On Feeling Sick–Part 1

As usual I will make use of this blog to post ideas which will appear in my lecture on October 23 [shameless plug].

What does it mean to ‘feel sick’.  Part of the problem for us human beings is that we are so wildly ‘feeling’ in the first place. Compared with our animal counterparts, not only do we ‘cogitate’ or think more deeply, but we experience  the multitude of feelings on a much grander scale.  Can I be certain of this fact? How can I know what a dog, or cat or cow or bat ‘feels’ anyway?

Certainly I cannot ‘prove’ that human beings ‘feel’ more deeply other than to observe our behavior under emotional stress, both good and bad. We are clearly much more reactive than our animal cousins.

I will stand with my contention.  Furthermore, because we experience such wide swings in our emotions, we will tend to ‘feel sick’, perhaps very sick when our body/minds are out of synchrony. Feeling sick means a loss of the usual balance, the yin/yang that ordinarily maintains us in a state of peaceful equilibrium.

In fact I believe that we are the ‘manic-depressives’ of the animal kingdom. Our range of experiences is enormous. But it should be clearly acknowledged that our emotional range allows us to experience blissful peace and enormous beauty with such intensity that we must be willing to trade off our level of feeling ‘sick’ as well.

Blunting our feelings though medication or self-induced states with drugs and alcohol is to deny ourselves the experience of being human. Despite the occasional pain and suffering  we should attempt to live it all as fully as possible.

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Who is a Mensch?

One of my fellow physicians lost his father after a long bout with cancer. As I approach the funeral tomorrow I am reminded of the Yiddish word mensch which is frequently used at eulogies to praise the departed.

It refers in general to any human being but the profound and implicit connotation is that of a special person–one who has exhibited, throughout their life, a significant degree of compassion, kindness, humor, charity, ethical and moral behavior. I have always regarded it as the highest of compliments.

Of late I became aware of another connotation to the word. Mensch implies the concept of an individual who has had to overcome obstacles or burdens.  Someone who has struggled at times but has not allowed themselves to become infected with self-pity, anger, hostility or selfishness.

Although I did not know him well, I have come to understand that my friend’s father had battled this form of cancer for nearly twenty-five years. Such a burden could easily darken each day with dread and despair . Aparently it did not do so for this gentleman. He chose to embrace each day as a gift to be chershed.

I have come to understand that all lives, everyone’s , no matter how blessed they may appear from the outside, as challenged by obstacles and burdens. Some far more than others. It is very easy at times to regard the weight of such troubles as overwhelming and our attempts to overcome them are feeble and hopeless.

The challenge we all face is how to find meaning and joy in the face of suffering. We can easily succumb to the weight of negative feelings and seemingly insurmountable problems. We can allow this virus to infect all aspects of our being. We can easily slip into depression and question the value of living at all.

The mensch is someone who confronts the burdens and obstacles, does not avoid or deny their importance, but defies them to deprive him/her of the beauty that animates the world around us. The mensch does not blissfully ignore the reality of the world, its challenges or difficulties, but chooses to find an island of peace in a sea of chaos.

This additional understanding of the term mensch adds a subtle but meaningful quality to the term which elevates it my mind to an even more powerful expression of deep admiration and respect.

Extraordinary Experience–What to Make of Them

Perhaps I should refer to the collection of personal experiences of a paranormal or spiritual nature as simply, extraordinary experiences [E.E.]. That would  apply to the host of personal encounters with after-death communications, psychic and medium experiences, apparitional encounters as well.

A recently heard E.E. deserves consideration. Please take into account the Credibility Quotient as well. I can personaly confirm my impression that the story is completely true based on my knowledge of the individual involved. Your impression may or may not be the same as mine.

Pat recently lost her father. They had been quite close and she had an E.E. afterwards which is quite remarkable but I will not share with the reader in order to not cloud the following experience.  She met a woman at a Labor Day party and they began to speak. They woman, I’ll call Jane stated that she was a medium and that she saw Pat’s father always around her.  Pat smiled because she had been quite close to him.

Jane proceded, however, to state that her father walked with a decidedly unsteady gait, leaned on a cane and seemed to have weakness on his left side. She also noted that he had to squint when he tried to observe something and used a can on his weak side. She also noted that Pat and her father did not see ‘eye to eye’.

