Learning to Heal–Overcoming Fear

My recent lecture on Why Are We Sick All the Time allowed me to explore the issue of fear, a potent and provocative enemy of health and happiness. Subsequently I realized how real this force is when considering several people I know and love personally.

Names and relationships are not the relevant point here—the power of fear to impede our progress towards fulfillment is. 

I was rather surprised by the recent anxiety that one person was exhibiting which manifested itself in physical as well as emotional complaints. This was ironic in the face of recent positive events in this person’s life: personal and professional.

Upon thinking about this individual’s past few years, it all came into focus for me.  They had been half-heartedly pursuing a career, with starts, stops and minor progress. This was someone who clearly was talented, bright and personable–outwardly possessing all the qualities which should lead to success.

The only reasonable explanation for past and present ‘situation’ was—fear.   Fear of trying and failing, fear that love might  be withdrawn or ridicule might follow if there was less than an incredible result.

I began to realize that fear had powerfully and insidiously impacted on the lives of several others I know. It became so instantly clear to me that it was the fear of fear which had given it so much power. Reluctance to vigorously pursue an expected goal, unexplained paralysis to proceed–these are manifestations of this type of unrecognized fear.

But fear is universal among us all.  We all fear failure, loss of love, loss of prestige, even loss of life.  Yet why do some of us react by pulling inward, reluctant to push forward and take chances, while others, equally afraid, use the energy of fear to move forward and progress?

I don’t know the answer to that. Some of us are unconsciously recalling childhood fears–perhaps related to societal pressures to perform, pressure from parents,  pressures at school or social difficulties with peers. The childhood message received–do well in life or risk losing love. Many of us may believe that the love of others is conditional–dependent on how ‘successful’ we are in life’s game.

I absolutely believe that the insidious power of fear is that it works its ‘evil’ unconsciously/subconsciously.  We may not truly realize that it is holding us back, making us sick.  It may lead us to numb ourselves through drugs, alcohol, sex, even exercise or work– addictive activities of all kinds. We may not realize that this fundamental human emotion is the ‘evil’ behind our unhappiness and frustration.

I know that I have always been one to use fear to work harder, be more compulsive about what I needed to do in order to succeed in school and my career.  I never felt that I could accomplish goals easily, or that I was truly that bright or talented. I felt compelled to work extremely hard–out of fear of failure. Yet there were many times when I resisted a competitive situation out of fear that it would be too difficult, too unrealistic, likely to lead to a less than desired outcome.

Ultimately, it seems to me, those who use  fear to power themselves  forward, to reach their goals are the ‘happier’ of the two examples.  They can at least point to their accomplishments as evidence that they were not without merit, deserving of love and attention.  They may still secretly feel unworthy even unlovable.  Despite outward success they, too, may feel afraid that the world will discover that they are frauds–not that talented, or good, or worth loving.  They may need to examine this persistent, irrational fear as well.  But clearly they are in a better position than those paralyzed by fear.

So how can we change this scenario? How can be transform fear from a paralyzing force to one that propels us forward?  This actually takes a bit of courage–the desire to risk change.

