May 28, 2010

Where is the Care in Conventional Health Care?

My entire orientation to health and well-being is from a holistic perspective so it astounds me to see the majority of our population allowing themselves to be “treated” by a system run by insurance companies and pharmaceutical giants. These industry giants dictate scientific study and treatments geared toward the ultimate goal of selling us something, not healing us.

Our system of medicine is excellent in emergencies and immediate life-saving procedures. If there is an emergency, I want conventionally-trained doctors on my case. However, beyond emergencies, there is nothing done to heal the whole person or address the root cause of an ailment. We are separated into little parts, our humanity cast aside. The incredible power and influence of the mind, thoughts, beliefs, and emotions to make us sick, and help us heal, is ignored.

When we arrive at a hospital or doctor’s office we are most often viewed as a file folder, an insurance card, and someone who needs to be dealt with as fast as possible because there are just too many other important things to do, like get on to the next patient (i.e. bring in more money), make sure to avoid being sued for malpractice, and bill insurance.

My mother is in her 70’s now. She said when she went in for a physical exam the doctor seemed puzzled that she wasn’t on any prescription drugs - not that she would be, since she is in great health, exercises daily, and eats well. I wonder why a doctor would be surprised that a 70-something person is not on a drug. Is this because almost everyone over a certain age has multiple bottles of prescription pills sitting in their cabinets?

I would like to see more holistic-oriented doctors coming out of medical school. The training for doctors is heavy on left-brain proof and scientific method, very light on heart, intuition, and what it means to be in service to others: the human side of healing. To be more holistic would require a different orientation from doctors: less devotion to needing everything proven by linear, limited science before it can be acknowledged, and more of an open mind to the mysteries and complexities of how a human being can heal; less of a need to get rich while fostering a desire to serve and be a healer.

Our training in this society is to trust science and refute intuition and inner knowing. I understand this, being trained in the system myself. It is valuable to have facts and figures we can see and know. It was drummed into me that you don’t say a word about anything unless there have been studies to back it up. But I’ve learned in practice with real, live human beings the deeper value of keeping the heart open and engaged, the mind flexible to human mysteries – to keep active within the thought, “Although I am well-trained and understand the value of science, I don’t have all the answers and am willing to entertain the improbable.”

What we now call “alternative” medicine is traditional medicine, used far longer than the very recent advent of a multi-billion dollar industry with profits on the mind. (Note that Americans seem less healthy now than ever before.) Only lately has it begun to make its way into conventional medicine. Reiki, acupuncture, massage, prayer, and energy healing are inching their way in - thankfully so - to help patients get something deeper that can touch the core of who they are, where true healing exists.

In my community there are multitudes of holistic healing resources including medical doctors that are aware of holistic practices and utilize these resources with their patients. My own conventional medical doctor is holistic in his approach. His office is quiet, comfortable, and warm. Not overwhelmed by frenzy, nor the standard tacky medical office furniture, or white, stark walls and artificial light, the environment itself puts people at ease. I appreciate that he is very conscious of the fact that a real, live, human being has sat down in the chair next to him. He sits, leans back, relaxes, looks at the patient as if he has all the time in the world to listen. And that he does, with his heart. He is gentle, wise, and not the least bit arrogant, rushed, or too busy. He never gives the impression that he is on a higher plane. Consequently, he is a beloved figure in the community.

One of the ways we can foster more doctors like this is to balance the male-dominated medical system (left-brain, linear) with the ancient, traditional healing arts of the feminine (right-brain, intuitive). And that is another subject for another day, because there is much to say about it. But keep it in mind. The only reason we’ve lost our connection to extremely powerful, nurturing, effective, and deeply healing practices is because we pushed the feminine underground. She’s on her way back, not to dominate, but to integrate. Meanwhile, seek out holistic, heart-centered practices to complement your healing the next time you have the need to see your doctor. You just might find the whole medical system works better for you when you have options and various healers devoted to your well-being.

May 27, 2010

What Do We Do About Death?

We don’t get much training in dying, being with the dying, or what to say to those who have just lost someone very close to them. The subject is generally feared and met with much resistance. We often hear the standard line, “I’m so sorry,” while people languish in their discomfort.

I am interested in how we can approach the subject of death with more reverence and respect. How can we treat it with the sacredness it deserves, rather than something terrible to quickly move beyond?

I’ll not forget the time I spent in the hospital with my dying friend whose body was being ravaged by a rare blood cancer. I sat on her bed, listened to her concerns and life stories, and did myriad tasks at her request. Just before she passed her cousin came to say hello. The cousin stood about 6’ away, purse over shoulder, arms crossed in front of her chest. She had brought her husband and they both had the same look on their faces – a look that said, “Good God, get me outta here.” They scrammed after about seven minutes. This as well as other encounters I witnessed during that time revealed much about how uncomfortable we are with death and dying.

Twice in my life I faced my own mortality - experiences that forever changed the way I look at both life and death. I’ve felt the cutting harshness when friends’ lives ended abruptly, and have helped people heal from painful losses they weren’t ready to accept. Perhaps it is because of these experiences I delve further into this subject, to explore it more deeply, to step into a much-needed role: that of being fully present in the face of dying.

Yesterday, I learned of the death of a sweet friend. He was 80, had lived a long, colorful life, and was fortunate to be at home among the people who love him most as he passed. My heart feels the pang of this loss. In the last several weeks, three people came to me after losing their beloved dogs. One of these touched me so deeply, my tears flowed out mid-session. When we are in relationship with others or when we are serving them, our human side must lead. How can we be fully engaged otherwise?

Two weeks ago I went to a daylong retreat led by Joan Halifax Roshi, a woman who has devoted much of her life to the importance of conscious awareness around dying. She teaches how we can evolve ourselves beyond the current reflex of avoidance to a place of having what she calls a “Strong back, Soft front.” Most of us have this reversed. Our hearts are quite armored and guarded, our backs are slumped and weak.

We can practice being present with a soft front to benefit those passing, those who have just lost someone close to them, and to deepen our wisdom around our own passing. The question is how? How can we put into practice something we know very little about? We begin by being aware of the desire to escape or avoid the inevitable. We can be more aware of our discomfort around this very normal human condition. We can recognize the inclination to say rote things such as, “I’m so sorry,” instead allowing our human side to lead.

When we allow our human side to lead, we have no choice but to have a soft front. We must give the dying or their loved ones the gift of having our full presence with them, not in fear and anguish, but with compassion. This is no easy task, but if you can enter a room with no expectations, setting your own fears aside for a time, with no attachment to the outcome, then you’ve got it. If your arms are crossed over your chest and your purse is hanging on your shoulder, keep practicing.

We are not taught to honor the aging, to bear witness to the suffering of those we love, or to be with death with a strong back. We must learn to do this on our own. So the next time you have the opportunity, go in with a strong back and a soft front. Be fully present in that atmosphere of death, whether it be your own loved one or the loved one of someone you know. When you say something, speak from your heart, leaving behind the canned clich├ęs we know so well. Stop thinking you don’t know what to do or what to say. You aren’t being asked to walk barefoot across hot coals. You are being asked to listen to your soft front and go with that.

May 19, 2010

Eliminate Grain-Filled Commercial Foods for Your Pet's Best Health

Holistic care is as important for your animals as it is for you. Dogs and cats are unwitting victims of the fast-food industry, ingesting biologically imbalanced processed foods. These foods contain grains such as wheat, rice, and corn, by-products and other additives such as soy, preservatives, colorings, and flavorings.

When humans eat like this, they become obese and eventually diseased, with symptoms ranging from diabetes and arthritis to cancer and heart disease. It is the same with our animals. Obesity and joint conditions are common. Many animals have poor teeth and gums, and emit a foul odor. They suffer with internal and external parasites and inflammation resulting in skin rashes, itching, and joint pain.

People are convinced that processed kibble from the grocery store is healthy for their pets because commercials and labels tell them so. Words such as “all natural” help persuade buyers toward brands filled with grains and other unnecessary additives. As a result, most dogs and cats are eating substandard food.

In the last 70 years or so convenience foods came into vogue. In this time, we have lost what it means to eat close to nature. The whole family, companion animals included, dines on processed food. We know it’s time to turn that corner and come back to basics, not just for ourselves. No dog or cat should be eating foods with added grains. They wouldn’t eat them in the wild, and they don’t have a need for the extra carbohydrates.

Grains in dog and cat food are filler. They can lead to arthritis, skin conditions, lethargy, flatulence, and other preventable symptoms. Further, animals should not smell, have bad breath, poor teeth and gums, or be itching and scratching. If they do, this is a sign the body is not functioning well. Just like with your own health, the first step is to clean up the diet.

Ideally, dogs and cats should be given a diet that closely matches the nutritional balance they would have if they ate what nature intended. This means getting quality protein appropriate for their optimum health. They have no need for additives such as by products, soy, and colorings.
The top level food for your animals includes raw food, the majority of which is human-grade animal protein. The next rung down would be a high-quality canned food. The lowest and least desirable would be commercial kibble.

If you must feed only kibble, choose a no-grain variety with no unnecessary additives. These are usually found at feed stores or high-end animal supply stores. Supplement this diet with some fresh food. Dogs love carrots, for example, and you can experiment with other vegetables. Avoid giving them grapes, raisins, chocolate, walnuts, and macadamia nuts. Cats are interested in various vegetables, too. My cats love to eat cooled chicken soup with vegetables. It isn’t raw, but it’s nutrient-dense.