Pat was taken aback and protested that this was not her father at all. He had not had weakness on one side, or used a cane, or squinted. And most assuredly they had a wonderful relationship.  The medium would not back away from her insistence that this man was her father and she would not change her story about any aspect of his gait, appearance or their relationship.

Pat walked away shaking her head. About a half hour later, she was suddenly struck by a startling moment of awareness. Jane was actually describing her biologic father who had died several years before. Pat had regarded her step father as her ‘real’ father and could not understand the medium’s description.  Once she realized what was happening, she nearly went into shock.

Jane had completely and accurately described her biologic father, including his left sided weakness, abnormal gait, squint and their relationship.

What are the metaphysical implications of such an encounter? Let the reader be the judge. To me, this is a powerful E.E., one that demonstrates the reality of the soul and its pesistence after death.  Does such an awareness impact upon the nature and quality of our lives? I believe that it should.

To those who believe that  a medium can utilize some kind of super PSI to read the mind of the individual, I would point out how unlikely seems in view of Pat’s inability to realize which ‘father’ this referred to.

My collection of these Extraordinary Experiences conintues. As I have said before, they remain the fuel for my metaphysical journey.

Yom Kippur Service and the Power of Images

Just back from Kol Nidre services [night before Yom Kippur].  An elderly man suffered some sort of cardiac event and had to be placed on the floor to the side while the service continued. Fortunately, there were several cardiologists in attendance [big surprise] as well as a gastroenterologist, dermatologists, orthopedists and some EMTs. They attended to him while awaiting the ambulance. He did not suffer a cardiac arrest so that CPR was not required. As he was being carried out on a stretcher, pale, gray, old and fragile, a baby cried. I turned around to see an infant perhaps three months old in its mother’s arms. It was clear to me that I was seeing the same person, as an old man and as an infant, simultaneously. As obvious as this may seem, I deeply understood that reality–every elderly person knocking on death’s door was such an infant, every infant [if they are fortunate] will become an old, failing adult. The juxtaposition of the crying baby and the old man was powerful. And yet there is no sense of sadness or existential angst.  Knowing the inevitability of death, of the impermanence of all things, is not depressing or demoralizing. It merely emphasizes the value of each day that we do have. It is incumbent upon each of us to make each day of that journey meaningful and fulfilling. In other words, don’t waste your incarnation. Choose to regard each day as an opportunity to grow, to heal, to choose love over fear and to choose joy over sadness.  May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year.

Who is a Healer?

As I have noted in past writings, I was trained and educated to become a physician, not a healer. The very term itself would have seem rather poetic and quaint to any young medical student, resident or fellow. Perhaps it would have suggested something not quite legitimate–a ‘faith healer’ perhaps or someone engaged in something not truly scientific or valid.

It took me many years of observation and introspection to come to realize that healing is the true goal of all human interactions. To heal means to ‘make whole’ and to do so requires an awareness of the tri-partite notion of body/mind/spirit.

Clearly knowledge of the functioning of the physical body is essential in order to attempt to achieve healing. Pathophysiology teaches the potential healer how the body can malfunction and what can be done to rectify it. There is no substitute for this understanding of the mechanics of organs, physiological processes and the medications and treatments that exist to correct these abnormalities.

What I have come to realize, even more powerfully than ever, is that the role of the healer is to facilitate the body’s own healing power. The process of healing, therefore, is a collaborative effort rather than the result of someone imposing a corrective therapy upon an unwilling physical entity.

What is often underappreciated is the role of compassion and caring that the healer brings to the relationship with the healee. A good physician can offer treatments for the malfunctioning physical form, a healer can bring so much more to the effort. The connection between healer and healee, the bond that is established does more to facilitate the body’s natural processes than anyone can imagine.

Fear is often an accomplice of disease. Emotional distress disables the body’s reparative systems. The emotional and psychological stresses of life must be addressed if healing is to occur. The true healer is one who recognizes that a smile, an touch on the arm, even an arm across the shoulder is as powerful a treatment as any written prescription.

The placebo effect is one small example of the power of the mind to heal. The intention to help is the intention to heal. The act of presenting oneself for healing is one of submission to another being.  It requires an opening, a trusting, a willingness to be vulnerable. Often this is as much emotional as it is physical.

Our innate immune system is exquisitely senstive to our emotions. Give hope, extend compassion and caring and open up the body to its fullest capacity to heal.

Every healer understands that they possess no true power to heal. They are merely facilitators. It is the love that they project which is key to the entire process.

We are all innately capable of healing others by virtue of our compassion. To offer lovingkindness to another is healing. To be present for another in their times of suffering is healing as well.

I must emphasize that healing is not the same as curing. Healing can occur at any time, any place and under any conditions. To help bring someone else to a state of peace and tranquility even as their bodies are failing is still healing. In this sense it is the highest form of human endeavor.

We live in a fractured universe in which pain and loss and death is inevitable and unavoidable. We could choose to be overwhelmed by this metaphysical truth. Or we can choose to see ourselves as actors in a great play. We are improvsing as we go, ad libbing if you will. We can choose to seek tikkun or healing for others.  We will simultaneously be healing ourselves.

Don’t ask which players is the healer in any healing  relationship. The truth is, both are.

Trashing Mother Teresa

Recently released memoirs and writings of Mother Teresa reveal a woman plagued with doubt about the nature of God as well as self-doubt about the meaning of her own life and journey.

As someone seriously considered for sainthood, such doubt is clearly disconcerting for devout Catholics.

It seems, however, that not all Catholics were supporters of her efforts. Christopher Hitchens in an article in October 2003 referred to her as a ‘friend of poverty’ not a ‘friend of the poor’.  He further characterized her as a ‘fanatic, fundamentalist, fraud’.

Clearly, a great many others saw her devotion to the poor and those afflicted with leprosy as powerfully inspirational.  It would be unfortunate if those who saw her feet of clay would seek to destroy the image of goodness and santliness which became her image.

What I find interesting is exactly what others do not–namely her questioning of a divine presence in the world in the face of suffering.  This is the classic argument against the existence of divinity, of God.  How can suffering and evil be allowed to exist in the presence of divinity?

My ‘answer’ to this overwhelmingly difficult metaphysical issue at the present time [I am always open to evolving in my own thinking] is this–evil must be allowed to be a choice. Suffering cannot be alleviated by divine intervention either. The rules of existence in this ‘world of action’ [Kabbalistic world of assiyah] is that human choice and free will rule.

Without suffering or the potential for it, there would be no opportunity to offer compassion and help. Without pain their could be no comforting, no solace, no acts of kindness, no empathy.  These are all spiritual manifestations of our inner divinity.

I believe in the recylcing of souls, of reincarnation and karma. Justice and fairness can only be regarded as possible if such concepts are accepted. We are spiritual beings having a human experience and as such will have many opportunities to learn and grow. 

A life which seems tragic beyond description may be followed by one much less so. Who really knows? But a more open metaphysical understanding might have helped even Mother Teresa accept the evil and suffering as opportunities for her to become who she ultimately became–a symbol of compassion.

We live in a world which need more spiritually enlightened symbols.  Perhaps it is not such a miscarriage of justice to ignore Mother Teresa’s failings.  By seeing her as a symbol of manifest divinity,  her life serves a higher purpose.

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The Metaphysics of Feeding of Vegetative State Patients–Why I Disagree wtih the Latest Vatican Ruling

Just read that the Vatican has offered their position on the feeding and hydration of patients in a chronic vegetative state.  I strongly disagree with their insistence that there is a moral right of such patients to be maintained in this state of being.

One statement that jumped out at me seems to be at the root of this theological and moral statement–namely that such patients deserve the alleviation of their suffering. 

To this I respond: I would totally agree if I believed that these individuals are actually suffering.  But on the contrary, I do not believe this is so. From my work with anesthesia and pain I totally understand that all feeling occurs on the conscious level of the individual. Under anesthesia there is no pain, no thirst, no  hunger–no suffering. I believe that their level of consciousness corresponds with those who are under deep anesthesia.

Some will respond by saying, ‘who do you know that they are not suffering on some level?’  Of course I cannot respond other than to say that I have no evidence to believe this.  Also, I can respond that it is unlikely that the individual would choose if they could,  to remain in this state of being.

Patients in persistent vegetative states are in comas.  They do not respond to painful stimuli with conscious responses.  They are not ‘alive’ in the usual sense of the word.

I actually believe that their souls are trapped in these bodies and cannot move on.

Now I am not an advocate of active euthanasia. I do not believe it is necessary to purposefully induce death.  I am an advocate of the use of pain meds in cases where pain and painful responses exist, even if this hastens their death. However, I feel that keeping someone ‘alive’ who has no hope for awakening to a conscious state of being actually perpetuates the suffering of those around.

I do acknowledge that this is my personal opinion and may not reflect that of others and their families.  I do acknowledge that some family members desire their relatives to remain ‘alive’ in whatever state they exist rather than to contemplate their actual death.

I believe that much of this reflects the overall fear of death and inability to regard it as natural and inevitable.

I also see this directive as an impediment to instituing pallliative care in hospital settings for individuals who have no chance for recovery.

Last summer when my Mother slipped into a coma following a progressive degenerative neurologic disease, I did not have an iv or feeding tube inserted in her. Her death was imminent and her state of being was tragic and without hope of returning her to who she had been.

I do not regret that decision.

I understand the difficulty that many experience with these issues and it is not my intention to increase anyone’s  or any family’s anxiety or suffering,  but I feel a public debate and discussion, without rancor or attacks should be instituted.

The open-Minded Skeptic views…..Science

Science is ususally regarded as the ‘default’ position regarding any discussion. At least this seems to be the opinion of most ‘intellectuals’ many of whom regard any disucssions of spirituality or even mind/body interaction with some disdain.

Quite frankly, I do regard science as an amazingly powerful successful metaphysical tool by which the nature of physical reality has been revealed. Much of the improvement in infant and Mother perinatal mortality must be laid at the feet of advancements in drugs and technology. Likewise, the large numbers of Americans now living into their eighties and ninties with chronic medical conditions is directly attributable to this as well.

Yet science is far from perfect. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal described a study of multiple other medical studies. It discovered that their own statistical analysis of their own data often conflicted with their own conclusions.  This should raise a bit of skepticism regarding the validity of the pronouncements of scientific/medical articles.

In my experience I have taken note of numerous clinical studies, published in highly reputable journals, whose conclusions differed from my own personal clinical experience.  For example, perhaps 10 or 15 years ago the clinical correlation between H.Pylori infection and ulcer disease was noted. Articles were proclaiming that the cause of nearly all ulcers had been discovered and that it was an infectious disease.

In my clinical practice in which I do endoscopy and biopsy, I was finding a much less impressive correlation with this bacteria and ulcer disease. In fact I was finding that many patients had mininal inflammation of the lining of their stomachs [gastritis] yet had numerous quantities of H. Pylori anyway.

Now years later, scientific articles have reduced the correlation between ulcers and this infectious agents. Other factors contribute to ulcer disease and they now admit that many people carry the bacteria with minimal effects on their stomach lining.

The fact that the initial articles were incorrect is only a part of the issue. What science does offer is the opportunity to be incorrect and then correct itself later on by either confirming or disagreeing with prior studies. This ability to self-correct is a powerful metaphysical tool and should be applauded.

But this awareness that scientific truth is often a long and labrynthian path needs to be acknowledged.

My approach is that of the open-minded skeptic.  This should apply equally to conventional, scientifically derived conclusions as well as the less well studied alternative world of healing.  Be willing to try different therapies and see what ‘works’.  At the same time, maintaining awareness of the possibilities of adverse reactions which may be highly individualistic.  Don’t be a slave to the published results of one scientific study. Require more evidence and apply these findings judiciously and cautiously to individual patients.

I am comfortable with using what ‘works’ even before I know why it does so. Acupuncture remains the best example.  It ‘works but conventional Western scientific theories still do not know why. Randomized controlled studies have been used to confirm this observation.

Post 100!–Check Out Additions to The Blog Site

This just happens to be blog posting number 100!

It is just a quick exercise in self-promotion [metaphysically, of course]

please take note of several additions to the blogsite

there are now links to my book as well as my presskit which describe a series of lectures beginning October 23rd at the Theosophical Society on the east side of Manhattan

who knew that this was a part of the journey?