Saturday, April 30, 2011

Everything Ever.

"If you want to think about consciousness, perplexity is necessary—mind-boggling, brain-hurting, I-can't-bear-to-think-about-this-stupid-problem-anymore perplexity...if you do not wish your brain to hurt stop reading now or choose a more tractable problem to study." - Susan Blackmore
Good. Excedrin on the ready, and here I go...

A few days ago, I heard two lectures given by Zen Buddhist teacher and author, David R. Loy. I'd read and enjoyed his book, Money, Sex, War, Karma: Notes for a Buddhist Revolution, and was eagerly looking forward to his presentation, and the opportunity for a Q&A session.
This book addresses the three "poisons," or "unwholesome roots," in Buddhist terms, of "evil," in Western terms. These are defined in Buddhism as; 1) greed, 2) ill-will, and 3) delusion. Basically, these are the forces that cause suffering (or dukha, in Buddhist terms). This is a fundamentally radical difference from the way we, in western society, have been taught to understand the cause of suffering: the understanding that we are victims to our environment and that suffering is some part of our circumstance that is unpleasant, and over which we have power to change. However, the fundamental problem, or challenge, is not something outside of ourselves, as Loy says, "the nature of an unawakened mind is to be bothered by something."

Buddhist teaching outlines three different forms of dukha; 1) physical and mental suffering, 2) impermanence and, 3) conditioned states, or the "constructedness of all our experience, including the experience of self." This is referring to the realization that what we call self, is no more than a collection of habits; the ways we tend to feel, think, act, motivate, etc., and all of those things are shaped by societal forces and change. We think of the self as something that has thoughts and does things, when in reality, the self is constructed in the process of creating the neural pathways of those thoughts and actions. Thus, they are not what is essential about ourselves. This sense of self creates a world-view in which I am something separate and independent from you and the rest of the world. I am inside me, and the world is outside there. Us vs. Them. Good vs. Evil. => Duality.

According to Buddhist tradition, this is an illusion, and further, it is the greatest delusion. Loy says that the problem is not that there is a sense of self, Buddhism isn't saying to get rid of the self, or the sense of self. The problem is that we believe in the illusion of a separate self, we try to make that self more real, we get attached to it. Buddhism is urging us to see through that sense of separation, realize it's constructedness and move beyond it.

And here's the really cool part. If the sense of self is a construct (if the Buddhist theory holds true), then it can be reconstructed. We can change.

Part of this reconstruction requires that we engage in a process of deconstruction, and Buddhist thought foretells that this process of deconstruction (meditation), results, ideally, in the realization of shunyata, "derive[d] from the root shu, which means "swollen" in both sense: not only the swollenness of a blown-up balloon, but also the swollenness of an expectant woman, pregnant with possibility. So a more accurate translation of shunyata would be: emptiness/fullness."

Okay, now hold that thought.

Today, I went to a workshop in what is called Developmental Movement Therapy (DMT). This is a therapy based on research that shows that reflexes and early childhood movement (including everything from the birthing process, to crawling to play) have a vital part to play in neurological development. Further, it is known in psychology, biology, and neuroscience that the development of the brain, the reinforcement of neural synapses, creates and shapes who we are. That is to say, the collection of habitual ways of thinking, feeling, perceiving and being are defined by those neural connections. In DMT, a trained professional assesses an individual client based on a complete history starting from in utero, and conducts a battery of tests focusing on mobility, language skills, manual dexterity, visual and auditory development and tactile experiences. These would lead to some program regimen to be practiced daily by the client to fully recover perhaps lost skills (from injury or illness), or even to recover skills that hadn't yet been able to develop (as from birthing or early trauma). Bette Lamont, a DMT practitioner since 1986 said, "we are whole by nature, and if we become less than whole, we can recreate our wholeness."

Okay. Remember that thought from way up there^?

We are, by nature, whole (or empty (but it doesn't matter which word we use because it's all the same!)) And we have the capacity to recreate our "selves," because the self is nonexistent. With me? Now, as we said earlier, we don't want to get rid of the self, we just need to move beyond our attachment to it. If we can recognize that while I am not different from you, the concept of self-hood is important because it allows me to go to my job, take care of my body, drive my car, sleep with my boyfriend- not yours, and thus keeps us safely operating within other social constructs that are important for the smooth operation of society as a whole.

