The Addiction No One Is Thinking About

columboWhen I was younger, one of my favorite activities was simply to think.

I remember laying on my back, on the floor in my room and gazing out the window, just thinking. I would think about my friends, about school, about books I had read…really anything. I imagined future scenarios, and reminisced about past ones. Lost in daydreams, I never would have thought that I was fostering an addiction.

I was a thinking addict.

Most of us are, in fact, addicted to our thoughts. Indeed, this is not an accident, but rather a result of neurological efficiency. Each thought, just like every action we take, corresponds to neurologic activity in our brains. And if there is one thing our brains are especially good at, it’s being efficient. This is ultimately the process of learning, although it may sound strange for me to tell you that you actually had to learn to think. But you did. What you learned to think about as a child and young adult is largely driving your thoughts today. Spend just five minutes observing your mind at work to find out for yourself. It’s an illuminating experience to catch our thoughts, and a forever life-changing one to start noticing our inner dialogue.

While it seems that thinking is rather harmless (after all, you might think about how much you would like to tell off your boss, but you wouldn’t actually do it for fear of losing your job), it actually corresponds to very real changes in your brain. Thoughts generate electric impulses in neurons, that then communicate with other neurons via synapses. So while you don’t actually carry out a certain action with your body based on every thought, you are “acting” on a neuro-chemical level.

Our thoughts aren’t harmless, ephemeral, inconsequential things – we are constantly being affected by them, whether we like it or not.

The fundamental effects of thoughts on our brains cannot be denied. And just the way you develop muscle memory when you are learning a new sport, for example, you develop the same type of memory when it comes to repetitive thoughts. If any of your thoughts are distressing to you, then repeatedly thinking them won’t serve you in any way. What are some of your most common thoughts? Maybe you think that no one will find you attractive because you are overweight. Or that there’s no way you would be selected for the promotion at work because you aren’t smart enough. Repetitive thoughts based in insecurity and self-criticism quickly become addictive, and when they do, are anything but harmless.

But what about thoughts that aren’t distressing? Fantasizing about hoped-for future scenarios, or extended trips down memory lane, can be just as addictive as our self-critical thoughts. While we do need to think in order to live, we spend way too much time everywhere else other than the present moment. The harm with these types of thoughts is that we lose our cognitive ability to focus and pay attention. The more likely your mind is to wander to other realms, the less likely you are to notice what is happening around you right now. And since “right now” is the only moment that exists, learning to pay attention to it will serve you invaluably compared to repetitive thinking about the past or future.

The first step for any addict is to become aware of the addiction. So if you need to stage an intervention for yourself, do it! But do it lovingly. And once you are aware of your addictive thinking, check yourself into rehab. While I wish there really did exist a rehabilitation center for addictive thinking (I’m imagining gardens, yoga, plenty of sleep and laughter), the only rehab you need is a daily mindfulness practice. And I do mean daily. Consistency is the key when recovering from any type of addiction. You want to replace the old bad habit, with the new good one. Even five minutes a day can radically transform your thought patterns, and therefore, your actual neurologic wiring.

Five minutes a day, sitting in stillness, breathing easily while you observe your thoughts with love.

There’s no better cure than that.

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What your cells want you to know

Cradle_of_Humankind_039Your cells want you to know that they are living, breathing, and sentient.

They want you to know that they hear everything you hear, see everything you see, and feel everything you feel.

They want you to know that they are affected by all the choices you make, from what you choose to eat, to who you choose to marry.

They want you to know that they want so much for your health and happiness, because when you are happy, they are happy.

They want you to know that yes, they do know the difference between happiness and sadness.

They want you to know that there is a beauty and order to all life, that is Divine.

They want you to know that the version of yourself you hold in your mind is the smallest fraction of how amazing you really are.

They want you to know that they believe in you and your dreams, that they will be there every step of the way.

They want you to know that when they are healthy and cared for, so is your life as a Whole.

They want you to know that even though the differences between each of them are numerous and complex, they still work together as one community.

They want you to know that it is the differences between you and everyone else that makes Life rich and rewarding.

They want you to know that your cells look like everyone else’s under the microscope.

