Read this. Then turn off your computer and go do something real.
Read this. Then turn off your computer and go do something real.
I Have Learned So Much
by Hafiz (Daniel Ladinsky)
Original Language English
So much from God
That I can no longer
A Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim
A Buddhist, a Jew.
The Truth has shared so much of itself
That I can no longer call myself
A man, a woman, an angel
Or even pure
Befriended Hafiz so completely
It has turned to ash
Of every concept and image
My mind has ever known.
-- from The Gift: Poems by Hafiz the Great Sufi Master, by Daniel Ladinsky
There's a lot of noise about opiods in the media. As a doctor, I can tell you that opioids are old news. People have been getting hooked on opiates since they were discovered thousands of years ago. It has also been well known for a very long time that an overdose stops you from breathing: you die. What is different about this situation is that the supply of opioids has been quite abundant in a very rich nation, and that people are isolated and miserable. The abundance of such an addictive substance is a problem for our government to address through laws and regulation. The isolation and misery we have to deal with on our own.
What nobody is talking about is the fact that opioids, or opiates, make us feel good. They work for emotional pain as well as for physical pain. We are in the midst of a psychological crisis, as a nation, which makes us susceptible. Opium and its derivatives give a person the feeling of a warm, safe, loving embrace, the sense that everything really will be all right. This is the real reason that Americans are "addicted" in astounding numbers. We're not addicted to opioids, we're suffering. We're miserable. Nothing is going the way that we thought it would. We're isolated or in troubled relationships. We're unemployed or underemployed. We "don't get no" respect. We're traumatized by wars, rapes, and a zillion other unmentionable events in our lives.
It's because of this misery that Americans commit suicide in all kinds of ways. I think suicide can be both passive and active. Active suicide includes all the things that people do when they have every intention of dying that same day. Some slit wrists, pull triggers, or swallow pills. Passive suicide is even more common. People passively suicide by eating or drinking themselves to death, or by accidental overdose or driving too fast or doing other things that are obviously risky but without the expectation that death will happen today. It just could, and the danger be damned.
And then there's suicide by cop, which is getting more common. All you have to do is threaten a cop and you might well get shot. It will happen faster if your skin is brown. If you want to be famous then you do like the Unabomber or the Vegas shooter guy and try to break some records before you die.
All of this is just a symptom of what's really wrong: we are miserable. We have splintered our families and destroyed our communities and in their stead we have endless televised entertainment and cell phones and automobiles that will take us to soulless destinations. Our president has been stomping on what was left of our moral compass. We have lost our sense of who we are. We have lost our ritual traditions, our celebrations of life and death. We have lost our humanity and become appendages of some giant machine that owns and uses us until our brains give way and we execute ourselves. Planned obsolescence was the term for equipment that was expected to become outdated. Now we the people are irrelevant, and it doesn't fell good.
There are those who say that if we can take a pill or inject something and feel great, what's the harm in that? At least if you die of an opioid overdose, you die happy. I can't argue that ending miserable lives is all bad. It is also not all good, because it is so irreversible. Death is the end, you do not get to play again. Misery is reversible. Many who are miserable at one time eventually find a way to be happy.
There are ways that we can rediscover meaning in our lives. We have to be conscious of when we are resorting to patches and distractions, and get real about what matters. Being with those we love... if we remember how to love... that could save us. Get that warm hug from a real person instead of a pill. Give that warm hug to someone who needs it. Share traditions that celebrate the good things in life... Thanksgivings if you will... these kinds of traditions help us build community and help us remember what is important. Being in touch with nature is also the deepest kind of medicine. There is something about the ocean that helps people grieve. Gardening, digging in the earth and watching things grow, is another simple thing that helps open the door to happiness. Art and music are wonderful ways to let the pain flow out and to become human again. These are things that we have lost, but we can claim them again.
Suing drug manufacturers--or doctors--will not bring back the dead. The government cannot bring back the dead or prevent the deaths that will happen tomorrow. It is up to each and every one of us to remember what it means to be human, and to BE human with the people in our lives. If something is clearly wrong, ask about it. Talk about it. Just by connecting we can help a person hang on to the will to live.
Another thing we can do to support life is to mourn the dead properly. To truly grieve is to remember what was good about someone and to praise them, so that you know what you have lost. So many have died already, let us grieve them all. Let us admit our losses, and by being honest about them, reclaim the value of a life.
In order to remember joy we must let ourselves feel the pain. When we numb ourselves to the pain in life, we become slaves to whatever substance makes the pain go away. Drugs make us less and less capable of dealing with pain, and they also dissolve our human relationships that can help us work through the pain. The thing about pain is that it does not last forever. It goes through us. If the injury is great, it can last for a long time. The pain of grief comes in waves, more some times and less others. Psychological pain lasts far longer than physical, and is the real reason that people want to keep taking opioids. The pain is "too much" unless we are there for each other, unless we find ways to support each other in going through the fire that is our own pain.
The conventional treatment for opioid addiction is more drugs. The treatment drugs are less enjoyable than the more addictive ones, but they are in the same family. I say we must address the suffering. If we do not help people find ways to alleviate suffering, we are doing no more than rearranging bullets in a gun.
Odd are good if you showed up here you probably know something about toxic stress. The numbers of people who experience toxic stress during their childhoods is stunning, baffling, out of hand. It's no wonder so many people reach for a drink or a smoke. It's not a shock that so many middle aged men commit suicide. A lot of people suffer. What the ACEs study showed us is that Adverse Childhood Experiences change people's health outcomes FOR LIFE. Listen to Dr Burke Harris to hear the whole story. She's the kind of doc we need running public health programs.
What do you practice in your life? I believe it was the Mahatma Gandhi who said that bit about how your thoughts become your actions and on down the line…. It was about how you create yourself by what you choose to think and believe. A practice is anything that you do regularly, even ritually. A morning cup of coffee is a common practice. If it is true that what you do becomes who you are, it is worth putting some thought and intention into your own personal practice.
There are a lot of yoga practitioners out there. I count myself as one. I practice at least a little yoga every day. For me it is the avenue by which I came to recognize and respect my own body, which was necessary before I could begin to care for it. I was in denial of my body for many years. In my 20’s, though I looked fit, I could not touch my toes without bending my legs. One cannot gain flexibility without a regular practice, because it is a gradual process. And one cannot be truly strong without flexibility; if you can’t use the full range of your body’s movements, your strength is hobbled. I believe this applies to flexibility of the mind, too. If once lacks mental flexibility, one cannot learn.
Many say we should all develop a spiritual practice. This is about choosing at least some thoughts and actions that are oriented toward our highest values and goals. A cup of coffee might not satisfy this. Having some small fraction of each day that is dedicated to the big picture, to the people and things that we most love, is a simple way to remind us that we are part of that Wholeness that is the World. Regardless of your belief system—and even if you are firmly atheist or mildly agnostic—you will benefit from such a practice. The research tells us that you will live longer, be less depressed, and be more likely to request life-extending medicine when your time is short. You will love life more.
I personally have been mulling on these ideas of a practice because I now have a medical practice as well. What is the core of my practice? It is evolving. Perhaps the most important thing I can do for my patients is to help them to notice the great blessings that abound as long as we live. The irritants of daily life are passing things, often irrelevant in the longterm. I practice Gratitude, the Four Agreements, and also being in Nature. My church the is river, sky, mountain, snows of winter and buds of spring. Science shows that being in natural environments lowers blood pressure and stress hormones, but I believe it does more than that.
I also practice Feng Shui. Not in any traditional way, but in the deeper concept. Feng Shui taught me that the physical things that surround me either facilitate or impede my practice. I strive to make every item in my space a reminder of all I have to be grateful of. If physical things get in my way, I move them. If they are not moveable, I move other things to improve the flow.
So now you know my practice. What is yours? I look forward to hearing about it.
It's no wonder that middle aged white guys are most likely to commit suicide, AND most likely to vote for Trump. They are the ones who have lost the most in the inevitable post-industrial decline of our economy. The American Constitution was written by some pretty shrewd characters who wanted to head off governmental misbehavior, while allowing the people to direct their representatives in the creation of new laws. Today our government is unduly influenced by big business, and many people would like to tear the whole thing down in order to start fresh without the influence of money.. Many who would vote in the coming election for either Trump or Bernie if they could, are really wanting to vote AGAINST the establishment, which is this corporatocracy. Bernie seems to be out of the running, and Trump is losing support as the Republicans realize what a wild card he really is. The Clinton dynasty is likely to be perpetuated. This situation is maddening at best. The status quo, while stable, is corrupted by greed. Destroying the status quo could be worse for a long time before we manage to return to the principles of the constitution.
I'm not really sure where I'm going with the commentary other than to say that all you suicidal old white guys have every right to take your own lives, but please don't take the rest of the nation down with you.
My good friend and colleague Dr Mindy Curry has been leading Happy Healthy Walks in her area for about a year now. I sometimes tag along with her to scout out new walking locations. The next walk is this coming Sunday (8/30/15) afternoon, starting at Clackamette Park. You can RSVP with Dr Curry here.
Inspired by Dr Curry, I have decided to begin offering Happy Healthy Walks in my local park, Gabriel Park, in SW Portland. Please come join us for a slow stroll or a faster one interspersed with breaks for yoga. This first walk will be today, 8/28/15 at 4pm, starting at the intersection of SW 37th and Texas, rain or shine. Come on out! And feel free to comment and request other dates and times, starting from the same spot.
Gabriel Park is big enough that when I first moved to the area, I used to get lost. I will make sure that you do not get lost. Also, this walk is open to all humans and friendly dogs. The first lap will go as slow as the slowest person who shows up, and be as short as needed. The second lap will be for the sturdier participants, with stops to practice one foot balances, lunges and other strength-building activities.
Walking is one of the best ways to keep your health and happiness, or to rebuild them when they've taken a hit. Stand by for more notice about guided walks. =-]
A truly magnificent poem is universal. We can all understand. We have all been there. When Mary Oliver wrote The Wild Geese, she had been to a place that most of us don't admit publicly. She had visited despair and loneliness, and remembered it to write about it.
The truth is that everyone has these experiences. If you live long enough, you will know despair. If you stay there too long, it can get to be a habit. Mary's poem reminds us that the answer is simple, that we are all connected by being creatures on this lovely planet, and that given time we will find our place in the family.
Depression is an obsession with one's own small problems. It can cause us to forget about the rest of the world. When one looks up from these problems and sees the greater picture, it is impossible to remain depressed. One's own problems are invariably small compared to all that is happening in the world, both good and bad. There is pain and there is hope, and there are the geese flying high in the clear blue air. This poem has brought me and many others through some tough times, and reminds us to look up from our misery and notice this amazing world that is going on around us.
The Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good
You do not have to walk
On your knees
For a hundred miles
Through the desert
You only have to let
The soft animal of your body
Love what it loves
Tell me about despair
Yours and I will tell you mine
But meanwhile the world goes on
Meanwhile the sun and the soft petals of rain are moving across the landscapes
Over the prairies and the deep trees, mountains and the rivers
Meanwhile the wild geese high in the clear blue air are heading home again
No matter who you are
No matter how lonely
The world offers itself to your imagination
Calls to you like the wild geese
Harsh and exciting
Over and Over again
Announcing your place in the family of things
I keep meeting people who are depressed, even when the flowers are blooming and everybody ELSE is shouting Rah Rah for the flag or whatever. The truth is that some people get S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder) every fall and cheer up in the summertime, and other people can get blue any time of the year. It's harder on a soul to be sad when everybody else is up. It makes a person want to hole up and avoid everybody, because folks just don't understand.
Well I'm here to tell you that if your mood set point is lower than you'd like it to be, there's no quick fix. Sure, you can take SSRI's or some other prescription "happy pill" to make yourself feel better. Those have a few depressing side effects, like impotence, anorgasmia, weight gain, and a general feeling of flatness. Who needs a life with no lows but also no joy? We all need joy.
If you have the capacity to feel sadness and pain, that means you are not dead yet. You also have the capacity to feel joy. You may not remember how, but you can relearn it. Joy is there, somewhere, waiting for you. So do not give up hope. The path to a happier reality is a slow one, full of conscious decisions and hard work. Diet and lifestyle matter. The way you choose to think, matters. The values that you espouse, they matter too. Do not give up hope. Pick one thing that you can do for yourself and do it today. And call me if you need to.
Teresa Gryder ND is a naturopathic physician with a unique perspective on mental health, and a wide range of evidence-based alternative treatments to consider. Originally from Tennessee, she currently practices in Portland, Oregon.