Growing up, I was blessed to have some truly remarkable English teachers (note: I didn’t say professors as unfortunately I took exactly 0 English classes in college. I know, the rigors of pre-medical science can distort one into thinking that English classes, if not necessary to graduate thanks to previously accrued AP credits, should be the last thing on one’s to-do list). Luckily, despite my limited exposure to the humanities in college, I was fortunate to have some amazing mentors and teachers at the bookends of my life. Amidst all of their wisdom, one concept for improving one’s writing has emerged: the need to eliminate words with minimal significance or words entirely devoid of any real meaning. For someone like myself, who enjoys the rambling sentence and struggles to find brevity within the brambles of flowering ideas, I have needed to hear this over and over and over again. Less is more! Trim, eliminate and trim some more!
Now, simply telling someone to eliminate, minimize or discard useless language is only one part of the journey, for actually UNCOVERING WHAT NEEDS TRIMMING and REMOVAL takes much more practice, reflection and judicious inquiry.
Over the past year, as part of my personal journey of distillation and refinement, I have sought to ruthlessly remove distractions, negative energy and toxic substances that pose a threat to my flourishing and have attempted to surround myself with only the most nourishing foods, people and spaces.
Now, this is certainly much easier said than done, but the rewards of engaging in such a process are, you guessed it, quite rewarding, Without attachment to the outcome, however, I know full well that even if I leave my distraction of a phone at home during a “silent” wander in the woods, I may very well start to undesirably expect, think and obsess over the notifications, emails, and messages I am “receiving” even with the phone and the actual capacity to engage with it completely removed from my being. This concept of “invisible attentional burden or residue” will be for another post, but I do want to emphasize again the importance of non-attachment and engagement in the process for the sake of the process and not for the expected outcome.
So bringing this back to the main point of this post: I share with you perhaps my greatest realization of what needed swift removal from my being: the judgment and inconsequential value of the words “Good” and “Bad.” If you stop to think about it, you likely use these words quite often. To give you an idea of how often, I can personally share that over the course of one day last winter (yes, I tracked this) I used the words “Good” and “Bad” collectively in both spoken and written language over 50 times. 50 times!
Now in what context do we use these words most often? For starters, we use these words to provide a judgmental description, share a personal preference, encourage a choice or an avoidance, or impart some association of a benefit vs.harm to an object or process.
I could stop right here and begin an argument as to why we have no need for such words of judgment, bias, and preference at all if we wish to live engaged in the present process without attachment to objects or people, but for the sake of this article and its relevance to our modern society, I pose perhaps a more realistic proposition: If we can’t eliminate such words as “Good” and “Bad” from our vocabulary, can we at least use words that actually contribute to a meaningful description?
What the heck does “Good” really mean anyway? Or how about “Bad”? To me they keep company with other trivial filler words such as “very,” “um,” “uh,” and the unnecessary “and,” and have little to no intrinsic value. In some cases, they can even simplify and distort the true meaning of a concept, object or idea. “Bad” cholesterol anyone?
So now that we can start to see the relative uselessness of these words and even the potential harm they can cause when used inappropriately, we can begin to start asking and answering a more interesting question: What words can we use instead?
Replacing “Good” and “Bad” isn’t as simple or as straightforward as finding a new, replacement word. For example, simply using “Great” in all of the situations you were previously using “Good” does not really address the fundamental issue of using “Good” in the first place. Yes, unfortunately, the answer to finding our replacement language is not that easy.
BUT, if we start to pause, reflect and examine WHAT WE ARE REALLY TRYING TO SAY when we use the words “Good” and “Bad” you will begin to see that: YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY (instead of “Good” and “Bad”), YOU JUST HAVEN’T GIVEN YOURSELF THE TIME OR PERMISSION TO ACTUALLY SAY IT.
As John Mayer most eloquently put it: “Say what you need to say!”
What did you actually “need to say” when you described blueberries as a “Good” food? Maybe it was nourishing, empowering, freeing, refreshing, or delightful. Or how about if you used “Bad?” Perhaps, it was actually tasteless, sour, bitter, or mushy.
