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Flowing

Flowing

We habitually erect a barrier called blame that keeps us from communicating genuinely with others, and we fortify it with our concepts of who's right and who's wrong. We do that with the people who are closest to us and we do it with political systems, with all kinds of things that we don't like about our associates or our society.

It is a very common, ancient, well-perfected device for trying to feel better. Blame others....Blaming is a way to protect your heart, trying to protect what is soft and open and tender in yourself. Rather than own that pain, we scramble to find some comfortable ground.

-Pema Chodron

My family of four humans (plus friends) lives in a 750-ish square foot home in Northeast Portland. We're not super keen on the two busy streets we live by, nor the gas station or fast food restaurants. We do love our neighborhood and our neighbors, the closeness of school and work and the businesses that are nearby. We've been in this particular home for about seven years, but we've slowly outgrown the space. We're all kind of living on top of one another, without much ability to get alone time or privacy. A few years ago, we began to search for a solution: Should we try to remodel? Should we try to sell and move?

My partner and I have navigated this negotiation, some times more aptly than others. Regardless of the possibilities, we continue to come up against a Portland neighborhood that we did not know before moving into our current home: homes  are now two-hundred to three-hundred times more expensive than they once were with jobs that still pay the same. Our street has limited parking due to new, high-density structures that were not required to offset the increase in cars by providing vehicle solutions. Long lines and high wait times at businesses have created stress on the service workers that wasn't there before. I could go on and on with a list that culminates in something my husband and I say often: Wow, Portland has CHANGED. In the two decades that we've lived in Northeast Portland, it's not the same place.

In my meditation practice, I focus on observing: simply being present with myself and observing my thoughts, my feelings, the sounds around me, etc. I practice not judging these things. I make a safe and sacred space to practice this. Yet, in the "real world," I often find it hard to suspend judgement or pull back from my thoughts. And on this Portland note, it becomes so hard because something in me perceives these new changes negatively. I don't much like crowds, or long lines or too-expensive housing. The last one is the thing that starts to feel a little frustrating for me. It pulls me out of my trust-the-Universe mode and into a I-need-to-solve-this-shit-right-now mode. It brings up one of my biggest and greatest core desires.

I. Need. Space.

Wow. I really, really, really need space. As an introvert, it's how I recharge. As a mother, it's how I recharge. As a healer, it's how I recharge. I love to give to other people and I have to make sure that I've got a lot to give. Space for me is about my ability to use and connect with my compassion and generosity and bring this, blossoming and large, into the world.

I want to meet this need for myself (and for my family!) I honor it and I know that I'm worth having it. I spent the last couple of months trying to meet this need through doing. Because, well, doing is what I do best. I scheduled meetings with realtors and contractors and walked them around my home and looked at listings they sent and I did this and did this to super high quotes and unreasonable (for my family) estimates until I broke last night. I broke and then, interestingly enough, I blamed.

The blame happened and I wasn't sure why. It's always interesting to me to watch it come up like a wave. Of course, I blamed my husband for a variety of factors. When that wasn't enough, I blamed groups of people, generally, for making the world inhospitable for me: for preventing me from meeting a very important need for myself.

Pema Chodron says that this blame thing is a barrier, a defense mechanism to keep us from being (from feeling?) vulnerable. I'd have to say that I agree, it's a way of raising myself into a superior position, where it's not my fault, for my own situation.

I am a "good" person. I am a "good" person. I am a "good" person.

What does being able to pay an exorbitantly high rent in the city have to do with being a good person? Am I unsuccessful? Have I not worked hard enough to make money? There it is....these same old stories that I thought I'd worked out so long ago. 

Here it is, what kept me up a little late last night with mental chatter and a little observation happening in the background. And may I continue to keep that little observation going, through a few minutes of meditation every day. I know that it's "normal" and fine. I don't need to change a single thing about it. I simply need to be aware of the programs that often begin running when the little protective tiger in me tries to kick in.

I got a little lost again, in the process, thinking that there was (or is) some goal to be had here: I will find a solution and get the space I need.

In reality, the thing I'm trying to solve is not important. The process I'm going through as I navigate this thing is what is. The observations I find, as I pull myself back from the intellect and watch it do it's thing, tell me about my character, about how we work as human beings and about some even bigger needs than space. This week, whether I write on it or not, is going to focus more on being so that I can move into a place of acceptance and re-find, as always, the faith I brought back with me from Nepal: The trust in a pathway that I am on, will always be on, and cannot be thrown from. No matter what happens, here it is beneath me, through me and within me; my very own life's path.

