Work hard on yourself

I was recently teaching a Reiki class to a very nice group of women…

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

But before I go on, I should tell you that the most rewarding aspect of my Reiki classes is the interaction, the closeness that happens between all of us. We usually start the class with an activity that would help create a safe space: one in which there is confidentiality, acceptance, respect and people take care of their own needs. By the end of a 12 hour class (Reiki I is intensive, I know) people have opened their hearts and have experienced what it is to be supported and connected.

So, this group of women… after each activity we sit and reflect on the experiences and make space for questions and answers. The subject of becoming a Reiki Master and teacher came up. Someone asked how to replicate, expand, multiply the kind of closeness, intimacy and support experienced during the day. I said, “What you do is you all become Reiki Masters and teachers and pass on this gift of Reiki to other people.” 

I’m not new to the hesitation most people experience about teaching others. We tend to doubt ourselves. Would others listen to us? Do we have the authority to teach others when we still feel “incomplete,” “flawed,” “in the process of becoming”? And I think the answer is Yes, yes and yes. We complete ourselves in the interaction with others. We build ideas as we speak and the inner knowledge comes out. We let our vulnerability be seen and trust the others, and we see our vulnerabilities as the place from which we can empathize with them. We become (whatever we want to become) thanks to the collective wisdom that inspires us, motivates us to move forward, opens our eyes to new experiences.

So, then the group wanted to discuss some more about the Reiki principles. One of the five principles is “Working hard on self” and it brought quite a few questions. No, we don’t want to be hard on ourselves, that’s not the idea.

There is the perfectionist kind of hard, I said. A person who will never feel enough and will judge others by the same measure. And then, there is the honest person kind of hard. I provided a personal example: I hate mediocrity and still I’ve come to recognize that sometimes I don’t try my best, because what I do seems good enough to many. So, I need to be true to myself. I think it’s easy to fall into what Edward de Bono called the “intelligence trap:” if we’re somewhat smart, we might be tempted to using our thinking to defend our positions (and we might have the ability to do it nicely), rather than further exploring ideas and subjects until we really have a deep knowledge of what we’re talking about. Once I recognize that I’m doing this, I have the obligation to “work hard” on getting out of the above mentioned trap, and conscientiously study and keep myself up to date on the topics I’ll be teaching, writing and discussing. So, the goal of “working hard” is not to be perfect, but to be honest: to be fully aware of our potential, our weaknesses, our flaws until we get to really know who we truly are. And we’re certainly not what we do nor what we achieve nor what we have.

We spoke about two kinds of doing: there is what I do in order to have (possessions, titles, position, recognition) and this kind of doing doesn’t really lead to satisfaction, fulfillment or joy.  And there is the doing that becomes the expression of my being and this doing is pure joy on itself

 

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Disconnected…

We spend most of our lives disconnected.

As the founding executive and director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of MassachuImage result for separationsetts medical school, Jon Kabat Zinn PhD would probably say: We are disconnected from our sensations, disconnected from our perceptions, disconnected from our impulses, disconnected from our emotions, disconnected from our thoughts, disconnected from what we say and also disconnected from our bodies. And this seems to be due to the fact that we are constantly mired in worries, lost in the mind, absorbed in our thoughts, obsessed with the past or the future, immersed in our plans and driven by our desires, confused by our need to have fun and at the expense of our expectations, fears and desires, however unconscious and automatic they may seem.

Disconnected from the planet

The world is becoming increasingly polarized, our awareness of separation grows and the spending habits we have adopted disregard the responsibility we have with caring for the planet. Our fall from paradise –as a metaphor– seems to refer precisely to the beginning of this disconnection from nature that happened when humans transition from hunter-gatherer societies to become shepherds (Abel) and farmers (Cain). With the progress of agriculture, private property, States, armies and a new type of relations between men and women soon appear.

In a world progressively displaced towards urban life[1], we not only have we lost the acuity of our senses, but our instinct and intuition. Let’s take the example of a hunter: he has to learn to listen to the animal that stealthily approaches, identify the marks it has left on the ground, refine his ear to identify where a sound comes from. He needs to be able to see, feel the signs that his prey leaves on the road. In his job as a hunter, the individual needs a type of sight that would allow him to identify a target at a great distance and pursue it with his eyes. This refinement of his intuition, of his senses, of his abilities, makes him a more efficient hunter. We have lost instinct and intuition. The sharpness of our senses has deteriorated. We rely on external gadgets or additaments to make up for the loss of our senses.

Our disconnection from nature in modern life is such that we are unable to anticipate the impact that material “progress” has on our lifestyle, health, others and the planet from which we derive our sustenance. When we eat a hamburger we can’t see the relation between its fat content and the damage that a diet rich in lipids can produce on our immune system, and eventually the arteries, which years later could increase the risk of suffering a heart attack or an embolism. We only perceive the immediate gratification.

The news tells us about global warming, melting glaciers, increasing temperatures of the oceans. In the summer of 2017, the largest iceberg in the world split up from Antarctica and in 2018 the northeastern United States was hit by heavy storms of ice, rain and snow that apparently originated in the Arctic warming (this year began to melt early, in February). We know that sea levels are rising and the coastal cities in the Gulf of Mexico and the islands north of the Caribbean have been affected by more intense hurricanes and tornadoes than ever. We witness more earthquakes, devastating fires (related to droughts), endangered species, toxic algae blooms, all phenomena of unprecedented intensity[2]. The key question is whether these occurrences are a consequence of human activity or not.