Or another example: What do you say when you finally identify a space to park in a jammed asphalt lot? “Oh look, there’s a good spot”, or perhaps the always joyful commentary from the passenger seat: “This is a bad place to try to park, you should keep driving until you find a better one.” I’ll stop there with my examples to simply point how ridiculous we can get when describing objects in our lives. Can a parking space really be “Good” or “Bad? What actually makes one “Good” or one “Bad.” Maybe the the “Good” space was “Good” because it was closer to where you wished to start shopping, had ample room to get in and out, or was not surrounded by epic mud puddles. Those descriptions, you see, are much more relevant and useful than “Good” or “Bad.” If you start to look more closely at these descriptions, you may see that they also do not impart any significant judgement, they merely describe. “Oh look, there’s a spot that is close to the grocery store entrance,” “Oh look, there’s a spot with enough space to load our groceries,” “Oh look, there’s a dry spot to park the car.”
You see, it’s just description: meaningful, non-judgemental description.
To bring this ramble to a close, you may be asking, “Why did we start talking about parking spots, and you talked about eliminating and trimming language, but if I am counting correctly your descriptions have way more words than just one, what gives?”
Yes, a good, I mean insightful question.
As I think you can guess, we are not really concerned about the parking spot or the blueberries, or even the exact number or words we use in our spoken and written language.
We are concerned, instead, with the manner in which we think about and use language to describe our lived experience.
Need some more help to get started? Some of my most useful replacement descriptors are: “more or less nourishing”, “more or less wholesome”, “more or less supportive”, “positive or negative”, “distracting or engaging”, “empowering or disempowering.”
Pause, reflect and get creative. Or perhaps, just start noticing what words you use and how you use them.
I think we will all discover, no matter what stage we are at in this “awareness and refinement” process,” “Good” and “Bad” just don’t deserve a place at the dining room table. Unless of course, they bring some blueberries.
May you be happy, healthy and forever, at peace.
So what’s the first thing you do when you get a yearbook? Be honest with yourself. I pass no judgment, because I’m sure my answer is quite similar.
For those of you able to bypass the index in search of your name, or somehow avoid digging right into the picture montage looking for every nook and cranny your face inhabits, I commend you.
For the rest of us, seeking immediately to discover where in the book our smiling, laughing or crying faces call home, I commend you too. I commend you for looking at the yearbook at all, for being willing to see yourself in whatever way the yearbook portrays.
And if you choose to completely disregard the yearbook, that’s okay too. Because guess what, looking or not looking, or looking just at yourself really doesn’t matter.
It just doesn’t.
And I am not talking about the “cynical, life is meaningless, this is just a silly yearbook” doesn’t matter, for as I see it, what truly matters when it comes to your relationship with your yearbook is completely independent of how you actually choose (or choose not) to view it.
What really matters is simply appreciating the gifts and stories the yearbook holds and represents.
Solely go searching for every single one of your photos? Something tells me you’ll also be viewing the faces of classmates or colleagues in those photos as well or happen to catch a glance of your colleagues on nearby pages.
And even if you don’t give a passing glance at your colleagues and stay glued to your own pictures, pause, breathe, and appreciate yourself, extend self compassion and loving-kindness to the person in the photograph, the person who may have struggled in Calculus or could never could quite figure out Physics or who was just having one of those bad hair days when that silly picture was taken. Appreciate your efforts, your contributions, no matter the size, appreciate your gifts, your stories, simply appreciate you!
And if you are the type of person looking for all of your friends in the yearbook instead of your own familiar mug, don’t just appreciate the people you knew or went looking for, the people you looked up to or held as excellent role models, Appreciate the stories you may have never known and never could have known, appreciate the choir or culinary club you had no idea existed, appreciate that each and every one of the people in that yearbook has a unique story- one that ultimately connects you all to your school or community.
And for those of you who choose to completely boycott and ignore the yearbook- recognize that by ignoring its contents you have already acknowledged and appreciated the stories you perhaps didn’t want to hear, didn’t want to see, didn’t want to read. Perhaps you feared you wouldn’t like the you portrayed in the yearbook, or that you wouldn’t even be in the yearbook at all? By ignoring you are actually making a choice to acknowledge and appreciate in a different manner, or, perhaps you have even realized that you can appreciate all the amazing gifts, stories, and journeys contained inside of the its colorful pages without every actually looking inside.
Need to eat a piece of chocolate every time the opportunity presents itself to know that you enjoy its taste? Need to have your significant other present beside you to know that the love you hold in your heart comes from their purposeful presence in your life? Do we ever need words to say thank you after receiving one of those most amazing grandma hugs?
For you see, you don’t have TO SEE anything, TO TANGIBLY HOLD anything, to even POSSESS a yearbook to reflect and know the many miraculous stories unfolding around you each and every day.
But if you actually have that overflowing yearbook in your personal possession, consider yourself fortunate, for with that yearbook, you have the opportunity to discover the friends and self your eyes alone would never have been able to see.
Have a wonderful week!
When Was The Last TIme You Were Not Thinking?
A second ago? A minute? Three hours? Three days?
Our culture prides itself on thinking or should I say the productivity that comes from efficient thinking. We are taught from an early age what it is we should be thinking about, offered a basic framework on how to think (“the think tank”), given knowledge to fill that “think tank” and then even given nifty solutions to navigate the difficulties that arise when the “think tank” gets murky.
But, were we ever taught how to actually stop thinking?
It is a bizarre question, but one that I believe deserves, well, a little thinking. Personally, I can rattle off tens of hundreds of people who have been tremendous influences in my life, bestowing knowledge, sharing conceptual frameworks and providing ingenious ways to approach novel problems, but when it comes to the list of non-thinkers, the people who dedicated their time to show me ways to stop all this crazy thinking, the list is short, dangerously and sadly short.
But what’s the purpose of non-thinking? What could come from such an endeavor?
Many people use mindfulness, cultivating states of non-doing and non-thinking in order to be more fully engaged when the heavy thinking is required. Certainly a benefit and one that I have experienced, but is that really the end goal? To engage in period of non-thinking so that we can be more fully present in our “thinking endeavours? With many things in my life, I have sought to let go of the attached, directed pursuit: i.e. I will eat this piece of pizza to feel full, sated and content (eat to satisfy a goal and continue to eat until the end goal is met, no matter the inputs required). Now, I choose to construct intentions and pursue endeavours that will nourish me as a BYPRODUCT of the pursuit. I don’t choose to eat vegetables to feel full, sated and content (although they may lead to this experienced state), I choose to eat them because of the vast array of phytonutrients they supply my body, powering billions of cellular processes that allow for the manifestation of my joyful presence. Okay, perhaps, a little bit of a stretch, but my point is this, I pursue a task with non-attachment and from learned experience knowing that I am more likely to feel joyful, engaged, present and happy after I eat vegetables than after eating a pizza. You see, happiness, engagement and present awareness are BYPRODUCTS of my choice not the direct end goal. And if I feel incredibly yucky, lethargic, and depressed after eating vegetables instead of my expected reaction, I will simply be present with the sensations to the best of my capacity and recognize they too are just byproducts.
What does eating vegetables have to do about thinking and not thinking?
Simply come back to byproducts and end goals and you’ll find your answer.
Are you thinking to satisfy a need and reach an end goal?
Or are you engaged in thinking with the genuine willingness and desire to experience the byproducts of this process?
And what about non-thinking?
Do we need a purpose and end goal for this, too?
Have a joyful week!
I realized last week, after reading over my post on symptoms, that besides having its standard amount of “invisible typos” and poor grammar, the article contained a statement that was rather incongruent with my beliefs. Luckily, thanks to the beauty of technology, I was able to amend this sentence so that I was no longer cringing with visceral anxiety. Interestingly, this incongruent statement did not induce the same “cringe” that usually follows the discovery of my grammatically poor sentences or ridiculous typos. That reaction has actually become rather comical, benign and induces a thought akin to “That’s about right,” followed by a few laughs.
This incongruent statement, however, was not so benign, not so comical, not so friendly. What followed my visual perception and internalization of the statement was an immediate repulsion, an immediate sense of falseness, a deeper knowing that these words were not in alignment with my spiritual nature and more importantly just not true.
You are probably wondering “Are you going to tell us the sentence already?”
Yes, I will, just be patient, for as you will see, it is not really the content of the statement or the implications of its meaning that is important, it’s the innate and deep recognition that something was incongruent with my spiritual self in the first place.
I wish I could describe the feeling more to you, but as I mentioned earlier, it was akin to an intuitive knowing, a gut churning no, a slight energetic imbalance, a cognitive pin prick.
This recognition of an incongruence will be different for everyone. Perhaps you have experienced such phenomenon as I have described above, or you have had quite different “manifestations” of knowing when something just wasn’t right with your being. Wherever you stand and whatever you believe with regards to such “signals of incongruence”, it is critical to recognize two things.