Additionally, DMT addresses the context of a self: literally the environment into which we are born, the social attitudes in which we are raised, child-raising practices utilized, beliefs that develop over the course of a lifetime, injuries and illnesses- all effect neurological development, and thus the creation of self- it dictates what kind of self we develop.
There are numbers upon numbers of examples Bette gave throughout the workshop (that is continuing tomorrow and two weeks from now- EXCITED!) about the multidimensional recoveries of clients (aged 3 months-90 years) of physical abilities and emotional capacities.

The basis of DMT operates on the observations that reflexes are useful in certain stages of development, and once they are no longer useful they are diminished, or integrated in the central nervous system (CNS). If, due to some trauma or interruption, the reflexes are prevented from completion, or integration, then the reflexes remain and impair further physical, and neurological development. What has also been observed, is that certain emotional milestones coincide with the completion and integration of these reflexes and neurological synapses. Thus, if the reflex is interrupted, not only are the physical and neurological processes impeded, but the emotional development is impaired.

So, what have we learned?
The self is nonexistent. The self is a construct. The self is an important construct. The self can be reconstructed. We can intentionally reconstruct the self through movement. Reconstructing the self recovers physical and emotional skills. Reconstructing the self liberates the soul.

Yep, it's all connected.. my head hurts.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Healing Dimension

Healing involves a cooperation of multiple aspects of reality. The physical (the body, the so-called "real-world" restraints like jobs, family obligations, schedules etc.), emotional content, and cognitive processes (including belief systems, expectations, and thought patterns) are all implicated in periods of dis-ease or illness. There may be certain exercises or drugs that help to alleviate some of the expressions of illness that are most easily observable, and often the most pertinent to people; things like pain, fever, distracting thoughts or imagery (often in the case of depression, PTSD, OCD, Eating Disorders, or other primarily mental/emotional ailments) can, and in many cases, I would argue, should be attended to in a medical approach. I certainly would not be where I am today without the help I was afforded with medical intervention.

However, this should not, and let me clarify, cannot be the only treatment method, if the goal is healing for true health. Without a holistic approach of health, healing, and illness, mainstream medical treatments only serve to push health further from reach; out of sight, out of mind. The aspects of illness and disease that are treated in the medical field are the symptoms of bigger issues; they are the messengers telling us that something is wrong. Simply ameliorating the symptom, is just muting the messenger before the message is spoken.

Pip Waller discusses in her book, Holistic Anatomy, the dangers of treating mild fevers in children on the basis that the fever, in most cases, is a message, and using Tylenol or Asprin as a "treatment" for the cold, is hugely detrimental for the child in the long run.

Any therapy or technique that claims to "cure" any ailment without a holistic philosophy that incorporates the physical, emotional, and mental integration strikes me as a hoax- it's just not that easy.

Robert Waggoner, President-elect of the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD) and a graduate of Drake University with a degree in psychology, who has done incredible scholarly work in the area of lucid dreaming, lectured today at my school. One of the many incredible stories he told today left me both in awe, and a bit uneasy. Waggoner recounted the story of a woman who had been admitted into the hospital for open heart surgery due to mitral valve failure. However, the surgery had caused a significant amount of draining around her heart, and she lay in a hospital bed for 10 days with hoses in her chest channeling the drainage out of her heart cavity. After the 10th day, she had a dream in which she become consciously aware of being in a dream state (ie, lucid dreaming). It is at this point, that she lucidly makes the decision to heal herself. Here is the woman's own description of her dream: (
“I look down at my dream body and pull the hospital gown open. There are the four tubes, and I can see the fluid draining out of them into my “briefcase”[drainage collection device] beside the bed . . . I concentrate on the tubes and slowly the draining fluid starts turning into different colored flowers. The tubes pull out of the briefcase and wave slowly back and forth in the air in front of me, like octopus tentacles. Then flowers are pouring out of them, floating gently in the air, until I am surrounded by color and soft flower petals. Other colorful things flow from the tubes, like hearts and balloons and ribbons. I laugh and smile and enjoy the show."
The next morning, to the surprise of the doctors, the drainage had stopped, the tubes were removed, and the woman was discharged.

There are many, many more stories like this. I was amazed, having heard stories of energetic healing, having experienced psychosomatic healing, but never to such an effect as this or in such a short time frame. I was simultaneously baffled. How did the physiological changes take place? How did she access the interface between waking reality and dream reality? And why did it work? It seemed too easy.

