Hard-Wired for Bliss–

Heard and saw Candace Pert PhD speak to a full house last night in NYC at the Lighthouse. She is the queen of psychoneuroimmunology [PNI] a mouthful of terms which is essentially the scientific ‘proof’ of the mind/body connection.

Her basic science research in the 70’s were instrumental in demonstrating the presence of endorphin receptors in the brain. This was a tremendous breakthrough in the understanding of human emotions, human behavior, how emotions effect our immune system, our response to drugs and the nature of reality itself.  It demonstrated with compelling force that we evolved with the ability to be ‘high’ or essentially that our brains were ‘hard-wired for bliss’.

Personally Pert writes about her own frustrations and disappointments [actually anger] at the way her contribution to this field was not fully recognized by her male colleagues.  This may have led her to gradually enter the arena of popular writing and speaking regarding these ‘New Age’ subjects.  Still, her scientific background places her in a position in which her opinions deserve listening to.

It is clear to me that homo sapiens evolved with the innate physical/chemical structure to be happy. The enormous and expanding use of anti-anxiety and anti-depressant pharmaceuticals to alter our emotional states merely mimic our own endogenous [internal] peptides which are part of our physical being.  Pert noted that these same receptor sites occur on all cells of our body as well as the cells of single-celled creatures!  It is extremely important for our fellow humans to understand that we capable of altering our states of feeling, of consciousness–of finding bliss– and often without the use of external, synthetic compounds which merely mimic our internal peptides. Exercise, meditation, cognitive therapy, prayer, sex–these are all ‘natural’ means of realizing our potential to be happy. This is not to diminish the utility of drugs for specific people under specific circumstances.  It is just that we usually seek the quick and simple solution of popping a pill before doing the hard work of seeking alternative solutions. But regardless, it does seem as if God/Universe wants  us to experience heaven on earth.

The metaphysical implications are fascinating.  We need not feel guilty for seeking pleasure. It is in our nature. Those of us with spiritual leanings should regard this arrangement as a ‘gift from God’.  This is a rather prominent Kabbalistic perspective. One Hasidic tale speaks of a man who dies and meets God [Jews don’t meet Saint Peter]. It turned out that during his life the man was plagued by feelings of guilt over his desires to embrace his physical nature: food, drink, sex.  He prided himself in his vigilance and ability to live a nearly ascetic life. When he approached God he was rather proud of these efforts. He proudly [not the best way to approach Divinity] proclaimed how he struggled to be ‘good’.  Rather disappointed, God replied, ‘That is a shame. Why didn’t you partake of these pleasures that I provided for you?’  After all, you are my taste buds in the world.’

The point of the story is to portray the Universe/God  as offering us gifts of joy in the face of the obvious pain and suffering of existence in this world. Spiritualize them. They are not the Devil’s tool to lead us into sin or damnation–unless we choose to regard them as such.

The nature of bliss and joy can become an enormously powerful lesson for us.  We understand that the pain and suffering in this world and within each of our lives is a universal, unavoidable law of existence. We can not avoid pain.  We fear, we love and we will lose what we love.  We will be disappointed, we will fail at times.  This is a universal truth. How we handle the pain will determine the extent of our suffering. How well we can confront our natural feelings of fear, anger, despair will determine the quality of our lives as well.

The presence of evil in the world is a necessary challenge to all sentient beings.  Without evil, the choice of good would have no meaning.  Even the possibility of evil is a gift.  It imbues our lives with mealing and the possibility of spiritual growth.

Bliss and joy, too, are spiritual gifts to us. They challenge us to appreciate and use them in the right way.  By this I mean–appreciate them, be grateful to them, thank God for them and see them exactly as you choose to see them–as spiritual gifts.

Can they be perverted? Clearly they can and often are. The Universe tells us that we need to always seek a balance between forces. Sex can be an offering of love or a weapon of violence and degradation.  Our taste for food and drink can be balanced, nuanced and appreciated, or can become the object of obsession and damage our health as well as our self-image.