Well clearly the most important point is:
1] recognize this truth.  Self-awareness precedes self-repair.  We cannot treat a disorder we cannot first diagnose. We cannot heal that which we don’t recognize as broken.
2] Come to understand that it IS possible to change.  We absolutely have the power to do so. It may take an act of will, or courage to begin the process. But it absolutely can be done.  This is as important  because we can persist in the subconscious belief that we are ‘doomed’ to continue to behave and react to life’s challenges in a certain way.
3] Be realistic about change–it is never easy.  We are creatures of habit and this applies to our outlook on life and how respond to life situations. Be aware that it will require a constant process of reminding ourselves that we need to change our habitual patterns of reactivity.
3] Use our cognitive side to rationally examine our lives and realize our subconscious fears of rejection, of being ridiculed or abandonment are NOT true.   Our value as human beings do not reside in our accomplishments. Most of us have many around us who do love us unconditionally.
4] Explore meditation.  It has been demonstrated to be a powerful tool for changing our minds, truly transforming them.  During meditation we can face our fears, rather than burying them. We can dispassionately examine the source of our fears, have compassion on ourselves for feeling fear, soothe ourselves as we would a child. For in fact that is what we are doing–healing our inner child, the one who fears.  Mindfulness meditation is the technique of witnessing these feelings. They can be healed through this technique and others.
5] Cognitive therapy should be used simultaneously. This can be done through a therapist and/or personally.  It is essentially a form of positive self-talk. Continue to encourage ourselves. Be positive about the outcome of this therapy. Be gentle with ourselves as well. Continue to support ourselves through the process, but don’t allow ourselves to quit. Acknowledge that there may be setbacks along the way. Give ourselves permission to take time.  But not to give up. Keep reminding ourselves that life is about facing challenges. The only failure is NOT to try, NOT to move forward. Be our best cheerleaders. We know that we can achieve what we want, and if our best efforts are not successful, then perhaps we need to alter our direction, not our efforts!
6] Recognize those around us who do truly love us–unconditionally. Love yourself for your own worth.  Your being as opposed to your doing. It is the spiritual essence which resides within.
7] See ourselves as a spiritual beings having a human experience.  We are not here to fail or be sick or depressed. Life is an opportunity worth pursuing with all our energy.  The experience of fear  is why we are here in the first place–to overcome it.   Use love and compassion to release its grip.  Use its energy to propel us towards healing and happiness.

Post Script to First Talk

Last night was my first in the series of lectures at the Theolosophical Society venue on East 53rd St.  I want to thank all of you who attended.

I thought it went well although quite frankly the experience of ‘doing’ the lecture is a bit mysterious to me.  Once I begin speaking I allow the thoughts and words to flow. At times I find myself observing the process, at other times there is work involved to ensure that the next moment is not filled with too much silence.

The topic was Why Do We Feel Sick All the TIme and it allowed me to explore the relaionship between the mind and our perceptions of what it means to be sick.

It allowed me to introduce my approach to healing, to make ‘whole’, which essentially insists that all beings are a matrix of body, mind and spirit. I also emphasized that I do not reject the accomplishments of modern medical science and technology.  Yet I do not accept their findings without question either.  Be an open-minded skeptic. Question everything. Weigh the risk versus the benefit and if something works use it.

That applies to experiences my patients share with me regarding alternative therapies. It applies to my so-called scientific claims which contradict my own clinical experiences as well. Science is a process which is capable of self-correction. But it may take many years of study to do so.  Science is not without its own biases. Researchers may be less interested in ultimate truth and more in their ‘publishing articles’ which may later be determined to be just plain incorrect.

I was able to emphasize to my New York City audience how easy it is to feel sick in an enviornment filled with noise, pollution, crowds and intense energy. By our nature we need to escape at times. CIty life is hardly conducive to that–but it is clearly possible and necessary–once we become aware of the healing benefits of doing so.

Exercise, meditation, a walk in Central Park, music,  yoga…..Whatever can take us away from the chaos for a moment or two is worthwhile. The stresses are enormous and need to be acknowledged. Yet stress, in moderation, is also the source of motivation, drive, accomplishment, excitement and stimulation.  So we are again speaking of a dynamic balance between aspects of our lives.  Yin and Yang and once more the appropriate metaphor. Balance and flow can address the issues of living with understanding and wisdom.

The venue was great. Peaceful, energetic…..a good place for such discussions.  I recommend that my readers check our theosophy.  I will comment on it in future blogs. It is a fascinating metaphysical system of belief.

My next lecture is Novermber 13.  THE POWER OF HAPPINESS AND SADNESS.  More to follow. 