1. We must cultivate stillness to discover “signals of incongruence.”
2. “Signals of incongruence” will be variable and unique to the individual.
I will call these my two key tenets to the Theory of Incongruence. Just as I laid out some key tenets to my Theory of Symptom Manifestation, these are the fundamental principles behind acknowledging and recognizing the “signals of incongruence.” What we do with such signals is an entirely separate discussion, so I simply want to emphasize the importance of these two key principles in this article.
So you are about to tell us your incongruent statement, right?
Yes, but one last point.
“Signals of Incongruence” may not appear to you overnight, or manifest in strong emotional reactions, but you must trust that they are there, in whatever subtle, “silent” or hidden way, they are there. Start with belief, cultivate stillness and just begin to notice, without judgment, without attachment, without really knowing.
Just start there.
So the statement you ask, one last time?
It just so happened to be the finale to the entire post:
I wish I could tell you, but alas I am and will never be “You.”
Yes, that was just a little bit off. Okay it was a pretty big whiff. But why did I overlook this or even generate this thought when I wrote the post?
I cannot really say, but I can speculate that I was trying to emphasize the point of individuality in our symptoms and their manifestations, a very similar point actually, to the one I am making today about “signals of incongruence,” and I would argue that symptoms are on the same spectrum as “signals of incongruence,” however, symptoms are generally more severe, longer lasting, and are usually generated from fundamentally different root causes and for different reasons.
Back to the statement: I wish I could tell you, but alas I am and will never be “You.”
As some of you may have already read in our weekly newsletter: A Week of Compassion, this concept of what is you and what is me, is a little more complex than the objective mind may want to believe. Suffice to say, my soul recognizes and knows what APPEARS to be me, and PERCEIVES a reality of distinction between objects, but the truth is we are actually nothing without the distinction, you aren’t anything without me, I am nothing without you, we are both the distinction. And if we are both the distinction, then aren’t we really just the same?
Oh, and one last thing before we go, perhaps a key distinction between symptoms and “signals of incongruence;” while I believe we have control (unconscious or conscious) over symptom manifestation, there is no such thing when it comes to “signals of incongruence.” When it comes to your “signals of incongruence," you must learn to gently understand and genuinely appreciate “the cards” you were dealt
So, if we can’t choose how we notice the incongruences in our lives what can we do?
Simple: cultivate stillness and let the cards reveal themselves as the hand is played out.
For those who did not see our message in the weekly newsletter I’ve added my reflections regarding the “you and me” distinction to the end of this post with a link to the rest of the newsletter.
I hope you have a joyful week!
May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you forever be at peace.
Go to the Newsletter
A WEEK OF COMPASSION, May 7th, 2017
What is mine is yours and yours is mine?
What exactly does this even mean?
Perhaps these words, often shared in the context of possessions, wealth, or objects in general, actually resonate at a level much deeper than what the phrase usually implies. What if, we changed the words ever so slightly to uncover an “invisible” meaning? What is me is you and you is me? Incorrect grammar aside, what this message holds is the truth (as Thich Nhat Hanh believes it) that we “inter-are.” For as we see it, there is no you AND me, only you WITH me, or you IN me. We are RELATIONAL BEINGS, not SINGULAR DOINGS, and as such, we can only hope to describe our existence, our intentions, our place in the universe as a poetic series of dynamic interactions. Energy interacting with Energy. We simply cannot exist without the presence of the “wholly YOU”, yet entirely “not-YOU.” A Paradox or “Quantum You” anyone?
Stepping away from the possibly philosophical, I return to share one final thought: When you genuinely share YOUR gifts and stories with others, they can no longer be YOUR gifts and stories, for they have chosen a new set of clothes, a new quantum state, a place where they can only be “OURS.” Until, of course, you ask that silly little question, where did “OURs” actually come from anyway?
Here’s to you, here’s to us.
Coming from someone who speaks the functional medicine language where focusing strictly on symptoms is taught as far too myopic, you may be expecting a dialogue as to the relevance of symptoms in uncovering an underlying physiologic disturbance or elucidating a key nutritional deficiency, but actually, the story I am here to tell is one perhaps you’ve never heard before, one that may not entirely make sense after the first or even second read.
Just as we can “cover up” symptoms with a drug, we can do so with an herbal, a botanical or a supplement and I would argue either approach is misguided and potentially harmful.
