PSYCHEDELICS, DYING & HEALING — Tools for the Metaphysical Journey ?

If I really want to drive my wife over the edge I can remind her of my desire to try LSD.

It's true that I passed over opportunities to indulge in its recreational use in my youth. And it is also true that the substance was abused, tainted, diluted and ingested by young people whose heads were already poorly aligned.

 But even before Timothy Leary and his gang exploded on the pop culture scene in the 1960s, there was reason to believe that psychedelic drugs were more than hallucinatory escapes from reality. On the contrary, there was much historical, ethnographic and even scientific evidence to support their role in achieving real insights into the deeper nature of reality. 

The recent NYTimes article http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/magazine/how-psychedelic-drugs-can-help-patients-face-death.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print How Psychedelics Can Help Patients Face Death revisits the healing potential of these substances.

It describes how they helped dying individuals make peace with their own passing. It describes contemporary researchers but it takes note of someone I read about over ten years ago, Stanislav Grof.  A Czech psychiatrist and serious researcher in the field of mind and consciousness his breakthrough work with LSD and states of consciousness in the 1960s faced serious political and societal backlash and was suspended because of societal pressures. His efforts pointed to psychedelics as truly opening gates to deeper more profound states of awareness. This perspective had been supported by Aldous Huxley and other intellectuals as well.

It also supports the belief of more "primitive" hunter-gatherer cultures who used mushrooms with psilocybin and other bio-active chemicals. These substances were used to access knowledge of the spiritual domain. Perhaps they were not incorrect.

Hopefully the bias against exploring the mind altering properties of these substances will evaporate. Good scientific investigation needs to be supported and it is time that it be re-visited.

It makes little sense to ignore a potential road map for the metaphysical journey and to promote ultimate awareness and healing.

A Blue Dress With Flowers– A Child’s ADC

I continue to have the privilege of hearing the personal experiences of individuals I know and trust.

Each anecdote requires a testimony to the credibility of the story teller. In this case the individual involved is a 70 year old woman patient of mine I'll call Mary. I have known her for at least 15 years. I have no reason to doubt what she told me.

Her daughter Amanda died from complications of cancer several years ago. She was in her early forties. Amanda's friend Jane would often bring her young daughter Sally to visit Amanda's grave site. Although Amanda died when Sally was only five months old, Sally seemed to spend time dancing around her grave site and speaking to someone.

When Jane asked her what she was doing she replied "I'm speaking to Mandy". Jane continued to probe her daughter by asking what she was wearing. "She's dancing with me. She is barefoot and is wearing a blue dress with flowers."

Jane explained that Mandy was her daughter's nickname. She was well known to have chosen to be barefoot whenever possible. Most incredible was the fact that she was buried is exactly that dress. There was no way Sally could know that either.

Mary smiled as she told me the story. "You can never get over the loss of a child" she stated. "But knowing her soul is free and out of suffering gives me much joy."

DISCONTINUOUS CHANGE — The Quantum Leap of Reality

Nothing stays the same. 

 For Planck second to Planck second (10 to minus 43rd of a second) the universe stops and starts again.  Planck spoke of the quantum nature of reality.  Everything occurs in discrete units (quanta) of existence.

 Buddha and Heraclitus saw the apparent flow of a river as an illusion.  Discrete (though imperceptible to the human brain) episodes follow from one to the other.

Reality is like a movie.  Individual frames when run together at a discrete speed offer the illusion of continuity.

And so with our own lives.  We believe we are the same people who began to read this particular blog posting.  Yet we are not.  Philosophically, metaphysically, biologically we are different.  Our bodies have changed.  Our thoughts are different.  Our chemical processes have continued unabated.  We have aged.  We are that much closer to our own nonexistence or death.

Buddhists speak of impermanence as a way of providing understanding to all sentient beings.

Their purpose was not to increase our sense of futility or promote existential angst.  On the contrary, Buddha believed that by sweeping aside the veils of illusion and forcing us to confront reality, we would be more tolerant of the inevitability of change and impermanence.  Such an awareness would lead us to reduce our suffering and seek to attain its release.  The result would be liberation from suffering, attaining Buddha-nature, reaching nirvana.

Is that so?  Does knowledge and awareness lead to less suffering or to more?

I suppose it depends on the individual.  If we can come to terms with reality we should be better able to accept it when it comes our way.  But there are many among us who will find this impossible.  Their suffering will not be lessened with increased awareness.  It might even be exacerbated.

But we do have a choice.  We can meditate on the nature of existence.  We can accepte what we cannot change with equanimity and serenity. 

To achieve this level of awareness brings great healing.

I B S & The Art of Medicine

Is medicine a science, an art or both? 

When it comes to treating IBS there is no doubt that it is both.  And to be truly effective in healing patients with IBS,  the physician as artist  must assume a significant role.

Doctors like to believe that they are scientists and unquestionably they are  well versed in the scientific basis of bodily functions.  But when it comes to treating irritable bowel syndrome, scientists often don't do very well.  They continually seek the mathematic formula, the exact combination of diagnostic modalities and therapies which will guarrantee a successful outcome for their patients.  They are often terribly frustrated when such a paradigm does not appear, when their patients continue to suffer, when individuals don't respond to the evidence-based approach to treatment.

Because of the human element, individual variability precludes uncovering a simple treatment plan which works for every patient. When emotional and personality idiocyncracies are added to the mix, most "scientists" run for the  hills.

