EMOTIONAL SELF–HEALING — We Can Thank Our “Designer” Brains

Most human beings suffer from some form of emotional disturbance or another during their lifetime.

Whether it becomes classified as a full-blown disease/disorder or the transitory episodes of the more common situational anxiety and depression, no one of us is spared from its often debilitating effects.

In fact the jazz-influenced notion of “the blues” implied that everyone has such experiences at some time or another, that they are a part of normal living.

And just as with physical illnesses, we usually experience improvement in our state of mind without resorting to prescription drugs or even psychotherapy.

My point is this–our neurons possess receptors sites which bind our own peptides (proteins synthesized by our own bodies) to improve anxiety and depression.

During much of our lives we experience emotional self-healing.

Want proof?

The simple fact that we respond to pharma drugs from xanax to paxil and a boat load of others, indicates that our brain cells possess these sites. Otherwise they would literally have NO effect on us. And these receptors have evolved on the surface of our brain’s neurons as well the other cells of our body over millions of years for a good reason.

In a similar manner, the fact that alcohol, nicotine, opiates , cocaine etc effect our brain indicates that our brain cells have receptors to which they bind.

My point is merely this—we evolved with the capacity to experience happiness, even bliss, to heal from anxiety and depression based on our innate neuropeptides.

Our immune cells respond in a similar manner. It is how chronic unremitting anxiety and depression exert toxic effects on our immunity. This fascinating field is known as psychoneuroimmunology.

Of course the challenge is how to mobilize our own peptides to do what needs to be done so that we don’t have to reach for a drug (legal or illegal) to accomplish what we need.

There are ways that we already know about—meditation, prayer, yoga, physical exercise, sex, love etc.

We need to train our mind to choose these first.

Our brain will gladly follow the consequences.

Of course this is not as easy as popping a pill. And I am by no means discouraging those who require prescription drugs and professional mental help. On the contrary the risk for many is NOT seeking such help soon enough.

The awareness that our brains are “designed” for self-healing can help us move through the most difficult emotional illnesses and continue our healing after the outside help is completed.

It requires the will to do these activities (no problem with sex) and train our brain cells to expect that self-healing is not only possible but probable.

Such expectations can offer us the boost of optimism so valuable to all forms of healing.

GETTING TO SERENITY — The Way of Gratitude

The Serenity Prayer known to all encapsulates the way to overcome adversity.  It simply requires us to accept what we cannot change, find the courage to change what we can and pray for the wisdom to know the difference.

Simple but oh so difficult.  How do we accept what is painful and debilitating in our lives?  How do we face the suffering that is inherent in being a human being?  How do we not feel the pain of those we love and care about?

No one is espousing not feeling.  No one advocates hiding or denying the reality of adversity. The challenge is how to feel and move on.  The analogy of fishing may be of some relevance–"catch and release".  Recognize the emotional source of our pain, do not attempt to suppress it, the release it.  Holding on will only bring us unnecessary suffering.  

My favorite analogy is the flight attendants admonition–in case of a drop in oxygen pressure, place your mask over your nose BEFORE attempting to assist someone else.

This is not a call for being self-centered at the expense of others.  It is a pragmatic realization that if we are hurt or incapacitated, we cannot help others. 

I have witnessed first hand, in my practice and in my personal life, the damaging power of sadness and empathy.  Literally our immune systems become so weakened, we become victims rather than saviors.

The Buddhists describe mastering the notion of nonattachment.  We feel the suffering but recognize its transitory nature.  We do not become entrapped in its web.  We recognize that suffering is made worse when we remain attached to our mind's interpretation of life's events.  Easier said than done.

So what can we possibly do to find some semblance of serenity—the way of gratitude.

Becoming aware of every small gift we experience is the way to move on.  Go through the trouble of making a list–write it out–all in your life you are grateful for. 

Now this list may be long, it may be short.  It might pale in comparison to a list of what is troubling you. But stay away from that list.  It is already overwhelming to you.  You need to give the shorter list its due.  Pay attention, meditate on the list of gratitude.

You all know what should be on that list and it is completely unique to you.  But there will be universals–you are alive.  You have an opportunity to change in every moment.  All things change over time.

