Sunday, June 26, 2011

Processing the nutty moments at the speed of life

Last week was chock full o' nuts: outrageously nutty moments and big, crunchy, healthy moments.

I unexpectedly had to coordinate, via ambulance, getting my husband to an ER because his back decided to  take a vacation and stop moving. I took a comprehensive exam over everything I've learned in school over the past year and a half. And started studying for another comp exam coming up. I treated my first individual patient in a clinic setting (up until now I treated patients in groups with ear points). I witnessed an author and 'healer' perform a healing on my boss at work (that happens in most offices, right?!). I interviewed an apartment (yes I looked it up and down and asked it very serious questions) prior to the impending M word (m-o-v-e). I mustered up a nauseating headache that kept me in bed for about 18 hours. I lost control of my tear ducts and cried through one friend and my acupuncturist for a few hours. And that's just the half of it.

And I learned something: pausing to process is really important to me. In Chinese medicine, the stomach and spleen are in charge of processing - not just the food we eat but also our life experiences. The ancient Chinese medicine books described one's body, mind, and spirit as an integrated being- meaning our organs don't just function on a purely physical level, they also affect how we operate in life - how we think, how we emote, how we believe. The reverse is also true: how we operate in life can affect us on a physical level including symptoms that show up in our organs. So the stomach and spleen are viewed as the organs that help us break down and assimilate everything that comes into our human inbox - the food we eat as well as the movies we watch, the books we read, the people we meet, and the experiences we absorb.

My internal processing plant got a little clogged with the volume of new experiences that were coming my way (you know the famous scene of Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory). This translated into a headache ("brain cannot compute!"), nausea, and loss of appetite for me. Last week was a perfect reminder that when the crazy hits the fan, I can roll with the punches easier if I can build in practices to help me process. And for me that includes talking it out, writing it out, stopping to think it out, stretching and yoga-ing it out, or if there's no time for any of that, a solitary freak out moment in the car, closet, or bathroom work nicely too.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Your life is your story-make it a juicy one!

I recently heard Chef Jose Andres, responsible for over half a dozen wildly successful and culturally rich eateries in DC, on an NPR interview. He's a DC-area food superstar known for having the magic touch in the restaurant industry. During his interview, he said, "I don't open restaurants to make money. I open restaurants for the stories. Where are you [and your culture's food] coming from?"

My jaw dropped because I share the same passion for my acupuncture practice. Behind every scar, every surgery, every bout of illness, there is a story. Ask me about the scar on my leg and I can describe the day it happened and the emotions that flooded me when it happened with vivid detail. I'm interested in your story - what happened to you, where are you coming from, and how do these details shape your world now?

The mythologist Joseph Campbell explained that we're all living inside our own stories. We're constantly creating the stories we're living in, complete with heroes and villains. We piece together our perceptions about how we see ourselves, what we believe in, and which causes we root for. And what we believe (what we perceive) informs our actions. 

I'm reminded of a recent article I read about stories being the heart of human motivation. In it, Juma Wood  wrote that "...Joseph Campbell demonstrated that human beings the world over are wired to respond to storytelling. This is because we are emotional, meaning-making creatures first, and what stir us are efforts and opportunities that capture our imagination."  
She goes on to write that "Former CEO of Sony Pictures Peter Guber has written in his new book ‘Tell to Win’ how a lifetime of refining his storytelling ability has accounted for the lion’s share of his success. As he recounts the stories of his life, time and again he returns to the premise that targeting people’s emotions is the best way to move them to action....Once their heart or gut has been engaged, people will formulate sensible reasons to act."

Stories, after all, are what make up our human experience. Stories from ancient texts are what are preached from pulpits, in churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples. Stories are the visions and mission statements we create for our businesses. Stories are what we vote for - ideas of how our country could be run. Stories are what we make up about every person we meet ("she must be high maintenance" or "he's a napoleon"). Stories are what we love to watch, whether on Glee or the news. Stories, regardless of whether they are factual or not, are how we make meaning out of our existence, including our physical and emotional symptoms. 

I can create a story that I'm a victim because I got's not fair, I have too much to do, I can't afford to be sick, I feel horrible, etc. Or I can create a story that I got sick and it was a gift because it taught me to to remember and respect that life is fragile and fierce at the same time, to slow down, to ask for help.

In the treatment room, when I'm asking about your sleep habits and levels of pain, what I'm really doing is listening to your story. Who are the characters? Who's the hero and who's the villain? How is your story affecting your day-to-day actions? How are you designing your story to unfold? It's your story -life's short so make it juicy!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Guest Post: Wording the World...

Posted By Rachel Brumberger

Some of our teachers remind me to be careful of what words ever come out of my mouth, because as soon as they are spoken, they create an entire world, which was not there before.

This teaching landed more deeply with me today, than in any other moment I have considered it. Yesterday the world that I lived in was “serious” and “urgent.” Today, the world is “maybe” and “?”

Yesterday, when the doctors said to me that my diagnosis of a cerebral venous thrombosis (or a vein clot in/near my brain) was “serious” – and that I needed to take care of some items with urgency, I allowed it to define me. I listened in a way that I forgot that things could be different tomorrow. And, when tomorrow arrived and the words they spoke were “maybe”, and “it’s questionable,” I also allowed that to define me. I listened in away that I forgot about my confidence and my power.

My BodyMindSpirit had no say in these worlds –I was at the mercy of whatever was said. I forfeited my power and I allowed these words to determine how I was going to be with my life in these moments. I created a story – true or not – about my mortality, and I found myself - without even realizing it – swinging back and forth like a pendulum between doom, manageable care, and some other world I call no big deal. I forgot, in the midst of all of this, that I was living in worlds created by these words, and that there is more to it than that.

I am not ignoring the actual reality of the situation; I am speaking to the power of our language – the sheer power that the spoken word holds…because wherever it lands, a seed is planted and grows.

I have a responsibility to myself, and every person I engage with to be very intentional with my words. I realize now, so deeply and so powerfully, the impact that one word I speak may have on one of my patients.  For them, for me, it might actually paint the difference between life and death.

And I have a responsibility in my listening as well – because it is not just the words I speak, it is the meaning that I hear, attach or assign.

In realizing this, it is my obligation to all of those around me that I listen with a very clear observer. I have the opportunity and responsibility to listen to the words, consider the meaning and choose whether or not this meaning serves. I can ask myself, is this meaning too small, maybe boxed-in or stubborn? Is it a fair assessment? Is it holistic, have I considered all of the angles? Is it large, does it leave room for other interpretation? Have I assigned it a value and is that helpful?

My doctors are using their words the best way they know how – they are giving me appropriate instruction based on the information that is available to them.  I am aware that they were conscientious of their message to me – to take this seriously, and not to panic. What a challenging message to deliver to someone – to make sure they understand a possible severity without causing undo stress.

How are you wording - and hearing - the world around you?

6/2/11 Update: As a response to concerns that have been expressed I want to let you all know I am doing well and more recent tests show no CVT