IBS –Internet Bowel Syndrome

IBS  most often known as Irritable Bowel Syndrome is of particular interest to me for several reasons.  It is the quintessential mind/body condition. And it appears to be more common than ever.

Is IBS on the rise or do we just have a greater awareness of its frequency?  I suspect both are at play.

Are stress levels any more now than in the past?  That is always a difficult assessment.  We live in the present.  It is difficult to recall our emotional state in the past.  But I do believe that the Internet, the 24hr news cycle, BlackBerries, I phones etc do contribute to our stress levels and, therefore,symptomatic IBS.  Therefore, Internet Bowel Syndrome.

The entire world, its endless suffering and pain is continuously being fed to us.  In decades and centuries past we would be aware of our personal adversities and perhaps once or twice a day read a newspaper or hear about the suffering of others from  TV or radio. But today it is unremitting. 

 Furthermore the Internet offers the worried warriors among us an unlimited amount of information about our bowels and their disease states.  The more information, the more there is to ponder and stress over.

I must distinguish between information and knowledge since not all information is reliable or even accurate.

I suspect even the most intelligent and well-read layman will have difficulty distinguishing between "good" and "bad" information.

With this in mind it becomes even more important that the treating physician become aware of what is on the world wide web and be able to address patient concerns.

The internet offers two elements that can exacerbate IBS symptoms–increased stress in general and increased confusion over volumes of self-proclaimed information/wisdom.

Hopefully we can learn to take a break from the tsunami of information for a while and feel comfortable discussing our concerns with our physician.  In truth, treating IBS is as much an art as a science.  There are choices in treatment modalities and dialogue is necessary to come up with an approach that satisfies all parties.

IBS is not going away any time soon and neither  is the internet.  Everyone who either suffers from or treats the condition should be able to explore and evaluate the options that do exist.

PAPA’S CANE — An ADC from Across the Sea

I was not quite sure how Dr. T would react to some of the stories of after-death communication (ADC) that I would share while doing an endoscopic procedure.  He was an anesthesiologist, born in Pakistan and Muslim.  But I enjoyed sharing these experiences with the nurses I worked with who also found then fascinating.

One day after completing our work together Dr. T asked to speak with me privately.  "I have to share something with you.  I've never told anyone before about what happened to me several years ago".

He explained how he was doing his training in the New York City and had been studying late into the night for extremely important upcoming examination. He had not been back to Pakistan for nearly a year. Suddenly his father appeared to him in his apartment.  He looked frail, was walking with a cane and said to him "its my time".  Now his father appeared much older than when he had last seen him and he had never used a cane. 

 Thinking he was hallucinating from fatigue he fell asleep only to be awakened by a phone call from Pakistan.

He was told that his father was gravely ill.  Dr T was ready to leave on the next flight out but was told specifically not to leave until his exams were completed.  That was his father's message.

His father died, he took his exams and was unable to return to Pakistan for several few weeks.  When he finally did enter his  he was shocked to see the exact cane his father had been using by the side of the door.  When he asked his mother about it she said, "Oh, your father began using a cane a few months before he died. We probably never mentioned it to you."

Tears welled up in his eyes. "My father was like that–only his children's well-being mattered. He had come to say goodbye."

SEEKING THE MIND IN THE BRAIN– Once Again

The recent NY Times article "In Pursuit of a Mind Map, Slice by Slice" http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/28/science/28brain.html?ref=science  is the traditional mind/body conundrum cast in contemporary terms.

Philosophers, scientists, theologians have debated this question even before Rene Descartes' 17th century dualism which separated mind from body (brain) into irreconcilable categories.

Scientists are often accused of reductionism.  They are breaking down the physical elements of the brain until they find what they are seeking–the mind.  Physicists do this as well with their high-energy atom smashers.

The problem is that they may never find what they are seeking.

Are you the sum total of all your individual pieces.  Are you no more than trillions of atoms which make up your physical structure?

Now I fully support scientific research, including the work that is being done to analyze the smallest piece of whatever can be detected.

I just question whether the answer will be found there.

When you try to put Humpty Dumpty's pieces back together–will it be him?

There seems to be something about the whole that defies an analysis of the parts.  This holistic  process of synthesis is also known as "emergence".  Something extraordinary happens when all the pieces of us come together and our mind's emerge from the abyss of neurons, neurotransmitters, axonal wiring etc. etc. It becomes us and it is constantly changing.

Some scientists would deem these sentiments naive.  According to their position, we speak in poetic terms about human consciousness/mind because we just don't understand exactly how the pieces fit together.

We still believe that mind exists in some sense as more than the brain.  We are foolish to listen to tales of  OOB (out of body) experiences in which mind functions and remembers when the brain is barely alive as equally foolish.

Yet we do have evidence that the actions of the mind can feedback and change the physical structure of the brain–neurofeedback, meditation have demonstrated this truth unequivocally.

So who is right?  The future may or may not hold the answer.

I applaud the search for the mind in the brain.  I just think it may not be found there.

HAPPY KWANZAA — The True Miracle of the Holiday Season

Today  December 26th is the first day of Kwanzaa and I've begun to see it in a new light. 

As is quite obvious I am not African American and quite frankly for many years never gave Kwanzaa much thought.

Like many of non black Americans I've tended to regard the holiday, first celebrated during the season from December 26 th to January 2nd in 1966 as a convenient invention of Black nationalists to distinguish themselves from other Americans. It was clearly an attempt to gain a sense of pride and encourage self-awareness.

In more recent years it has found its place in conjunction (as opposed to being in oppostion) with the celebration of Christmas.

It had also seemed so contrived, so "invented" as opposed to the well-established, ancient holidays of Christmas or even Hanukkah. And yet I clearly acknowledge the human element in creating those holidays as well. 

Christmas and Hanukkah clearly differ from Kwanzaa not only in their antiquity but it their religious and spiritual dimensions. They also center around miracles–The birth of the Christ child and the miracle of the burning oil.

But what do I mean by the miracle of Kwanzaa?

As a species we tend to form tribal units, respecting and cherishing our own while fearing and threatening those whose beliefs differ from ours. History, even recent history is replete with genocides, holocausts, the slaughter of innocents,  terrorist attacks and horrific acts of hatred towards fellow human beings. Kwanzaa emerged from the African-American experience and remembrance of the pain of human bondage.

We need to encourage the American ideal of tolerating and respecting the customs and traditions of those who differ from us.  Respecting Kwanzaa is a tiny nod to that ideal.

True tolerance and respect for the practices and beliefs of others seems, at times, like a fragile flame, sputtering in the wind, on the verge of being extinguished.

Keeping that flame alive is the true miracle of the holiday season.

 
 

AMYGDALA, SHMYGDALA— Fear & Healing in the 21st Century

A recent NY Times science article http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/21/science/21obbrain.html?ref=science described the significance of the amygdala, a primitive brain structure and its connection with the perception  of fear.

Animals who have suffered damage to the amygdala seem to ignore dangerous situations even after they have been injured by having gone through them.  Not good to be sure. But they were free from fear and worry.

But fear and worry are truly "hard-wired" into who we are.  Without it our ancestors would have never survived the many threats to their existence. And neither would we.

To worry, to plan, to anticipate is a survival mechanism. To obsessively worry, plan or anticipate is not.  Our ancestors evolved to anticipate, evade or combat episodes of threat.  There were presumably periods of time to rest and restore some sense of relative tranquility.  Their amygdala's could chill out for a while.

What is disturbing about our contemporary society is the constant bombardment of distressing, threatening news and information.  There is no let up.  Our amygdalas as well as entire automonic nervous system, our hypothalmic, pituitary, adrenal axis, our "fight or flight" mechanisms are on high alert–all the time.

Internet, BlackBerries, 24hr news reporting,  text messages, twitter etc. etc.  There is no rest for the weary amygdala, for us.

What evolved for survival now keeps us on the edge.  Our immune systems are unable to find the time to repair themselves.  Our minds are constantly flooded with threatening messages. Our emotional selves are in need of repair, of healing.

Many of us are old enough to recall when there were no cell phones, internet, instant communication.  The news was available through newspapers, tv, radio but only on occasion.  You couldn't expect to reach people–immediately.  And we did survive.

So be kind to your amygdala.  Let is rest.  Recall the Serenity Prayer–what we cannot change we need to release.  Turn off your electronics.  Become unavailable for periods of time.  Don't check your messages.  Don't watch TV or scan the internet for defined periods.  Don't respond immediately to messages that can wait.  We now expect such immediacy, even when it is not needed. 

It will be difficult. I know.  But it may be the only way to heal.

 

DECEMBER 25th — Happy Birthday– To Sol ?

Come on now.  Enough Christian-bashing you say.  But seriously I am not into bashing any particular religion, only stimulating intellectual interest into the nature and evolution of ALL religions.

They are, in truth, human interpretations of some higher reality.  That is something I do believe in. But my belief is based on evidence not faith.  (see my book and other blog postings)

If I had time and space I could easily demonstrate the historical evolution (ie change) in ALL religions. It is not a matter of opinion but of fact.

Historically the Roman Empire established the worship of the Sun god Sol Invictus in 274 AD by Emperor Aurelian.  His birthday was December 25th which makes perfect sense since it is just after the winter solstice when it became evident to one and all that the days were getting longer, indicating that light was returning once again to the world.

Emperor Constantine who adopted Christianity and essentially established as the religion of the realm adopted the date of December 25th but Christianaized it.  It was to be known as the birthday of Jesus.

Now there is debate among theologians as to whether or not this is so.  Some claim that the early Christians were martyred because they defied pagan beliefs.  Probably so. But religion and politics have always been linked.  Why wouldn't Constantine meld the beliefs and practices of his pagan subjects with his desire to unify the empire behind his newly embraced religion?

