ONLY ONE THOUGHT AT A TIME — A Healing Paradigm

It may be surprising at first to realize that our minds can only hold one thought at a time. But just take a moment to ponder this truth.  What appears to be a mind flooded with multiple ideas at once is really a situation in which we experience a chaotic and frenetic movement of our minds from one thought to another.

It is not a coincidence that those of us who try to meditate on a regular basis experience this phenomena as a challenge to our practice.   The meditators of ancient traditions referred to this as "monkey chatter" and is reminiscent of monkeys in a cage constantly jumping from one area of the cage to another.

When we are under stressful conditions we find our minds constantly returning to our area of most concern.  We fret, worry, obsess over perceived situations in our lives and the lives of those we care about.  We may even experience the fascinating phenomenon in which we feel well for a few moments, when our thoughts are elsewhere, then quickly return to feeling distressed, upset and even physically ill when our thoughts turn negative again.  We may then even feel guilty for feeling OK or even joyful for those short moments.  We chastise ourselves for not feeling  pain on a continuous basis.

It should be noted that our thoughts and feelings are intricately intertwined.  " We think by feelings" as the poet Theodore Rothke noted.

And with them our bodies respond as well.  Mind and body are one unit.  We know that from our own life experiences and how our bodies react with physical symptoms.  It defines my practice of medicine.

Most interesting is how we can feel good or bad at intervals based on where our minds are in that moment. And yet the objective "situation" which made us stressed has not changed at all!

Did our worrying affect the actual situation?  Only if it led to some concrete actions.  Did we physically change our location? Did we escape from perceived danger?  Did we make plans for the worst case scenario?  Did we find a new doctor?  Did we move our loved one to a new hospital? Did we go for a check-up? Did we intervene in our loved one's problems?

If worrying leads to action, then we have utilized its survival value to us. In historical perspective those Jews who perceived that Hitler's retoric might just materalize escaped and lived.  Unfortunately millions did or could not.

 The recent experiences most of us on the East coast had with Irene demonstrates how under certain situations worrying is useful.  Those of us who took precautions, get flash lights, batteries even generators survived the storm better than those who failed to do so. Once worrying does not lead to further action, or once worrying takes on a life of its own, it can only lead to further suffering.

There are those who truly believe that if they DON'T worry about loved ones, even when nothing changes in the physical world, something terrible will occur.  This is pure superstition but that does not stop them from doing so.  They inwardly believe that their own suffering and worrying is necessary to keep the world intact.  They might not even consciously realize this.  But they do it just the same.

Once we realize that our thoughts can come under our conscious control, we can tailor them to meet our needs.  When we have analyzed the situation and realize that nothing can or should be done to change it, then we need to observe our negative thoughts and quickly but gently escort them away.  This is the essence of the power of the Serenity Prayer.

Don't be attached to our thoughts and our emotional responses to these thoughts will diminish as well.    We are victims of our own minds, unless we come to realize that it becomes our choice to continue to live that way.

We can let go of negativity.  We can choose to be in a calm place and rest there.  We may periodically review what bothers us and be aware that those negative feelings may come along.  Or we may learn to visit those thoughts and detach from the emotional component.

This is certainly not easy.  It may not even be natural for us to do so.  But with training of our minds through meditation we can find a healing paradigm that works.

 

YOU MAKE ME SICK — But Only If I Let You

Can you make me sick?  Only if I let you.

How does anyone else on the planet effect us?  They touch some nerve, irritate us, threaten us, annoy us, intimidate us.

When it comes to our personal contacts including old friends and acquaintances the best course of action is to just walk away.  Life is too short to find ourselves doing "battle" for no particular reason.  For those relatives who must remain a part of our lives, we may just need to adjust our own attitudes towards them.  It may take an act of will to resist engaging in arguments or allowing ourselves to experience distress, but it is an activity worth pursuing.

I've spoken to individuals who describe horrific business associates, bosses, co-workers, that seem to really "get" to them.  As a result they feel anxious, agitated, unable to work to their fullest capacity.  This feeling contaminates the rest of their lives, making them absoultely miserable.

But we know this doesn't have to be the case.  I've met others who have had similar experiences– but then changed.  Perhaps they have literally changed their work enviornment, even to the extent of changing jobs.  Or Ultimately it is up to us to change.  It is unlikely any other individual  will change their behavior or attitude.

How we perceive life's experiences, including our interaction with others, determines our level of serenity.  Of course we will "feel" an emotional reaction when someone annoys us.  But we can choose to resist that reactive response  if we decide to do so.

Is it easy?  No.  We often instinctively hold on to our negative emotions.  We want to validate our own feelings.  We may even decide to retaliate in some way.  But it may be wise to stop before reacting. 