Ruminate a Bit Every Day

Ruminate a Bit Every Day

When I start stressing myself out about all the things I need to do (before the world totally collapses, since I'm holding it all on my shoulders, ha!) I really activate my sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The spinal nerves that correlate with the SNS run from the area where the neck meets the back all the way down into the lumbar spine in the area of the hips. These nerves run from the spine into the chest and abdomen where they communicate with almost every organ of your entire being.

The activation of the SNS is often called the "fight or flight response," and we've all felt it when we've gotten an adrenaline rush. The overall effect of the SNS communication is that the blood flow is shunted away from 'unnecessary processes' and into the processes that can help us survive an immediate danger. The digestive organs, excretory organs (kidneys, large intestine), reproductive organs and some of the immune function is halted because those organs are no longer getting as much blood from the body.

Meanwhile, the heart, brain, lungs and muscle start getting a ton of energy so that they can go to work. The heart rate goes up and the conscious thought processes are increased. The pupils dilate, the bronchioles in the lungs dilate (more oxygen!) and sweat production is increased. We now have the power to run or fight to save ourselves.

What am I trying to save myself from? An overly long to-do? A self-induced overwhelm? Can I really run from the fact that I've spread myself too thin?

The problem here is that the tiger who is chasing me on a daily basis is an imaginary tiger that I created. (Though, on top of this, it could be a horrendous boss in a job I can't leave, or the stress of being a single parent, or any other forms of stuckness that occur as we are trying to survive and make enough money to pay the bills.)

At this point, when the SNS has been activated, I've got to do something for my body: I have to identify what the imaginary tiger is and deal with it before my "non-necessary" organs starve. In the case of a real tiger, it's worth a small stint in which I don't digest my food, give oxygen to my uterus or have a fully-functioning immune system because hey, I might die. Like. Right. Now. In this case of an imaginary tiger, this problem could go on for days, weeks, months or even years. And guess what happens when you starve your intestines, your ovaries and your lovely lymphatics of oxygen for that long....

When I think about the opposite of that fight or flight mechanism, I typically visualize an antelope. What are those beauties doing when they're not running from a tiger? They are ruminants and in good form, they are ruminating. They are getting messages through from the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). This is the other side of the coin from the SNS and is often referred to as the "feed and breed" response.

The nerve fibers that correlate to the PNS extend into the body from the vertebra in the neck and from the triangular sacrum that sits at the end of the spine. The PNS stimulates digestion and excretory functions (urination, defecation) as well as increased production of saliva and tears and sexual arousal. It communicates to your body that your digestive, excretory and reproductive organs as well as your immune function so that they get the blood flow (and oxygen!) they need.

When a being is in a more PNS state, it looks and feels a little bit more like rumination. There is a deeper, more subconscious gesture to the thought process that is more meditative (as opposed to a state of cunning intellect.) The energy of the body is going to the excellent digestion of the food and digestive symptoms like gas, bloating and constipation are not huge problems. The libido is at a healthy level and the organs responsible for hormonal regulation of reproductive function, including the regularity of the menstrual cycle, have what they need to maintain homeostasis (a regular and healthy functioning of the body.)

We need both the SNS and PNS to live. These two sides of the autonomic nervous system are, in essence, the yin and yang of our internal communications network. One does not work without the other. However, it's important that we make sure we are spending an equal amount activating these systems so that we're not starving the precious parts of ourselves!

To Be In Love

To Be In Love

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. - Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi

Last week I sat in a chair, sipping a glass of cool water while a man asked me, "What is the difference in loving somebody and being in love with somebody?"

I thought about what I'm in love with and of course there is my family. But there is more, because I am in love with the stormy ocean when I have on a thick wool scarf and rainboots and a proper umbrella. I am in love with the idea of Narwhals and dark bears walking against a wall of white. I am in love with the kind of thunder that shakes the whole Earth and you don't know if you'll survive as time and space are ripped open in the sky above.

I am in love with a Nepalese woman who scales a cliff with a taut belt across her head, wrapping the huge bails of greenery to feed her goats. I am in love with her knees, that bear this burden and with her heart, that bears it just as well. I am in love with the working American mother, who wrangles a schedule of four so complex that it creates a band around her head. I am in love with her shoulders, that bear this burden and with her heart, that bears it just as well.

I am in love with random acts of kindness and with the planned acts of compassion that I see everyday. I am in love with the new clinic that the Acupuncture Relief Project just built in Nepal and everything that it means for the community there and for the health care providers that will volunteer their time. I am in love with the new clinic space that I've been blessed with here in Portland, and everything that it means for me in following the work that I love to do.

What does it mean to be in love?

