Essence: Intuition 1

>>>Why are we looking out instead of in??<<<

Sun shining through the clouds...

Sun shining through the clouds...

“Look within, you are the world” ~ Jiddu Krishamutri

I took a dive. I wanted to connect to that inner voice and I wasn’t sure how to hear her. So I dove in – private meditation classes, Reiki attunement, sugar cleanse, crystals and ‘habit free’. And it worked...to a degree. While today, as I write this, I feel less than enlightened, I can also look back to a month where most days I felt both calm and energized, relaxed and less reactive; and most significantly, I had more empathy for both myself and others.

So why am I no longer on cloud 9? I would like to tell myself that it is unsustainable – that crystal clear mind and calm sense of self – but I think, in reality, I got cocky. I was loving the *high* of clean living but I started slipping from my practices. I opened my diet to dark chocolate and soon one  post-meal square became half a bar; I missed morning meditation; indulged in social cocktails. None of these behaviors are intrinsically bad, but as I said, I got cocky. I didn’t take a day without chocolate; I didn’t appreciate my late nights and plan quiet, early to bed evenings. Instead I kept loving the high vibrational frequency of my mind, feeling invincible, ignoring my new afternoon coffee requirement and difficulty dragging myself out of bed in the mornings. After one week of discounting the body and I crashed into days of headaches, congested sinuses and overall exhaustion. I’m just recovering and feel that my month of ‘high vibbing’ was perhaps a mirage.

As I sit contemplating how to reinstate the deeper connection with inner self I am reminded of a lesson that served me over the past month – grounding. The first meditation technique that one learns in Intuitive Meditation (of course I chose to do intuitive training!) is to ground down into the core of the earth. To feel dynamically connected to this source, fuelling your energy and releasing your blockages. I found that before seeing challenging patients, giving presentations or having emotionally charged discussions, I would ground my energy downwards into my belly, my legs towards the core of the earth. This simple technique alone would really calm my mind and clarify my intentions.

The process of grounding helped me recognize how often my energy is whirling away in my upper body and head. When I grounded my energy, my mind became clearer and I felt more relaxed. When I skipped this practice, I would notice more tightness in my chest and racing of my heart when confronting challenges, and cyclical thoughts with no end.

This chatter of thought was a new recognition as well. We are all familiar with that voice in our heads. Sometimes it is our stream of consciousness, the first person approach, thinking or day-dreaming away. Other times it can converse with us – “where did I put that?” “Where did you last have it?” “I think I last saw it in the coffee shop…” I honestly did not notice the chatter of my mind until Sam Harris, in his book Waking Up, pointed out the ceaseless nature of this voice; and I learnt that our mind can have up to 70,000 thoughts per day. As I sat in deeper, longer meditations (assisted by my grounding techniques), I recognized more space in between these thoughts, as well as the hum of my inner being that existed beyond them. In the day-to-day reality, the biggest shift this afforded me was a huge decrease in what I have termed ‘future thinking’.

I am a natural planner. As a child I had clear concepts of what I wanted my adult life to look like. As a young traveller I spent countless hours analyzing how my spiritual quest across India would best be mapped out. Little did I realize that India slapping me around the country with little regard for my plans would be a lesson that I would only recognize almost 10 years later. As a medical student and resident, I would relax and ‘zone out’ by making lists of social plans and personal goals that I would then try to map into my busy schedule. My father’s recent cancer diagnosis gave me the first jolt towards recognizing that our sense of narrative control is greatly flawed. The past month of intuitive practice has clarified this for me. It has made me realize that I was using future thinking to escape my now; I was not overly attached to the future plans I was dreaming, I just wasn’t finding satisfaction in the moment, I was craving more than to just be. What Sam Harris pointed out to me, is that craving or wanting is really fleeting, and being comfortable in the present can be much more fulfilling if you can disconnect from the monologue.