If any of you have animals in pain, with joint inflammation or another type of pain, you can experiment with removing grain and low-quality food and treats from their diet. Many people continue with the same substandard diet while giving anti-inflammatory drugs. These are not necessary nor is the suffering your animal endures.

Speak with a holistic, integrative veterinarian who is knowledgeable about proper diet and holistic approaches. If there isn’t one in your area yet, you can work with one by telephone, which I have done with success for the past 8 years. In fact, I have four animals who rarely if ever go into a veterinary office. Our house-call veterinarian is a specialist in homeopathy, herbs, acupuncture, and chiropractic.

If you can find a gem like this, you’ll not have to pay for regular veterinary visits with their accompanying tests, x-rays, and drug prescriptions. Instead, you’ll be promoting healthy, happy animals in the way we humans must treat ourselves: by enhancing our vitality, encouraging the body to heal itself, and stopping the madness of placing a bandage over every symptom without looking further into the deeper cause.

Meanwhile, you and your animals will thrive when you are deeply nourished, with both food and companionship. Let’s not ignore our trusted companions when it comes to what nourishes them: our presence and care along with top-quality food the way nature intended. Organic raw is best, combined in such a way that it is biologically balanced. To learn more about this, Dr. Richard Pitcairn, who I am not affiliated with in any way, has books and much information on his website: www.drpitcairn.com. There you’ll find detailed explanations of the points I touched on in this article.

May 6, 2010

Desperation for Substance: Childhood Obesity on the Rise

The problems associated with child obesity are vast. There is an enormous strain on the healthcare industry while retired military leaders have warned of a serious threat to national security because many young people are unfit to enlist.

There are many suggestions on what to do. We all know them by heart. Eat right. Exercise. What else is there? The military folks propose a revised school lunch, citing that kids who have junk food at school put on the pounds. I agree that nutritious, healthy food is best.

The revised school lunch plan seems like good sense, but can the cause of obesity be addressed through school lunches? When I went through grade school in the 1970’s, our 40-cent lunches consisted of sloppy joes, pizza, spaghetti, fried fish sticks or cheeseburgers with fries and not much else that could be called healthy. Most of us dumped the soggy side vegetables and went outside to the ice cream window to get our 10-cent ice cream sandwich or fudge bar. We were not obese. None of us.

What is different from then to now? For starters, we didn’t have vending machines offering us junk food in school. We were physically active, required to run, jump, skip, hop, and climb on a regular basis through daily physical education and recess. After school many of us walked or rode our bikes home. Then we played outside. We ran around, jumped rope, created things, rode bikes, used our imagination, skate boarded, climbed trees and walls, roller skated, and the boys set up sports games in the street. We were on the move.

There were snacks and ample sugary treats, but food was not a focus like it seems to be today. We went to school in the morning after breakfast and many of us had cooked dinners in the evening. The microwave was not yet a fixture in every kitchen. Wafting through the neighborhood after about 5:00pm was the scent of home cooking. For a short time, kids would disappear from the streets and then, weather and light permitting, they would be back outside again to play a bit more before nightfall.

We had television, but no electronic games for it yet. There were no computers or computer games so there was less reason to stay inside and be sedentary. If nothing was on one of the seven television channels, three of which were black and white, we entertained ourselves. If you were in a house like mine, any complaints about boredom were quickly remedied with the assignment of a household chore.

Even with all the lifestyle changes, why is obesity a national crisis today? We know many modern snack foods have chemicals that make us want to have “just one more.” It is widely known that our penchant for “fat-free” items have only served to make us fatter. After all, the human body needs fat. Genuine, full-of-fat butter is what many of our ancestors, mothers, and grandmothers ate, without an obesity crisis.

This focus on food is valid, but I believe the crux of the problem is this: the American soul has been deflated. It sank and ran out of air while we ran our busy lives. Authentic human interaction is now limited by way of a one-on-one relationship with the computer; the value of free, unscheduled time has been lost; and soul-nourishing home cooked meals have been replaced by fast-food. The imagination died while sitting hour after hour in front of the television. Add the spirit-numbing diet of tragic news and images from around the world delivered through about 500 television channels and the computer. Whose soul wouldn’t be desperate for substance?

For nourishment, we turn to the first basic human need: food. We eat to fill the emptiness, loneliness, and nagging lack of meaning weaving through our lives. But, we don’t get filled up. So we eat some more. We come up empty. So we eat some more. Still empty. Most are unaware of what needs filling. It’s not the tummy in this land of plenty. Food cannot nourish all that has been lost.

If you have an obese child or if you work with children struggling with this issue, the soul of the child must be tended to with those things that have always filled the souls of children. The freedom to play in unstructured time, human interaction and friendship, fostering the imagination, physical and mental activity, home-cooked meals, love. With these, you might notice a diminishing need to satiate the void through eating. The best way to do this for any child is to also do it for yourself. After all, you are the role model of how to live for each child you influence.