But why shouldn’t we swiftly treat and remove one’s symptoms with whatever means available?
I hope I do not have to address certain aspects of this question as I think we all understand the analogy of cutting off an arm because you have a hangnail. It may seem like it’s the end of the world, but cutting off the arm is not exactly the best method of palliation and treatment for a hangnail. We must, however, use discernment, awareness and mindfulness to observe symptoms to see what it is exactly the body is trying to tell us. We cannot simply eliminate a symptom and expect to have any reasonable way of discovering why the symptom was there in the first place. And of course, we need the symptom and our mindful, critical thinking to confidently proceed with treatment and avoid cutting off hangnails with chainsaws.
But it hurts, it hurts, I cannot stand the anxiety, the pain, the itching, the throbbing, the dull ache- can’t you just make it go a……. Can I just get some relief you ask?
As I began to say earlier, what if we start asking a different question:
“Why do I feel this way.”
Speak to your symptoms:
“Why are you here?”
While traditional medicine (and functional medicine for that matter) may seek to explain symptoms through entirely physiologic and biologic phenomenon: your nose is runny because of an acute response to literally “flood and bathe” the perceived pathogen with anti-microbial and anti-viral mucous and ultimately create a more favorable environment in which to direct “the pathogen” out of the “internal domain,” I am here to provide an alternative view, one that is less biologic and more well, “phenomenologic.”
For example: why do some people when exposed and infected with the same “cold virus” not manifest a runny nose, but instead, experience a sore throat, a headache, a dull congestion in the chest, soreness behind the eyes, or even nothing at all?
Well because everyone is different, everyone’s physiology is different. Yes, but actually no. This isn’t enough for me. There must be more to this than physiology or root cause disturbance. What is it really that my body is trying to say?
If a pattern of disturbed physiology, a certain infection or a specific nutrient imbalance always leads to the same clinical symptomatology: Why are no two depressed patients ever alike, even if they experienced the “same” trauma, have the “same” disrupted gut microbiome, and the “same” pro-inflammatory cascade disrupting normal brain function?
Well now you are just trying to compare a cold to depression, of course two depressed patients’ symptoms will be different, it is much more complex than a cold. But are they really? What’s the same? What’s different? Does it even matter?
What if “we” actually are the only ones that hold the truth to our symptoms? Not our physiology. Not a virus. Not a nutrient.
We manifest what we can comprehend.
The body speaking to us through symptoms where verbal language cannot.
Taking this to the next level: “We” decide if and how we will react to a cold virus, a sinus infection, a period of intense emotional trauma.
You will not perceive a sore throat unless your “self” (unconscious, perhaps) believes you will understand or be able to understand the meaning of the sore throat and thus modify your behavior, change your thought pattern, or stop/start doing something entirely. The goal here is not to create and make the sore throat go away you see, it is something much deeper, much more nuanced, much more “invisible.” The sore throat may be actually saying “You need to really sleep a couple more hours a night, that relationship you are in right now is not really addressing your need to feel accepted, loved and heard, that job you are in right now- really misaligned with your greater intention to teach and mentor youth, that whole box of Teddy Grahams you downed last night while watching 5 straight episodes of Game of Thrones, not a good idea, those negative thoughts you keep ruminating on: “I am a failure in everything I do,” perhaps should finally be let go.
Stay with me for one last point: What is possibly the most fundamental component of the placebo effect?
You finally accepting, BELIEVING and coming to terms with the symptoms, the information, the actual disturbances your “self” was attempting to address and resolve.
What exactly is behind the disappearance of symptoms?
The “self” no longer perceiving the need for the symptom, perhaps because you were able let go of a negative or false perception, forgive a hurt, or properly and fully address the imbalance that caused the need for the manifestation of the symptom in the first place.
Do I have scientific proof that this phenomenon of symptoms, their “creation” and their resolution actually exists?
The simple answer is no.
The more complex answer is also no.
The truth is, well, I have no clue.
Perhaps, no matter the veracity or validity of the theory I am proposing, there is a sincere message embedded within it that we can all learn and incorporate into our lives:
Before you go bandaging, running away from, suppressing or relieving your symptoms, pause, breathe and ask yourself (and your symptoms) these questions:
1. Why are you here?
2. Why am I feeling this way?
3. What are you trying to tell me?
What am I trying to tell myself?
I wish I could tell you, but alas, I am and will never entirely be “You.”
May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you forever be at peace.