“The reality of your life is always now. And to realize this, we will see, is liberating…But we spend most of our lives forgetting this truth- overlooking it, fleeing it, repudiating it. And the horror is that we succeed. We manage to avoid being happy while struggling to become happy, fulfilling one desire after the next, banishing our fears, grasping at pleasure, recoiling form pain – and thinking, interminably, about how best to keep the whole works up and running. As a consequence, we spend our lives being far less content than we might otherwise be. We often fail to appreciate what we have until we have lost it. We crave experiences, objects, relationships, only to grow bored with them. And yet the craving persists.” SH, Waking Up

For me, future thinking creates unnecessary anxiety. It puts me in planning mode and makes me feel compelled to make decisions or commitments far in advance. This was setting me up for further disconnection from the moment. I would have plans and obligations out of alignment with my momentary priorities because I had planned so far ahead of time.

As I begin to look at my next year ahead, starting in July after the completion of my fellowship, the thoughts start cycling. I feel anxious not knowing my future plans. During my month of intuitive introspection I came to realize that I want to take a few months to further my holistic and integrative side. I have always envisioned myself as a healer. Becoming a physician has given me important skills and a stable career, but I know my path is not complete. I am still lacking knowledge into how to heal the spirit, which I am recognizing as central to ones health more and more. While I am in between jobs I have felt drawn to take this time to focus on developing the healer within. However, this leaves me in a quandary – I am used to having a path, a plan, the next step set. Now I am off course, with no guide. My future thinking brain has been WHIRLING away, thinking, thinking, thinking, of next steps and future plans. Intuitively, I know that I have to be patient. I have to wait for the right opportunity offering itself to me. But when sick, and tired, with a layer of congestion separating me from the world, my mind wont stop, craving a plan, something it could think about and anchor a narrative.

Obviously, to succeed in this world and to fulfill goals and dreams, some planning and future thinking has to be done. I am contemplating the balance of what is necessary and superfluous. Being open to the message of my next chapter is a moment-to-moment challenge right now, but I am excited as it feels like a beginning of not only a new career path but a new phase of life. One where I can experience myself and my mind with more truth and clarity.

“What contemplatives throughout history have discovered is that there is an alternative to being continuously spellbound by the conversation we are having with ourselves; there is an alternative to simply identifying with the next thought that pops into consciousness. And glimpsing this alternative dispels he conventional illusion of the self” SH, Waking up

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Japanese symbol for Reiki

Japanese symbol for Reiki

 

 

 

 

 

New Year

Happy New Year! <Scroll past musing to see top picks of 2016>

for essence and muse.JPG

2016 started unassumingly. As the year went on momentum showed us the many hidden pressures building up and needing release (hello racial inequality, environmental drama, immigrants and terror). The past quarter has been characterized by shock and reflection personally, nationally and globally. 

In October when my father was diagnosed with a scary and aggressive illness I was exposed to the heaviness that can take over one's life - the kind that strips reality of superficiality and extraneous shit and focuses your mind, if you aren't sucked into the fear. Not long after, America also had a shocking diagnosis. While many were aware that there was sickness in the US, many had turned their gaze away from its spread; the prevalence of mistrust, misunderstanding, inequality and fear. 

Tuning in on 2017, I feel hopeful, both for my family and for our Western world. When people are diagnosed with a serious illness they can choose to deny; they can choose fear, focussing on scary statistics and side effects; or they can choose hope and resilience. For me, 2017 is about tuning into ourselves and getting reacquainted with our vitality.  I am hopeful that there will be more discourse on big thoughts and ideas;  communities coming together to understand each other's truth. There is no doubt that soulful introspection and feminine wisdom are on the rise, which can only help nourish and revitalize our bodies and souls, as well as our nations. 

