Grounded


I add this post written by Lissa Rankin, MD…because she writes well and with passion about health and wellness. 

As a doctor, I always thought that, to be healthy, you simply had to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, take your vitamins, and follow doctor’s orders. But after twelve years of education and ten years of medical practice, I took a job at an integrative medicine practice in Marin County near San Francisco, where most of my patients were “health nuts” doing everything right- but some of them were sicker than ever. I was baffled. I mean, these folks drank their daily green juice, ate a vegan diet, worked out with personal trainers, slept eight hours a night, took their vitamins, and saw the best doctors.

Compare this to when I worked in a clinic where many of my patients were from the inner city of Chicago. I understood why they were sick. They ate poorly, rarely exercised, smoked, drank, didn’t listen to the doctor, and got sick. That made sense to me.

But the patients in Marin didn’t. From everything I had learned in medical school, these people should have been in perfect health. But many of my patients felt tired, they weren’t sleeping well, their libido went down the tubes, their bodies ached, they gained weight, they suffered from a host of chronic medical conditions- they lost their mojo really.

So, I tried to help my patients by running batteries of tests – some of them common, some of them specialized. And, yes, sometimes I’d pick up something surprising that, would rid my patient of all his or her symptoms. But mostly, I’d find nothing earth-shattering and wind up shrugging my shoulders. It was clear that there was still a big, missing piece of the health puzzle missing. I just couldn’t figure out what it was.

So I changed my patient intake form. I started asking them things like:

  • Is anything keeping you from being the most authentic, vital you?
  • Are you in a romantic relationship? If so, are you happy? If not, do you wish you were?
  • Are you fulfilled at work? Do you feel like you’re in touch with your life purpose?
  • Do you express yourself creatively?
  • Do you feel financially healthy or is money a stressor in your life?
  • What rules do you follow that you would wish you could break?

And the two big doozies:

• What might lie at the root cause of your health condition?
• What does your body need in order to heal?

When I asked my patients what their bodies needed in order to heal, they said things like:
• I need to leave my toxic relationship
• I need to quit my job
• I need to forgive my father
• I need to finally write my novel

The patients who had the courage to follow their own “Prescriptions” started experiencing radical improvements in their health. It was as if by healing their emotional landscapes, their bodies followed! I was hooked. My new book Mind Over Medicine is the result of the exploration that followed into what really makes us healthy and what really predisposes us to illness.

What does YOUR body need in order to heal?

Conscious thoughts today. Conscious (noticing with a degree of controlled thought or observation) thoughts (an action or a process of thinking) today (this segment of time). Conscious of the mind chatter that starts up with the habit of remembering, planning and thinking almost as soon as I bring my awareness to the moment. The Zen saying “gate-less gate” is at once a “thing” to pass through in our mind and also a “no-thing” that acts as distractions to our own heightened awareness.

I am reading about meditation today because I am starting a meditation group that will meet each month in the new moon window this year. I am “re-minding” myself of the different paths through the gate-less gate. I have experienced this type of connection through prayer at church, through listening to or singing music in a large music hall or around a campfire, through backpacking on the Appalachian trail, through workshops and lectures, and through my integrative medicine fellowship.

There is no single path through the gate-less gate for anyone. I hope to explore several approaches and techniques and allow the participants to practice a few of them. The benefit of meditation for me has always been a clearer focus and a lighter mood. David Fontana PhD writes in his book, “Learn to Mediate: A Practical Guide to Self-Discovery and Fulfillment”:

There are four different levels of thinking. The first and lowest level is negative thought, which includes feelings of anger, fear, sadness, regret and unease. Negative thought makes us egotistical and lazy. The second level is wasteful thought, when we waste our time worrying about things that might not happen, or about things that are outside our control. the third level is necessary thought, such as “I must not forget to pay the electricity bill” or “I must remember to send a birthday card”. the highest level is positive thought, which encourages peace, harmony, creativity, love and happiness. In meditation we can free our minds from negative and wasteful thoughts and elevate them to the highest level.

There is science behind this thought dichotomy, too. HeartMath uses the combination of breath work, focused breathing and the addition of a positive thought or memory or feeling to achieve coherence in heart rate variability – a physiologic state which has shown to decrease anxiety, lower blood pressure and improve healing.

So I explore conscious thoughts today. Join me at Living Well Dallas on Monday, January 23rd for the first “Monthly Meditations in the New Moon Window”. Whether you are new to meditation or a seasoned meditator, please feel welcomed to our group. We will begin promptly at 7pm, so please plan to arrive 10 to 15 minutes early so you can be settled and comfortable.

Just read a great blog post about approaching our lives as women in a balanced and thoughtful way….read the post here
may grace shine on all of us.

How do you know when there is something wrong with your health? Are you suddenly struck by a doctor’s diagnosis? I get the sense that people plug along on auto-pilot and then suddenly get blind-sided by a lab test or x-ray result.

We recently had the freezer thermostat replaced in our kitchen refrigerator. We noticed that the refrigerator wasn’t as cold as it had been. As I called to find a repair person, I was struck by the not-so-helpful operator on the 800 Amana customer service line. After the model number and serial number questions, there were questions like: “have you stacked the food in front of the fan?” and “did you just buy groceries?” As you can imagine, since this was the week before the Thanksgiving holiday, the answer to both questions was yes. When I assured her that I could tell that this was NOT just the refrigerator coming into balance after a shopping trip, that I could tell the refrigerator was not working correctly, she reluctantly offered an appointment the next day. I was put off by her doubts and reluctant to lose several hundred dollars of food, so I declined the appointment and ultimately found a local person that diagnosed the problem and fixed it the same day.

My point is that our body gives us lots of warning signs and messages. Sometimes the messages are the four cardinal signs of inflammation from the ancient writings of Celsus (30 BCE – 38 AD) with the latin words dolor (pain), calor (heat) rubor (redness) and tumor (swelling) that were augmented by Galen (129 – 200 AD), who added the fifth sign functio laesa (loss of function). And sometimes we just recognize a gradual shift in energy or mood or stamina.

Like any conversation, we don’t know there is an issue unless we listen. Just stop and listen. A quiet room, a comfortable chair or bed and an inner inventory from head to toe…what do you hear? What is different? What has shifted?

And then with whom do you share what you’ve learned? Is it a not-so-helpful professional like the Amana customer service operator? Do they cause you to doubt in your awareness and sense of your own body? Do they have time to listen to what you are saying?

 

Of course it was the economy. And the globalization of world companies. And the recession. 2008 touched just about everyone I know. It touched my family and the net result is that I moved over 900 miles this summer to “start over” professionally in Dallas, Texas. My husband had already moved to start his new job, so I addressed the “to-do” checklist like the methodical list-maker that I am: Get the house ready to sell. (clear seventeen years of STUFF out of that basement and fix and paint those cracks in the walls!) Find a job. Get a Texas medical license. Look at my responsibilities and hand over the reigns to someone new.  Notify my patients and arrange for follow-up. You get the idea. It was a hectic and difficult year.

I left family and friends, a medical practice and professional colleagues that I respected and loved, a choir I enjoyed, a non-profit that I founded and a city that I had lived in longer than any other place in my life. Some people do this all the time. Moving is part of their corporate employment’s expectation; part of the culture of their work environment. It is not a part of mine. I explore life balance with people and learn to work with them over time on emotional, mental, physical and spiritual health. My work doesn’t come from within me – it comes through me. The affirmation that I repeat on a daily basis is “I trust the power of love working through me”. I do this best when I’m grounded.

So getting grounded is what I’m doing more than anything right now. Here’s my approach to getting grounded from an elemental point of view:

1)    Air – the mental realm – my attitude is important. As soon as we knew we were moving, I started making a list of people and places and things that we had found in Dallas that we enjoyed. Our favorite spice shop, a café with live music, the oriental art museum, an amazing realtor – and the list goes on. I consciously focused on my breath, my life force energy, as it came in to me breath by breath.

2)    Earth – the physical realm – this is the details of our home, the little creek in the backyard and the collection of bunnies and birds and geckos that share it with us. Just as we moved in, the nest of baby wrens in the birdhouse under the eaves became vocal. We had a front row seat at feeding times and got to watch them venture out on their own for the first time. We moved from Ohio just as the temperature outside here hit 100 degrees and stayed there for over two weeks, so a lot of the bird watching has been done from indoors as we wait for cooler weather. I am organizing and unpacking and decorating our home. It’s not going to be finished until we sell our Ohio house and have the capital to change a few things, but we’re cool, we’re dry and we’re protected.

3)    Water – the emotional realm – has been the hardest to work with, I confess. I lean a lot on my family and friends. I’m handling the details at home and paying the bills – and as we’re waiting for our other house to sell, it is a challenge to acknowledge the financial fear without staying in it. On the other hand, our marriage is easier in the same zip code. There’s time to talk. (this morning we were listening to the rain on the skylights together and he told me that the only other place in our solar system that it appears to rain is Saturn’s moon, Titan. Of course, it doesn’t rain water there…) There’s time to dream.

4) Fire – The element of fire is the action realm. The to-do lists, the initiative to learn blogging. The creative work and the insights that have shown up. I have had to ramp up fire energy a lot lately. I know it only thrives when I keep the emotional water in balance and acknowledged.

Getting grounded makes life flow. One breath at a time.

Until the next post, be well!