What we have is the capacity to change our way of thinking about what we experience.  We can find the ray of light that penetrates the darkness.  We can find meaning in the emerging bud on a small branch, in the rays of the dawning sun.

We are blessed with the type of mind which can hold only one thought at a time. 

When we substitute worry and fear with gratitude, our entire body responds with healing neurotransmitters.  We may once more smile which is the outward manifestations of real healing.

This is the challenge we accepted when we chose to incarnate.  We are not programmed to fail.  We are not doomed to sadness.

The way of gratitude will be the path from darkness to light.

COMPARE BUT DON’T DESPAIR

In view of the prior posting DON'T COMPARE & DON'T DESPAIR what I am talking about now?

Well, the only sense in which comparison makes sense is when it is directed towards our own metaphysical journey. We should observe our own personal quest.

We should compare were we are now in the present moment, with where we should / want to be. We need to be introspective and honest with ourselves:

1} What are our talents and interests? 2) Have we aspired to reach our fullest potential? 3) Have we tried to live by the Golden Rule–do we treat others as we would like to be treated. 4) Do we express gratitude for our lives, despite our problems and disappointments? 5) Have we expressed love and affection for other beings? 6) Are we able to choose a more optimistic approach to life even in the face of adversity? 7) Do we acknowledge the achievements and successes of others without feeling envy? 8) Have we attempted to offer compassion for the suffering of others despite our own problems? Are we too judgmental with our own failings? Do we not show generosity, forgiveness and compassion for ourselves?

In any case we need not despair over our own lack of "success" in achieving our highest destiny. We do need to learn from our failures. Adversity can be seen as a teachable moment. Failure to sustain our goals should be understood as temporary setbacks.

We need to be supportive of ourselves and continue to be our own best cheerleaders. So compare. But this is not about any other human beings on this planet. It is fine to compare ourselves in the present moment with what we could be.

That is a path towards self actualization.

DON’T COMPARE & DON’T DESPAIR

It seems like a universal human endeavor–to compare ourselves with others and either feel better or worse in the comparison. The problem with such activities, besides being a complete waste of time, is that comparisons are not valid.

Of course when we break down our lives into individual components it is obvious that all living beings share certain basic aspects of their lives–friends, family, financial status, occupation, health (physical and psychological). It is all too easy to compare our lives with others based on each individual category. Our job sucks while Bob is CEO of a large company and makes tons of money. Sam has a hot wife and mine is rather unattractive and let herself go. John's kids are super successful and mine are still struggling to find themselves. Anthony can run marathons and my arthritis is killing me. Etc. Etc. So it seems that such comparisons must be valid. It is the source of much of our suffering. It is envy personified. Likewise if we are fortunate enough to seem to have done "better" than others it is a karmic trap to be arrogant or to demean someone else. Our own fate is as uncertain as the person who seems down and out. We could be where they are in a heartbeat.

We want what seems to be "better" in someone else's life while forgetting various factors which might include hard work, making good decisions, just being fortunate. It is also crucial to understand that life is not a zero-sum game. In other words someone else's success does not affect our own. The universe expands to embrace happiness and achievement. Your success will not diminish my own.

We also fail to realize that life is not a Chinese menu. We cannot pick one aspect of someone's life, another part of another, a third from another. There are no composite lives. Someone may appear to have a better marriage than us but may suffer from anxiety and phobias. Someone may have wildly successful children but they are angry at their parents and dissociate themselves from the family entirely.

Our lives are complete packages with good and bad. They are unique in all the universe. In fact each life is so unique that comparisons with another are impossible. Any attempt to do so is foolish.

Comparison is also invalid because each life is a journey over time. Recall the Biblical phrase "this too shall pass". This applies to good as well as bad. Joy and sadness will find their place in every life over time. Envy picks a moment in time for comparison. None of us know how the next moment may change our lives forever–for good or bad.

We live many lifetimes. Our journey here is based on soul choices from the past and free will operating in this lifetime. We cannot possibly know what karmic lessons from past lives our souls have signed on to in this life.

How, then, could we possibly know what others have in store for themselves?

Comparing our lives with others makes as much sense as a pro baseball player comparing himself with a pro golfer. Each can have success or failure within the confines of their particular sport but it is foolish to compare the two athletes as individuals. Does that analogy resonate at all with how we view other people? I believe with some variation, it can. And in doing so dissuade us from the compare and despair trap.

P T S D — Is This A Spectrum Disorder and Is Healing Possible?

This is a very controversial and sensitive area to discuss.

Who survives extreme stress and adversity and who doesn't?

Or more to the point, how well do any of us deal with suffering? And to what extent are all human beings survivors of their life's experiences?

Are we all survivors of PTSD in one form or another? Is there a spectrum of suffering in which the mildest cases are considered "normal" whereas the severely afflicted are regarded as sick?

Suffering is universal. Buddhism recognizes this as a fact of physical existence. The degree of suffering, however, seems to be based on our mental state of being. How do we deal with the circumstances of our lives? How successful are we in transforming darkness into light?

How can we explain how two different individuals survive horrific circumstances with different outcomes? One person deals with the horror, chooses to move on with their lives and is capable of compartmentalizing their suffering for the sake of embracing what beauty and good life offers. Another can never escape the demons that afflict them and forever plagued–they be unable to deal with life's further challenges. Mental illness, even suicide seem to be their only escape.

Who is capable of surviving an abusive childhood filled with emotional and/or physical suffering and who is forever scarred? And who can overcome financial ruin, the breakup of a marriage, a physical illness which seems progressive and debilitating? Who returns from Iraq or Afghanistan forever emotionally crippled while another, limbs missing seems capable of moving forward in their lives?

The Holocaust of European Jewry claimed victims among the survivors. Some could never face life again in a world in which such horror could occur. Some philosophers and writers like Bruno Levi committed suicide years afterwards.

On the other hand, Viktor Frankl wrote Man's Search For Meaning and survived without rancor or hatred. His mechanism for survival was to visualize even the smallest reason to live. He was able to find meaning in life by observing a bud on the limb of a tree. Somehow he was able to find a thread of optimism in a universe of pain and senseless chaos. Frankl's response to suffering was to become open and loving, not filled with hate. How does one do that?

Very likely PTSD represents a spectrum—not only of the type of suffering one has to endure, but the resistance and resilience of those who experience it. Perhaps resilience itself has genetic roots with some of us more able to overcome adversity than others.

Perhaps, as the Buddhists take note, the purpose of suffering is not punishment, but to teach us compassion for our fellow PTSD travelers. On the other hand the notion what our souls may have "chosen" to face suffering in order to heal karmic actions from past lives may be more difficult for Western minds to accept.

I am planning to meet with an old friend I'll refer to as Bruce (not real name) I have not seen in decades who I understand is emotionally stuck in a very dark place. His life is apparently in disarray from financial and personal setbacks. He is apparently unable to move past a state of depression and self-pity.

He apparently spend much mental and emotional energy comparing his life with others and finds his lacking. He apparently is stuck in the memory of what his life was and no longer is.

He is suffering from PTSD.

I have no idea whether or not I can help him. It would be presumtuous of me to believe I can. But I will try.

I need to speak with him and to evaluate where he is on the spectrum of PTSD. I want to know if he is ready to move beyond the darkness. Why would I even question this? I know there are those whose identiy has become that of the victim, the loser, the one who suffers. I know that there are individuals who fear moving from this place.

I need to know if he desires healing, if he is tired of being where he is. Because all healing is ultimately self-healing. No one can heal someone who does not desire to be healed with every fiber of their being.

I need him to know that I will not judge him as a failure in life. I need him to know that I believe there is always hope for healing and transformation.

I will monitor any success or failure that ensues.

It cannot hurt to try

UNCLE TONY’s SHIRT — Post 9/11 ADC & Follow-up

One ot the most powerful after-death communications, ADCs I heard in my early exploration of survival of consciousness came from a nurse I referred to in my book META-PHYSICIAN ON CALL FOR BETTER HEALTH as "Joyce".

She described the devastating loss of her uncle Tony in the 9/11 catastrophe. She was only a few years younger than Tony and they were very close. He was a Port Authority cop whose body was never recovered.