So being hard-wired for bliss is just one aspect of the human experience. It is a part of our lives, offered, I believe as a counterbalance to the pain and suffering. Like Yin and Yang it is a necessary gift.  How we choose to understand bliss, how we choose to utilize it in our lives is up to us.

A Course in Becoming a Healer-

This  Monday night November 6th was my first class in Healing at Brookdale College in Lincroft, NJ.  It was fascinating for me to step away from the actual presentation, almost as an out-of-body traveler would,  and examine how I had come to be in that place and delivering those thoughts and concepts.

I explained how my traditional medical education, residency and fellowship had prepared me to approach the sick patient as an organic ‘machine’ whose parts were malfunctioning. Make the diagnosis or at least consider a list of possible diagnoses. Order the appropriate tests, acquire information as well as the opinions of other physicians, perform further tests, prescribe medication and follow all of these parameters carefully.

Both the patient and the physician understood each other’s roles to be not dissimilar from that of the customer who brings his or her’s defective automobile into the repair shop.  ‘Fix my car’ or ‘fix my body’.  There was little difference in the attitude or approach on the part of doctor or patient.

It is not difficult to understand how this relationship developed. In the long and painful pre-scientific history of healing it was clear to all that a human being was much more than their physical body.  Emotions, attitude, disposition, spiritual connection were understood intuitively to play crucial if not primary roles the illness or recovery of any one individual. Shamans were the first healers.

The advent and success of science which followed Western Europe’s paradigm shift away from the control of the Church led to the presumption that the physical, chemical, biochemical aspects of the human body, those factors that were successfully described and analyzed by science, were paramount.

And to a large extent, they were. The cause of the vast majority of human deaths had always been as a result of starvation, infectious agents, accidents, dehydration from diarrheal diseases.  Sadly, there are large parts of the world today which still exhibit this truth.  Science and technology was and is extremely successful in avoiding much of these ‘premature’ deaths. [Of course, war,killing, rape and murder seem as prevalent as ever].

I believe that the demonstrated successes of medical science and technology seduced physicians away from a path of healing. Language itself is a powerful indicator of attitudes. I was trained to be a doctor, a physician but not a healer. I was directed to diagnose, treat, seek to cure but not to heal. It was assumed that the body would respond as a machine. Any failure to recover, or worse to die was regarded as a failure on the part of the physician. The impermanence of this life, the inevitability of death, the concept of an immortal soul were rejected as irrelevant or even contrary to scientific thought.

To heal means to make whole.  If the whole is regarded as the physical body, if Descartes was correct in his presumption of dualism [that the body and mind were unrelated substances] and if science regarded the mind as an illusion, then it was appropriate to treat the body as a machine.

To see oneself as a healer forces one to explore what it means to be whole. This is the beginning of transitional medicine. It does not disregard the achievements of science. It does not reject new technologies, new pharmaceuticals [yes, big drug companies are not by definition the source of all evil].  But it can no longer disregard the emotional, personal, intellectual and spiritual state of being of the patient. It body/mind/spirit healing.

But please understand–there have always been wonderful physicians who were healers without defining themselves as such.  By their own intuitive sense of truth, they realized that they could not treat a patient’s body in isolation from the rest of the being.  Yet they were regarded as ‘dinosaurs’.  The medical system made it difficult for them to function that way. HMO’s, government regs, insurance companies dictates, the greed of personal injury attorneys, malpractice claims…..the litany goes on.

Physicians need to reclaim the title of healer. They are losing this to the world of alternative medicine. I will address thoughts about homeopathic, naturopathic, chiropractic approaches in later postings.  Each of these practitioners contribute their part to the healing of the population.

I would like to believe that medicine is entering a period of transformation in which issues of body/mind and spirit will be acknowledged.  My own journey as a human being and physician is showing me this path.  There is no reason why all forms of knowledge cannot be integrated into a Rx for healing. The wisdom of Hippocrates seems more relevant than ever, I would rather know the patient who has the disease, than the disease the patient has. 

I would humbly amend that statement. There is no reason why we cannot know everything possible about the disease and everything possible about the patient at the same time. I believe that it is only path to true healing.