One of many examples we could offer about the disconnection between our lifestyle and the impact we cause on the planet, is how comfortable we get to feel with the practice of buying products packed in plastic because (we shrug the shoulders) we can throw the container in recycling bins. But do we question where this waste is going? Much of the plastic that we throw away has to be transported (with a high fuel use) to the recycling centers. But also, the recycling process itself consumes energy or in many cases the plastic ends up being transported throughout the world[3]in huge tankers that leave a trail of lethal oil in the water, to be later deposited in batches on Third World countries fields[4]. And, what will happen to objects made of recyclable material when they their use value ends?

Another example of our disconnection: the Pacific Ocean draws approximately ten metric tons of plastic fragments to the beaches of the Los Angeles, California area. Birds, turtles, seals and other marine animals confuse plastic debris with food (their smell and appearance deceive them) and the animals can die from malnutrition, chemical poisons in the plastic or intestinal obstruction. In some cases, they get stuck or entangled in objects such as fishing nets. Can you guess where all that plastic comes from? The lack of regulation of certain industrial processes (production, waste disposal) is also responsible for both pollution and the consequences of the presence of plastic in the environment.

The United Nations has issued a resolution that seeks to eliminate plastic in the oceans in 200 countries, but they estimate that the task will take at least thirty years when it may already be too late (at present, about 115 marine species are affected by plastic debris). Presently, countries like Spain do not know what to do to dispose of the millions of plastic bottles that are thrown away every day. From the moment I write to the moment you’ll read this, it’s very likely the statistics will be worse. However, markets are still filled with plastic containers that we sometimes have no option but to buy and take home (shampoos, alcohol, medicines, all come in plastic bottles).

There is consensus in the scientific community (expressed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC for its acronym in English) that human activity is modifying the atmosphere and affecting the planet. But legislators, the president of the United States, and many media still doubt these conclusions and are even reversing the advances made in the protection of the environment. The interests of large corporations, which are not willing to bear the costs of re-engineering, necessary to prevent future emissions of greenhouse gases, are behind this problem.

The careless appropriation and abuse of resources and mindless consumerism ignores the impact we’re having on the planet. Add the use we make of fossil fuels or the waste that we generate. In the main cities of countries like the United States, up to forty percent of the food that is produced is dumped and as long as the water continues to flow in the tap we will not realize the consequences of the insensible waste of water and wood, resulting from the expanding urban population.

The media also constantly inform us about acts of terrorism, wars, people displaced by violence, refugees, famines, natural calamities, human and drug trafficking, mass dismissals, corporations that sink overnight and others that are they amalgamate to form huge and all-powerful corporations. Symptoms and consequences of our disconnection as humanity.

[1] Urban population in 2014 constituted the 54 percent of the global population while in 1960 it was a 34 percent, and it continues to grow.
[2] In just a month (August-September 2017) three hurricanes, Harvey in Texas, Irma in Florida and María in Puerto Rico cause immense damages (calculated in 500 billions of dollars). Damages cause by Maria are considered the worst disaster ever registered in Dominica. At the same time, the very dry summer came with fires that affected 10.000 buildings and houses and 47,000 acres in 2017. New fires are ongoing.
[3] China recently banned the imports of foreign waste (they were recycling but the waste received was not properly sorted out). The U.S., Europe and Japan are having trouble finding an alternative. The European Union is considering a tax on plastics and some countries have started to ban the use of plastic bags, cups, plates, straws and plastic bottles. To give you an idea of the dimension of the problem: They have estimated that around 4.73 billion plastic cups are thrown away every year only in France.
[4] I hesitate in using the term Third World, which was coined in the fifties and might mean something completely different now. However, I’ll use it to designate the group of countries that are less developed technologically and where the living conditions, health indicators and income of most of the population is the least favorable.

Nos mueve la necesidad de conectarnos

Aparte del  nuevo libro, aún sin publicar, de Silvia Casabianca, Sin Amor no hay Civilización. Del Miedo a la Solidaridad.

Algún día cuando hayamos dominado los vientos, las olas, las mareas y la gravedad, aprenderemos a utilizar las energías del amor. Entonces por segunda vez en la historia del mundo, la humanidad habrá descubierto el fuego.  Teilhard de Chardin

A pesar de las palabras de odio terribles que se leen en los comentarios de los artículos de prensa y twitters, a pesar de lo candentes y hasta destructivos que se vuelven los debates políticos, a pesar de las múltiples guerras contemporáneas y de Viejitaque muchos medios se inclinan a dar preferencia a historias de abusos, corrupción y disputas, a pesar de todo, veo a diario seres humanos embarcados como yo en una misma búsqueda… y la búsqueda es la del amor. Nos mueve una necesidad de conectarnos, de sabernos parte del todo. Si no somos conscientes de ello, al menos intuimos en lo más profundo de nuestro ser que somos seres sociales, que necesitamos vínculos; queremos ser amados, sentirnos necesitados y útiles, sabernos protegidos, apoyados, parte de una tribu.

En 1943, el psicólogo Abraham Maslow[1] planteó una teoría de la motivación humana con una jerarquía de necesidades que debiera satisfacerse en una cierta secuencia, empezando por las básicas que nos garantizan la supervivencia, para poder seguir avanzando hacia la autorrealización. Propuso que cuando el déficit en una de esas jerarquías ha sido más o menos satisfecho, nuestras actividades se dirigen hacia la satisfacción del siguiente grupo de necesidades. En últimas, según Maslow, colmamos nuestras necesidades no tanto porque nos haga falta algo sino porque, siguiendo un impulso innato, queremos crecer.

Una vez nuestras necesidades fisiológicas y de seguridad están más o menos satisfechas, procedemos a suplir las necesidades sociales de amor y pertenencia, lo cual explicaría por qué se forman familias, por qué tanta gente busca ser miembro de una iglesia, afiliarse a un partido político, un club o un equipo deportivo.

Maslow no presentó evidencia empírica de su teoría y en psicología se considera su modelo a veces muy lineal. Sin embargo, muchos estudios realizados con mamíferos, desde pequeñas ratas hasta los humanos, sugieren que nuestro bienestar depende significativamente de nuestro entorno y que sufrimos cuando nuestros vínculos son amenazados o truncados. Ahora tenemos abundante evidencia de que estamos condicionados para conectar con otros.

Cuando somos rechazados por parte de un grupo social, somos víctimas del bullying o perdemos a un ser querido, sufrimos lo que se conoce como dolor social lo que nos demuestra que las conexiones entre humanos no son opcionales o fortuitas, sino que existe una necesidad esencial dictada por razones adaptativas, de crear vínculos.

Los psicólogos Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary[2] analizan las razones que prueban que tenemos una necesidad psicológica de pertenencia. Sentirnos conectados y formar vínculos afectivos es una demanda adaptativa, dicen los autores. Esta necesidad se pone de manifiesto desde la infancia cuando los bebés desarrollan espontáneamente apegos.

Los autores basan su hipótesis en varias observaciones:

  • Una vez que una relación se establece, las personas son reacias a romperlas incluso cuando existe tensión, conflicto o incluso abuso. O sea, la gente prefiere evitar la separación, aunque haya que pagar un alto costo emocional.
  • Cuando nos sentimos cercanos a otros, nuestros pensamientos se adaptan y empezamos a incluir aspectos del otro en nuestro concepto de nosotros mismos hasta llegar a sentir que nuestros destinos están entrelazados.
  • Las relaciones cargan un peso emocional significativo: estamos felices cuando las cosas van bien; tendemos a sentirnos miserables, ansiosos, celosos, cuando hay conflicto.
  • Cuando no estamos en una relación cercana con otros, sufrimos.
  • Las estadísticas nos muestran que quienes sostienen una relación de pareja se mantienen más saludables, menos estresados y tienen una expectativa de vida más larga.
  • Las separaciones, incluso si son breves, producen malestar y tristeza.
  • La gente prefiere tener pocas, pero muy cercanas amistades y un número mayor de conocidos, siendo la calidad más importante que la cantidad. Esto es porque establecer un vínculo toma tiempo y requiere esfuerzo e inversión de energía. Cuando una relación se rompe, la gente tiende a buscar una nueva.

Baumeister y Leary concluyen en su estudio que los seres humanos estamos motivados por una necesidad de pertenencia, esto es, por un fuerte deseo de formar y mantener duraderos vínculos interpersonales.

Esta necesidad fue por primera vez estudiada y descrita por el psiquiatra John Bowlby[3] quien formuló la teoría del apego[4] (attachment theory) abriendo la puerta a una comprensión más profunda sobre el hecho de que somos animales sociales, pero también a entender que los primeros años de la vida de un niño son determinantes. Estudiando niños que habían sido separados de sus padres durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial encontró que aquellos que fueron criados en orfanatos presentaban retrasos cognitivos, problemas para regular emociones y para relacionarse con otras personas. Los autores e investigadores contemporáneos Daniel Siegel y Helen Fisher están hoy a la vanguardia del estudio sobre el apego.

En un bien divulgado estudio, Harry Harlow en los años 1950s diseñó “mamás” de alambre, fieltro y madera a través de las cuales se alimentaba a monos Rhesus recién nacidos. Después mantuvo a los animales en total aislamiento. El investigador concluyó que el contacto físico del crío con su madre, incluso con esa madre de alambre, era tan o más importante para su bienestar y desarrollo que la nutrición que recibía. En su laboratorio de Wisconsin, Harlow exploró la naturaleza del amor, tratando de entender cómo se formaban las relaciones entre infantes y sus madres. Probó que el amor a la madre era más de tipo emocional que fisiológico, relacionado con el cuidado que el crío recibe y que la capacidad para formar un vínculo estaba asociada con momentos críticos de la vida temprana, después de los cuales era difícil compensar la pérdida inicial de seguridad emocional.

Daniel Siegel también ha hecho énfasis en el hecho de que los niños que desarrollan un vínculo seguro con sus padres saben que pueden acudir a ellos cuando necesitan apoyo. Esto los capacita para empatizar con otros más tarde.

Por lo que sabemos, en sus inicios, el bien colectivo, entendido como aquello de lo que se benefician todos los vecinos, era prioridad para los seres humanos y esto se ve aún en las comunidades indígenas en gran parte del mundo. Como tenemos una necesidad innata de conectarnos con otros, de sentirnos parte del grupo, la vergüenza que se deriva de cometer una acción que perjudica a la comunidad se vuelve un obstáculo para nuestra integración al grupo. Cuando se rompen las reglas y se cometen actos que atentan contra la comunidad, el miedo de convertirse en un paria y la consecuente vergüenza de saberse expuesto contribuye a corregir (a veces a ocultar) el comportamiento. El que las tribus acostumbraran aventilar en público los actos que afectaran a sus miembros, tendía a corregir conductas que no eran beneficiosas para la comunidad.

El Dr. Ed Diener es conocido como el Dr. Felicidad por más de 25 años de investigaciones en el tema del bienestar. Intrigado por el hecho de que en los Estados Unidos el incremento significativo en el ingreso no ha tenido un impacto positivo sobre el bienestar de la gente, se dedicó a estudiar qué otros factores contribuyen a una vida más satisfactoria. Diseñó un cuestionario que es utilizado por muchos terapistas. En uno de sus estudios con Martin Seligman[6], otro investigador de la Universidad de Illinois, encontró que los más contentos entre 222 estudiantes universitarios encuestados eran aquellos que mantenían vínculos estrechos con sus familias y amigos. Eran más extrovertidos y menos neuróticos. Otros estudios corroboran que la satisfacción que experimentamos está relacionada con el grado de nuestra conexión con las demás personas. Somos seres sociales y seguramente el psicoanalista Erich Fromm[7] tenía razón cuando afirmó que buscamos toda la vida vencer un sentimiento de separación y que nos enloqueceríamos si no lográramos de alguna manera unirnos con otros. Este sentimiento de separación, adquirido al nacer tanto como seres humanos y como individuos, nos lanza hacia un estado permanente de incertidumbre.

Aunque tengamos ese anhelo de conectar con otros, progresivamente nos sentimos más y más separados como individuos coexistiendo en un planeta y un universo del que también nos percibimos separados. Parafraseando al autor Charles Eisenstein[8], vivimos en un mundo en que la psicología nos considera una mente que habita en un cuerpo, las religiones predican que somos almas encarnadas, la física, que somos materia y estamos determinados por fuerzas impersonales, la biología, también determinista, que somos como un robot de carne y hueso programado por genes en beneficio de un interés reproductivo y, la economía, que somos actores racionales que buscan maximizar su propio interés financiero.

Pero la nueva ciencia empieza a desmentir tan tremendo disparate. Podemos superar la consciencia de separación, la cual contribuye grandemente a crear los síntomas que afectan a la humanidad en el presente. Esa percepción de segmentación nos lastima: nos vemos separados por género, fronteras nacionales, procedencia, creencias, color de la piel, estrato social. Y los mecanismos modernos que estamos encontrando para intentar vencer nuestras distancias (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, por ejemplo) son desde luego insuficientes si no contraproducentes.

En la conferencia The Future of Modern Love (El futuro del amor moderno) dictada en un simposio de psicoterapia (The Psychotherapy Networker, 2018), ante una audiencia de 4.000 personas, la psicoterapeuta belga Esther Perel mencionaba que la vida urbana, a la vez que ha significado una libertad individual sin precedentes, es responsable por nuestro aislamiento, nuestra desconfianza de los otros y nuestra segregación como seres humanos. La pérdida de nuestro sentido de pertenencia a una comunidad explicaría en gran parte la calidad de las relaciones de pareja modernas. Ya las relaciones no están dictadas por la tradición y las convenciones sociales, sino que sus términos son negociables. Los matrimonios han dejado de ser para la mayoría una empresa económica para convertirse en una iniciativa romántica en la que se ponen enormes expectativas. Como en la vida urbana se pierde gran parte del capital social (se disuelve la tribu), la pareja se convierte en el TODO para el otro.  Debe proveer los recursos emocionales y físicos que antes la aldea por lo regular proveía. Si la intimidad acostumbraba a ser el resultado de la convivencia, ahora el otro debe convertirse en el recurso que suple todas mis necesidades de conexión. Debe hacerme sentir que valgo y cuento y ser el remedio para mi soledad existencial, concluye Perel. Este nuevo y absorbente amor romántico es una receta para el desastre, predice la autora. Las expectativas son imposibles. Los rechazos y las rupturas son mucho más dolorosas.

[1]Maslow, A. (1954).Motivation and Personality (Motivación y Personalidad). Harper and Broth.

[2]Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995).The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation (La necesidad de pertenecer: Deseo de crear vínculos personas como una motivación humana fundamental). Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497-529.

[3]En 1951, Sir John Bowlby escribió una monografía para la Organización Mundial de la salud titulada Maternal Care and Mental Health (Cuidados maternos y salud mental) donde propuso que los niños pequeños necesitaban la presencia cercana y constante de su madre (o sustituto) en la cual ambos encontraran satisfacción y gozo.

[4]Los términos vínculo y apego como traducción de attachmenta veces se usan como intercambiables en español, pero el término apego es tal vez una mejor traducción en el sentido de inclinación hacia alguien o algo, mientras que el término vínculo se usa en el sentido de atadura.

[5]No uso aquí el término antisocial como patología sino como opuesto al comportamiento prosocial.

[6]Diener, E., Seligman, M. Very Happy People (Gente muy feliz)en https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11894851

[7]Fromm publicó The Art of Loving (El arte de amar)en 1956.

[8]Eisenstein es un conferencista bien conocido en temas de ciencia y filosofía. Para saber más visite: http://www.charleseisenstein.net

 

2,800 million people living with less than US$2 a day – Could you call it progress?

Progress is defined as a concept including the improvement of human condition, “the development of an individual or society in a directpoverty_146592980ion considered more beneficial than and superior to the previous level” (Thedictionary.com). However, many people equates progress with modernization. That is why construction, road projects and in general, technological advances plus a wider access to such advances are used to measure the “progress” of a group, region or nation. But I consider this is a limited view of what  true progress is.

A holistic concept of progress should include not just the material but the immaterial aspects of life. I would see it as progress if I saw more joyful people on the streets, fewer anxious people, less rush. I would believe it is progress when more people had access to preventative physical and mental health. When fewer people had the need for consuming alcohol and other substances as prescription for fun… or to relax. When there was more compassion and real team work and cooperation; more of a sense of collectivism and less individualism; less greed and more detachment.

But when we look around we find that in the midst of astounding advances there are still homeless people in the streets (only 18 states reported decreases in the number of people living in unsheltered locations): on one end of the spectrum we find a little more than a handful of billionaires, while on the other end about 1,200 million people live in extreme poverty, trying to survive with a fixed income of a dollar a day (according to the WB) and lacking shelter, food, access to health or education. The World Bank calculates close to 2,800 million people living with less than US$2 a day. And when we look at this reality, could we really talk about progress?

To calculate progress, statisticians use comparatives, like, “How did people live two centuries ago?” “How does the quality of live in different countries or regions compare?” The first thing we find is that social inequality has grown exponentially. The gap is enormous. By the beginning of the 20th century, the statistics show, the difference in the per capita rent between rich and poor countries was 10 to 1. Today it is 60 to 1. The concentration of wealth shows us there is a large section of the world population left behind when a few others are becoming extremely rich.

And the above numbers refer only to income. Add to that picture a lack of access to clean sources of water, education or health services.

And, could we truly talk about progress when depression and anxiety multiply as mental health symptoms of unhappiness? About 75 per cent of Americans have taken antidepressants and/or meds for anxiety sometime in their lifetime. Some of them unnecessarily, just because they were feeling sad or anxious, not necessarily depressed.

How could we talk about progress when the number of suicides in a country considered the kingdom of opportunity, one of the most industrialized countries, with a commitment to the “pursuit of happiness)” with no wars in its territory, increased a 25 percent in the past 15 years (according to CDC)?

When preventable conditions have skyrocketed, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes, could we claim we’re progressing? I don’t think so; these conditions clearly point to a deterioration of our lifestyle… as we move away from nature, our diets are less organic, more artificial; our air and water are contaminated; our exposure to electromagnetic fields and x-rays increases with the risk of illnesses.

It cannot be progress when the percentage of deaths due to opioids and codeine have tripled in the past 15 years. But the most telling symptom against the idea that we are progressing is that we live in an era where terrorism is rampant and racism and discrimination are starting to bloom again.

Maybe we should include among our New Year resolutions to adopt healthier lifestyles, waste less and be more compassionate, empathetic and friendly.

Happy holidays!

 

Let’s stop terror with love

These are of course, days to reflect on the recent tragic events.

News have identified  Tunician Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel as the driver who drove a truck into people celebrating Bastille Day July 15, in Nice, killing at least 84 people.

After Nice, as it was after last June’s Orlando killings, or after any massacre perpetrated anywhere in the world, I feel confused, terrified, pondering how can a human being become so insensitive to human life. I strive to understand what intense pain, fear, anger or desperation existed in the heart of the assassins that led to planning and executing these barbaric killings.

Terrorists only purpose is to dominate by planting fear, that’s their real weapon. Terror expands compromising everybody’s health, safety, trust and lives in general. We’re collectively traumatized, we don’t feel safe any longer. Even silence and apparent indifference could be the result of terror… It’s more comfortable to hide, ignore, distract the pain with trivial endeavors, or adopting new addictions to stop mulling about what happened. However, I feel, something breaks inside… we’re left broken and incomplete. Our faith in humanity is shaken. What’d be the future of this planet?

While people who blindly support bigots and tyrants, might feel these tragedies are one more reason to hate, repress, build walls, divide, I feel, and wish that those who are not so blind will also see, tragedy is only one more reason to love. Love is the only thing that can heal and save the world.

Let’s become better friends, but not only Facebook-kind of friends. Let’s truly care, connect and express concern for each other. Let loved ones know that we stand there for them.

Let’s learn better ways to supporting each other, to come closer together, to understand each other, to forgive each other. Let’s remember that we’re all made of the same (stardust) stuff, we share the same essence; that when we are saying “we’re one” it is not just a snobbish slogan. Let’s make room again for poetry and laughter and joy.

But more than anything, let’s take responsibility for what’s going on in the world, by leading meaningful lives and not just this silliness infused by consumerism. Let’s appreciate life above stuff; let’s honor the planet and respect our bodies; let’s stop bigotry and hatemongering, which on the long run lead to these tragedies.

Let’s unite to stop terror.

The intelligent immune system

Sports-Nutrition-runner
Living healthy can prevent almost any illness. Healthy environment, diet and stress reduction strategies are key to health.

Fifty years ago, we knew little about the immune system. Back then, only a handful of illnesses were classified as autoimmune conditions where the immune system doesn’t recognize proteins normally present in the body and attacks its own cells. Today, researchers have found that autoimmune responses explain about at least 10 percent of the diseases that affect the planet’s population; among them, diabetes (type I), lupus, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, to name only the most common ones. But other conditions such as ulcerative colitis and even schizophrenia are possibly linked to autoimmune responses. Furthermore, coronary disease has been related to the efficiency of the immune system in clearing up plaque deposits in the arteries of the heart.

By the end of the 19th century, when vaccines were invented, Louis Pasteur discovered germs as the cause of many illnesses and later bodily reactions to specific microorganisms, like the tuberculosis Koch’s bacillus, were identified, confirming the existence within the body of the immune system. Initially, immunity was conceptualized as a defense army in charge of destroying an enemy, concept that reflects a predominantly martial mentality in society. Mainstream western medicine still holds this concept. However, a holistic approach will more accurately reflect the amazing immune system.

Researchers Koch and Pasteur inaugurated a craze where most illnesses started to be explained as caused by germs. In the early 1940s, viruses were found capable of generating illness, and the sixties and seventies saw a great boom in virology, when researchers tried to establish a causal relationship between viral infections and cancer. This causal relationship has however not been confirmed. In some cases, like the infection by papilloma virus (HPV) there seems to exist a strong correlation to cervical cancer in women. However, scientific evidence points to chronic inflammation (not the viral infection) as the precursor of cancer. Take into account that inflammation is modulated by the immune system and that our inflammatory response depends on our lifestyle.

Science has advanced  a great deal. Studies have established that human bodies continuously produce cancer cells but thanks to an immune system capable of recognizing misbehaving cells, cancer can be prevented. By isolating, reeducating and/or destroying those crazy cells, the immune system can keep us cancer free. A clear relationship between cancer and the immune system has thus been established. When the immune system is not working optimally, cancerous cell growth might go out of control.

Since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, investigators have plunged into studying what exhausts the immune system, contributing very interesting insights into its multiple functions.

Beyond this concept of the immune system as an army that chases, confronts and destroys invaders, the immune system is a self-governing network that participates in the body’s learning process, and is responsible for both its molecular identity and the biochemical communication between organs. That’s why author Fritjov Capra deems it our second brain.

Different from other bodily systems, which are confined to a precise anatomic location, the immune network penetrates each tissue of the body. It is made of a number of tissues and organs (lymphatic organs) and specialized cells (lymphocytes and macrophages or white blood cells) that swim back and forth along the circulatory system during surveillance missions, gathering data to ensure the organism’s accurate functioning.

This extraordinary system learns and evolves with experience! From the moment we are born, the immune system learns how to react to unfamiliar agents. It learns to discriminate which molecular features typify bacteria that are usually not present in mammals. It also recognizes the body’s idiosyncratic proteins. Vaccines are developed based on the immune system’s capacity to memorize how to react to alien proteins.

There is also a kind of natural selection taking place in the thymus, where only T-cells (a specific kind of immune cells) that have learned to unite harmoniously with other cells in the organism can survive.

The thymus is one of the most important organs of the immune system. It is a small gland situated behind the breastbone (sternum) and is fundamental in shaping the way in which the body responds to infections. Half of the white blood cells, which originate in the bone marrow, go directly to the blood stream and interstitial fluids. But the rest of them have to go through the thymus where they become T-cells. These have three main roles: to stimulate the production of antibodies and other lymphocytes, to stimulate the growth and function of phagocytes that ingest and digest viruses and bacteria, and to identify foreign or abnormal proteins.

Many immune system organs function as gatekeepers. This is the case of the lymph nodes (in the neck, armpit and groin), the tonsils and the Peyer’s patches in the intestine. The lymphatic fluid, or lymph, goes through these customs checkpoints where lymphocytes capture particulate matter and microorganisms and decide if they should be granted admission to the system or not. Another lymphatic organ, the spleen, is in charge of recycling old and dysfunctional cells.

This amazing system only uses its defensive resources when facing a massive invasion of foreign agents.

Recent research shows that the brain, the endocrine glands and the immune system cooperate and share functions. Moreover, the borders that science had delineated between these systems start to blur, bringing opportunities for new understandings of the body’s functioning. Candace Pert used the term net to describe these systems, because their function encompasses a constant exchange, processing and storage of information. Most substances in charge of transmitting information in the body are peptides, and recent research has shown they are multifunctional; they accomplish different functions for different systems.

For example, the brain produces neuropeptides that are antibacterial precursors; the immune system has perceptual functions, and the endocrine system produces substances that work as neurotransmitters. Initially deemed exclusive to the nervous system, the neurotransmitters have also been found in the bone marrow, where the immune system cells are produced.

The three systems are thus, multifunctional. They form a network that exchanges, stores and passes on information, using peptide molecules as messengers. But, also, our physiology is modulated by emotions. Popular wisdom, which results from observations transmitted from generation to generation, has always correlated emotional stress with vulnerability to illness, and science has proven that our thoughts, mood and emotions influence the functioning of the nervous, endocrine and immune systems.

In a nutshell, science is telling us that we can regulate the production and efficiency of our inner messengers (peptides) by adopting healthy lifestyles. It’s telling us to eat healthy, have fun (to reduce stress) and exercise.

Moving from the perspective of the ego to that of the soul

We’re multidimensional beings and as such, always spiritual beings… However, our consciousness resides or focego and souluses on this or another dimension. So, we say, a truly spiritual person is that person who privileges the perspective of the soul over the perspective of the ego. (No, the ego cannot be eliminated… it has a purpose, it regulates our physical dimension, but sets us in fear when disconnected from the soul).