Several weeks after the tragedy she had what she referred to as an incredibly clear and detailed dream. It was so real, unlike a typical dream and she recalled every sound, color and texture to this very day. The nature of the dream was a Sunday afternoon family get together. Tony looked great and happy. What was surprising to her was the brightly colored and patterned Hawaiian shirt he was wearing. Tony always dressed in a more conservative Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren style of shirt.

The next morning she spoke with her dad who was Tony's brother. She excitedly related the intensely real dream and described his shirt in detail. Her dad was suddenly silent on the other end of the line. With a shaking voice he described having recovered Tony's car. That exact shirt was in the trunk, just back from the cleaners. Tony had purchased that shirt in a recent trip to Hawaii. No one in the family had ever seen him wear it.

This was a powerful personal experience which had the necessary quality of providing knowledge through paranormal means. It was one of the core experiences that I consider "evidence" for survival of consciousness after death.

Just three days ago I had the fortuitous opportunity to meet "Joyce" again. In truth her name is Sue and she was happy to learn that I had included her experience in my book. In fact the following day she emailed me an another powerful dream experience.

This dream occurred several months after the first. Tony's body had still not been found. In this dream she is walking through a field of high grass. She could see, feel the texture, the smell of the field. She described a setting sun and other colors in great detail. She approached a magnificent tree in the center of the field. Sitting beneath its massive limbs, sitting with crossed legs was Tony. They spoke and she asked him to come back with her. He declined with a smile and seemed quite at peace. Strangely he handed her a hand gun and said, "give this to Joey" (his brother, also a cop) which she proceeded to take back with her as she turned and walked away from him.

Two weeks later Tony's hand gun was found. It was given to Joey,  who carries it with him to this day. Sue has never mentioned the dream to him.

Of note, she said, was the name "Joyce" which I believed I picked randomly was actually Tony's wife's name.

Now I'm not so sure.

MY PATIENTS ARE LIKE BABOONS — And That’s A Compliment ! — It Pays To Be Nice

No this is not the beginning of a weak joke.

There is something interesting at play here–being "nice" does pay off– for patients and baboons.

Coincidence or not I became aware of two separate articles which deal with the issues of being nice. The New York Times on July 14 published an article by James Gorman entitled Baboon Study Shows Benefits for Nice Guys, Who Finish 2nd.

It studied the stress levels of alpha males, long regarded as the most powerful, "successful" members of the tribe with the best potential for mating and passing along their genes.

The beta is secondary, the "nice guy" who sits betwween the highest and lowest ranking males.

Whereas the alpha males had to fight off challengers and expend energy defending fertile females, the beta males got what they needed without as much stress.

Since chronic stress is known to have adverse health effects including diminished longevity, so just perhaps the nice beta boys can be around to mate for a longer period of time.

And just perhaps some of the lady baboons are attracted to the sensitive types as well.

Another article from JAMA July 6, 2011–Vol 306, No 1 by Detsky and Baerlocher ask whether nice patients receive better care?

Their conclusion, in this short review article is "yes".

Personally, I have always been repulsed by people who seem to erroneously believe that by being aggressive and demanding that they obtain more from others than not.

Physicians react just like any other human beings. And whether we are aware of it or not, respond better to patients who are pleasant, compliant and grateful.

It is, after all, human nature.

And perhaps pre-human as well.

BESIDE MANNER DOES MATTER — Part II

It is gratifying that medical schools are finally waking up to the value of interpersonal relationships and the ability of physicians to read the social and emotional cues of their patients.

I have never understood the old expression "he's got a bad bedside manner but is a great doctor".   I have always felt that these were mutually exclusive traits.

A good physician must understand the emotional and personality traits of their patients.  They must be able to intuit when someone is under emotional stress, when they are pretending to be OK when they are not, when their anger is hiding a deep emotional wound.

I have  railed against the traditional methods by which a student becomes a doctor.  The emphasis on grades, board scores at the expense of personal skills and compassion have always frustrated me.

Now there appears to be a serious movement among medical schools to attract students who understand the empathic connection required to practice medicine.  There is also a new emphasis on coordinated medical care with a group approach to  healing.