The Wisdom of the Dark Emotions—

We all retreat at the thought of fear, grief, despair. Even the words themselves evoke a semblance of the experience of the emotions they describe. I believe that fear is the primal emotion from which all others spring.

What is so insidious and destructive about fear is its capacity to rapidly build upon itself.  Fear engenders further fear. That fear becomes the source of emotional and physical discomfort, dis-ease, which then builds further fear. This is a truly vicious cycle which leads one into panic and anxiety.

Yet we possess these emotions for a reason. They have evolved to be apart of our emotional nature because they endowed our ancestors with some survival value. Fear can be our teacher rather than the ultimate tormentor. Fear is essential for safety. Without it we would run headlong off a cliff or into oncoming traffic. Fear warns us not to venture into unknown territories, or to leave our young children alone and unprotected.  Fear can be our best friend—-along as it stays within bounds.

When fear becomes excessive, this friend becomes the fiend we fear. In context grief and despair are natural and expected. When we love deeply, we are susceptible to feeling pain with any loss of that connection. This darkness merely reflects the intensity of the light we previously knew.

We need to cultivate this awareness. When we feel sadness, grief and despair, we need to remind ourselves that we are deeply feeling beings. Rather than try to submerge these feelings because our society enforces this behavior, we should fully experience them. This is the path to healing.

Women cry more easily than men. This is a cultural phenomenon. The few times that I was brought to tears [usually alone with my thoughts] I found it to be cathartic. I literally felt as if I had discharged a load of negative energy.  For a moment I understood the therapeutic value of facing and experiencing this pain.  Too many men, young and old, force these feelings down. When repressed, they do not disappear, but are resurrected as hate and violence. These are more socially acceptable expressions of the dark emotions.

We need to be aware that the powerfully negative emotions can be experienced through mindfulness meditation. They can be confronted and viewed from the point of view of the witness. We can become aware of the truth that we  our self or soul which views the emotional state is separate from the dark emotions.

We need to think about this truth before the experience overwhelms us. It is much more difficult to recover from a deep pit than a shallow one. So maintain awareness that the next experience with fear will be an opportunity to learn and to survive.

Recognizing the universality of these emotions can allow us to feel compassion for all who suffer. It is a potential way to bridge the artificial differences of race and religion which remain a powerful source of conflict and suffering. 

Spirituality for the Atheist?

There are a large and growing number of metaphysically challenged individuals who claim to embrace a spirituality devoid of a soul, immortality or divinity.

Many of these individuals are scientists, others philosophers and broadly learned professors who claim that they are proponents of naturalism as opposed to supernaturalism. To my way of thinking, they are misusing the concept of spirituality.

They believe that their metaphysical perspective allows them to appreciate the beauty and mystery of the universe around them despite the fact that they see existence as a chance occurrence. There can be no higher purpose for existence since everything can be explained by natural phenomena.

Fine with me.  Enjoy the mystery, the beauty, the awesome quality of existence–just don’t use another term for what you desire to describe.

Until about nine years ago, I would have eagerly embraced this notion myself.  It would have adequately described by metaphysical perspective on reality.  What changed me have been the extraordinary experiences of otherwise ordinary and sane indivduals.

I have consistently referred to those experiences in all of my writings and lectures. They remain the stubborn if unexplainable fact which cannot be ignored or denied. The impossiblity of explaining them by ordinary logic or science does not diminish their metaphysical reality.  And no one who honestly considers them, then walk away unchanged by their implications.

Whether they fall into the category of after-death communications [ADCs] or near-death experiences [NDE], or medium experiences, or reincarnation experiences, they cannot be dismissed as fabrications, hallucinations or delusions.

Once someone has taken and time to seriously consider them, they can no longer assume a naturalistic attitude towards existence. Or can they? 

I reserve the possibility that all of those experiences point to a higher level of being which may someday be understood in more ‘scientific’ terms.  For instance, the electromagnetic specturm, which is basic science for many, may turn out to be one of an infinite series of energy spectrums.  Perhaps our souls will someday be understood as existing in one of those spectrums.