Top Picks: articles and inspiration from 2016

Health        

 Aviva Romm, a functional medicine doctor, midwife and mother has an incredible podcast and blog. Check out Natural MD Radio http://avivaromm.com/category/natural-md-radio/

Parsley Health, a prominent example of a Functional Medicine subscription based medical centers that focusses on optimizing an individual’s health. The blog is great too! https://www.parsleyhealth.com/blog/

Sex & Relationships:: Esther Perel always does it for me. Modern marriage and getting into the mood, below…   

http://www.businessinsider.com/esther-perel-why-modern-marriage-is-so-hard-2016-8 http://www.estherperel.com/from-work-to-play/

Meditation & Mindfulness: Sara Auster’s sounds literally cleanse my energetic space and put me in a great mood!    http://saraauster.com/sounds/

Fitness: Taryn Toomey has the best energy and is bringing it these days https://www.wellandgood.com/tag/taryn-toomey/

Feminism on the upswing: Kelly Brogan, her work on functional psychiatry and supporting female power

Feminist poets making my instagram *wow*: Nayyirah Waheed, Rupi Kaur, Ysra Daley-Ward & Cleo Wade: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/rupi-kaur-instagram-activist-feminist-poet-everyone-needs-read

Mother / daughter colab inspiring women to love their unique bods and style http://stylelikeu.com/

Politics/tyranny/demagoguery

Huffington Post’s awesome collection of the most important articles by people of color in 2016 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/26-of-the-most-important-articles-by-people-of-color-in-2016_us_584ed5fae4b04c8e2bb0bc42?section=us_black-voices&

May 2016 pre-Trump era http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/04/america-tyranny-donald-trump.html

“we cannot understand this crisis because our dominant intellectual concepts and categories seem unable to process an explosion of uncontrolled forces.” https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/dec/08/welcome-age-anger-brexit-trump

Essence: Silence

                                            “Silence is a source of great strength” ~ Lao Tzu

(Thanks to Jonathan Kingston and Natgeo travel for this image)

(Thanks to Jonathan Kingston and Natgeo travel for this image)

My attempt to quietly contemplate led to this week's musing on the tug and pull of silence and sound. Seeking silence in New York. Seeking silence in my mind. Both felt impossible. To the point where I shifted my attention towards the seeking of quiet, which felt more tangible. In my aim to cultivate quiet in my life I was met with noise - the chatter of my mind, the blaring music of my neighbor's TV, the screech of the subway tracks, the talk, relentless around me. And there is the necessity to meet social expectations and to engage  (I’m quite chatty, did ya know?). 

I realized that I could not alter my surroundings, so I focused on my own mind. I turned to meditation to hamper the chatter. At first there was a lot of lists- to dos, to wears, to packs. The bell would chime at 10 minutes and the organization occurring in my brain would just be slowing down. So I stopped the timer and let myself sit.  At around the 15 minute mark my mind would tire. I could focus on my breath. I decided to try using sound to help focus my attention.  I found a subtle crystal bowl and gong meditation that lasted for 20 minutes. I sat, I focused on my breath , and experienced the sound vibrations interacting with the energy released from the atoms of my own being. At around minute 17 I met with something. Something familiar, but also profound. Something that was of me, but also older, wiser, timeless. In the quiet, I met my spirit and it was so strong and wise and... 'wow I'm meditating for real! What should I eat for lunch?' GONE. This glimpse of what was lying at the core of a quiet calm mind was encouraging, if also fleeting. 

I used to feel connected to my intuition, my inner wisdom and guide. I felt confident of decisions and allied with my true desires. After years of medical training my confidence has been degraded. I'm constantly reminded that to know something is to have proof; to be an expert demands countless hours of reading and years of experience. Like so many others in the field I became uncertain of anything except that which I have memorized, committed to memory, and studied thoroughly. What I used to feel intuitively I started to feel there had to be scientific evidence to prove. 