They want you to know that true health comes from expressing your Divine purpose, whatever that may be.

They want you to know that they are resilient, and you don’t have to be afraid of everything you might see as negative or toxic, you can always recover.

They want you to know that your body is not an inexhaustible resource. That eventually, those resources will run out if not tended to and replenished.

They want you to know that when they start misbehaving, it is only to get your attention to an aspect of your life you have neglected for far too long.

They want you to know that even if they cause you to suffer, they are hoping to bring greater Love and Awareness into your life because you are just that important.

Your cells want you to know that you, as a single human being, are the Universe.

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5 Reasons Affirmations Don’t Work

file0001179129151Affirmations are very specific, positive declarations that are said and/or written in attempts to change a negative belief about ourselves. If you follow any of the popular self-help books, you’ll find references made to affirmations, and even specific ones you can use when struggling with a particular problem. You can create an affirmation for virtually any issue, whether it is finding love, overcoming illness, or becoming financially abundant. The theory behind the use of affirmations is that what we think and say creates our reality, based on how our neurons fire and wire together. The more you think and act on certain beliefs, the more that neuronal firing pattern is reinforced. This is absolutely true; our thoughts and actions are essentially “habits” that we have learned. We already know that the brain is not a fixed entity based on the research of neuroplasticity, and that it’s possible to train it differently with time and consistent effort. In this sense, affirmations have the potential to change our self-concepts. But while I’m all for positive thinking, one of the common complaints from many people about affirmations is that they simply don’t work. It’s easy to tell these people that they are “doing it wrong”, or that what they believe will come to manifest eventually, but this type of response actually does more harm than good. It reinforces the inadequacy that the person attempting affirmations already feels, and is actually based in ignorance of how the mind works. Affirmations do work for some people, but they don’t for others and actually can backfire by reinforcing negative thought patterns. If you haven’t had success with affirmations, consider the following:

1. You have low self-esteem: Research has shown that people with low-self esteem react negatively to positive statements about themselves. This finding is important to understand. It’s not just that the affirmation or positive self-statements don’t work, but it can actually make you feel worse about yourself! If you have low self-esteem (click here to take a self-esteem quiz), then likely your negative self-concept will be strengthened when using affirmations because deep down, you know there is no possible way they could be true.

2. You don’t believe it’s true, regardless of your self-esteem: Just because you make a declarative statement, and you want it to be true, doesn’t mean you believe it is achievable. If you have high self-esteem, but still find your affirmations aren’t working, try making them more “reasonable”. For instance, if you are dealing with a medical issue and your affirmation is “I am healthy and radiant”, your subconscious belief may resist that statement. Instead, using an affirmation like “My body is always healing itself” may be more appropriate. Your affirmation has to be reasonable enough that you can connect to its truth on a conscious level.

3. There are more cons to believing your affirmation than pros: You might not have considered the pros and cons to an affirmation coming true, but this is an especially useful exercise to consider if you are feeling stuck. While I would never discourage anyone from dreaming big when it comes to their future vision, I do recommend thoroughly understanding the pros and cons to any affirmation or goal when it seems like progress has stalled. For instance, your affirmation may be “I am healthy and a normal weight for my body” but yet being a normal weight will mean losing several pounds, buying a new wardrobe, socializing less with friends, etc. Most of our pros are conscious, which is why we set the goal or affirmation in the first place. But the cons are largely unconscious. Understand and address your cons first, and adjust your affirmation as necessary. For example, instead of the general statement “I am healthy and a normal weight for my body,” you might affirm more specifically, “I can make healthy food choices at dinner with my friends” prior to an evening out.

4. You don’t practice mindfulness: Mindfulness is the nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment. Practicing mindfulness is beneficial in pretty much all situations, but especially if you have low self-esteem, and if you feel your affirmations aren’t working. I would recommend a daily mindfulness practice, beginning at 1 minute a day if this is new to you, up to 5 minutes minimum daily. Do this consistently, and I guarantee that you will develop a deeper insight into the areas of your life you want to improve, and intuition as to how to make this happen. The more mindful you can be when using affirmations, the more likely you are to use the ones that will work for you.

5. You’re resistant to being told what to believe: For some of us, simply being told, as opposed to asked, is enough to create resistance subconsciously, even when we are the ones doing the telling! When we are told anything, whether it is to do something or a statement about who we are, the mind either accepts or rejects the statement rather than finding out why the statement is true or useful. If an affirmation is not working, try rephrasing it in the form of a question. Instead of “I am creative and financially successful”, try asking “Am I creative and financially successful?” or “Can I believe that I am creative and financially successful?” This will require you to delve into your past experiences and find evidence to support that you are. Asking takes more time and focused effort to build on our past successes, but can pay off much more than telling. These types of probing questions are at the heart of the coaching process, so think of yourself as your own personal coach.

Have you used affirmations before and had success? Or tried any of the techniques I mention in this article? If so, I would love to hear from you in the comments below!

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How to create your gratitude body map

I’ve kept a gratitude journal on and off for several years, and I’ve found that it’s not hard to come up with five things I’m grateful for every day…
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Rico

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Billy

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Mannie

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Groucho

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I’m grateful for Rico twice most days :)

I do vary in what I write down, with some selections of a more superficial nature like an awesome pair of shoes I just found on sale, or deeper things like my friends and family. But what I have found in doing this practice for a while now is that it doesn’t matter what I write down at all, and it doesn’t even matter what I remember in my head as things I’m grateful for. What it comes down to is how grateful I feel.

It’s a very different thing to make a list of things you’re grateful for as a cognitive exercise, and to truly feel grateful down to your bones. But it’s the latter which is really life-changing.

Obviously, the point of the gratitude list is to hopefully inspire the feelings of gratitude. After all, you need to conjure up the name and image of what you are grateful for in order to fully acknowledge it. But once you’ve got that, I think it’s worth a few minutes of truly connecting to what gratitude feels like in your body. For me, I immediately feel a “swelling” in my heart area (gratitude-induced thoracic edema?) The feeling expands in my chest and rises into my throat, as if I am on the verge of crying or laughing. That makes sense to me, as often the outward signs of our somatic emotions is either laughter or tears. Beyond that, I find myself smiling and feeling a loosening of my muscles all over. I take deeper breaths, my shoulders relax and quite often I even feel a jolt of energy like I just drank a cup of coffee. Being relaxed and energetic at the same time might seem paradoxical, but this is a common effect of balancing out our emotions. When we connect inwardly to those things that uplift us, our bodies can release tension that we have been unconsciously holding onto.

Knowing where you feel certain emotions within your body is very important. Your body often reacts to your emotions before you might even be consciously aware of them. This body map shows the different areas of the body that are implicated in different emotional states. Every cell in your body contains receptors on its surface that receives information based on your feelings, and we tend to feel certain emotions in different parts of the body. By mapping out where you feel emotions in your own body, you can begin to reinforce the positive effects of positive emotions, and minimize the negative effects of negative emotions. (Although I use the words positive and negative as it pertains to emotions, I don’t mean to call the positive ones “good”, and the negative ones “bad”. Negative emotions like anger, sadness and frustration have their uses and are healthful to experience, but when indulged in for too long or too frequently, are associated with prolonged stress states that eventually wear down the body through excess inflammation).

Because feeling gratitude on a daily basis is life-changing, I created a meditation to connect more deeply to where these feelings arise in the body.To create your own gratitude body map, choose a time and place where you can comfortably devote at least 15 uninterrupted minutes to this exercise. You will want to be physically comfortable, so make sure you aren’t wearing any restricted clothing, and keep a blanket nearby in case you get chilly. For women, I recommend removing your bra, especially if it contains underwire. You want to minimize external physical distractions or discomforts so that you can really focus your attention on what you are feeling internally. Draw an outline of your body on a piece of paper. You might want some colored pens, markers or pencils if you tend to be the type of person who visualizes emotions and energy in colors. Complete the following meditation exercise:

1. Find a comfortable seated position, preferably sitting upright with your feet on the floor or cross-legged. You can also lie down if you prefer.
2. Take three deep breaths to center yourself, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.
3. Focus on one thing you are grateful for today. Pick something that is more concrete (for example, a pet or family member, rather than an abstract idea like being grateful for your awesome sense of humor).
4. Spend several minutes really visualizing in your mind’s eye this object of your gratitude with all of your five senses.
5. When you start to feel grateful, shift your focus to your own body. What region of your body captures your attention first?
6. Open your eyes, and mark on the body map where you feel this feeling and what it looks like. Use shapes or colors if they feel right to you.
7. Close your eyes, and now focus on this region of your body. If you need to, call up the image of what you are grateful for again.
8. Where does the feeling travel to next? Follow the feeling with your mind.
9. Open your eyes, and mark on the body map where the feeling moved to. Again, use colors and/or shapes if they feel right to you.
10. Continue this process until you sense you have completed your body map. You might want to add the date and make a note of what image you were focusing on.

This is a powerful exercise because it creates a multi-sensory experience of gratitude and provides ourselves with feedback. It fosters the mind-body connection, and allows for a more intuitive understanding of ourselves and how our emotions affect us. If you are up for a challenge, do this exercise daily for a week, and keep track of your body maps. See how they may change each day, or based on what image you are grateful for. I will be posting my gratitude body maps on instagram (#gratitudebodymap) starting today, so feel free to see what mine look like, as well as post your own!

And remember, as we (finally!) head into Spring…

“Gratitude is the fairest blossom, which springs from the Soul.” – Henry Ward Beecher

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5 ways wellness coaching can change your life

IMG_0558One of the most important people to include on your journey to wellness is a wellness coach.

These are professionals who already have an established background in the areas of healthcare, nutrition and exercise science and who have elected to undergo additional training and certification to help you reach your wellness goals. But a coach is not your nutritionist, trainer or your doctor. Unlike those other services, which some coaches might also still provide outside of their coaching business, you are not purchasing information or a program to follow. Instead, you are learning how to partner with your intuition through the guidance of your coach, so that eventually you can coach yourself. This is why coaching of any sort is so valuable and worth the investment.

Specifically though, how can wellness coaching benefit you?

1. Wellness coaching can change your past by changing your memories about the past. When we remember past events, our brains aren’t pulling out memories from a treasure chest. Instead, our brains actively recreate the memory in the present moment. This means that we can create what we need to remember. I’m not talking about deluding yourself to believe something happened that didn’t. But what I do mean is that through positive reframing, we can look back on past events that might not have gone so well for us and focus on how the event helped us learn and grow. Every situation we encounter, especially the negative ones, are ripe learning opportunities that teach us valuable information we need to develop as human beings. This can be difficult to do on our own because of our emotional entanglement with certain memories, which is why a coach is so valuable in helping you reframe your experiences so that you can learn the lessons that will propel you forward.

2. Your brain will literally alter its structure to allow for positive change. I’ve written about neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to adapt physically to your experiences. By engaging with a coach, you will slowly start to change how your brain is wired, which is ultimately what will help you stick to your wellness goals. The more you interact with your coach, the more your neurons will start firing in a different way than what they have been used to. Through consistent follow-up and accountability, you can be sure that you will be more likely to stick to your positive behaviors, thus allowing your brain the time it needs to re-wire.

3. Each session will immediately decrease your stress. A coach is trained to listen to you deeply and hear the unsaid. For some of you, this might be the only time you experience this type of quality interaction with an empathetic and compassionate person who truly wants you to succeed. If you have ever experienced this type of conversation, you might remember how you felt “lighter” afterward, more emotionally balanced and able to handle the rest of the day. Imagine scheduling this time for yourself on a regular basis. One session alone can help decrease your stress immediately, but several sessions over time will improve your stress resilience overall so that you can conquer whatever comes your way.

4. Heal your mind, body and spirit. After years in medicine, one thing has stood out to me as the most important in living a healthy life. You have to be involved in healing you. No one can do it for you, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. Most of the chronic health conditions we face these days are preventable, reversible, and linked to our emotional and spiritual health. Wellness coaching goes far beyond helping you to lose weight. It is a holistic healing process. If you have consulted any type of conventional or alternative healthcare practitioner in your life, and felt like you could still benefit from more help, I strongly urge you to consider trying out wellness coaching for a minimum of three months as an adjunct to what you are already doing. It will teach you how to facilitate your own healing on multiple levels.

5. Unlocks your creative potential. Coaching is a conversation, which in and of itself is an act of creation. Think about it for a second. When you are engaged in conversation, you don’t have a script you are reading from. You are creating the dialogue in the present moment. This is very much like any creative artistic endeavor, where you bring forth something new and different that has never existed before. Coaches use several techniques to get you thinking outside of the box, to help flex your creativity muscle so you can find new solutions to the same old problems. Over time, you may find that your creative ability in other areas is enhanced because of this new skill.

If you have any questions or want to learn more about wellness coaching, feel free to visit the About page and leave me your contact information. And as always, drop a comment below if this article resonated with you!

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An unhealthy focus on a healthy life

heartGardenThere is only one question you need to ask yourself when you consider making any change to be healthier.

Is my desire to change based on fear, or love?

Many of our attempts to eat well, exercise, and to generally live a healthy life are actually based in fear when we look closer. I’ve found that the more time and effort someone puts into a health endeavor (such as finding the optimal diet), often the more motivated they are by fear. If you follow some popular health and fitness blogs, the messages are clear: Eat (insert optimal diet here i.e. vegan, low-fat, etc) to prevent chronic illness and disease. Exercise (insert activity and intensity) to prevent dying early or debilitation.

The problem with coming from a fear based perspective is that you are setting yourself up for added stress even as you attempt to live a healthier life, with all the benefits it has to offer. Being fanatical about a strict diet or exercise regimen is identifying with a certain set of behaviors so much that without them, you don’t know who you are. There are all kinds of programs out there to help you stick to positive changes, and many focus on learning to identify yourself as “someone who doesn’t eat cake” or “someone who loves to be active”. But the problem is that if you do end up eating that piece of cake, or staying at home to watch TV instead of hitting the gym, you end up feeling like you did something wrong that you have to make up for the next day. How many times have we all thought that working out extra hard the day following an indulgence would counteract it? Not only does our metabolism not work that way, but that mindset reinforces our fear that there is always a perfect decision we should have made, that we failed to make.

It’s a life-changing and literally brain-altering experience to come from a place of love when you make your lifestyle choices. If you choose to eat healthy, do so because you love the flavor of the food and how it nourishes your body. When you decide to lift weights at the gym, do so because it exhilarates you to witness your own strength and progress. Find joy in each healthy behavior, not because it is helping you change how you look physically or is preventing a disease, but simply because each of these behaviors is an expression of self-love. It’s no different than reading a sweet child a bedtime story and tucking him in with his teddy bear. That’s how loving you want to be with yourself when you are on a journey of healthy living.

When you do experience a “setback” or “relapse”, which is essentially engaging in a behavior that ultimately does not serve your higher purpose, do it with love. This sounds somewhat paradoxical, because how can it be self-loving to indulge in a behavior you have pre-identified as harmful to your health? The answer is that no single behavior in and of itself is healthy or harmful. Every choice you make occurs in a context. Eating spinach is healthy, but only if you are eating plenty of other things as well. A spinach-only diet would lead to malnutrition pretty quickly! Eating birthday cake might lead to some unfavorable hormone and blood sugar fluctuations temporarily, but if this is an occasional treat then you can trust your body will recover and suffer no ill effect from a once-in-a-while indulgence. As long as your overall context for your choices is love, you can feel comfortable that any choice you make will be aligned with the healthy life you truly want.

I encourage you to evaluate your health behaviors and investigate whether you tend to approach them from love or fear. For those that are rooted in fear, how can you be more loving towards yourself as you make a change? Apply this question to other areas of your life, and you might just find that health is the natural outcome of love itself.

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Coping with grief

file0001465861740Grief passes through us in waves, taking us over in rhythmic contractions. It can come over us at any time after we have experienced a loss, whether it is the death of a loved one, the ending of a relationship, or the change of a situation we had grown to be comfortable in. Whatever it is that we grieve, the feeling is the same. It is like a vice grip around our heart, as if an old bitter woman’s deformed fingers are clawing at us, reaching into our lungs, causing each breath to travel into us with the exquisite torture of knowing we are still alive while what we loved is not. Usually, if we stay with this feeling and breathe through it, we find that the old woman eases her grip a bit, forgetting us for a brief moment in her slumber. But eventually she wakes, and remembers.

This process of grieving is universal, and something we cannot experience without first calling ourselves human. It is felt at all ages and life circumstances. Grief is the cost of being alive in this world. At some point, we will lose someone or something close to us. And while we often grieve the absence of others, what is hidden within the layers of that grief is the sense that we have lost a part of ourselves. Even if we are grieving a loved one’s death, it feels like a part of us has also died.

What I have learned from experiencing my own grief, however, is that rather than representing a death, it actually is a form of giving birth. Grief is experienced in waves, like labor pains, contractions meant to bring forth new life. In the midst of a grief contraction, the only thing I can do is breathe. I focus on my breath, allowing it to flow through me along the waves of pain I feel that travel through my body in a very physical way. Eventually, the contraction subsides and I am fine again, until the next wave. Intense periods of grief consist of these contractions that may occur over a period of days, weeks or even years. It will last as long as needed to birth what is wanting to be born. The more we turn away from it, the longer our labor; and those who never face it may even die with a part of themselves trapped within, yearning to be allowed even one breath of this wonderful life.

Grief is a process that the spiritual and physical body undergoes to bring new life into this world. The life we choose to bring forth is up to us, but it will usually be greater than anything we could have imagined.

To anyone experiencing a loss, here is a guided meditation that I have found helpful for myself:

Breathe through the waves of grief you are feeling like a mother in labor breathing through a contraction. Let the feeling pass. Once you find stillness, ask yourself this simple question: What am I birthing into the world right now? It’s ok if no answer comes to mind, or if several come at once. The point is to acknowledge that you are in a transition phase right now, between death of the old, and life of the new. You have the strength and courage to accept all of your feelings, no matter how painful they may be, because you are delivering into the world a part of yourself that is very much loved and needed at this time. Envision this part of you existing right now in the core of your being. Breath into your core, relaxing your body, so that you can allow this new life to emerge.

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How I lost my spirit in medicine (and what I did to get it back)

file1291253622910Over the past several years, my perspective on myself and life has slowly undergone a shift. In my late teens and early twenties when I was going through medical school, I felt like I had little time to work on self-development and so I didn’t. I figured going through medical school was development enough, and in some ways it was. I pushed the limits of my knowledge further than I ever had before. I accepted that I wasn’t the “best and the brightest”, in the group of talented individuals I was blessed to call my peers. But what I didn’t realize happening was that I was slowly becoming a more and more negative person. I was surviving in a difficult environment, and when we are thrown into survival mode often our perception of threats looms much larger than it should, because it seems our life depends on it. When we become adept at identifying potential threats, we stop living in a balanced world and instead blend into the negativity the way a chameleon blends into the leaves he hides behind.

There is probably no other training out there more efficient in making a person feel inadequate and small as medicine. It’s unfortunate, because this is the profession based on teaching and healing others. No doctor should come out of the process worse for wear, no matter how much information they have to memorize and how sick the patients are that they see. But what often happens is that we enter our esteemed profession with a more negative mindset than what we came in with. We now try to anticipate all the things that can go wrong, not just with our patients, but with ourselves as we are learning. What if we get asked a question that we don’t know the answer to, and it’s the mean attending on rounds today? What if in our attempt to learn a new procedure, we screw it up and get yelled at, or worse, cause harm to the patient? And in some scenarios, the questions are even harder to answer, especially for women. What if we are sexually harassed by a superior? When I was a student, a surgeon used my body as a sweat rag for his forehead in the middle of a case. Years later, a chairman inappropriately placed his hand on my thigh when asking me a question. Worse has happened to other women. If that doesn’t teach you to survive by being on the lookout for threats, I don’t know what will.

It wasn’t until I made it out of residency and fellowship training that I finally could take stock of what I had even been through for the past decade. I was looking at a landscape within myself that I didn’t even recognize anymore. I finally had the time to evaluate what teachings I wanted to keep from that time, and what I wanted to throw out. It was a mental and emotional clearing of my closet (or medicine cabinet, if you will). I got rid of any thought that I wasn’t smart enough, I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t a hard worker, I had to get everything right (especially the first time), and that if I didn’t know the answer to something then that meant I was a failure. None of those thoughts were original to my self-concept when I started medical school, and yet each one had grown its roots into my psyche by the time I started private practice. It’s one thing to prepare future physicians for the stresses they will face in their medical careers; it’s another thing entirely to short circuit their brains with fear and negativity.

What I wish I had known back then, all those years ago, was that I didn’t have to go through the experience like velcro for other people’s negativity. I was sensitive and young, and took very seriously my experiences with those who were older and wiser. It took several years before I realized that attendings, professors, senior residents or even administrators were still capable of acting like children, ruled by their egos. Because I gave them all the benefit of the doubt, and myself none, I learned a way of being that ultimately kept myself small and dormant. This is not to say that everyone experiences what I went through, but those who are more emotionally sensitive (often women) share similar stories. Practicing meditation, self-compassion, loving detachment and other stress resilience techniques might not have changed my circumstances, but they would have helped me cope with them more effectively, leading to a lot less suffering. I was detached from my spirit, and only reconnected to it once I had time to breathe.

No one is perfect, and this career takes a toll on everyone. You can’t go through medical training and come out the same person as you went in, nor should you. What we live through changes us on a fundamental level, but if it isn’t changing us for the better, how can we really contribute to positive change in the world? It’s not a lofty or naive goal at all to go to medical school in hopes of making a difference in the world. I would hope that most of us in medicine are humanitarians on some level. After years of delayed income, sleepless nights, mental and physical strain, and often failed relationships in the process, it’s certainly not all about the “money”. There is a deeper purpose, a spiritual seed, that is ready to germinate and nourish ourselves and others, but only in the right conditions. It is the responsibility of each individual involved in medical education to understand that ultimately, we are all in this together for a purpose larger than ourselves.

In any circumstance we face, there is truth and there is illusion. Differentiating between the two in my medical career has been the only way to keep the strong connection to my higher Self, while progressing in an institution that is still very much in its spiritual infancy.

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The longing in every woman’s heart

file0001008154008Experiencing life as a woman is a gift, that I have heard many men claim they are glad not to have received. Our feminine bodies and minds flow with nature in a way, in lunar rhythms and cycles, that men just often don’t understand. Just as the moon pulls the ocean tides, so are we pulled in an ebb of flow of life. We create and build life, and we also release its potential with our very blood.

At our center, there is a longing. We are born into this world naked and alone, and spend the rest of our lives trying to find the right clothing to cover us, and the right partner to be with us. Even as our baby-girl-bodies emerge from the womb, we are longing for something, for some sense of connection to another. For some sense of connection to ourselves.

Social mores tell us that once we marry and have children, our role as women will be fulfilled. Is this what evolution had in mind for us, to be the vessel for more people? Or can becoming a mother also be a strong catalyst for another kind of birthing process?

What life are we really meant to bring forth?

Each woman has a wild, instinctive nature. There exists a part of her, no matter how tame she has become by society, that remains untouched, like a glowing white pearl hiding within a seashell. This is the gift she is born with, this gift of life, of creativity and wildness. This is what each woman struggles to protect throughout her life, whether she knows it or not. This is her true essence, a small indesctructible pearl that is born from the challenge and hardship of every woman who has come before her. The true longing in each woman’s heart is to take this pearl from deep within, caress it in her palms, and show it to the world.

We don’t long for children, for men, for material objects, as much as we long for ourselves. We don’t give birth to another human being as much as we give birth to ourselves. And we don’t nourish the life of another human being with our bodies, as much as we nourish the living planet with our very being. We are women, we are connected to the divine through our blood. We wax and wane with the moon, resting at times from depletion and then brimming full with abundance.

Only when we recognize the longing in our own hearts to be ourselves, to expose ourselves, and to birth our highest Self into being, will we be able to influence the course of humanity. Our men have done the best job they knew how to, until now. They have only known how to be men. What is necessary now are for self-realized, self-birthed women to step forward, unashamed in our femininity, and join them.