In that sense, natural and supernatural may become one. But the main point is this–the reality of this other dimension brings with it truly spiritual implications such as 1] the existence of the immaterial soul, 2] a level of intelligence and being which far surpasses our own, 3] a purpose for our existence and even suffering, 4] a notion of love which surpasses human understanding.

My point is simply this–let’s continue to discuss these issues openly and rationally. If my assumptions are incorrect, please advise my how and why I am wrong.  Until then, I will question the spirituality of atheists.

To All Healers–Understanding the Process

Who is a healer? Is it the ultimate act of hubris to describe oneself as such? Perhaps–unless we see healing as an universe concept, open to every living being.

I see healing as being the mutual expression of compassion. Therefore, we can all be healers.  This does not diminsh the obvious role of knowledge and experience that is inherent in effective healing. I would be foolish to dismiss the benefit I have derived from over thirty years of studies and experience in traditional medicine.

But I have come to view healing from a metaphysical perspective. It is inherently a mutual experience. There are so solitary healers. The very concept implies that there is someone else to heal.

In truth, it is not contradictory to view self-healing as a mutual experience as well. It involves a degree of separation of the self into two aspects–as least for the purposes of the healing. This is not a Cartesian split into two distinct substances.  Simply a split in awareness between aspects of the one self.  It is essentially experiencing ourselves from a perspective of some objectivity. Of course this can never be complete. But we recognize that we can analye our own actions, our own motives, our own state of development, we can criticize our own actions.  We can love ourselves. And we can forgive ourselves for the purpose healing as well.

We should also recognize that in healing we are healed. There is no greater gift to any being than to be sought out as a healer. It is a humbling experience. Some other soul is entrusting themelves to us, opening themselves, exposing their vulnerability. It is an awesome gift which necessitates deep respect and spiritual reverence.

True healing requires us to open our hearts as well as our heads. The seeker perceives our intention. If it is not genuine, if it is not with an open-heart, it is unlikely to be effective.

We need to honor the process. And to honor the seeker. They offer us the opportunity to help another being. If it is done with the right intention, kavanah as the Kabbalists would note, it will heal all participants.

Exploring a New Concept–Self-Healing of Our Body/Mind

The reality that our bodies are adept at self-healing is obvious. We heal our cuts, our broken bones, our minor infection, our colds, upper respiratory illneses, gastroenteritis etc.  What is less obvious is that we are capable of healing ourselves emotionally.

What, you say, is my evidence for such a contention? 

Well, I believe that my realization that this is possible finds its origins in the work of Candace Pert and others in the field of psychoneuroimmunology.  They found that each and every cell of our body contains receptors which enable them to bind to peptides circulating in the body.

Pert has referred to the process as ‘molecules of emotion’.

I came to realize that the only way drugs such as valium, xanax, klonopin and other anti-anxiety products actually work is through binding to the existing receptor sites on the brain. But why should such sites actually exist?

Clearly we inherited them through millions of years of evolution for a reason–eons before drug companies discovered compound which could bind to them.  The same is true of anti-depressant drug sites.  These chemical compound would have absolutely no way of affecting our brains and therefore our emotional states without the ability to connect with these ancient brain receptors.

So why do they exist? Quite clearly because they served an evolutionary purpose.  They very likely served to allow our ancestors to calm themselves, become less anxious and even less depressed. All our feelings have chemical correlates. There is nothing wrong or shocking about that.

The implications are profound.  Our mammillian ancestors developed mechanisms for producing compounds similar to xanax for anxiety and agitation, zoloft, paxil and others for depression.

How interesting and healing to be able to stimulate our body’s own peptides to do the same thing.  Perhaps exercise, meditation, prayer and cognitive encouragement can tap into these ancient sites.  Perhaps this would be a worthy goal of brain/mind research.