But physicians who treats IBS must be even more than artists.  They must be  psychologists,  therapists and clergymen. They must express interest, concern, empathy and compassion for their patients. They must acknowledge the real suffering which science still struggles to understand. But they must also offer hope.

They must offer themselves and their role as a healer as central to the process.  We can call this the placebo effect if we choose to do so.  I have no doubt that this plays a central role in the process.  But our primary goal is healing. Even if we don't understand exactly how and why this occurs. 

Although we cannot control what thoughts and feelings flood our neural circuits we can modify how our bodies react to them.  Meditation, exercise, diet, acupuncture, hypnosis, prayer, yoga, probiotics are "non drug" therapies seem to help some of us alleviate the suffering that accompanies such conditions as IBS. 

But I have had compelling success with prescribing certain anti-serotonin acting drugs which have helped to modify the neural responses to stress as well.  Most are known as anti-depressants.  But in many patients who are not overtly depressed these drugs are effective.

The challenge is to understand what each individual patient needs to alleviate their suffering. The open exchange involves understanding how the individual patient chooses to proceed with their therapy.  Are they more comfortable with nontraditional, "holistic" methods.  Do they prefer herbal and complementary therapies?  Do they just want a prescription for a drug and not care to be introspective or nontraditional.

 Each patient, each human being is unique. 

What is called for is the artist's approach to treating IBS.

A NEW PERSPECTIVE ON THE CUPS OF ELIJAH & of MIRIAM AT THE PASSOVER SEDER

The familiar Cup of Elijah is an essential ritual object of every Passover Seder.

Nominally we are told that Elijah, the prophet who will announce the coming of the Messiah, will visit each home and drink some of the wine provided.

Of interest is the recent adoption of a parallel cup, that of Miriam, the sister of Moses, whose presence represents continuity, redemption and the feminine aspect of Divinity. 

I believe there may be more to this tradition than meets the eye.  No I'm not referring to a wine drinking Jewish Santa Claus either.

It struck me that this cup represents the departed loved-ones who are present when their families congregate for any meaningful reason.

Passover provides such an occasion when family and friends presence around the Seder table trumps even the religious aspects of the ceremony.

Perhaps in times past their was an acknowledgement that our beloved departed participate invisibly during the Seder and the Cup of Elijah was symbolic of that as well.

So I propose that the cups of Elijah and Miriam be recognized as the ritual symbol of the souls of our departed loved-ones who continue to be present in our lives.

PASSOVER & THE PARADOX OF CHANGE

Passover. It is the oldest continually practiced ritual in Western civlization. It was an ancient tradition when Jesus was a young boy and more than a thousand years old before Mohammed emerged from the Arabian desert.

It is the holiday that every Jew, no matter how committed or disaffected still feels drawn to celebrate. It is about gathering together in a communal experience which takes place not in the synagogue but in the home. It is about family and friends. It is about re-connecting with tradition and history in a time when individuals who seek their own truth is rampant.

In an age in which what is new changes in a milisecond, it is comforting to find something which appeals to our deep desire for connection to our collective past.

And yet everything does change. The ancient philosophical traditions of the world recognized that truth. From Heraclitus to Buddha to Solomon, from our grandparents to our selves, we who experience life over decades know nothing stays the same.

Yet transformation is important, even vital. We are moving forward and our traditions must be re-interpreted in light of what we are seeking in order for them to retain value in our lives.

Those who remain fundamentalist in their thinking threaten the future of their own tradition. Those who seek God through control, coersion and forced conversion to their own beliefs re-visit the story of Passover. It is story which proclaims the ultimate failure and self-destruction of those who enslave others.

There is n New American Haggadah edited by Jonathan Safran Foer and translated by Nathan Englander, two young prominent Jewish writers.

In their introduction they write “The need for new Haggadahs does not imply the failure of existing ones, but the struggle to engage everyone at the table in a time that is unlike any that has come before.” ….. “Like all Haggadahs before it, this one hopes to be replaced.”

So the paradox is namely the truth of change. It must emerge from the tradition which gives it emotional and historical context, yet give meaning and understanding to the contemporary individual who seeks to make sense of life itself.

In an age of chaos when we feel the need to ground ourselves in some form of tradition, we must allow for it to evolve as well. Only when we recognize that truth will it continue to provide meaning for us in the present moment.

INTUITION VS REASON

Do you regard yourself as the type who can put emotion aside in the search for the best way to live your life?

Do you step back from personal situations, political controversy and dispassionately weigh the pros and cons of every situation before rendering a decision? If you believe this to be true, then you are, for the most part, delusional!

At least that is the conclusion reached by Jonathan Haidt in his recent book.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/books/review/the-righteous-mind-by-jonathan-haidt.html?_r=1&ref=books

In truth we frequently feel first, then rationalize our feelings later. We like or dislike someone rather quickly upon encountering them, then try to enumerate the qualities that we find appealing or not.

It seems as if we lead first with our emotions, our logical mind comes in a distant second.

Think about the people you like, the political parties that appeal to you, the religion or belief system that you champion. Your attraction is felt viscerally or based on your upbringing or the opinion of those you admire, or a reaction to some deeply emotional interaction you have experienced.

This might explain how two equally intelligent, articulate and logical individuals can come to such opposing opinions on a whole host of different topics.

As poet Theodore Roethke said, “we think by feelings, what is there to know?”