long and difficult labor. I stayed with her at the hospital the entire time. I had done all of her prenatal care and knew her fairly well. She wanted to be as natural as possible during her labor. Over the course of the day, the OB nurse on duty thought that I should be much more interventional with her labor management. I disagreed. I monitored my patient very carefully and kept in good communication with her and her husband. I didn’t know him as well as he had not come to any of her prenatal visits. He was a young man who worked as a logger and had a reputation as somewhat of a hell-raiser around town. I ate lunch with him in the hospital cafeteria and explained what was happening with his wife’s labor and why the nurse wanted what she wanted and compared that to what his wife wanted. I felt like he was pretty on board with how everything was going.

Weeks later, my family and I were eating dinner at the local greasy spoon in Strong when he came in drunk and started yelling in my face about being so judgmental. I had no clue what I’d done to set him off. I was completely stumped. Several months later, some other patient stormed into my office and also yelled in my face about being so judgmental. Again, I had no clue what he was referring to. But to have two people do that within a matter of months was a wake-up call and I started to wonder what was going on. I didn’t know much about these steps back then, but I did start searching for answers. In that moment, though, I just redoubled my resolve to be open and accepting of everyone. (Little did I know that I had just redoubled my efforts to repress any judgmental qualities.)

Shortly after that, my family and I moved to Seattle where I got a job working for a hospital-owned clinic in downtown. I rode the bus to work which gave me built-in time in my day to read. I read all of Stephen Levine’s books and his ideas really changed the way that I thought about medicine. One day on the way home, the bus was going up University Ave near the University of Washington. University Ave is a microcosm of all of the diversity in town. There are people sporting every fashion of dress and every color of hair, sometimes all on the same head. I was reading a magazine and every time the bus stopped and people got on, I would look up from my magazine and this little voice in my head would snobbily say, “Look at that person’s clothes. Look at that person’s hair.” And I would say to myself, “Stop it! Stop it!” and go back to my magazine. Next bus stop, same thing. This went on nearly all the way up the Ave until it was driving me crazy. Somewhere near the top of the Ave I finally saw what I was doing to myself: I was judging myself for being judgmental.

In that moment of realization I said to myself, “I wonder if I can just accept the fact that I’m a judgmental SOB?” As soon as I said it, I felt a big knot of 2 inch thick rope untie in my solar plexus. That was in the late 80’s. I still may be one judgmental SOB—who knows?—but at least since that day, it has not been an issue in my life and, knock on wood, no one has come into my office and yelled in my face about it.

Accept the truth of what is really going on inside of yourself. Denying it and fighting it will not change it, it will probably hide it from you but not from everyone around you. I fought with my tendency to be judgmental every which way I knew how and in over five years, that fighting had not changed it one little iota, it was still an issue that I had to face. But one moment of acceptance and…poof!...as far as I can tell, it is gone. I am still discerning and I still have opinions but being judgmental does not seem to be an emotional button or problem-causing issue in my life.

So the steps to encouraging healthy change that we’ve covered so far are:

  1. Have faith that healing is possible, that you can know your truth, that you can find good solutions to your problems, that there is a good resolution to your suffering. You can do this.
  2. Pay attention to the truth of your life and to yourself living your life. Trust what you know. Get in touch with your wise, loving inner guidance. It will help you know how to have a healthy relationship with yourself and others. It will help you know what supplements, treatments and such are best you. It knows what you ought to eat, how much and when. It knows how much and what kind of exercise to do. It knows what career is right for you. Listen and trust.
  3. Accept the truth of what you see when you use your awareness. Your intentions may be pure (like me wanting to be a good doctor for my patients), and how we repress and deny may be very subtle, but pay attention to your life and the truth will out. Accept it when you see it. Quite often, that is all that is needed to get major perceptions or foundational beliefs to shift and change.

Build a foundation of faith that you can do this, your inner love and intelligence can guide you to live a life that is true to who you really are. A strong faith tempered by reason is a critical resource for your healing journey. And if you’re going on a journey, you pretty much have to start out from where you are. Find out where you are right now by paying attention to your life, both inner and outer. Admit the truth to yourself.

Living in illusion will not bring you lasting happiness, fulfillment and meaning. And your body or life circumstances will have to keep trying to shock you out of your illusion. That can be pretty painful. (Hey, I’ve lived everything I’m talking to you about, as well as seen it over and over in my patient’s lives.)