Seeking Shalom

Shalom is the Hebrew for peace.  It’s Arabic cousin is Salaam.  The shared Semitic roots of these words only illuminate the tragedy of familial conflict.  This, however, is a sad and not infrequent human experience.

Shalom, however, has taken on a more subtle and powerful meaning for me as I continue my metaphyscial journey.  What do any of us seek during this lifetime? What catch phrase or expression best encapsulates our goals?  Perhaps ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ is a reasonable expression of this desire.  Others may find that money, power, health, longevity, joy–just knowing that our baby will not starve the next day–is enough.

Philosophers, psychologists, psychiatrists, movie characters, spiritual leaders have offered these insights and more. The Dalia Lama writes of ‘happiness’, Freud sought to liberate our unconscious conflicts and fears, Neitzche believed that ‘power’ was all, Frankl, man’s search for ‘meaning’.  The movie’s Gordon Gecko found ‘greed’ man’s greatest motivation.

But I find that what most of us are seeking is Shalom, a peaceful state of consciousness.   Often amidst a swirling malestrom of discontent and angst it appears, miraculously. It is an island of hope.  It is a gift of grace.

Shalom has acknowledged all suffering, tragedy, worry– and still, for a quantum instant, basks in the warm rays of a brilliant red/gold setting sun. It is not neutral, however.  It is the smile on the lips of resting Buddha–or the Mona Lisa.  It is the sudden, unbidden jolt of love for another. For that moment, time is an illusion. The Universe acknowledges us.  We are not insignificant.  Our journey is not without meaning.

Shalom is equanimity, the balancing point along a specturm of constant flux.  It is the boundary between Yin and Yang, always in dynamic equilibrium with its opposite.  Yet quantum theory states that reality is composed of finite moments.  Even the feeling of flow is an illusion. Reality is like a movie.  Each quantum moment is like an individual frame.  Each is discrete and timeless.

Shalom is ultimately what heals us–it makes us whole in body, mind and spirit. Yet it is only given to us in brief tastes. It tells us that our life is about learning and growing and neither can be accomplished easily.  This place we inhabit is not for the easily discouraged or weak-willed. But we should not forget that Shalom does exist–we have all been there.

Spiritually ‘Correct’–Forgiveness?

In almost any writings  on spirituality there will be discussions of the unquestioned correctness of forgiveness.  It seems to be a favorite topic of Buddhist, Hindu and Christian religious writing.  Multiple quotes are available from each tradition extolling the virtues of forgiving one’s enemy, regardless of the level of atrocities they may have committed.

Actions that damage another in any way will automatically create two offended parties, God and man.  Forgiveness can be requested and/or it can be offered spontaneously. Requesting forgiveness is by itself a spiritually enlightening act since it acknowledges a wrongdoing and seeks reconciliation and repair.  Forgiveness, however, in the absence of the perpetrator’s acknowledgment offers particular spiritual challenges.

Christianity often associates requests for forgiveness with the act of confession.  The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is the metaphor as well as the currency by which man can attain God’s forgiveness.  The New Testament is filled with examples of Jesus and the apostles offering forgiveness in the face of their own suffering.

Buddhism and Hindu doctrines understand that forgiveness should be naturally and automatically offered since the law of karma [cause and effect] will deal with any misconduct on the part of the perpetrator of evil.  There is a powerful understanding that until forgiveness is offered, the anger and desire to avenge a perceived wrongdoing will, itself, generate bad karma for the original victim. The pair, perpetrator and victim will remain locked in a vicious cycle which is spiritually damaging.

Even Islam seems to offer words from the Koran regarding the value of forgiveness.  The exception, of course, is in the defense of the faith.  It is not unusual in the history of any of the world’s religions to offer compassion, love, kindness and forgiveness for members of one’s own religion while offering contempt or worse to the nonbeliever.  This is one of the greatest examples of rampant tribalism, one that modifies the Golden Rule to serve their purposes.