Likewise the Jewish Sabbath, Saturday was easily transferred to the Christian Sabbath, Sunday.  This was clearly a nod to Sol Invictus and his followers.

So please enjoy the day. It should be a time of family and friends.  God knows we all need more peace in the world.

Happy birthday to Sol, to Jesus and to everyone else who celebrates this day.

SUPERIOR MEMORY SYNDROMES — Do We Really Want It ?

CBS had a recent special featuring actress Marilu Henner regarding individuals with "superior autobiographical memory syndrome".

It seems as if these individuals can recall details from nearly any day in their lives.  What  appears seemingly to be a blessing can, I fear, in reality be a curse.

Now there is clearly an element of jealously here. I, too, get frustrated when I can't recall the name of someone I have just met or the name of a recent film I enjoyed.

But having total recall about every event in my life?  I'm not so sure.

After all there are events we would all rather forget.  And furthermore my understanding of how the mind/brain works includes the "creative" element of memory.  We all tend to interpret past events as we see them.  There is little "objective" in our memories.

Perhaps it would at times be better to have detailed memories of conversations and events.  But it was noted that of the six individuals featured on the show, only Marilu was married.  She and others manifested rather extreme forms of OCD as well.

What I also believe is our inherent inability to recall exactly what we have experienced allows our minds to create something new.

In fact it may be the source of much of mankind's creative activities.  Take a story, piece of music, a play, a work of art we have already seen.  Even if we attempted to duplicate them from memory there is a strong likelihood our minds would come up with something different.  It might be worse, but it might be better.

I will also guess that many inventions are the consequence of taking what has been seen and studied but redone with a new twist.

A computer can duplicate any input exactly.  The human mind is special because it cannot.  And that makes all the difference.

 

THE NATURE OF HUMAN NATURE — Free Will & Original Sin & Karma

It is difficult for any metaphysician to not return to the primal question–who are we?  Why do we behave as we do?  And more specifically why do I make the choices I do ?

The answers to these mysteries will remain in question despite new insights provided by neuroscience, anthropology, psychology, spirituality and other fields.

But I find the notion of original sin fascinating.  As I have discussed previously in a posting from nearly two years ago, Christianity and Judaism have radically different perspectives on this issue.

Rather than argue about which is correct, let me explain how I choose to understand the issue and how it relates to the Eastern notion of karma.

It comes down to the question of what is "free will" and how "free" our choices truly are.

Are we the product of neurochemical firings? The victim of inherited brain abnormalities which impel us to react to our environment and to those around us in ways that hurt others and ourselves?  What about damaging early parental influences? Drugs?

Or do we always retain the ability to choose between options?

I believe that in most cases–we do possess the free will and retain responsibility for what we choose to do.

Original sin freed Adam and Eve from the innocence of childhood but in the process gave them (and us) the responsibility for what we choose.

We are not inherently "evil" or "good".  We are ethically neutral until we think and act out our deeds.

We are in a difficult position and sometimes it seems as if we would rather see ourselves as inherently incapable of making responsible choices.

That may be the easy way out.  And karmically we may still be on the hook anyway.

 

MEDITATION & HEALING — A Possible Mechanism

Meditation is universally recommended for calming the mind and improving a variety of physical ills.  It is interesting to speculate on a mechanism for  how this might actually work.

The relationship, the interconnection of mind and body is irrefutable.  Likewise our thoughts and feelings are completely linked as well.

Every thought has an emotional component.  This component may be so negligible as to be ignored at times.  For example viewing the Weather Channel and finding a report of pleasant weather may produce an immediate thought and then feeling which is either pleasant or at least neutral.

But what if you are planning to travel by air the next day and the weather report indicates terrible weather.  The immediate awareness, the thought that you might have difficulties or delays ahead leads instantaneously to an uncomfortable feeling.  This may be perceived as a feeling of nervousness, palpitations, sweating, head or backache or even GI distress.  The immediate bodily response  is truly astounding.

Meditation attempts  to allow the content of our mind, the thoughts that flit across the stage of our consciousness, to be examined with less emotional response.  We may still recognize the emotional response but feel less "attached" to it. Those trained in mindfulness meditation place themselves in the position of the "witness" of these thoughts and subsequent feelings.

From this position there is a de-linking of thought and feeling to the extent of having a reduced physical reaction to them.

This is not the same as attempting to deny or sublimate these feelings.  They are experienced but from the perspective of the true Self.  This Self is the essential being who is meditating  The Self is clearly subject to thoughts and emotions but recognizes on a deep level that they are interpretations of the mind. 

Travel plans may or may not be effected by weather in the future.  But the individual is suffering NOW because of the content of their mind's interpretation.

Meditation may allow the observing self to recognize the possible need to alter plans based on the information.  But by de-linking thought and feeling, allow the process to unfold without the physical manifestations of worrying.

Now no one said any of this is easy.  We are programmed to be thinking/feeling beings.  But it may very well assist us in de-linking our "dis-ease" from subsequent disease.