To be in love is to see the divine in something: human or not human. It is to be inspired to do the work of the soul. It means that within me, the core desires that guide my work in the world are activated. It means that all the barriers against my own unfolding, my own divinity and my own vulnerability slowly move away so that the deepest self can be seen.

Today, I want to be in love with as much of the world around me as I can possibly manage. I wish the same for you.

Going Local

Going Local

"What's that hanging from the top? It looks like some kind of bone." She got up and went to the window where the sunlight poured into her eyes. She touched the hollow dragon body and it stirred the obsidian spears that hung from it. "It's some kind of seed pod. It's something I picked up from an Oregon couple who harvest the obsidian and hang it from cool nature ground scores they find." I had purchased this small chime as a beautiful piece for my treatment room. Occasionally patients would comment on it, but in this case, my companion was a photographer. She was here to talk with me about how we could best convey the work I do in a series of images.

We made our way next door to the coffee shop and began a conversation about the heath services I provide. I have begun to look forward to these conversations, each time I delve deeper into myself and feel the blessing of touching in with the maturation of my work. I get to be present with the inherent beauty of our humanness and I am so very grateful to be here, on the planet, in this capacity, in this Now.

"You know, I'm always listening for a certain type of language that happens in treatment spaces," I told her. "There is a language that we have gotten so used to using over the course of our lives. It stems from our cultural worldview in which we give our power to an elite class of doctors so that they can 'fix' us. I'm very conscious of this because I want to make sure that if this language is used, it doesn't go unnoticed. I want to observe it, I want to shine a light on it for the patient so that we can both be aware that it's entered the space. That kind of idea is detrimental to our healing process. We need our personal power to heal. When we give it to others, who we believe have some kind of superiority over us, we give them the responsibility of helping us to find our own center, our own path. Only we can do that for ourselves."

I remember that as teenager, I submitted to a procedure that felt wrong to me because a doctor shamed me into it. Though that was the first time, I've had many similar experiences since, not only at the offices of medical doctors but at my dentist, my naturopath and even with other Chinese medicine providers. These things happened because I gave my power away in an agreement that these providers knew more than I did about my own self.

In the twenty years since I told my doctor that a procedure "felt wrong," science has shown that her recommendation was utterly incorrect. The results of that procedure caused an extended 40-hour long labor with my first son: a labor that I am very proud of and that I was very supported in once I had learned how to be more discerning with the health care providers who walk with me on my path.

Now that I am a health care provider myself, I add people to my own health care team when I've decided that they truly do practice patient-centered care. I need people who support me in listening to my internal physician and who let my care and treatment be guided by this.

As a teenager, I began a journey of self-curiosity and saw the richness of my internal landscape. This internal world offers an infinite potential for exploration into the self, and as I have continued on this journey, I find more gratitude each day for what life is, who I am and the world that we are all creating together. I know that for every person that finds their way to my treatment room, there is a potential to re-initiate the relationship to the power that they hold within themselves. It's there that we find the answers from the heart and it is the heart who guides us on the path of the hero that we are all walking.

Morning on a Sidewalk

Morning on a Sidewalk

A thumb-sized, ebony beetle lays on his back, kicking. His hind legs are long bent pins without a cushion. Click. Click.

The sidewalk is wet from a rain in the night. I don't know where this beetle came from or where he plans on going. Does he have ambitions to be something more than he is? Is he satisfied with his life? Does he worry? Does he dream? Does he love himself? As I look at this humble being, near my foot, these questions seem to have simple answers; yet, I cannot guarantee that they would be so.

It's odd to me that he has such a heavy shell; so heavy that when a little wind, or a little toddler, pushes him over, he cannot return to a balanced state for himself. He is encumbered by his protection. He is made handsome by his armament.

I imagine that this beetle sees the world in different colors than I do. I know he hears the world in a completely different way that me. I wonder if I could see the world the way that he does. What would it change about me? I imagine his palette. The houses blur. The sunlight becomes more apparent. Greens call out with their shady safeness.

This beetle is so very important to the life of the temperate rain forest here. The forest: where is it? From both of our vantage points, it doesn't seem like we're even in that forest. The thick loam has been paved over and killed here. Where is the closest evergreen tree? I see one, a few blocks up the way, behind somebody's concrete fence. It's still here, I reassure myself. I reassure the beetle.

I grab a small branch and flip him over. Thank you for your lesson today. I whisper to him as he clicks away.

A show of gratitude, I note of myself. Thank you for your gratitude today. I whisper to myself as I continue on my walk. Nothing is a coincidence. It all happens for a reason. Be mindful.

