Friday, February 4, 2011

Get A Life - or more of the one you have.

"Pneuma", "Ojas", "Qi" - these are all just ways various cultures have conceptualized and named the vital life force that animates and invigorates your body. It is the spark of life that runs all of your organs, brings consciousness, drives and directs growth and development, protects you from illness and, when it leaves brings death.

In Chinese medicine, they speak of "prenatal" and "postnatal" life force. Prenatal Qi is the spark of energy your parents gave you. It is the energy that started your cell division, carries your genetic code (constitution), oversaw (and oversees) proper developmental stages, and is the core of your vitality. You cannot get any more and when you run out you die. Every day you lose a little more. How much depends on how you live your life. Excessive lifestyles, "burning the candle at both ends" and unhealthy diets and habits all consume prenatal qi at a rapid rate. Thus, all Chinese longevity strategies are ways to conserve prenatal qi.

Postnatal Qi is the energy you bring into your body after you are born. Ideally, you want to have lots of postnatal qi so that your body uses more of that than prenatal qi while living life. By having a lot of good postnatal qi, you can create a bit of a buffer zone to protect your prenatal qi.

Postnatal life force comes from two main sources plus a number of lesser sources. The two main sources are: respiration and digestion/ absorption. That is, the air we breathe and the food we eat. The healthier we do both, the better we will be.

However, when one of those starts to lag - then issues arise and begin to spiral. For example, asthma might decrease one's "Kong Qi" (respiration energy). This will make the body's overall amount of energy less and thus, like a fire with too little air, it will begin to run inefficiently. Over time, digestion will become sluggish too compounding the problem. Conversely, digestive problems to begin with will mean that the organs are not getting the nourishment they need to replace and rebuild themselves. Over time, the lungs will become weaker and respiratory problems will arise. There are many remedies in traditional medicines including herbs, acupuncture, qi gong, and some kinds of bodywork designed to address both of these issues. Once you get one system working better, the spiral reverses and the other system will eventually improve as well.

Where the problem gets sticky is when prenatal qi is involved. When a person's prenatal qi has begun to wane due to age, illness, lifestyle or accident that also brings down their overall amount of "operating energy". All of their systems begin to function less effectively so that they cannot create that buffer of postnatal qi. Traditional remedies can optimize those systems but without the underlying prenatal qi which cannot be replaced, they will continue to be impaired.

This is where the "lesser sources" of postnatal qi become important. These sources do not use the respiratory or digestive systems. These are the qi one absorbs from people and things we come in contact with, from energy work such as Reiki, and from the Divine (however you envision It/Him/Her/Them). Prayer and feeling the Divine energy enveloping and filling you. Or carrying energetically charged stones, crystals, knotted ropes, amulets and talismans. Drinking energetically charged gem waters. Shamanic journeys to regain lost parts of oneself. Drawing on the energies of Nature, be they lunar, solar, the power of a river, or the strength of the earth. There are many, many of these lesser sources. None of them will substitute for food and air, but in many cases they can add just enough to make up for the low prenatal qi.

Working with these lesser sources can be tricky because each energy source/ technique will have different energetic qualities that need to be catered specifically for each person. The wrong source may add energy but cause harm in a different way. However, with proper guidance and education from someone who can accurately diagnose and assess a person's qi and energetic imbalances, people with low prenatal qi - including the elderly or very sick - can often at least stop the downward spiral if not reverse it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Trust Issues

I recently had a long talk with an old friend. At one point, I made a joke about my friend’s perpetual single status and his avowed membership in the “Bachelor and Loving It” club. Little did I know, but I had just pushed a button. For my friend had decided, after almost 15 years of actively avoiding dating (with a couple tentative, half-hearted attempts that led to automatic retreat), to try it again. He had started filling out an online dating site’s survey.

He said that he “didn’t need a woman to make him happy or fulfilled” but wanted to give it another try. He admitted that he is often isolationist in relationships (and friendships) because he has “trust issues”.

“Trust issues” is often code for “fear”. Fear of being hurt/ abused and fear of abandonment. Although this kind of fear can be generated by a terribly abusive adult relationship, in fact, it is more commonly generated at younger ages before a person has developed a sufficient ego-strength/ self-identity to say “the problem here isn’t about me”.

Teens who are just trying to figure out who they are and are hyper self-conscious can learn relationship fear through abusive peer and dating situations…. which ultimately tends to delay the development of a strong ego. We see this often in people who don’t seem to blossom until their 20’s, 30’s and sometimes even 40’s. It is also part of why people divorce in their 30’s and 40’s….. they finally realized who they are and the previous relationship no longer fits.

Strong, pervasive, paralyzing “trust issues” usually has earlier roots. At some point as a child, that person learned that people they love and trust leave them (physically and/or emotionally). It could be parental divorce, emotionally unavailable or abusive parents, or some other situation. More importantly, because they were too young to have a self-identity strong enough to see that it was mom who was broken, they had no choice but to decide that they are the insufficient, unlovable one. And therefore will never find someone who will really love and stay with them.

Their logic goes: If they are unlovable – even their mommy didn’t want them – then how can they exist in the world? A child that repeatedly hears: “don’t be so loud”, “don’t be so needy”, “don’t be so dirty” or any other such statement eventually only hears the refrain “don’t be”. The lesson is that they are broken and unlovable and they shouldn’t exist.

And feeling like they shouldn’t exist brings up fear – fear of being discovered in their brokenness and unworthiness. In Chinese medicine, “fear makes the Qi descend”. This can manifest as a fight or flight response. We want to survive so our body’s energy moves to the legs so that we can run or kick as needed. However, in extreme cases our energy descends so quickly and strongly that our “qi” sticks our feet to the floor. We become frozen like the “deer in the headlights”.

When someone is afraid of relationship, they try to avoid situations that might make them vulnerable. When contacted, they will often either flee the situation (flight) or become non-responsive (headlights). In both cases, they end up feeling like failures and are reinforced in their belief that they are unworthy of love. In the rare case that they do find someone who loves them, they are often unable to accept it as real. Because in their hearts, they feel like they are frauds - not capable of being loved and not worthy of existence. They are sure that you may love them now, but one day you’ll discover just how really bad and unworthy they are and leave them like everyone else.

On a more spiritual level, if you believe you are so broken that you can’t trust people to love, care nurture and support you – how can you trust God/ Nature/ the Divine to either? How can you ever feel safe, nurtured and supported in succeeding in life? How can you trust in a Benign Universe? How can you feel like you belong?

This is a deep wound that goes way beyond the psyche. It is a wound to their “essence” – that which creates and feeds all other aspects of their being; their minds, their physical bodies, their emotions, and their spirits. Healing CAN happen but it is usually slow and incremental. The initial obstacle to overcome is their resistance to even looking at the issue (because at a deep level they believe that if you dig deep enough you'll discover their core unworthiness), lack of trust in their healer (and the healer's assertion that their "trust issues" are THEIR issue and not an inherent problem with the world at large), and the reality that they can heal and have whole, healthy and happy relationships. It requires a lifetime dedication on their part to healing this wound and someone who can see the various levels of their being, understand their patterns, and give them personalized guidance, counseling and treatment every step of the journey.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Winter of our Lives

The other day a patient came into my office. She is in her 70's and generally healthy and robust. Her main physical problem is a slight motor issue which can make doing certain tasks hard and slow. She's a very active person with a lively and engaged mind. Usually upbeat, she told me that she had been having an emotional hard time over the last week. She had feelings of grief, anxiety and fear.

She had never had the holiday blues before but the catalyst for these emotions was holiday wrapping. For the last couple years she has had a friend come over and help wrap presents and they always have a wonderful day. But this year, it really hit her that it wasn't just fun to have her friend help - it was increasingly necessary. So she wanted to ask me if I had noticed any degeneration in her condition since last year.

I told her, honestly, no - she seemed just as functional if not more so. So why did it bother her this year? What brought on these emotions?

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), everything is interrelated - mind, body, spirit, environment, seasons, diet, life stages..... everything. In this system, Winter is associated with the element of Water and thus, also the Kidneys. Besides their role in water elimination, the Kidneys are considered the Mingmen or Life Gate. When you were conceived, the two sparks of life from your parents came together and started cell division. As you developed, that primal flame of Life came to reside in/around the Kidneys. Thus, the Kidneys are responsible for human development; physically in bones, teeth, hair and brain and mental and emotional development. Problems in proper development (delayed or premature stages) are due to Kidney problems.

We have a finite amount of that life spark and we use it a little each day. The Kidneys' association with Water and Fire (the life spark) becomes especially apparent with old age. The Kidneys no longer process Water well and so our skin gets dry, menstruation stops, our hair falls out and our bones get brittle. This dryness can also make us prone to inflammations such as arthritis. The reduced Fire makes our hair white, our vision less clear, slows our metabolism so we get paunchy and takes away our ability to stand up tall and straight or move quickly. We are also more tired.

My patient had also had several close friends die in the past year. Fear is the emotion of the Kidneys because when we lose our Life Spark, we die.

Winter had never bothered her before. But this year, the combination of her unconscious lingering grief from losing her friends, combined with the cold and dark of Winter and its energetic effects on her Kidneys set the stage so that her own physical limitations (which had never gotten her down) reminded her of her own mortality - and that was scary.

Massaging her Kidneys regularly, keeping the area warm, warm comforting foods and friends to remind her body and mind that she is alive, and a recommendation that she use some of this dark and quiet time to honor her grief - for her friends and for her own waning vitality - sent her on her way.

She'll be fine. But no matter how old or young we are - each day we die a little more. We do things we regret or we miss opportunities that will never come back. The present, which is the only place where we are alive, slips ever into the past never to return. Every day is a Winter (and a Spring, Summer, and Fall) of our Lives. We can either deny it and focus on our future dreams (or past glories), or we can be in the Present, the Now. To Live and Die ecstatically and continuously - in joy and in fear, in light and in dark - planting and spreading new Sparks by creating new Life (artistically, socially, biologically, spiritually or whatever) until the day our own Spark extinguishes. That is all we can do.