Doctors are largely under appreciated, considering the selfless hours they pour into helping their patient’s; however, despite their years of training and expertise in the workings of the human body, many are also a little broken and isolated, and completely out of tune with their spirit. Today, doctors do not seem like the only ones who are fractured and undernourished by our collective unconscious. Men are taught to be unemotional and tough; women are taught to be small and scared. Children are taught to conform instead of express and create. Maybe this is why people want and buy to fill a void; take from Mother Earth without thinking of sustenance or preservation. Some become powerful by control and fear; others willfully let themselves be controlled despite the human desire for integrity and authenticity. I don’t know the answer to the world’s problems.  All I know is that I saw my spirit guide for a brief moment and it felt good. I feel empowered and ready to connect again. To merge that quiet powerful force with the chatter box and grow towards my full potential – to face life's choices with less fear and confusion.

I went to The Big Quiet event today up in Harlem. Joining 1800 New Yorkers in a moment of meditation was incredible. After the meditation, there were performances by a number of musicians and singers. At one point a drum circle filled United Palace with soulful beats.  One man at the front of the venue stood up and started clapping and dancing wildly. My body wanted to join him in moving to the primal rhythm, but I was shy. I was on my own at the event, and not comfortable being solitary, dancing in my row alone. Slowly one by one people rose -  first as brave lone soles, then in groups. With the groups I stood, safe with the 25% of those standing to clap and sway with the beat. 

Lao Tzu said, “Silence is a source of great strength”. I had a glimpse of this strength within myself over these weeks of contemplation. It will take practice, patience and more quiet moments to connect more fully, but I’m dedicated. One day I want to be the first on my feet to dance to the beat of the drums.

Essence: Interconnected

" For all is like an ocean, all flows and connects; touch it in one place and it echoes at the other end of the world" ~ F. Dostoyevsky

One day before the US election results were out, I chose to focus our contemplation on a Dostoyevsky quote on interconnectedness. The next day my adoptive country was split. My new hometown of New York City was filled with shock, tears, anxiety and fear. All around the country people with identities diverting from a 20th century male Caucasian normative questioned their safety.

While it is scary to think about how fear and small mindedness has been strengthening across the globe, it has been healing to spend the last few weeks contemplating how diversity promotes synergy and strength.  It is undeniable that as humans our fates are irrevocably intertwined with one another and our environment. Basic proof of this is seen in scientific dioramas of how our weather systems work. Our world is a large ecosystem – the sea and the air influence one another. Atmosphere can warm the waters, and exchanges of heat cause pressure fields in the atmosphere. Hurricanes and storms feed on this transfer, and the El Nino is a perfect example of how a single weather system can affect the whole globe. On a positive side, the oceans are the reason why we have as temperate a climate as we do, allowing for transfer of precipitation onto land promoting the beautiful flora and fauna that supports our lives. The theory of evolution distills the basic truth of interconnection – we have developed onto this earth due to thanks of over 4 billion years of slow growth and development of single celled organisms, plants, reptiles and then finally mammals and our closest ancestors – the great apes - all interacting with the environment and one another to prosper and support life.

Humans are blessed with great intelligent and ingenuity, but it seems that we lack foresight. We have become little kings unto Mother Earth. In our smog heavy cities, we fight one another for power and resources. While we hear of more species becoming endangered we continue to cut down forests to plant corn, then we marvel at the diabetes epidemic spreading across the globe. I’m not sure if its lack of time for contemplation of our place in our vast and complex ecosystem, or the limitations of our still evolving brains, but it seems we miss the interconnection again and again.

As the Trump presidency has started to become a reality in our minds, another battle is being highlighted in the media. The Dakota pipeline. To me this issue crystalizes human interconnection with one another and our environment. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has set up a camp to actively oppose the development of the Dakota pipeline; a pipeline that would cross North and South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois as well as go under the Missouri River. The tribe argues that the pipeline would not only damage religious and culturally significant sites for the tribe, but they are also protecting the region from environmental damage, and risks to the water supply. The US government and the developers of the pipeline, Energy Access Partners, argue that the 7.4+ billion barrels of potential oil in the region would decrease dependence on foreign oil, that pipelines are one of the safest methods of transporting oil, and that the development of the pipeline would provide 8-12,000 construction jobs, and bring an estimated $156 million in sales and income tax to state and local governments.