 As a physician I've seen the physical consequences of emotional stress–abdominal pains, change in bowel habits, altered eating habits.  It is also well known that chronic stress adversely effects our immune system and makes us susceptible to infections.

 Breathe deeply and calm ourselves down.  Engage in an internal dialogue first.  Is reacting in our best interest?  Will we obtain some satisfaction in doing so now, only to "pay the price" by remaining annoyed or agitated for some time in the future.

Letting go of the emotional reactivity allows us to think more clearly about what course of action is ultimately in our best interest.

It is also less likely to cause us to "feel sick".

SO YOU REALLY ARE BISEXUAL AFTER ALL ! On Waiting For Science To Catch Up

Good news for bisexuals. 

You can officially feel what you feel. Of course I'm oozing sarcasm here.  You knew what you knew, felt what you felt.  Finally science has come around to agree with you.  You are turned on by both sexes. The New York Times article  by David Tuller from August 22 describes the appropriate studies.

I am a huge fan of science.  They adhere to strict criteria, perform studies which can be scrutinized, analyzed and criticized by others.  It just takes them a while to "confirm" what bisexuals know from their own experiences.

Years ago people questioned whether homosexuality was actually a choice.  (Sadly there are a whole host of fundamentalists who still do, while secretly knowing it is not!).  Science with sophisticated brain scanning has confirmed that truth as well.

Bisexuals seem to truly have it all…twice the options that us boring heteros are stuck with.

Still congrats on becoming official. 

 Just in case it mattered to you.

HONORING THE PATIENT / CUSTOMER / CLIENT — a Kabbalistic Approach To Work

Interacting with other human beings is the essence of my profession and career and I am certain this is true for the vast majority of employed individuals in society.

 The ultimate challenge is how to do so in an environment of over ridding stress, financial concerns and emotional fragility.   These factors apply A equally to you as it does the patient/customer/client you have to deal with.

I don't want to pretend to offer easy answers to this dilemma.  It is all dependent upon how the person reacts to you and their situation and how you react to them.  Each party brings to the interaction an entire field of issues–their personal situation, financial, emotional, health related–and how the interaction plays out.

Considering all these factors its actually quite amazing that we actually do get things accomplished in this world without killing each other.

Kabbalah may offer some insights on the matter.   And, by the way, the Buddhist approach is quite similar.

Years ago I noticed the symptoms of "burnout" in my practice.  I would not look forward to my busy office schedule.  I groaned when a call would come in from a patient who was having problems.  I found myself physically and mentally exhausted at the end of my session.

I then read about the Kabbalistic notion which introduced a spiritual dimension to life.  It changed my attitude, my approach and improved my performance as a physician.  I do hope that my patients would agree that, in general, I actually appreciate the opportunity to help them  with their medical needs.

 Kabbalistic thinking states that we are all incarnating in this physical form to evolve when we express concern and compassion for one another.  Someone who offers us the opportunity to choose loving kindness and charity  over disdain, who presents themselves in a vulnerable position, who needs help and assistance are offering us a gift.

With this concept in mind it might be helpful to return to work with a different attitude.  We just might regard the difficult/needy patient/customer/client as offering us the opportunity to do something positive. 

Karmic points might just be the reward.

Now I am not naive enough to believe that we will be invulnerable to the extremely difficult individual who seem determined to make us as miserable as they are.  We are still incarnating, after all, and have not reached sainthood yet.

Still it would not hurt to prepare ourselves for work with a new awareness of possibilities and opportunities to learn and evolve.

It is definitely worth a try.

METAPHYSICIAN’S PRAYER — A Poem (A Work In Progress from An Open-Minded Skeptic))

God

I know this prayer

Is of little interest to You

 

You  know I

Struggle with You

Like Jacob

 

Who became "Israel"

When he wrestled

 With You

 

My belief

Or disbelief

Effects You

 

Not at all

Words of praise,

adoration,

 

Adulation

Leave You

Unmoved

 

Did you vanquish

My enemies?

Lead me

 

Beside still waters?

Restore my soul?

I doubt it

 

Do You care

If I eat traif?

Work on the Shabbat?

 

 But I believe——

You  observe  

The choices

 

I make

How

I treat other

 

Living beings…….

The small mercies

The acts of kindness

 

When no

One is watching

Except You

 

I believe this life

Is one of many

As precious

 

As ephemeral

As a perfect

Snow flake

  

 I believe

You observe……

 When

 

I evolve

When

 I choose to love  

 

When

I overcome

Fear 

 

When

I don't succumb

To cynicism and anger

 

I believe

That evil

Saddens You

 

But

Free will

Is

 

The rule

Even You

Don't break

 

Suffering is universal

That

Suffering is not punishment

 

It is a path

To teach

Compassion for others

 

I do not know

Perfection

Only intention and effort

 

 

You know

My desire

To know You

 

Is why

I wrote

This poem

LONGEVITY — Nature Vs Nuture — Moderation In All Things

Many of us would like to believe we can control our destinies.

We would like to believe that exercising our free will choices will provide us with a healthier, longer life. That is not a bad approach to living, but when it comes to longevity it may not be entirely true.

There are many who avoid alcohol and smoking while exercising vigorously in an attempt to fend off the inevitable. And although there are studies which support the quality of life benefits of exercise, when it comes to pure longevity, a recent study reported from The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/09/health/research/09longevity.html?%2359;ref=health&_r=1&=&pagewanted=print calls our behavioral efforts into question.

The conclusion from gerontologists from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine's study of 477 Ashkenazi Jews age 95 to 112 seems to point to genetics rather than behavior as the greatest contributor to longevity.

As a physician and overall observer of other beings, it is clear that smoking, obesity and its associated disease states such as diabetes and hyperlipidemia carry increased risk of diseases. And such diseases produce unwanted limitations on the functional capacity of those who suffer from them.

But when it comes to the compulsive restrictive approach to living including extreme caloric restriction, total avoidance of alcohol, vigorous extreme exercising, the proof is not there.

The occasional but not unheard of death during marathons and triathalons (recently in the NYC example) should be recognized as risks associated with excessive efforts to achieve "immortality".

This suggest what spiritual traditions have always promoted–moderation in all things– is the most reasonable approach. Quality of life rather than pure longevity should be the ultimate goal.

Appreciating the life we have and maintaining the level of fitness which allows us to enjoy it to the utmost is a reasonable goal.

SEX / NEUROGENESIS — Not In My High School Class

Sorry nerds ( of which I was one) the greasers who were getting all the "action" were developing more neurons, not you!

If these studies in rats apply to humans–it didn't fit my high school experience at all.

Leuner, Glasper and Gould described neurogenesis in rats and its relationship to sexual encounters in their article from the Princeton University from July 2010 (how did I miss this one?)

A follow-up study from Hong Kong this year described adult human neurogenesis as a consequence of physical exercise and sex.  I wonder if the sex has to be more "athletic" in order to promote brain development?

In any case, my own high school experience did not confirm these studies.

If so the entire class ranking would have been reversed. 

 My nerd friends and I would have scraping the bottom of the barrel.  My auto shop classmate Joey would have been valedictorian.

But science is an ongoing process.  We may find out that late bloomers keep developing brain cells while high school lotharios become viagra users decades later. 

I'm curious. 

Joey, shoot me an email and let me know what's "up"?

A HASIDIC TALE OF REB ZUSYA & Our Highest Self

There is a well known Hasidic tale of Reb Zusya, a rabbi of great wisdom, compassion and humility who, after his death, anxiously awaits his meeting with God. 

His greatest fear is that he never became as great as Moses, Solomon or the other exalted Rabbis or prophets.

When finally before his Creator, the omniscient One says—"What troubles you my son?"   "I feel I have not lived up to your expectations."  Reb Zusya replies, "I have not become another Moses. " 

"Don't be foolish, my son." God replies,   " I only wanted you to be Zusya."

The lesson here is clear. 

In this incarnation we need  only to be ourselves, the best possible version.

VIRTUAL EATING — A Mind Game for Dieters & Neuroscientists

The following may seem seriously bizarre to the reader.

It would not be the first or even the last suggestions of mine that might fit into that category. But at the very least it will offer some insight into how the brain works.

I recall being fascinated by how contemporary brain scanning using MRIs and SPECT scans can depict certain neural activity during active processes. Most specifically, the fMRI of someone eating an apple can be visualized as engaging specific areas of the brain related to smell, taste, vision, memory, etc. The details are available on websites devoted to such studies.

What fascinated me even more was what occurred when we dont' actually eat another apple, merely think about it—the scans are identical ! In other words on some basic neurological level, our brains cannot distinguish reality from fantasy. Of course the pornography industry has capitalized on this truth for millennia.

So here's where virtual eating comes in.

Think about one of your favorite foods and fantasize that you are eating it right now. Try to see, smell, taste each bite full. Isn't it good? Aren't you surprised that you can actually enjoy the flavor? I know I can.

Can you satisfy your appetite in some manner by virtual eatingversus real eating? Can this be a dieter's tool to weight loss?

Crazy you say. It only makes you want to eat that particular food more, you say.

I'm not so sure. I can actually feel satisfied, to some extent by this thought experiment. Granted this will not allow any of us to not eat at all…..duh!

What I suggest is that we attempt to apply virtual eating to the world of snacking, noshing, grabbing at food because we are bored, stressed, it looks tempting, it is present before us.

Give it a try.  You have nothing to lose but a few pound and perhaps much to gain–some insight into how how brains actually work.