Judaism insists that forgiveness from wrongful acts committed can be requested from God during Yom Kippur.  Forgiveness from others can only be obtained from the individual one has wronged. God does not absolve misconduct between human beings. Man remains responsible for his actions.

Some readers will recall the reaction Buddhist Richard Gere received when he spoke of forgiveness after 9/11.  It was not a pretty sight. I, too, have a ‘problem’ with the terminology ‘forgiveness’ when applied to perpetrators of horrific acts of evil. 

I, too, believe that we are ultimately all responsible for our actions.  Karma will indeed reward or punish through our soul’s understanding of the suffering it inflicted on other beings.  I also totally understand how anger and revenge can ensnare our minds and souls, trapping them in a vicious cycle of spiritual degradation.

Perhaps I would feel more comfortable with another term or word in place of forgiveness.  To me it suggests a passive acceptance of any act of evil without a strong implication that  this is an unacceptable mode of human behavior. It is not in the interest of anyone’s spiritual growth and development to quietly forgive any being who will purposefully and without justification attempt to destroy another being.

Perhaps I can live with the term ‘understanding’ as an alternative to forgiveness’. I can attempt to ‘understand’ the spiritual depravity of someone capable of perpetrating evil.  Perhaps I can almost feel sorry for their terribly distorted and disturbed sense of moral behavior.  Perhaps I can even feel compassion for the pathetic spiritual state, their debased and terrible misguided sense of right and wrong.  But I don’t feel obligated to ‘forgive’ them.  That is not my job here.  Call me spiritually ‘incorrect’.  Offer me some alternative language.  I am open to revisit this topic.

Healing – What Does It Really Mean?

By Steven Hodes, M.D.

Physician to Meta-Physician

“Healing is not the same as curing, after all; healing does not mean going back to the way things were before, but allowing what is now to move closer to God.”

-Ram Dass

“Kabbalah’s notion is that all life is in need of healing and fixing, not just those who are ill.”

-Estelle Frankel

I use the term healing in ways that may challenge some of the traditional notions.

To heal means to ‘make whole’. Therefore, healing is a process by which an individual, or any entity which is presumably less than ‘whole’: fragmented, dis-eased or incomplete undergoes a positive improvement in their status. The emphasis on the term ‘process’ is important since one does not ever truly reach complete and perfect ‘health’ and since none of us are completely ‘whole’ in mind/body/spirit. Although a human being is an amazingly complex and capable self-healing organism, assistance from others is often required in this process.

The act of healing or attempting to heal another being is a recognition of the state of isolation that all beings inherently experience. This is the source of our primal emotional state of fear. Healing on this deep level represent the triumph of love over fear as manifested by the act of compassion. It has powerfully spiritual ramifications for both healer and healee. This attempt to repair or correct oneself or another serves as a worthy metaphysical goal for all beings. In Kabbalistic terms, the act of tikkun or repair/healing is the purpose of our existence on this physical plane. It allows the soul to grow and develop.

Often, dis-eased states are the consequence of genetic propensities, plus behavioral choices. For example: smoking, eating unhealthy foods, excessive alcholol, drugs, chronic emotional disturbances all have a well known impact on the body’s immune response to infectious process and developing malignancies. Then there are the unknown karmic factors, such as past-life choices and this life’s contracts.

Although healing is most commonly regarded as relating to the physical body, it is clearly a concept which is applicable to aspects of mind and spirit as well. This understanding that body/mind/spirit are inexplicably linked one to the other greatly broadens any notion of healing. Treating or attempting to cure a physical aliment must take into account the emotional, mental and spiritual factors that affect any one individual. This is truly a wholistic perspective.

This notion includes an broad acceptance of traditional Western scientific accomplishments in terms of pharmaceutical advances and technological accomplishment. There should not be any rejection of technological breakthroughs. They are not any less the product of a higher Intelligence than so-called ‘natural’ therapies. Therefore, ‘wholistic’ approaches should not disregard the benefits of pacemakers, defibrillators, endoscopic treatments of bleeding and premaligant colon polyps. Any physician would be foolish not to utilize the great achievements in the reduction of blood pressure, cholesterol levels, antibiotic usage and others in the assistance of the body’s own reparative processes. In this sense, modern technology is an extension of the human mind’s ability to create.

On the other hand, the present societal attitude towards technology is to view this approach as superior to more natural therapies. The point to be emphasized is that one is not superior to the other. They are both needed in the total concept of healing. Technology alone cannot address issues of mind and soul which are crucial to the process itself. Technology does not heal but assists the natural processes which are in continuous motion.

Complementary and alternative healing approaches have introduced energetic healing, acupuncture and a variety of herbal and spiritual modalities to the general public and their widespread interest speaks volumes about what is missing in traditional/technology based medicine. However, such approaches should not be embraced just because they are deemed ‘natural’. It would be extremely naive and dangerous to do so. Although conspiracy theories abound regarding the Big Drug companies (they do have much to explain regarding their profit-driven practices at the expense of safety issues) it should be emphasized that the vast majority of pharaceutically derived drugs are based on naturally occurring compounds. Yet a drug which can save lives at appropriate doses can kill lives when not properly administered.

The world of alternative and complementary medicines including ‘naturally’ derived herbal and energy therapies must be evaluated by studies which examine their effectiveness while being aware of possible side effects and risks. The same open-minded skeptical approach should apply to ALL proposed healing treatments–traditional as well as wholistic. Utilizing a risk/benefit paradigm is also useful. There are several useful websites which have studies the effectiveness of such therapies and they should be consulted before embarking on ‘natural’ therapies. Unfortunately, there are as many unscrupulous, profit-driven individuals on the ‘wholistic’ front as in any other business.

Healing means becoming more at peace with the emotional and physical battles that rage within us. The Taoist notion of Yin/Yang acknowledge the balanced flow between opposites that characterize the nature of reality. Too much of any activity, including therapeutic medicines and herbs are potentially lethal. The notion of balance, peace and joy are important in the process of healing. Happiness and sadness, rest and activity, eating in moderation all acknowledge that a balance in everything produces a state of healing.

Healing requires the courage to face our own responsibility in this process. We cannot turn our bodies over to a physician and expect to be ‘fixed’ as one would a car. We are required to do ‘work’. It is our inherent in a ‘successful’ life that we make a sincere effort to learn, grow, love and help others. These are all healing activities. Even loss and pain are experiences that our soul requires to grow.

Participating and assisting others in their own journey is healing. Offering a shoulder to cry on, a kind word, a smile as you hold the door for someone: all these are examples of healing. Not so strange, but the process affects both parties since healing is always mutual.

Learning something, anything for the first time is healing since it reduces our ignorance, makes us more aware and therefore more whole. When we are less than whole, we are discontent, unhappy, we feel badly. This feeling occurs on all three levels of mind/body/spirit.

Millions of our cells die each second, millions are there to replace them. The appearance of a stable physical form is merely an illusion. Our organs, themselves, are continuously being replaced. Our very lives are a silent battlefield. Yet ultimately with aging our bodies ability to repair and replace worn parts diminshes. We begin to suffer from what have been described as degenerative processes. Athersclerosis, arthritis, diminished immune responses, deterioration in mental function as well as every other organ characterizes what may be seen as normal aging. Ultimately we all die, even those who work out and watch their diets. This process is known as senescence. It is natural to all living creatures.

This does not mean that we passively allow these processes to march unchallenged. There are extremely effective treatments for a multitude of disease states which can temporarily halt the processes of deterioration and offer us healing interludes. The point to understand is that even though our bodies may be slipping away from wholeness, or health, our mind and spirit can continue to seek healing. When understood from a larger context, healing can occur even during the process of dying.

This concept is quite different, much more expansive then is usually understood. It sees these issues as much more than about disease and cure of physical ailments. I see my own personal journey as still in its early states, yet as a physician, a meta-physician I have come to understand that healing is a powerfully useful metaphor for coming to terms with the nature of reality.

© Steven E. Hodes, MD., 2006

Steven E. Hodes, M.D. is a board certified gastroenterologist with over 25 years private practice based in Edison and Old Bridge New Jersey. He also has a degree in Religious Studies and teaches Contemporary Metaphysics at Brookdale College as well as lecturing and writing on Kabbalah and Healing, the Jewish View of Afterlife and on Near-Death Experience. Visit him at his Blog, Physician to Meta-Physician at www.meta-md.com

Meta-Physician’s Vaccine

By Steve E. Hodes, M.D.

Physician to Meta-physician

The concept of a vaccine is actually quite simple: expose a living organism to a safe form of a potentially lethal virus and it will generate its own immune response which will then protect it against the native pathogen [‘bug’].

There are various types of vaccines and degrees of effectiveness. There are significant controversies as well regarding the efficacy and saftey of vaccines. My purpose here is to draw analogies to the healing process in all its broad ramifications.

In the natural setting our bodies are exposed to offending bacteria and viral insults throughout our lives. Although we may experience temporary illnesses, in the presesnce of an intact immune system, we recover with a newly minted defense against subsequent exposures. This is a form of ‘natural’ vaccination.

Our body-minds react in a similar fashion. Reality becomes our vaccine. Stress is the term we apply to mental, emotional, physical and spiritual ‘insults’. We all understand how physical exertion, exercise, ‘working-out’ strengthens our bodies. Without these physical challenges our muscles and endurance would never increase. Twentieth century physician and endocrinologist Hans Selye described various concepts of stress. ‘Distress’ was seen as a potentially toxic degree and exposure to psychological and emotional trauma. ‘Eustress’, on the other hand, was viewed as encouraging the evolution and development of the personality and mind. The similarity between ‘dis-stress’ and ‘dis-ease’ is no coincidence.

Cleary, the distinction between these two concepts of stress also rests in the individual’s reaction, interpretation and response to them. What becomes exceedingly clear to me is that all human experience incorporates enormous subjective elements. Someone is fired from a job. They immediately sink into a state of extreme sadness and depression. This event may confirm their own deep-seated insecurities and self-doubt. From childhood they may have received messages that they were not competent individuals and the firing only confirms this. To this individual the firing cannot function as a vaccine. Rather it is experienced as a full-fledged plague! Hopefully, this subjective interpretation can eventually be transformed.

Another individual who is similarly fired may experience a temporary emotional shock as well. Yet they soon decide that this jolt to their system is teaching them something extremely important. Perhaps they may even come to realize that the firing did reflect some element of incompetence or inexperience on their part. Yet they decide that this event will not diminish their notion of their intrinsic ability or self-worth. Instead they may feel spurred-on to explore how they can rise to their full potential. They may even see the firing as a wake-up call, an important life lesson, an opportunity to make a change and grow. They may even ‘spin’ the event, viewing it as a gift to them, one that will make them stronger and ultimately more successful in life. Furthermore they are encouraged by seeing their own ability to deal with this trauma and move through it. They may even look back at this event when subsequent disappointments in life arise. For such an individual, life’s temporary set-backs function as vaccines.

A child’s pet dies. They suffer the stages of mourning for this loss [as enumerated by the late Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross]. When they move through this process they begin to understand the nature of loss and death. This experience becomes a vaccine for later experiences of the death of friends and relatives. Pain will always be present as long as we have human consciousness. The degree of suffering, however, may be altered or reduced because we have had the experience previously.

We live in a culture that denies the reality of aging and death. We worship youth and turn away from the frail, confused and elderly. We fear our own abilities to deal with intense emotional losses and this fear wounds us further. Nursing homes become the repository for the dysfunctional elderly who in previous generations lived and died within the context of multi-generational enviornment. In such societies, children come to understand that decline, deterioration and death is natural and expected. They received their exposure to the reality of death at home.

The vaccine of life’s experience allows us to move through the pain with a level of suffering that allows us to heal and move on in our lives. This does not imply that we can or should become unfeeling and withdrawn from human interaction. The vast majority of us will experience loss of love, employment, companionship and even our own health with powerful and potentially incapacitating emotional reactions. We need to learn that our reactions are not only normal but necessary to experience for long term healing. We need to understand that we can and will survive them and move forward.

Psychotherapist Miriam Greenspan in her book, HEALING THROUGH THE DARK EMOTIONS, discusses the necessity of facing grief, fear and despair and allowing ourselves to move through them to the otherside of healing. Because we live in a society which is itself ’emotion-phobic’ we may feel the need to deny or suppress our own reactions. According to Greenspan this only delays ultimate healing and may result in other long-term psychological disorders including phobias. Numbing ourselves with drugs, alcohol, sex or denial is self-defeating.

From this perspective, it would seem to me that only by acknowledging and facing our dark emotions can they function as a vaccine for future ‘exposures’. This is not to imply that such an approach is easy or should be attempted without professional help. Sharing these feelings with loved-ones is enormously healing as well.

The universality of suffering should alert us to its inescapable reality. We often vicariously share the loss of their own loved-ones with friends, family and even our entire society. This experience becomes a vaccine for us as well. Buddhism wisely emphasizes the need to face the reality of death and ,once understood, move on towards joy and happiness. One of the often repeated stories about the Buddha involves a distraught mother’s plea to restore the life of her dead child. The Buddha actually agrees to do so but under one condition: that she return to him with a tamarind seed from the home of any family who has not experienced a similar loss. Of course she is unable to do so–every family had experienced their own version of tragedy and suffering.

This was Buddha’s lesson, not only to this woman but to all his followers. Try to gain awareness of this reality even before we experience it. Awareness, then, becomes a vaccine for life’s pain.

© Steven E. Hodes, MD., 2006

Steven E. Hodes, M.D. is a board certified gastroenterologist with over 25 years private practice based in Edison and Old Bridge New Jersey. He also has a degree in Religious Studies and teaches Contemporary Metaphysics at Brookdale College as well as lecturing and writing on Kabbalah and Healing, the Jewish View of Afterlife and on Near-Death Experience. Visit him at his Blog, Physician to Meta-Physician at www.meta-md.com

Healing through Generations

By Steven Hodes, M.D.

Physician to Meta-Physician

Which was the greatest generation? We of post WWII vintage have been told it was our parent’s. Didn’t they survive the Great Depression and fight the last ‘just’ war? Perhaps, but then again, I will maintain that fighting an unjust war [Viet Nam] is even more difficult. Our generation lived through assasinations, the threat of thermonuclear annihilation, race riots and the sexual revolution. But I have tremendous respect for every generation–each has unique traumas for which they can claim ownership. It then becomes their personal and collective challenge to overcome.

Many of my fellow Boomers find ourselves sandwiched between two generations each embroiled in their own chaotic turmoil. Our adult children are seeking to define themselves within a surreal context of extended adolescence. While those of us fortunate enough to have our parents alive are unfortunate enough to witness their progressive deterioration and decline. The remainder of our generation must face the existential truth that we are ‘next in line’ for oblivion. Our role is continuously evolving, constantly on the edge of chaos, bringing alternately understanding and confusion.

Like the Roman god Janus who possessed two faces staring in opposite directions, we, too, find ourselves staring quizzically at each of these generations in need of healing. By this term I mean the ‘whole package’–mind/body/spirit. Does the term ‘spirit’ dismay or annoy the reader? Perhaps you are a hard-core skeptic who rejects any discussion of the spiritual as yesterday’s New Age drivel. Or are you on the opposite side of the spectrum, a born-again believer who trembles with righteous indignation at any thoughts which deviate from your prescribed script?

Perhaps, like me, you came of edge in the 60’s and 70’s admist the termoil of Viet Nam, race riots, assassinations, drugs and the sexual revolution. There was little room for old time religion. Popular news magazines trumpted the ‘death of God’ as the inevitable outcome of rational thought. Even the beginning of the Age of Aquarius, the Hari Krishna movement the their ilk seemed silly and irrelevant to me. After all, science supplied all the answers. Didn’t it?