The Standing Rock Tribe has been joined by environmental activists, celebrities, and members of other tribes, to stand their ground and oppose the pipeline development. I have felt puzzled.

Do you ever look out into the vastness of the universe on a beautifully clear night – first you look at the stars and their beautiful constellations, and then ponder at the deep dark blackness that stretches on and on; eventually you start to think about your place in the universe, and it is dizzying. That is how I feel when I think about the Dakota pipeline. I have deep respect for the Sioux tribe. They are standing up for their land, their heritage, and Mother Nature. Protecting our environment is a cause I feel strongly about, and promoting the need for alternative and renewable sources of energy is imperative. But my pull to stand with them, to join those on my feed and post my support on instagram, to oppose big government in support of the beautiful land and its creatures, is halted. Frankly, posting my solidarity would feel hypocritical and uneducated. This issue isn’t just about the environment or the Sioux tribe. For the tribe, the issue can be distilled into an issue of protect their land. That argument is sound, that is their right. But me? Who am I to be on one side of this matter. Yes, I always side with Mother Nature in my heart – but what about my lifestyle? The global and US economy? International relations and safety? I recycle, I even carry a glass jar of water everywhere.  I also recognize that my lifestyle is hugely based on the access to crude oil – ease of transportation to see my family across the continent and my husband a state away, extra income to enjoy luxury items and eating out, products that make my life easier and more efficient.  And what about the devastation in the middle-east fostered by our reliance on their oil? What about the poor people in those states that need jobs to feed their families? I fundamentally support our need for more renewable sources of energy, and the need to fight and push for it. But, for me, the interconnectedness of these great issues is… dizzying.

image:http://solpurpose.com/tag/ira-ratry-art/

image:http://solpurpose.com/tag/ira-ratry-art/

In contemplating the theme of interconnection this week, diversity and synergy came up again and again. Forests and Jungles do not thrive with a single genus, they promote a myriad of different species to develop and thrive. There are countless examples symbiosis aiding in prosperity throughout our world – bees and flowers, fungi and trees, humans and our microbiomes. As humans, diversity is our strength, but short-term mindedness is our weakness. I don’t have answers, only a prayer to inspire hope in those reading.

 

I recently read an interview with a senior disciple of Thich Nhat Hanh, Phap Dung, who described his teacher's focus during significant global events: “he puts more effort into our community to nourish people with trust, compassion, love...The future is built with the present moment and how we take care of it. If you are fearful the future will be fearful. If you are uncooperative, the future will be divisive.” Phap Dung continued to describe the importance of community and mindful action in our present to build the future we dream of. My heart is filled with admiration and respect for the courage of those defying the Dakota pipeline, and I have great gratitude for their support of Mother Nature. At this time of change, we should be inspired by their courage. We are all interconnected, so if we all turn to our communities, and provide nourishment, compassion and love to those around us in whatever feels right for us I believe we can build a better future. We are diverse and so each of us will bring something different, and together we can be the rainbow warriors of the Hopi Prophecy: “there would come a time, when the earth being ravaged and polluted, the forests being destroyed, the birds would fall from the air, the waters would be blackened, the fish being poisoned in the streams, and the trees would no longer be, mankind as we would know it would all but cease to exist. There will come a day when people of all races, colors, and creeds will put aside their differences. They will come together in love, joining hands in unification, to heal the Earth and all Her children. They will move over the Earth like a great Whirling Rainbow, bringing peace, understanding and healing everywhere they go. “

Interview with Phap Dung, senior disciple of Thich Nhat Hanh:

http://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2016/11/22/13638374/buddhist-monk-mindfulnes

Essence: Perception

 All our knowledge has its origins in our perception” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

"Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision" ~ Salvador Dali

"Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision" ~ Salvador Dali

The concepts of perception, reality and truth have likely been contemplated for as long as humans have had a sense of self-awareness. Both Eastern and Western philosophic traditions have documented study of these concepts since the 6th century BCE. Plato’s classic cave metaphor – of people chained and raised in a cave, only experiencing shadows of the outside world – is one of the earliest expressions of this contemplation, and speaks to how current knowledge and experience can shape our perception of truth and reality.  Today, neuropsychologists understand perception as the organization, identification and interpretation of sensory information. This is thought to occur in two stages – the first being sensory input, such as light striking the retina, or odor molecules triggering olfactory receptors, and the second being the integration of this environmental information with higher cognitive functions such as memory and beliefs.

While I think its easy to recognize that our belief systems, experiences, current interest and mood can affect our perceptions, we are not so good at putting this into practice day to day. After someone is rude or curt with me I rarely think, “I wonder what’s going on in that persons life that has made them irritable?” Instead, I more likely think to myself, “what a b*tch”. Having been in a daze for the past two weeks with my own family challenges, it has made me acutely aware of how little we know about the lives of those we have passing interactions with. In our western culture we ask people ‘how are you?’, expecting to get an answer ranging from fine to good. Similarly, we expect people to act ‘fine-to-good’ and most often, people do. Over the past two weeks I have held in sobs waiting in line at Starbucks, have lived in fear as I made Wholefoods purchases, and have been distracted while stretching it out in yoga. I’m sure my interactions with people haven’t been optimal – I was near catatonic to the chirpy Wholefood’s clerk, who likely thought, “what a b*tch” about me.

I don’t think that the Wholefoods clerk needed to know that my father was recently diagnosed with cancer. I also don’t think that I should have to pretend I’m fine-to-good when I’m tired, sad, lonely or anxious. So what comes in between?

The Nyaya Sutras is an ancient Indian text that discusses the nature of knowledge. One particularly challenging sutra notes, “The attainment of the highest good comes from the right knowledge”.  Many Eastern scholars discuss the merits of reflecting and meditation on the truth of ones self to attain ‘right knowledge’. To me this comes down to mindfulness. In the current social context I would say mindfulness is considered being aware of your truth in the present moment. I would propose that its important to then recognize factors that effect your present moment as well as the cultural and historical bearings on your perception.  

A way I think of it is that one should consider the modifiable and non-modifiable contributors to your own perception. The non-modifiable factors include your history and memories, your socially and culturally constructed beliefs. You cannot change how past experiences may shape your perception, but there are things that do affect our mood which then adds an additional filter onto our perception. Modifiable factors are the things that can be altered in order to optimize your mental clarity and promote more openness to the present moment. Simple things that most people can relate to would be substances or sleep – a night out partying until the sun rises likely involves alcohol, possibly other mind altering materials, as well as sleep deprivation. I know after a night on call I am not as sharp, patient, or compassionate.

Interestingly, in the past few years, scientific research has shown a strong connection between the gut (small and large intestines) and the brain. Studies have shown a constant, bidirectional communication between the gut and the brain, known as the gut-brain axis (GBA). The microbial communities of the gut have been shown to play an important role in functions of the brain, including stress response, hormone regulation, memory and mood (see links below for more detail). It has even been shown that the microbiota can directly influence our nervous system by both producing neurotransmitter-like molecules, as well as affect the production and metabolism of these important molecules. One could then say that the trillions of bacterial cells in our guts (not to mention protozoa and fungi), and the balance of their communities, have important implications for our perception. An unhealthy microbiome could contribute to depressive feelings, sensations of anxiety and tension, poor memory and food cravings – all of which can alter our perception of our present moment.

Each one of us is an individual being, but we are living in a very interconnected universe. Our perceptions seem to be a sort of communication between our external environments and the microcosms that live within us. More awareness of the complexity of these relationships could foster more mindful living and compassion for others. 

link to GBA and microbiome review article:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4367209/

Kelly Brogan, a functional psychiatrist explaining the GBA: