Real medicine

I knew a lady who was cold. It was early in the morning and she was shivering. She asked her daughter to get her a hot cup of coffee. She hadn’t slept well all night. We have been in a camping event so there wasn’t any central heat. She hadn’t brought enough blankets either. I looked at how she was sitting – all hunched over, hugging her arms to herself. This was a physical coldness and it didn’t need to be fixed by putting something into her, especially a stimulant. That would make her feel worse with her lack of sleep.

Her hair was thinning a little so I offered her a knit cap. We lose most of our heat through our heads. She put the cap on and within 10 minutes she was visibly warmer. She relaxed her shoulders and rested her arms on the table instead of hugging herself. She was a lot more comfortable. It was a simple fix that didn’t require coffee.

I had a coworker who had a headache one day and he asked for a Tylenol. I gave him one. Two days later he said he had another headache. He asked for another Tylenol. I didn’t give him one this time. He was young and needed to learn how to take care of himself. By that I mean more than just buying his own supplies instead of expecting other people to supply his needs.

More importantly, he needed to learn how to take care of himself by fixing the cause and not the symptom. The symptom just points to the cause. I told him to go drink water. If he didn’t feel better after 20 minutes (which is about the same time that a Tylenol would take) then I would give him a Tylenol. He went over to the water fountain had a sip. I said “No, keep drinking until I tell you to stop.” He needed to have 16 ounces of water, not a sip. I watched him drink and counted off the time and then told him to stop.

I forgot about keeping time on purpose. An hour later I pointed out to him that he hadn’t asked for a Tylenol again. His headache was gone.

Likewise, we have a guy who is studying to be a doctor who is there every day at the library. He’s a doctor in another country, but America won’t take his credentials. He has to take the exam here to be licensed here. He’s been studying every day and he’s not been taking care of himself. It is starting to show.

His hair isn’t brushed, his clothes are rumpled, and he now is saying that he can’t sleep and he has a headache. He asked me for a Tylenol. Rather than give him that kind of medicine, I gave him real medicine. Whether he takes it or not is up to him.

Real medicine is to suggest he take time off, go eat healthy food (all he eats is meat and rice), go exercise, and spend time with his wife. He says that he can’t leave his studies. He doesn’t get that if he doesn’t take care of himself, then it doesn’t matter what he studies – it won’t go in.

We’ve talked about preventative medicine before and he blows me off. He’ll make a fine western doctor if he passes. They treat the symptoms and not the cause too.

I tell him about friends of mine who are now off their diabetes medicine because they eat healthy food, exercise, and have lost weight. He thinks I’m lying. He says it isn’t possible.

He even brings his food to the library. Somehow they have an understanding in the department he studies in. He’s got a little crock-pot that he plugs in to heat up his food. He doesn’t even have to cook it. He gets it from his in-laws. When I say he needs to take time away from his studies and go outside the library for lunch, he says he can’t eat anywhere else because he has to eat food that is halal because he’s Muslim. I point out that you can eat vegetarian food and be perfectly safe. He wrinkles his nose at me.

It is hard to watch people drown.

Sure, I could give him a Tylenol. But that is aiding and abetting.

I’d be like the doctor who gave my Dad a prescription for cough medicine, knowing that he smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. Of course he coughed. Cough medicine isn’t the right medicine. Real medicine would be to refuse to treat him until he stopped smoking. Real medicine would be to direct him to smoking-cessation programs. Real medicine would be to help him learn better ways to deal with stress than smoking.

Real medicine involves hard work, not a pill. Real medicine involves being mindful and disciplined. It features daily exercise, no stimulants, no refined sugar, and lots of vegetables. It includes focusing on breathing. It includes learning to speak up for yourself. It includes being creative. It includes making time to rest. It includes working towards your dreams. It isn’t easy.

Becoming conscious is a lot like becoming sober.

Alone again

Until very recently I used to make sure that I had plans for a day or a weekend off. I always had to be doing something outside of the house. Errands to run, people to meet – something needed to occupy my time. I just realized yesterday how excited I was to not have any plans to go anywhere for today. I thought this was a good sign.

But then I realized that I still had plans. Make hummus and pesto. Work on the condensed Gospel (still an active project). Make jewelry. Paint my toenails. Write. Cook supper. Organize the fridge.

I realized that I was still packing my day full of stuff. The only difference was that I wasn’t going anywhere.

I know some of my need to stay busy has to do with my awareness of time, and how little of it there is available to us in our lives. I know some of it is my realization that if I don’t keep up some level of activity then depression will sneak in and set up camp. But this need to stay busy busy busy is in itself a symptom of a deeper problem.

Being still is, at the heart of it all, being alone. Deep down, I don’t like to be alone. Thus, deep down, I’m not comfortable with myself.

This is hard to admit, and hard to live with.

It, in itself, isn’t a bad thing. Different ways of living are just as valid as having different hair colors or textures. Different isn’t bad or good. It is just different.

What matters is that I am conscious of it, and aware. Do I let this way of being rule my actions? Do I let it decide for me what I am going to do? Do I live my life by reflex, on autopilot? To unconsciously act, whether directed by a crowd or an unnoticed impulse, is the same. It is, at the heart, to not be fully alive but to have your actions taken out of your control.

My need to stay busy is a need to fill up my time and my head with stuff. It is a need to get away from myself, even if I am the only person in the room.

There is strength in being independent. I’ve gained a real sense of power from preparing food for myself and my husband. I’ve also learned valuable lessons about myself and about life from doing this.

But still, even in this lesson, I’ve not really been awake. It is still a method to stay busy, and thus ultimately stay distracted.

I’ve heard “Hell is other people.” Perhaps for me, right now, hell is myself.

I don’t hate myself, not at all. That isn’t it. I have a good life and I’m grateful for my many blessings. But if I still feel empty in the midst of busyness, then something is wrong. My plan for this past year or so has been to uncover, and recover. It has been to dig up and dig out. Simultaneously I have been reforming and recreating myself by becoming more aware and awake.

Some of this is teaching me to be more conscious, while some of this is teaching me to let go. Some of it is about living in the moment as completely as possible. Some of it is about seeing the path ahead and planning wisely. And some of it is just simply about learning to be me.

You’d think I’d know how to do this by now. I’ve had 45 years to practice. But not really. For many of those years I wasn’t really awake, and that isn’t even including the years I spent in a pot-cloud. Or grieving. Or both. I’ve spent a long time running away from myself. Now that I’m conscious, I feel I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

And that is part of it too. Being patient with myself, in the middle, in the mess. Being patient, and knowing that this is where I need to be, and who I need to be right now.

About face – on social media addiction.

Facebook has been my addiction for several years. The more I use it, the less I actually do that is meaningful. I’m trying to resist the impulse to check it multiple times an hour.

I’m like my Mom, who lit up a cigarette every 20 minutes she was awake. Instead of flicking my Bic, I’m clicking a mouse. I probably won’t get cancer from checking Facebook this often, but I’m just as surely losing pieces of my life.

So, like with any other addiction, I need to study it and replace it. I need to study the power it has over me, and dig down to what “hole” I’m trying to fill with it.

Then I need to address that underlying issue and fix it or make peace with it.

Part of that is filling the “hole” with better things. For me, that means writing and drawing and beading. If it was warmer outside I’d probably add in walking. Maybe I’ll do more yoga.

But I feel it is critical to not substitute one addiction for another addiction. Even healthy things can be misused and abused. It isn’t about the thing but the reason behind the thing or the intent.

If we are not being mindful, we are being mindless.

Being mindful is what makes us different from animals.

Prayer makes me mindful. Being thankful makes me mindful. I’ll start there.

Also, part of it is being observant. I’m noticing that I want to check Facebook, and just observing that feeling but not yielding to it. That alone is a big deal. I’m trying to make it harder to do as a way to remind me of my intention. Instead of having my phone right next to me, I’ll have it in another room, and turned off. Instead of having the Facebook icon on my Kindle, I’ve removed it from the carousel so I have to go into the Apps page to access it.

These things slow me down so that I remember. It has to be a conscious, intentional act to check it. That is my goal – to have everything I do be conscious and intentional.

Don’t be a zombie.

Who are you?

Now, who are you really?

What have you always wanted to do? What is your dream vocation?
Are you doing it? Why not?

I want to encourage you to dream big. I want to encourage you to be the person you were made to be. I want you to wake up and see that life is indeed what you make of it.

My father wanted to be a conductor. Not of trains, although there was one summer he got to operate the trolley at the Chattanooga Choo Choo. What he really wanted to do was conduct an orchestra. His first and truest love was classical music. I remember him telling me a story that when he was young he used to listen to his classical records in the closet.

He was listening to classical music. In the closet. He was hiding as if he was doing something wrong.

He never lived out that dream. Perhaps there was shame that was put on him by his parents. I can imagine them telling him that conducting an orchestra isn’t a practical job. It won’t feed a family. Perhaps they convinced him that he wouldn’t be good enough at it to make it. There aren’t that many openings to be conductors. Why try at all if you can’t be the best?

When parents or coworkers or friends or church members or strangers tell you that you can’t do something, they are really pushing their own insecurities on you. They don’t think they can do it. They mean well, usually. They think they are saving you from the pain of failure. But really, they are killing you.

Not being who you were created to be is the worst kind of death. It is a death within life. Depression comes from being suppressed. It comes from your true nature being denied.

This doesn’t mean that you have to quit your job and move to Tibet. This doesn’t mean you need to find a job at a non-profit. This doesn’t mean that you have to stop reading fluffy romance books.

Or maybe it does.

This means that it is a good idea to realize that life is short and it is time to really think about what you are doing and where you are going. This means that it is time to give your dreams a try. This means that now is a good time to be yourself, really you, and not what everybody else thinks you should be.

Sometimes what we do to fill our time is just a distraction. We think we need to read the latest bestseller, watch the latest TV series, or buy that new dress that the movie star was wearing.

When we do this, we are being zombies. In a very amusing podcast called Paradosis by Father John Hainsworth, an Orthodox priest, he talks about what it is to be human by using zombies as an example of what it means to NOT be human.

He tells us that zombies look human, but they aren’t. What separates zombies from humans is their appetite. They are mindless in their need to consume. They will do anything to fill their appetite.

How are we different from zombies when we are mindless consumers, having to buy into the latest trend? How are we different from zombies when we sleepwalk through our lives, just going through our routines? How are we different from zombies when we aren’t truly alive to who we were made to be?

It is hard to wake up. It is hard to know what we want, and who we are, really. It is so easy to just go with the herd and be part of the mooing masses. But who wants to be a cow, led to the slaughter?