The article in the NYTimes by Garner Harris speaks to this new development http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/11/health/policy/11docs.html?_r=1&ref=health.

It is entirely welcome.

But what must not be sacrificed in this desire to encourage the empathic touch is the hard training and hours of study in which the academic side to medical education is not forgotten.

Just as a "brilliant" but uncaring physician should not  be considered a role model, the overly sensitive and caring but uninformed physician should not be as well.

Once again what we should seek in our prospective physicians is that elusive balance–knowledge and compassion, skills with caring.

It is what makes medicine the art that it is.

A TALE OF TWO TREADMILLS — The Happiness (Hedonic) Connection

I apologize for the cryptic title.  There is a purpose to it.  Treadmills are clearly a vehicle for exercise.  The term is also used in another context–the hedonic (happiness) treadmill.

Let me address that more obtuse reference first.  Also known as hedonic adaptation, the hedonic treadmill refers to the human tendency to return to baseline levels of happiness in the face of major positive or negative events in their lives.

The implication is that those who seek happiness predominantly through the acquisition of material possessions may find a temporary jolt of enjoyment but will ultimately return to their baseline level of contentment in life.

The treadmill analogy implies they are running in place.  They are not "getting" more happiness.

This is a concept heavily endorsed by the Positive Psychology movement.   Which also notes that our personal levels of happiness seem to be genetically determined (50%), determined by outside circumstances (10%) and by our personal choices (40%).

There is much more to explore regarding this subject but I will address the more conventional treadmill.  A recent NYTimes ( July, 6, 20011 ) by Gretchen Reynolds addresses this issue.  She refers to both human and animal researchers who have demonstrated that regular exercise reduces anxiety and the tendency for depression.

The rat studies were particuarly interesting in that rats which were pre-treated with regular (not excessive for them) exercise were more "stress resistant" when exposed to bullying rats.  They exhibited far fewer neurotic anxiety type responses.

Ah so what can we take away from the two treadmill analogy?

For certain, regular exercise changes our brain's reaction to stress.

Secondly, the hedonic treadmill concept may reveal to us the futility of seeking happiness through purely material possessions.

Now no one argues that poverty is a desirable state of being.  But the excessive fixation on the world of "things" does not bring the contentment we seek.

So be quick to jump on the first treadmill, beware of the other.

HEAL YOUR BACK –A Lesson From A Meditative Posture

I don't recall when my back first began to bother me.  But I recently realized it was getting worse over the past few months.  I noticed it particularly when I got out of a chair.  I felt a sudden pain and soreness in my lower back which required immediate rubbing for relief.  Unfortunately the discomfort would return as I began walking.

I had started to stick pillows behind my back when I was sitting in front of my computer.  I also questioned the value of my chair, perhaps  it was the problem.

This didn't stop me from jogging or my usual activities including walking 18 holes of golf and carrying my bag over my shoulder.  But I did find myself seeking a few advils and motrins, something I was not used to doing at all. 

This situation was both annoying and unsettling–was this the ravages of age finally kicking in?

If that was the cause then perhaps acceptance was the only response.

But suddenly I feel better.  And here's what happened.

I've been doing some kundalini meditation based on Kirtan Kriya.  In doing so I realized that I must align my spine as close to vertical as possible.   From a spiritual perspective this facilitates the flow of  energy from the base chakra all the way up through the crown chakra.

 A a result I pushed my shoulders back and my head moved forward over my hips.  I found my spine curving inward toward my belly.  I was sitting more erect than in had done in many years.

I then realized that over time my posture had  gradually gotten worse. 

 Perhaps out of laziness or just lack of awareness I realize that I had been sitting with a  back bowed out.  In other words my head was not aligned over my hips and my spine was bowed backwards.

I performed the meditation with this newly acquired erect posture.  I then stood up immediately and to my surprise–no pain at all!

Well before I get too enthusiastic, let's give this some time. 

 I do believe this change in posture will go a long way towards helping my back.    I might just become more aware of this posture as I walk as well.  (just need to be careful I don't look like I have a stick up my ass)

And anyway, it does seems more anatomically and spiritually correct.