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How to change your brain

brainIn my previous post, I introduced you to the concept of neuroplasticity. This means that your nervous system is “plastic”, it can change to form new, healthier neuronal connections and pathways to help you live the life you have always wanted. This idea alone can be a lot to take in for most people. It goes against what scientists have believed for decades, that essentially we are born with a fixed number of neurons, and once certain habits/pathways set in, (usually in childhood) they are very difficult to change. We have immense hope in the scientific discoveries that are showing that this just isn’t the case. We can literally change our brains, our thoughts, and our habits. We can harness this plasticity of our nervous system to change our lives for the better. But the big question is, how?

It might be a surprise to some of you, or no surprise at all to others, that the techniques to change our brains have been around for millennia. Many ancient eastern traditions have utilized tools such as mindfulness, meditation, and compassion to affect neuroplasticity. No matter what cultural terminology you would like to use, western neuroscience and eastern philosophy have come to the same conclusion. Through the conscious application of certain practices, we can begin to change our brains (and therefore our lives). What follows are a few steps that can help anyone benefit from the principles of neuroplasticity:

1. Begin a daily practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is a term used in spiritual and non-spiritual circles alike that simply means “paying attention”. The act of paying attention is essentially just focused concentration. We consciously activate areas of our frontal lobe that are normally active when we are totally immersed in some activity. The easiest, and hardest, way to begin to practice mindfulness is through meditation. Sit for five minutes twice a day in stillness, actively concentrating on your breath as it travels in through your nose, deep into your chest, and out again through your nose. It might feel to you that you should really be paying attention to the thoughts that are flitting in and out of your mind. This is not what you want to focus on. Those thoughts are distractions. Focus on your breath instead.

2. Experience compassion. If you can do this daily, that is a plus. If not, find at least three times a week where you can sit in stillness, but rather than meditating as described above, focus on the feeling of compassion. When was a time you felt deep compassion for someone else? What was going on? What made you feel compassionate, and how did it make your body feel? End this exercise by feeling compassion for yourself. In what areas of your life do you most need compassion? How would you express compassion to yourself, if you were your own best friend?

3. Practice change. Pick one habit this week you do regularly, automatically, that you would like to change. Is it automatically reaching for your phone to check email, Facebook,  or texts several times a day? Is it binge eating after work, late in the evenings? Is it ruminating over some thought that is disturbing you? Once you identify the habit, sit quietly and imagine yourself doing it. Visualize clearly, as if you were watching yourself on a big movie screen, what you look like as you are engaging in this habit. What is your facial expression and body posture? What is going on around you? How much time elapses? Notice how it feels to be watched while you engage in this habit. Become aware of your body in the present moment, as it is responding to the mental images of yourself. Once you can identify how your body feels in this present moment, begin to change the image. Imagine that while in the midst of engaging in the habit, you become aware of what you are doing, and stop. You either put your phone away and focus on a task that needs completing, or you put down the bag of chips and go for a walk outdoors, or you snap yourself out of obsessive thoughts and move on to something else. See yourself on the movie screen stop the habit and move onto something more productive. Stay with this image long enough until you notice your body responding to this new image. What does it feel like, and how has it changed from before? Really notice any subtle shifts in your posture, tension or relaxation of muscles, and your overall energy levels. Stay with this awareness for as long as you would like, for as long as it takes to sink in. And make the conscious effort that at least once this week, when you find yourself engaging in the habit you chose to examine for this exercise, you will follow through with your visualization of changing that behavior.

There are more techniques that can be used, but for most people, these three will be enough and can offer rich rewards when engaged in regularly. The key to all of them is consistency. You want to begin making these practices a part of your daily, or at least weekly, routine so that you give your brain the stimulation it needs to change. It is quite normal to feel an effortless commitment to these new practices during the first two weeks, only to feel your motivation taper off afterward. But stick with it, and you will find that even fifteen minutes of these pracices a few times a week is enough to start seeing change.

The change that you are seeing outwardly in your life is only possible because inwardly your brain is actually starting to change its structure. Take that as reinforcement that your hard work is paying off. You are worth the investment.

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spirituality and health coming together

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