So here is what I think the differences are between the perspectives of the soul and the perspectives of the ego. In my view, if  the ego is kept on check, the soul will lead us to a life that is a lot more peaceful and fulfilling, with less drama.

TIME FRAME:

Being eternal, the soul has no sense of time and therefore it is in no rush to experience or accomplish anything in particular. Since, it lives in the present, life is for the soul an extraordinary adventure where every experience is welcome. Joy is the natural state of the soul. Love is the soul’s North.
Being vulnerable and finite, the ego rushes through life and has trouble living in the present moment. Being here, it wants to be there. The ego gives us the experience of  fear because it lacks faith in its own capacity to create and survive hurdles.

SENSE OF SELF:

Being boundless and unattached, the soul has no sense of roots or possesions… therefore, for the soul, sharing is not an issue at all. Being alone is not an issue. Change is not an issue. Asserting needs and standing ground are just natural things to do in order to maintain healthy relationships. When an individual lives and sees life from the perspective of the soul, life is good. For the soul (and I think many people has this one wrong) it’s okay to use the pronoun ‘I”… to share experiences, to teach, to support others. The soul uses this I perspective to say, “this is what has worked for me in the past, you may want to try it too” but it is not condescending, so the soul will not to say or imply, “this is the way you should be doing things because I know better.”

For the ego, having stuff is of the essence, as are boundaries. Owning “stuff” provides the ego with a sense of security. I own (a house, a job, a title, a partner), therefore I’m okay. 

Instead, the essence of the soul is freedom. Possessiveness is not uncommon for the ego, which is concerned about ownership of land, water, animals and people… The soul would never consider owning. The ego swings between extreme defensiveness and need for privacy to extreme need for fusion, dependency and symbiosis. From depression to grandiosity. An ego that is disconnected from the soul, experiences fear of losing what it has the illusion of possessing. For the ego, nothing is safe, we’re not enough, we don’t have enough.

SENSE OF RIGHT AND WRONG:

The soul can very well discern right from wrong but makes no judgment, condemns not. Understands that inhabiting the body makes individuals susceptible to making mistakes. Errors are mere stumbling stones, learning opportunities, moments that demand changes. Everyone deserves a second, a third and a fourth chance. Taking responsibility is not an issue for the soul. It’s ready to own its actions and consequences.

SENSE OF COMMON UNITY (or community):

Since the soul understands that we’re connected and parts of a bigger reality, part of a whole, different aspects of the same universe, there is no point in competing. Adding and multiplying are better options than subtracting and dividing. The soul’s way of doing things is by supporting each other, not by eliminating competitors. For the soul, there is no vertical ladder, we’re all in a horizontal plane, each one standing or moving on a different stretch of the path.

SENSE OF PRIDE:

Pride is overrated. Humility is overrated. The soul is proud of the opportunities found, of the goals reached, of the service rendered, of the impact its loving actions might have on the lives of other people. Pride is not a sense of superiority because the soul has no sense of hierarchies. It’s a sense of accomplishment, of fulfillment and it’s good.
Instead, for the ego, pride is grandiosity, an inflated sense of self and therefore, it is destructive. It is out of this kind of pride that bigotry, abuse, hate, despise, envy and greed are born.

On anger, indiference and indignation

chemistry-of-love-heartThere is a big difference between experiencing anger and indignation. Making out the difference between the two feelings might prove useful for people who are seriously working on a spiritual path. Many religions exhort people to prevent anger. Buddhism considers anger one of the three poisons (with greed and ignorance) that prevent us from achieving Nirvana. Christians list ire as one of the capital sins and capital sins are considered the source of all sins. Islam considers that anger prevents you from using wisdom. But the great masters didn’t call for a state of indifference towards the state of affairs in the world. Preventing anger should not alienate us from advocating for the unprivileged or taking action against injustice.

We’re probably not born with anger.  However, as human beings, anger might be an intrinsic resource that, by using the memory of having been hurt, allows us to create boundaries meant to protect us from abuse.

Anger is in many cases born from experiencing frustration or feeling that we were not taken seriously; it might be the feeling that, understandably, follows bullying. Anger is a personal thing. And still, we always have the choice of taking things personally or not. We have the choice to stand our ground, turn our back or react aggressively. We must not make others responsible for our actions.

One of my most important realization about anger came about when I finally understood that behind anger is also the realization that no matter how much I’ve worked to be a loving person there are still times when my love is not unconditional and not enough. If it were, I am sure there would be no room for anger. I would just accept the other exactly as she or he is. I think that most of the anger we experience is actually against ourselves but we might project it unto others. This is so especially if we feel we have failed in becoming the loving person we want to become.

We need to know that anger is damaging to us and we need to learn to let it go. I use to say that anger is like experiencing an earthquake, the heart is the epicenter. We damage ourselves more than anyone else when we hold on to anger.

Anger is then, related to power issues. If someone makes me feel less or I realize that I am still less than the ideal me, then I get angry.

But what about indignation? A similar emotion to anger, indignation has moved advocates, spiritual warriors and other courageous people to heroic action. Indignation stems from not accepting injustice (not when you feel your brother received a better Christmas present) but, for instance, when you see children starving to death knowing that food is wasted somewhere else. Any sign of  social injustice and oppression, if we are socially aware, causes indignation in righteous people.

We must not see spirituality as a state of indifference or mistake indifference for a peaceful stance. Emotions stemming from indignation are not “personal.” Indignation is a state of the heart that moves us to play a role as healers on a larger scale. Healing is not limited to the role of soothing the other… it often involves fighting old patterns, empowering ourselves and others, unveiling uncomfortable truths.

Mindfulness is what would tell us the difference.

 

Barriers to love

BDcard“Love is all there is,” some say. But really?

I find that we live in a society were all too often telling the truth, and I am talking about the inner truth, is not seen as an asset. I see people smiling when they feel like crying or shouting out loud in order to hide their grief or their fear. I also see people refraining from expressing their political preferences openly maybe because they are afraid of engendering discord. Especially among the so-called “spiritual communities” debate is seen as undesirable. Is like if we have built a society where only likeness could be trusted.

But in the world of duality in which we dwell we find ourselves constantly swimming between two waters.  Call it whatever you may: the law of polarity; the unity of opposites; Thanatos and Eros; destructive vs. constructive forces; yin and yang.

Our lives are driven by opposing drives or forces. One day, we love; the next, we hate. Today, we have faith; tomorrow, we worry or feel overwhelmed by doubt. We navigate through life driven by either duty or pleasure, pride or guilt and shame.

If we could at least honestly acknowledge the inevitable truth of our dual nature, we would not carry on pretending to be loving people when deep inside we are maybe despising others or pulling them out of our lives on the grounds that, for example, they are not as evolved, knowledgeable or spiritual as we are…

Loving those who are different could be a challenge. And there is no doubt that those people who are difficult to love are usually the ones needing love the most.

Friendship, partnership… any meaningful relationship for that matter… must be built on love, that’s true. But love is not of the very mushy nature depicted in novels and movies! True love is strong and veritable, long-lasting and loyal. And I am not referring solely to personal love. Unconditional love might also be strong and bumpy.

When we invest love on others, it’s better not to hold expectations that they would behave or feel or talk in a certain way. Love is based on acceptance. I love you for who you are not for what I want you to become. Another thing is that we could of course deliberately choose who to love based on our preferences and we need to set proper barriers to shield us from bullies. But often it’s love that chooses us. We’re tied to our family and we didn’t choose it. We’re tied to our peers, etc.

I think that if we’re constantly comparing our object of love against some ideal that we set up early in live, we’re likely to be disappointed more often than not. Expectation often comes from our unconscious desire for perfection. Perfectionism comes from growing in an environment that required perfection as a requisite to be accepted and loved.

If we don’t pay attention…

natural remediesFor years, I have repeated as a mantra, once and again, that we need to regain body wisdom. I even wrote a book on this topic, the English translation of which is entitled, precisely, REGAINING BODY WISDOM. I truly believe that our health, physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, depends on staying connected with our Source and with all that is. I have learned that when we’re not connected we worry, experience fear and uncertainty and the body starts giving symptoms of dis-ease.

It took me 17 plus years of practicing as a medical doctor until I realized that I was not paying attention to my body. I confess it… I was a totally inconsistent healthcare practitioner. I prescribed diets and lifestyles that I considered were only for the sick and not for us, the healthy people… In the process, and while I was a family and a community practitioner, I learned a good deal about nutrition. Even though I was familiar with the diets that needed to be prescribed to the people suffering from cardiovascular, renal or digestive diseases, I knew very little about how to promote the intelligence of the body with sound nutrition, exercise or contemplative practices.

I owe the mothers of the little children that came for consultation who were always asking about the best way to feed their babies and who encouraged me to go beyond what I had learned at the medical school. I enjoyed researching the topic. Nutrition became one of my specialties.

But it wasn’t until a few years after I quit medicine to become a psychotherapist that I had my quantum leap. I had a healer lay hands on me. I knew very little about energy healing, I didn’t believe in hands-on healing, but I was curious. Interestingly, at that time, I was clueless about why I was feeling so exhausted even though I was a heavy smoker, drank many cups of coffee a day, didn’t exercise, ate poorly and worked too much.

Why couldn’t I connect the dots?

When I visited  this medical doctor, who was also practicing some form of energy medicine, my motivation to introduce some changes in my lifestyle was high. Nobody changes without true motivation. And even though it was curiosity, more than anything else, what took me to consult with him, I was at that time concerned about the deleterious effects of smoking and tired of the tiredness.

Well, suddenly, just a few hours after he laid hands on me, my cravings for cigarettes were gone! In just a few days, I had also become a vegetarian and was exercising daily.

I went from being totally oblivious of my body to loving it. In just three months, I felt – and looked – like a different person, happier, healthier, full of energy. And to this day, 21 years later, I continue to follow a healthy lifestyle, but most importantly, I have become aware of the signals released by my body and, usually, I respond to them.

When I say body, I mean the whole multidimensional body-mind-spirit complex that we are. And when I mean aware, I signify not only experiencing, feeling, noticing symptoms or discomfort but also being conscious of how stress, worries and fear go along with being disconnected from our Source.

I can’t say that in the past 20 some years I have been free of accidents or symptoms. But I have certainly not used any medications at all. I have become very wary of putting any chemicals into my body. Colorants and preservatives in the food, prescription medicines and even supplements can affect the functioning of our intelligent physical body. Medications should only be used when strictly necessary.

We age though. Our bodies wear and tear with the pass of time. We are not immortal and would not become immortal no matter how good is the care we provide to the body. However, it’s worth to make our best effort to arrive to old age as whole as possible.