My schooling and career propelled me along the path of science. I became a physician which confirmed the correctness of all my prior thinking. Still, I carried a fragment of discontinuity within–that religious study degree. Some individuals thought it strange that an atheist would be interested in religion. But I found no such inconsistencey at all. Religion was a universal phenomeon, after all. Even if its premise was misguided.

My subsequent path has led me to re-evaluate everything. I find the universe far more complex yet interconnected than I could have every predicted. Science, rather than disproving spirit, is open to its metaphysical implications of a higher intelligence.

Healing becomes more than merely one’s particular occupation. It can be seen as both a spiritual and practical path for living, perhaps the purpose for existence itself. Correct the imperfections within ourselves, strive to help others along their own path. It becomes the manifestation of the Golden Rule of ‘do unto others’. When we believe we can heal, we live our lives with that consciousness. We become God-like but from a position of humility, not from ego. We are co-creating reality and it is filled with caring and compassion. We find our roles between the generations as a spiritual gift and not a burden at all, for it offers us the opportunity to heal not only our children and parents but ourselves as well.

© Steven E. Hodes, MD., 2006

Steven E. Hodes, M.D. is a board certified gastroenterologist with over 25 years private practice based in Edison and Old Bridge New Jersey. He also has a degree in Religious Studies and teaches Contemporary Metaphysics at Brookdale College as well as lecturing and writing on Kabbalah and Healing, the Jewish View of Afterlife and on Near-Death Experience. Visit him at his daily Blog, Physician to Meta-Physician at www.meta-md.com


The Caretaker Syndrome is usually associated with an individual emotionally attached to a loved-one dying from some form of dementia.  They are often unaware of how natural but ultimately dangerous this link is to their own health. 

 There is a difficult balance which needs to be achieved when helping a loved-one through these enormously stressful  periods in the lives of both involved.  The natural tendency is to devote every ounce of physical and emotional energy into their well-being. 

The problem, however, is that the Caretaker risks their own health. I've seen first hand, with family, friends and patients, the devastating consequences of such deep emotional attachments.  The Caretaker can, and often does, become physical sick.  Death is not unheard of.  Ultimately the Caretaker is unable to be there for their loved-one.  The consequences can be a disaster for all concerned. 

I am drawn once again to the analogy of the air line industry.  On every flight the attendant goes through the ritual of the oxygen masks being deployed.  They ALWAYS emphasize the need to place the mask on yourself first.  Only then can you help those with you. 

Placing the mask on yourself is not an act of selfishness.  The goal is to be able to help others.  The Caretaker should  heed this advice.  It is not an act of selfishness to attend to their own physical and emotional needs.  That may require an awareness of the notion of Nonattachmenet. 

I have previously written about the difference between Attachment, Nonattachment and Detachment.  We should endeavor to do everything we can to assist our loved-one's through their personal journey.  We should remind ourselves, however, that their journey is unique to them.  Every individual has their own.  No matter how desperately we choose to think otherwise. 

Nonattachment means that we do everything in the present moment to help them on their journey.  We need to be nonattached to the outcome.  As strange as this may sound at first I believe it is absolutely necessary. 

Much of our personal suffering is derived from worry about outcomes.  Will our loved-ones suffer and die?  Will our business succeed or fail?  Will our children be there for us when we need assistance?  Will they be content in their own lives?  What about grandchildren, friends ?  Our minds keep us enslaved within a wall of worry. 

 In sense we are always Caretakers for someone or something.  We need to be mindful of the dangers inherent in this state of being. 

 Ironically the mental state of Nonattachment will not manifest itself in the physical world by behavior that is in anyway different from our attached Caretaker state of being.  From the perspective of anyone viewing us or our actions we will appear exactly the same.  Our actions are unchanged.  We still are present to interact to intervene to champion the cause of our loved-one.  The "only" change is from within our minds.  Yet that "only" is "everything".   It allows us to wear our oxygen masks while we assist our loved-ones who don't have theirs.

 Nonattachment to outcome may allow us to find serenity in the present moment and to be whole and well enough to help those we love.

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