Despite the fact that I cannot personally and thoroughly explain the physiological changes outside some limited knowledge of anatomy and the processes of cellular and tissue repair, I can draw on my understanding of the relationship between our beliefs and the physical structure of our cells to help piece together how this healing process may have more to it than it may seem at first.

First of all, this woman was a practicing lucid dreamer, meaning she had trained herself to recognize when she was dreaming, and stopped the automatic reactions we often have in dreams and engaged, instead, in being critically aware of her dream-state. In that state, she was able to direct her dreams and access an alternative realm of consciousness, outside of the confines of space and time as we know them. In order to do this, she must have made the initial "leap of faith" in believing that she could, that it was possible to access that realm of consciousness. Waggoner spoke about the requirements for lucid dreaming; stating that it is important to be able to control one's emotions after becoming lucid so as not to "shake oneself out of the dream," to maintain focus on being in a dream so as not to simply fall back to passive dreaming, and to express the intent of your lucid dreaming; what do you want to accomplish, do, or learn? In order to achieve a successful lucid dream, this woman had to have the emotional control, the focus, and the intent to heal herself all operating against the flow of passive dreaming.

It is in the process of achieving the level of skill in lucid dreaming to be able to affect healing for herself that the cognitive and emotional aspects of healing come into play, and with the strength of those skills, she was able to transform her physical reality. We know, based on the physics and quantum physics of biochemistry that thoughts and beliefs can and do impact the physical structure of our cells. Bruce Lipton's Biology of Belief goes into detail about the means of these processes. By the power of the emotional and mental effort of this woman, she was able to drastically change her physical state of health through her lucid dream. No doubt there will be future work for her to continue to nourish, challenge, and balance herself physically, mentally and emotionally to maintain her holistic health.

I wonder if this realm of consciousness of the dream-state is a potential foundation for true healing- a platform we all have the capacity to achieve. To take a conscious and critically aware stance in this dream-state realm may open more doors and windows into the nature of consciousness and reality than we could foresee.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

DOC: Charting the Course

Today was my second excursion into “the real world” for my community based learning aspect of my project. I am volunteering at the Natural Health Clinic of Olympia, which is an office of naturopathic physicians, massage therapists and acupuncturists. The naturopathic physicians are primary care providers, and so, like any doctor’s office, there are file cabinets full of paper work: Charts.

I had never seen a “chart” before. At least, not in the medical sense. In fact, I’d always imagined they were gridded… you know, like charts… If you are unfamiliar, as I was, with charts- they are more akin to a manila folder of sorts, with papers organized in various ways; prescriptions here, insurance/billing info here, lab work here, etc.

Seeing them, organizing and filing them for an hour and a half opened the door to understanding the medical world and the health industry just a little bit more. And, allowed me to link this with literacy in two ways:

1) One can be “chart illiterate”- and I won’t venture (yet) to say that I’m not.

2) If a condition goes undiagnosed (i.e. WRITTEN down), it is not accepted, and further, if a prescription or diagnosis is missing from your chart, it is not a part of your “self,” in the Dr.’s perspective certainly, and most likely, not in your perspective, either, considering the pedestal upon which we place Dr.s so frequently, and how physically they shape our existence.

Lesson of the day: Charts are not on graphing paper.

Monday, April 18, 2011

You're Full of It

I walked through the forest and onto the shore of the Puget Sound by moonlight, and through the trees, I could see the moon, shining in all Her glory just on the rim of a cloud. Light shone humbly through the trees, gently guiding my footsteps through the mud. And as I stepped onto the beach, I saw the water, calm and peacefully offering me a reflection of Her. I looked up at the moon. She is big tonight, powerful and enchanting. I almost could not bear to move my eyes away from Her. And I thought, how much I'd love to take your hand and walk through this forest, to guide you to the shore and sleep beneath the moon. I thought, Her beauty and her force in the universe drives me forward, and it drives me to you. Her power is something beyond words- this lack of words is a feeling I'm becoming ever more familiar with.

Love, too, is a powerful force.

Thank the god and the goddess for the moon, for love, and for the words that never give up in trying to express those things which are beyond form.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Orissi, Polka, Hora, Tango- whatever...

"Hard times require furious dancing."