I call the next step in the process of healing change “the Alchemist” because it is what actually works the change. It can take an experience or aspect of yourself that is functioning like a lump of lead in your life and turn it into a lump of gold.

Copyright 2013 Steven M. Hall, MD

Awareness

So we’re talking about how to change, especially how to heal. Healing is more than just getting symptoms to go away. Symptom resolution is an important consequence of healing, and certainly something that we want to accomplish for ourselves, but is not the whole picture. And, surprisingly, there are many stories of people who experienced amazing healing when getting symptoms to go away wasn’t even their focus. (http://ahha.org/articles.asp?Id=55). I highly recommend you read Evy’s story, she’s a nurse-turned-minister who healed herself from a here-to-fore 100% fatal illness and has deep insights into her process.) I’ve been thinking about these concepts for decades and helping people with their healing has been my life’s work. As much as I’d like to have all of the answers, I must admit at this point that I believe that, ultimately, healing is a mystery. I can talk about how a person changes during the healing process or what a person is like after healing has happened, but how that process actually happens and how to get it to happen to you when you want it to…that part seems to be the mystery.

There are things we can do to set the stage or bait the trap, so to speak, but whether or not healing steps onto the stage or into the trap does not seem to be up to us. At the same time, I also believe that healing is always possible…for anyone…at any moment. And you can heal your whole life and still die. Dying is not an “F” on your Spiritual report card. After all, how many of us are getting out of here alive?

More importantly, what did your soul come here to experience? How can you live from your soul’s guidance? What is stopping you? Does your soul make mistakes?

Most of us seem to have a smoke screen, house of mirrors, game of hide-and-seek or some other perception blocking or altering process going on between our conscious knowing and our souls’ knowing. The process of healing seems to clear that path. The process of healing seems to open a line of communication between a person’s conscious mind and their deep inner source of love and knowing. They then have that loving and knowing to inform their thoughts, words and choices.

Imagine having that resource to help you live your life. You do, it is inside of you already. It does not have to be created: it just has to be contacted. Which is not as hard as you think: whether you know it or not, it is already talking to you all day (and night) long. To strengthen your connection to your soul, all you have to do is pay attention to your life.

You do that through awareness. After Faith, Awareness is the second step in bringing on changes that heal. For some reason, it is easier for us to work on an issue if we know it is there. And then if we ever want to be free of a particular malady, block or problem, we must work with the truth of it. Remember, the adage is not “you shall know your fantasy and your fantasy shall set you free”. Which is too bad: fantasies are so much easier. If you want to heal, use your power of awareness to become aware of your own truth, your own raw, naked, unadulterated truth. How are you feeling? What are you thinking? What do you believe? What is underneath the patterns in your life? What motivates your behavior? Have you made some assumptions you’re not aware of? What do you have control over in your life? Keep peeling back the layers to get to the root of your truth. Once you get there, how does your truth look to you from your soul’s perspective?

Awareness gets better with practice. Become aware of your surroundings and the people in your life but just as importantly, become aware of your inner workings, of your world view. How does your current world view compare to higher Spiritual truths? We all have our own rack of lenses in our psyche through which we are peering out at the world. These lenses determine how our life looks to us, how we experience what happens to us. In psychology, we refer to these lenses as your “structure of interpretation”. We each have our own unique structure of interpretation made up of many things such as all of the conclusions we’ve ever drawn from our past experiences, cultural influences, family patterns, genetics and such.

At the same time, there is a higher truth. Wherever your own structure of interpretation does not line up or resonate with the higher truth, symptoms will develop. The purpose of the symptom is to get you to explore your structure of interpretation and get it aligned with higher truth. I see this in my patients as they heal. The more a person’s own structure of interpretation resembles higher truth, the healthier they get.

Pay attention to your symptoms. Doggedly follow them back to their roots and open to the truth that is to be found there. View your present personal truth through Spirit eyes. Often, that is all that is required to get your old limiting beliefs to shift into alignment with higher truths. Be kind to yourself in the process, you deserve that.

Recently I’ve been working with a young woman whose primary problem is a tight knot in her left trapezius (upper shoulder and neck area). It keeps pulling her neck and ribs out and her left shoulder up and feels like a continuous Charlie-horse in her neck. She’s seen chiropractors and physiatrists who can get the knot to go away temporarily but it keeps coming back if she does anything at all physical. She had a very difficult childhood and has survived by using her prodigious left-brain intellect. The first few cranial sessions we did, whenever I asked her to listen to her body, she could feel the physical pain, spasm and twisting but when I asked her what emotions were associated with the pain, she drew a blank. All the while I was getting the sense from her body that she was just about ready to explode in frustration.

Physical feelings and emotional feelings are just correlates of each other. Every physical feeling has an associated emotion and every emotion has a physical representation in your body. If you cannot get information on both the physical and emotional tract, something in you is blocked. Use your awareness to find the block. (We’ll go over what to do about the block once you find it in later posts.) During her third or fourth treatment (I like to give people a chance to make their own discoveries before I get more directive and interventional) we discussed the possibility of a block and she was able to admit her frustration.

Then she was silent for a moment and said “My outlook on life has gotten really negative over the past five years.” She could see that chronic job stress and how she’d been treated by her team had caused the change. She was able to see how the negative attitude was affecting her. She had been aiming that negativity at herself as well. With more careful listening, she heard that the knot wanted her to start treating herself with honor and respect. This is one of those higher Spiritual truths: no matter how anyone else treats you, whether your parents, friends or co-workers, you are always worthy of honor and respect. No one else on the planet gets to define your self-worth. That’s between you and your Soul.

As so often happens in people’s lives, several issues are coming to a head for her at once. She’s working on a career change, moving and selling her condo, dealing with a lemon car to name a few. She is going to use this intense time in her life to re-awaken her positive attitude and practice honoring and respecting herself and letting that spread out like ripples through her life. She is making gains in her awareness. She’s learning to listen to her body not just on the physical level but also on the emotional and meaning levels as well. Instead of just being in pain, she’s getting meaningful information that she is using to improve her health as well as her work and personal life. At the end of that session, her neck and shoulder were completely relaxed and she knows that if the spasm returns, she can listen to it again.

So the steps we’ve covered so far to invite healing change into your life are:

  1. Have faith that healing is possible, that you can find good solutions to your problems, that there is a good resolution to your suffering. You can do this.
  2. Pay attention to your life and to yourself living your life. Trust what you see. Trust what you know. Get in touch with your wise, loving inner guidance. It will help you know how to have a healthy relationship with yourself and others. It will help you know what supplements, treatments and such are best for you. It knows what you ought to eat, how much and when. It knows how much and what kind of exercise to do. It knows what career is right for you. Listen and trust. Use your intelligence to figure out how to be happy.

There are more steps to the process that we’ll cover in the next couple of posts. Practice, practice, practice.

Copyright 2013 Steven M. Hall, MD

Faith

You can heal. No question. You can always improve your circumstances. And when you can’t, you can decrease how much you are suffering because of your circumstances. And you can always learn more about who you are and how best to live true to yourself. Each and every moment of your life offers you that opportunity. If you have no proof in your life of the truth of what I’m saying, have faith. Faith is the first step in any process of change. You must at least have faith that change is possible. “If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you’re right.” Henry Ford said that and he was arguably pretty good at manifesting his vision. One (of the many) quirky aspect(s) of faith is that faith requires no empirical data to support it. This means that you are free to have faith in whatever. What could you have faith in that would help you with healing whatever you are facing in your life? Take a moment and write down 4-5 suggestions for yourself. The stronger your faith, the better it works. Faith at the level of certainty is nearly unstoppable.

Faith gets stronger with practice. You practice strengthening your faith by focusing on whatever you are having faith in and imagining it filling your whole body with strength and certainty. Feel the strength in your body. If whatever you are having faith in is also in alignment with higher truth, all the better. What are some higher truths you can align yourself with to help with your healing?

  • You deserve to be here in this life, drawing breath, taking up space
  • You are lovable
  • You are forgivable
  • You are worthy of happiness
  • You have something valuable to contribute to those around you, perhaps to the whole world
  • You can find and be your true authentic self
  • You have a loving heart
  • You are smart in your own way
  • Write down a few more that feel true and germane for you

Higher truths are the kind of truths that can be held to be self-evident. Pick a few and practice strengthening your faith in them, just for the heck of it. See how it feels. Let me know what you like to have faith in that works for you.

Learning what to have faith in and then strengthening your faith is an important part of learning how to heal. You can do this. I have faith in you.

Copyright 2013 Steven M. Hall, MD

Emendation

“To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one's family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one's own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him.” –Buddha As a young man, Spinoza asked himself: “how does one prepare the mind to receive Spirit?” He wrote a paper called “The Emendation of the Mind” to explore that question. He worked on that paper most of his life and rumor has it he never completed it to his satisfaction. I think he got stuck on the question: “how do we know that what we know is the truth?” That’s a tough question and philosophers of science still cannot satisfactorily answer it. But that’s not what I want to talk about this blog.

If one asks the question: “how does one prepare one’s self to receive healing?” a similar emendation process is often required. “Emendation” means to correct, often by editing. I’ve noticed in my patients that they often go through a process of getting their own deeply held beliefs aligned with higher truths as they heal. This is kind of a circular process. As their beliefs move closer and closer to higher truths, they suffer less and their bodies heal more and as they heal more they are more able to get their beliefs aligned with higher truths. You can do this, too.

Certain knowledge, skills and ways of looking at the world can really help you open to receive the healing that you’re looking for, the healing that your experiences hold for you.

AN is now in her late forties. I started seeing her about ten years ago because she wanted to try to clear her Hepatitis C by natural means. She had just had a liver biopsy that showed stage 4 (very advanced) cirrhosis or scarring of the liver, a known complication of prolonged hepatitis C infection. She didn’t feel comfortable with Interferon after all she’d read about it, especially since the strain of virus that she had, combined with her advanced stage of cirrhosis, gave her only a 25% chance of clearing the virus. During our initial visit, I was a bit surprised to find that she worked as a mail carrier for the Post Office. As she had a certain specific sense about her, I was sure she worked in the Healing professions in some way. But she didn’t. She did practice Yoga and meditation and had made major changes in her lifestyle already. She ate organically and very few processed foods. She exercised regularly and was fairly happy and at peace in her life. She had an optimistic view of life and felt sure that she could heal from her Hep C.

We did all the usual Functional Medicine things of removing any allergens, making sure her hormones were balanced and that her digestive system was working well. We discussed ways of boosting her immune function with supplements and herbs and we started a series of CranioSacral Therapy (CST) sessions with the intention of exploring what the experience of having Hep C meant in the bigger picture of her life. During her treatment, she was able to get to a place of genuine forgiveness in her life. But even with that, nothing we did made any difference to her viral load, the number of virus particles in her blood. She saw other practitioners who also tried what they had to offer, again with no improvement. Within a few years she started to show signs of worsening cirrhosis.

But over those years, she had learned a great deal about how to take really good care of herself, both physically and emotionally. She had also come to peace with the idea of trying Interferon, and the treatment regimen had evolved to also include Ribavirin, an anti-viral medicine that improved the success rate. So she told herself that she was willing to give the Interferon + Ribavirin a try under one condition: she was determined to take such good care of herself that she would be able to tolerate the entire treatment regimen and not have to stop it for side-effects or take sick time off of work. She got very clear about her goals, about getting healthy, about healing the cirrhosis, about clearing the virus, about tolerating the medications and helping them do their job. She stayed very focused. Not only did she clear the virus over the next year, she didn’t get sick from the treatment and her last liver biopsy showed no sign of cirrhosis.

She still works as a mail carrier but has also learned Accutonics, where she treats people by stimulating acupuncture points with tuning forks of specific frequency, and she’s studied Craniosacral Therapy and Gin Shin Jyutsu. The years of work she did leading up to the Interferon treatment was clearly her own emendation process. She started out wanting treatments to clear the virus and ended up learning how to get very clear and focused and take exquisitely good care of herself on multiple levels simultaneously. She also found a way to feed and express that “healer” side of herself that I sensed on our first visit. So often, when a person heals themselves from a chronic illness, their life afterward is very different from their life when they got sick. I see this pattern over and over.

She knows the Interferon + Ribavirin helped her body clear the virus, but it didn’t help her heal her cirrhosis. She credits being very clear in her goals and staying focused on them with the bulk of her success. By listening to and trusting her own deep knowing, she was able to put together a treatment regimen that worked for her.

There are thousands of similar stories. The self-help literature is full of advice on how to set goals, focus, visualize, say affirmations, think positively and similar tactics. How do these practices translate into changes in your body or changes in your life? How do thoughts become things? And what is getting in the way when these tactics don’t seem to be working?

I’ve searched high and low for the answers to these questions. I’ve listened to some of the best teachers of our day, I’ve looked at most of the major world traditions and I’ve watched my patients carefully as they’ve travelled their respective healing paths…and I’ve looked inside myself.

I believe that the personal process of seeking and finding your own answers to these questions is more important for your healing than copying something someone else found that worked for them. No doubt in your search you’re going to hear lots of other people’s healing stories. What worked for them is helpful information to take into consideration, but which approaches you use for yourself should be selected by your deep conviction, your deep inner guidance, your gut sense of knowing what is right for you rather than by what anyone else says.

When it comes to healing yourself, your journey is just as important as your destination. How best, then, to walk your healing journey? I suggest you practice the Seven Tools of Healing.

I will put up a blog post for each of the Seven Tools. There is also a brief summary of them on my website: www.stevenmhallmd.com.

Copyright 2013 Steven M. Hall, MD

Healing Implies Change

Healing implies change. If you are at a place in your life where you are suffering for whatever reason and you grow to a place in your life where that suffering has been alleviated, something has changed. That something might be how you eat, maybe you identified and eliminated a reactive food; that something might be the way you act, maybe you started a good exercise or yoga routine; that something might be better boundaries or finding just the right career or releasing yourself from limiting beliefs that formed when you were younger. When you look at people who have healed something in their life, generally something has changed. So if you want to get better at healing, ask yourself, “How do I change?” This is not a trivial question. Most of the ways that we as a society have developed to help ourselves change only work for a small percentage of people. The five year success rate for diets, any diet, runs around five percent. Before AA, the sobriety success rate for alcohol recovery programs was also around five percent. AA tripled that to a whopping 15%. That means that even AA doesn’t work for 85% of people who try it. The process of change is so unpredictable that many experts have concluded that it just doesn’t happen: people don’t change. Pedophiles, sex offenders, rage-a-holics, drug addicts, narcissists, and people with borderline personality disorder are among the people experts have given up on.

Yet look at how much effort we all put into trying to change: the education system, diets, gyms, the whole self-help industry, medicine, psychology, most religions. Most of us have aspects of ourselves that we want desperately to change and we buy into the lottery mentality when proponents of any particular approach hold up someone in their five percent as a stellar example of what their technique can do for you.

One might do a little math and figure that we only need 20 different diets or 20 different kinds of psychotherapy and everyone could be served. But it doesn’t work that way. Whether or not you change has much more to do with you than with whatever technique you use. Gendlin1 showed that back in the ‘70s.  So it turns out that about five percent of the population is good at changing and the rest aren’t. Yet we continue to develop newer and fancier techniques and the 95% continue to flock to them with renewed hope and open wallets each time. What do the good changers know that the rest don’t? How can you insure that you’re one of the five percent?

I’ve focused my career on these questions and I have some answers that I think will help you in your quest to change and heal. In this blog, we’ll explore these and similar questions and their answers.

  1. Focusing Eugene T. Gendlin, PhD, Bantam New Age Books, NY, NY. 1978.

Copyright 2013 Steven M. Hall, MD

A Brief Introduction to Integral Medicine: Part Three

Last week I began to explain the five aspects of the philosophical underpinnings of Integral Medicine:

  1. The Integral Worldview
  2. Broad science
  3. An expanded model of a human being
  4. A definition of health
  5. The education metaphor

We got through the first three aspects in Integral Medicine: Part Two. Today I’ll discuss the fourth and fifth aspects.

A Definition of Health

In science, we usually define our terms. Science needs a precise language with which scientists can communicate with each other and the public. If healthcare were to be truly scientific, we’d need a definition of health and the healing process.

In fact, searching for just such a definition has defined the direction of my professional life.

Ever since the sixth grade, when I started wanting to be doctor, I’ve carried this image in my mind that doctors help improve people’s lives. When I was a resident and seeing my own patients in clinic, I was already bumping into the limitations of applying what I’d been taught to help my patients. I didn’t even know at the time what I was expecting to see in my patients’ lives, I just knew I wasn’t seeing it. I was asking myself why it is that people even go to the doctor. There are lots of reasons, but ultimately, I thought they were coming in to heal their lives.

“Heal their lives.” What did that mean? It was then that I was struck with a lightning bolt. There I was, in my seventh year of training in a discipline that prided itself on being scientific, yet no one to that point had defined healing or health. We all just talked like we knew what it was. But upon closer observation, doctors usually only use the word “healing” with respect to fractures or incisions. Not to people’s lives. They might cure an illness or treat a condition, but that’s about as far as it goes.

Why is that? Does it reveal an unspoken belief that healing can’t happen? That healing is too complicated, too capricious, too mysterious? Has the medical profession resigned itself to treating symptoms, thinking that root causes are somehow unfathomable or unreachable? I can’t speak for others, but I do have a difficult time understanding how a physician can really listen carefully to their patients, strive to truly help them and remain conventional at the same time, unless you see yourself as a technician, like a surgeon. (Although I’ve met some surgeons who are surprisingly good at working with their patients on very deep levels.)

Anyway, I thought the whole situation ludicrous, so I started on a search for the definition of healing. Seven years later I started to appreciate why the medical profession had left that question alone.

I started my search with Webster’s, whose definition is actually fairly good, the World Health Organization, the AMA, the American Holistic Medical Association (AHMA) and such. Each had attempted to define healing but relied on words such as “balance” and “harmony”: words which themselves needed defining. I needed a practical, boots-on-the-ground definition I could take into an exam room and actually do with a patient. The AHMA, for example, defined health as a state of balance and harmony with the Cosmos. Now go do that with a patient.

I thought perhaps other systems of healing might have some better answers. I looked into nutrition, herbs, Homeopathy, lay midwifery, Naturopathy, Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, Native American Shamanism, Buddhism, Chiropractic and some other forms of bodywork. I found they all have pieces to the puzzle that can be brought to the Integral Worldview, but none had what I was looking for.

About this time, I’d integrated much of what I had learned into my Family Practice, in what today would be called an Integrative practice, and I noticed that sometimes one of my patients would heal a bit. Even though I didn’t have a rigorous definition of it, curiously, we can recognize it when we see it. Perhaps that is why we can get by to some degree without defining. I reasoned thusly: “If a symptom is a clue that healing needs to happen, then the resolution of the symptom is a clue the healing has happened (assuming one has not just used a suppressive therapy), it is not the healing itself.”

So I started looking at my patients who healed to see what else, besides the resolution of their condition, had changed in them. What I saw was that they had learned something. And that something usually related to the understanding they had of themselves.

I wondered if that learning was the healing.

So I asked, “What if I define the process of healing as the process of us finding out who we really are and then acting in ways that are consistent with that?

So far, that definition has been holding up pretty well. Ultimately, healing is mysterious and we cannot hope to control all aspects of it. But I think we doctors, as a profession, could do a much better job helping you use your health experiences to deepen your understanding of yourself.

For example, if you look again at Figure 5 below from Part Two, beliefs have creative influence over the body, mind, energy, how we behave in society and in how society and the environment influence us. Therefore, symptoms or imbalances in any of those horizontal aspects are clues to the underlying beliefs. Once limiting beliefs change, an entirely different experience in the body, mind, energy, etc. can be created.

IM_Figure 5_500
IM_Figure 5_500

Each illness you experience has consciousness behind it. You can work with the physical, mental, emotional, social and such aspects of the illness and make some impact. But you can also work with the consciousness of it and make deep and lasting change in the illness.

These approaches are not mutually exclusive. But working with the horizontal aspects of the illness is generally supportive while working with the consciousness behind the illness is curative. Using Integral Medicine, we can work effectively with all aspects of you depicted in Figure 5 above.

Over many years of searching, I’ve developed good, practical ways to work with people on all of these levels at once. And I can teach other practitioners how to do that.

The Education Metaphor

You can generally tell a lot about the underlying assumptions and world view of a discipline by the metaphors it employs.

Conventional medicine uses two dominant metaphors: the war metaphor and the machine metaphor. In the war metaphor, the illness is the enemy to be fought and either vanquished or you become a victim of it. We develop new drugs in our armamentarium against cancer, for example. Your body is the battle ground, often trampled and scarred and even destroyed during the battle. The doctors delusionally think they are the Generals in the battle, but actually they are just the foot soldiers. The CEO’s of the large medical corporations such as the drug and insurance companies are the real Generals. The soldiers just do as they are told or they are dishonorably discharged.

Very early in my search for a definition of healing I observed that healing is not about war. No one actually wins a war. There are always casualties on both sides. One cannot heal if they are at war with themselves and one has a very difficult time (not impossible) healing if they are at war with others or the environment.

One of my first jobs when a new patient starts seeing me is helping them stop the war that they are having with themselves.

The machine metaphor likens your body to a machine. Your heart is a pump, your brain a computer, your joints are hinges, your lungs bellows and so forth. But, as the Vedic model points out, we are more than machines. Our bodies have consciousness, intelligence, wisdom and loving compassion. We do not just have to order our bodies around. We can develop a more collegial relationship with it: listening, dialoguing, working things out.

Natural medicines of several types often use a garden metaphor for health and the body. You prepare the soil, plant seeds, pull the weeds, avoid toxins, nurture and support and Nature does the rest. This metaphor is much gentler than the war metaphor but a garden is still a controlled, human-ego created environment. It does not have the same Spirit and sustainability as does deep wilderness. Many of the greatest teachers in human history gained their critical insights while in wilderness. Is that just a coincidence? If you listen to the stories of people who have experienced spontaneous remissions from cancer or HIV, for example, many of their critical insights happened when they were with Nature. What is that about?

Integral Medicine uses what I call “The Education Metaphor.” If healing is the process of us finding out who we truly are and then living in a way that is congruent with who we are, that is a learning process. Seeing all of life as a chance to learn helps that process.

In the Education Metaphor, the “student” is you…your conscious sense of who you are. By definition in psychology, this is your ego: whatever comes to mind when you say the word “I” to yourself. The teacher, then, is pure consciousness, your Atman, God, your Higher Self, whatever concept of your deeper wisdom that works for you. The classroom is all of creation, the curriculum is all of your experiences, both conscious and non-conscious, and the learning objective is answering the question: “Who am I?”

This is and has been the perennial question in mythology, literature and the arts.

In ancient Greece, the famous seer the Oracle of Delphi used to hang out in the temple of Apollo. On a column leading to the door of the temple there was a plaque with an inscription on it that explained everything you needed to know in order to accurately interpret what the Oracle told you. It said, “Know Thyself.” Some of the best Greek tragedies that survive today are about what happened to people who mis-interpreted what the Oracle told them because they did not know themselves well enough.

As your education proceeds, who you think you are (your ego) gradually starts to look more and more like who you really are (your deep wisdom) until they become indistinguishable. Spiritual traditions have a name for this: enlightenment.

So you don’t want to kill your ego (as some misdirected people talk about), that’s pretty stupid and uncompassionate. Good teachers don’t generally kill their students during their education. But if the student learns well, they can grow up to be teachers in their own right.

From this perspective, your health challenges can be viewed as stepping stones on your path to deeper understanding of yourself, on your path to enlightenment. Suppressive therapies and other therapies that just treat symptoms – that just shut the body up-bind and gag the teacher and throw her in the closet. This generally impedes the progress of the class. Most of what conventional and alternative medicines do today actually slows down your learning, in reality prolonging your suffering.

How do you think your inner teacher feels about you? Is s/he going to give up on you if you don’t learn the lesson the first time? That’s not been my observation. Lessons not learned in one relationship show up in the next. Lessons not learned in one health crisis show up in the next, usually with louder volume.

The converse is also often true: once you learn a lesson, the teacher doesn’t have to keep presenting it to you over and over, you can move on to the next lesson. (The lessons seem to keep coming as long as we’re breathing.)

No matter what is happening to us, potentially we can learn from it. Therefore, I believe healing is always possible.

We want our bodies to work well, our minds to be sharp, our energy to be abundant, our relationships to be loving and supportive and our environment to be non-toxic, but we are bound by the laws of physics in this: I’ve not yet witnessed someone grow back an amputated leg, for example. But healing in a higher sense is always possible. I like to always leave the door open for miracles, but it may be true that while there is always a possible relief to suffering, there may not always be relief of pain. But I don’t know this for a fact yet.

Keep Searching

Remember, healing has very little if anything to do with the functioning of your body, the workings of your mind, the robustness of your energy and such. But before you start thinking that I’m a therapeutic nihilist, remember that we barely have an inkling of who we really are and how powerful we are as divine beings. The creativity that we have potential access to is limitless. In fact, it is only limited by our own imagination, and much more is possible along the lines of physical, mental and energetic balancing than we yet understand.

For these reasons, never give up.

Keep searching for answers to your questions, to solutions to your health problems. Search outside yourself in the world around you for therapies, treatments, supplements and such that are helpful.

But also search inside yourself for the opinion of your own wisdom. How does it want you to be with yourself, with your problems and challenges? What is the consciousness creating your illness and is that the only consciousness you have access to? What are the beliefs that are allowing that illness-consciousness to flow into your life and are they really true? If need be, find a practitioner, friend or some other person who can help you explore questions like these.

Copyright 2012 Steven M. Hall, MD