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Slow Down On Re-Entry

Slow Down On Re-Entry

I hold my arms in front of me and face the back of a man from Hong Kong. He stands on a small gravel pathway that runs between German and Roman chamomile and a waking Asian peony. He bends his knees to sink down and I follow the motion. His right hip pulls back as his left palm moves forward and he turns his torso towards the east. The students on either side of me move in unison as we begin the Yang Taichi long form. We side step and a whiff of something fragrant fills the air, but I know it's too early for the osmanthus to be blooming.

As I run through the exercise with Sifu Ko, I realize that practicing almost everyday in Nepal has started to make these movements inherent in me. I no longer have to be consciously thinking through each step to move my body. It's moving as if it was made to do this. As I try to engage my conscious brain, I feel myself lose the effortless action and my movement becomes clumsy again. I've done this with the medicine too. I practiced everyday until it started to become an effortless part of me.

I realize that this morning, I was really freaking out about all of the small parts I have to put together to make life work in America. I became overwhelmed as I entered insurance data and receipts. I started to wander off on thoughts about the scarcity of resources here and how I won't be able to practice medicine how I'd like. More thoughts about how I can't spend enough time with my kids; all kinds of thoughts that get loaded into the basket of "work-life balance," whatever that is. Once these gates of fear were open, my student loans showed up too. I felt panicky as I left the house. I cried as I navigated the freeway on the way to this class.

Though I promised myself on the way home from Nepal that I wouldn't do this, I see that I already started. My mind is beginning to take over again. It wants to calculate and plan out a course of action. It sees scarcity in the world around me and as it plans, things just don't add up quite right. I feel a little bit hopeless and a little bit frustrated because my mind has just come to the conclusion that I am not being practical in anything: the way I want to practice medicine, the way I want to mother my children or even the way I want to live.

It's ironic that in rural Nepal, with no heat and no hot shower, I felt as if the world were incredibly abundant. I ate the same dal bhat for every meal, drank the same four ounce milk tea at lunch and followed the exact same schedule for six days a week. In Nepal, my heart took the lead. When that happened, there were no coincidences. Everything in my day had a special meaning; whether it was a tree growing on the path I walked home or a puppy that showed up on the porch. I did not have to make a series of new decisions everyday. I had a set routine and the only job for my mind was to follow the lead of my heart.

It's been a culture shock these last couple of days, in the land of infinite choices. In Nepal, dinner means rice and lentils with a small amount of saag greens and vegetable. These are spiced with the same masala blend every time. After a few days, my mind stopped engaging in dinner and let my heart do the work. My heart found that my gratitude for a simple meal had been lost and it helped me to settle and take my time when I approached my plate. It helped me to enjoy more of each bite of my food. And, it engaged my mind to help it determine a solution. I decided not to do any snacking outside of my meals so that I could come to the table with my full appreciation.

In America, dinner means that I can go out to a multitude of places for food that comes from all around the world. Going to the grocery store brings an overwhelming amount of choices with novels of information for me to read so that I can make an informed choice about whatever I purchase. On top of this, I can choose to purchase more expensive items that will donate to a good cause. All of this is overwhelming and lets my mind take the lead around a choice that has traditionally been a heart-centered thing: a shared meal with family or friends where we connect around our day. In leaving the store, I wonder if I made the right choice for my family? Did I pick food that everyone will eat and that all of our bodies will benefit from? Do I know how to cook this food properly? Did I accidentally buy something from a company that didn't pay the farmer a living wage?

In my medical training, I learned that each yin organ has a virtue. Compassion is the virtue of the liver, justice that of the lung, wisdom that of the kidney and trust that of the spleen. It never made a great amount of sense to me that ritual was the virtue of the heart until I had the opportunity  to  feel it for myself. I had to be in a situation where everything was simplified for me. In ritual and healthy routine, the mind is allowed to fall back, in service to the heart's lead. When there are very few choices, we have the freedom to follow our joy. It is the mind that constantly craves new stimulus while the heart find pleasure and meaning in experiencing the same thing, over and over, at a deeper level each time; very much like walking around a mandala. Or, like doing the same Taichi form every day.

As we conclude the form with a bent side kick, I can feel that the integrity in my lumbar spine has been lost. I push down through my feet to root my body and correct this. No matter how many times I go through this form, there are so many opportunities to learn about myself. I can do each movement again and again, until my mind is screaming out of boredom and still, I would have an ocean to learn about such a small step in the whole.

How do I simplify my life so that my heart is allowed to be more fully present and conscious with everything I do? This is the question that has opened to me this weekend and it will be hard to answer from my chest and not my head.

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