There are billions of cells in the human body, constantly adapting to the temperature changes, the changes in acidity, the pains that come and go, the memories that flood the body, the sensory stimuli, and all manner of things going on throughout the body, mind, spirit, and external environment. We are constantly engaging with new experiences, be it internally or externally. We experience our environment through our bodies; sounds through the ears, visual stimuli through the eyes, taste through the tongue, etc. All these
stimuli are perceived by chemical and electrical signals in the body from one cell to the next- from sense organ to brain. Now, let's make a distinction here between mind and brain (and you know how much I hate distinctions). The brain refers to the anatomical, physiological gobbley-gook of neurons that looks like gray spaghetti. There is a general consensus in the scientific community that the brain is one of the most complex areas of study in the human body. The mind, however, is not as simple. There is an old story in Zen tradition where a student tells his master that he has no peace of mind. His master responds by saying, "Point and show me your mind and I will pacify it for you." Confused, with one finger extended, his student, doesn't know where to point, and says, "I can't find it!" He realizes that the mind is intangible, the master responds, "Then it is already pacified."

The mind is not a physical entity, it is without boundaries, and it is outside of the realm of space. The mind is the capacity for connection, it is the act of connecting image-to-image, image to feeling, person to person, and it is the network of those connections. The mind is the composite of maps made by the brain of images from our environments, signals and messages sent and received in the body and between body and environment. These maps incorporate the information of the raw stimulus, the way in which that stimulus was received, and the other maps with which this map overlaps.
The chemical and electrical signals that communicate the external world to the brain are simultaneously or sequentially being sent to the rest of the body. The body responds to these signals with alterations in cell structure, responsiveness, and release and/or absorption of certain specific chemicals. These cellular adjustments to the information of stimulus cause further adjustments in other cells, and etc, etc, until an equilibrium has been regained. The subjective experience of those cellular responses is the emotion. The emotion is drawn into the map of experience of that stimulus.

One of the things included in that map is the position of the body when stimulus struck. Now obviously
, for most experiences, that is not a static image (we move), and those movements, from the cellular level are mapped into the mind's image of our experiences. The cellular adjustments to stimuli also influence our body's physiology (tension in muscles, change in metabolic rate, temperature, etc., which are also mapped. So in the future, our mind can re-engage maps or parts of maps and does, all the time. However, in -re-engaging maps, we may also be re-engaging emotions, as well as physical tensions that become tendencies, and then become habits, and then become a part of our personalities. We develop chronic tightness in the shoulders, for instance, after a particularly traumatic experience that we keep reliving in various situations, until one day, with mindful awareness (and possibly under the guidance of a professional), we can slowly allow the tension to dissolve, as we rediscover the roots of the tension, and work towards a mental and emotional equilibrium. This is often referred to as the “memory of the body” (for more information seen The Body Remembers by Rothschild), and this kind of therapy is often engaged in somatic psychotherapy, and also in trauma therapies.

Alice Walker’s collection of poetry is titled, Hard Times Require Furious Dancing
, and in her recent work, Overcoming Speechlessness, she refers tells the story of working with CODEPINK and being in commu
nity with Palestinian women in 2006 on the Gaza Strip. She testifies to the stressful and heart-wrenching journey even to get there, and then she takes the reader through the pain, sorrow and incredible connection to women in tragedy. After sitting and listening to these women recount their suffering and supporting one another in the fact that they have survived it, all the women “went across the hall to a big common room where music was turned up full volume… Sitting didn’t last. Without preamble [Alice Walker] was pulled to [her] feet by several women at once, and the dance was on. Sorrow, loss, pain, suffering, all pounded into the floor for over an hour. Sweat flowing, wails and tears around the room. And then, the rising that always comes from such dancing; the sense of joy, unity, solidarity, and gratitude to be in the best place one could be on earth, with sisters who have experienced the full measure of disaster and have the heart to rise above it. The feeling of love was immense. The ecstasy, sublime. [Alice Walker] was conscious of exchanging and receiving Spirit in the dance… this Spirit that knows how to dance in the face of disaster, will never be crushed. It is as timeless as the wind. We think it is only inside our bodies, but we also inhabit it. Even when we are unaware of its presence internally, it wears us like a cloak.”

This is a testimony to the power of movement to awaken within us that Spirit which we inhabit, and that heals. It is the power to unlock the maps in the brain that allow for emotions of love to flow through the body, and which are a necessity in the exchange and in the receiving of Spirit.

We are constantly dancing. The cells within our bodies dancing with each other, with other substances, dancing in a balance with the maps of our minds, our minds dancing with the brain, the brain with the body, and body with environment. So really, all times require furious dancing.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Pacific Northwest: When it Rains, it Pours...

When I missed registration for classes when the quarter started, I went into freak-out mode big time. There were tears, there were moments I thought that if I didn't get a hold of my breathing, I would have a panic attack, there was the overarching umbrella of fear, uncertainty and despair. But there was also a dose of faith, small though it was, it was there.

That night, my dad recounted to me a quote from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a lesson in perspective: "...and as he drove on, the rain clouds dragged down the sky after him for, though he did not know it, Rob McKenna was a Rain God. All he knew was that his working days were miserable and he had a succession of lousy holidays. All the clouds knew was that they loved him and wanted to be near him, to cherish him and to water him."
And now, two weeks into the quarter at school, I've been admitted into a program in which I didn't think there was space for me, and I've been assigned to a professor in another class who is more than willing to work with me on an independent project. Not only that, but I'd also hoped (before being admitted into the program I'm in) to take a Developmental Movement Therapy class and had approached several health clinics looking for volunteer opportunities- all to no avail. Until today- when the professor of the DMT class asked if I would be interested in taking (or auditing) the class, and the Natural Health Clinic contacted me about volunteering.

You know what they say about the Pacific Northwest...
When it rains, it pours!

although the weather has been looking brighter these days, too...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Stranger Than Fiction

I've written about language in this blog before, but I'd like to revisit a thought;
The construction of communication begins with a sensation, a feeling or an experience; then whatever biases, previous experiences and emotional attachments shape the energy generated by that experience to then be translated into thoughts using whatever language we've happened to be exposed to. Then, it gets really crazy. Whomever we've been speaking to, then filters, subconsciously, what we've said using their own biases, previous experiences and emotional attachments to translate the words we've chosen into energy (a thought, or new belief) that is usually completely different from the sensation or belief we began with, and had wanted to share.
[I heard an expert on ancient Sanskrit texts speak the other day about how careful we must be to take responsibility for what we hear. He told us we did not have permission to quote him, we only had permission to say, "I heard Salvatore Zambito say..." because he had been confronted so many times with accusations of things he hadn't said, but had only been heard saying.]
An example:
My father used to encourage myself and my sister in making difficult moral choices by telling us, "The right thing is usually the thing that's hard to do." However, my sister and I had both, somewhere along the line, developed the belief pattern that we were undeserving of certain things, and that pleasure and joy were not intended for us. Thus, we translated my father's advice into the belief that the thing that is hard to do is the right thing to do.

One of the results of this, is that I've developed a very hard time reading fiction. Fiction to me, has felt like a waste of time, a luxury I can't afford, decadent and useless. I do, however, LOVE to read. I love to read books that inform me. Stories of made up people make me anxious, and it has felt to me, only a step or two above reality T.V.

Cut now, to the chase: I'm reading Mists of Avalon, the Arthurian myth. And it's great. But it is not of my own accord. The Mists is required reading for a course called, Dance of Consciousness, and at first I was wondering, "Why in the world are we reading THIS," but I'm beginning to see through self-awareness as I read, how my consciousness is altered. And although, I had taken great pride in my aversion to fiction, thinking myself too sophisticated for make-believe stories, (I remember laying at the beach with a friend who was reading the Gossip Girls series, while I read about the contributions of quantum physics to medicine in The Biology of Belief, by Bruce Lipton (a phenomenal read that changed the course of my life, by the way)) I find myself now, unable to put the Mists down.

I think, it has something to do with the book being required of me- my own value in education, trust in my professor, and my work ethic are all working against my aversion to fiction and, lo and behold- it has lead to my appreciate of it!

I have been reading for about a week now, and am about 250 pages deep. The first night I read, I was up until 2 in the morning- without having noticed it (and my friends have nicknamed me grandma for my early sleeping schedule!). Despite my usual habit of having background music play while I work, I felt compelled (after discussing with a friend the effects of multitasking on the brain) to read in silence, which, after several minutes of reading, was suddenly filled with the voice of my imagination, narrating the scenes, hearing the sounds of the story; it wasn't silent anymore.

And as I read the words that echo feminist thought twisted with white-supremacist tradition, the words whose shadows fall over centuries of telling and retelling, I could see the words' foreshadows into their future- my present moment, and the truths of this mythical world supposed to have existed millennia ago, seem to be true for me, now, too.