Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mind-Body Connection

Of course, the mind-body connection has been acknowledged. But it hasn't been persued rigorously as it should be. It doesn't seem to have been taken as seriously as it deserves to be. It's a huge breakthrough, but I guess there's no money in it. Personally I think that rabbit hole goes very, very deep, and if followed would lead to a true medical revolution.

Patient, heal thyself. This is medicine summed up. Doctors help the body be in a more favorable position for it, but they don't do the healing. Even with such a mechanical, physical thing as a broken bone, all they do is line up the pieces for the body to knit back together. Sometimes it's more invasive or intensive: antibiotics to help the immune system play catch-up from a downhill position, or cutting out an appendix that's about to blow. But I think we go into the hospital with the wrong state of mind when we go in and say, "doctor, make me better." We aren't machines and the doctors mechanics; it doesn't work that way.

Maybe the faith healing has the same foundation. If the mind and the body are one, as two sides of the same coin, say, then powerful belief in a divine healing will surge through the physical realm of the body as well, in the same way that stress can bring a body into dis-ease. It's just a move in the opposite direction. The context that surrounds those freaky looking Christian healings that go on in tents across the country doesn't appeal to me personally, so such a faith healing would likely not work on me.

But I do believe in meditation, in fasting, in exercise and healthy diet, things like Tai Chi and yoga, the power of words and thoughts; occasionally I believe in prayer and "good vibes" (I come and go on the issue), and so on. Chiropractic and other alternative medicine like acupuncture and such also seem very legit, as they seem to combine the physical and mental/spiritual sides of the patient, rather than only admitting to the physical. Of course a lot of this stuff is without much or any foundation in fact; even what they say about diet comes and goes, it's more like fashion than science.

So what I'm saying is that maybe this whole edifice of medical science, all the stuff about germ theory and pharmaceuticals and all of it... is one big placebo effect we've been confusing with a mechanical cause-effect. I personally believe that in an otherwise healthy person, stress or dis-ease in the body-mind is the ultimate cause of disease. Germs don't so much cause the problem, but take advantage of it and produce the symptoms we call illness. Maybe the witch-doctors were right all along, though of course I favor a mix of both sides. I could write tons on this and will probably return to the issue.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Health and Healing

chiropractic training Pictures, Images and Photos

My brother in law Mike is studying chiropractic, and he practices on my sister and I sometimes. He's an ace student so I trust his ability. It started when I asked if a disjointed vertebra might be pinching a nerve between my shoulder blades, where I almost always have muscle knots. Sometimes the tension builds, radiating up my neck, causing a headache, and often this is accompanied by nausea and, commonly enough, vomiting.

He found several "locked up" vertebra in the area where the nerves for the gut come through, and he gave me a good crackin'. A few times, actually: poor posture and muscle memory, I suppose, keeps pulling the bones out of place. At least I'm now sure that the problem with these headaches and vomiting is nothing more than a pinched nerve. I had been a bit concerned about it for years, though without insurance, unable to see a doctor to find out. But this week I "watched" the tension build in the usual spot, between my shoulder blades on the right side of the spine, growing and growing; by Friday it was definitely running up my neck, and last night I slept terribly with worse pain than usual, and a blossoming headache which I killed with Ibuprofen (though I take drugs very regretfully). No nausea this time.

Kind of neat to watch the body like that, and I have to thank my bro-in-law for this
newfound awareness. I believe in chiropractic, but in the end I'm not sure if shifting the bones around is the answer, if the muscles just pull them back out of place. Part of me thinks it makes more sense to do the opposite: work on relaxing the muscles, and the bones will follow suit. Kind of a chicken and the egg problem, and with the body, I'm sure it goes both ways, and both are valuable. I do know that after he adjusted me I felt great. He did my neck too (there was a locked joint there too) and I had more range of motion and my head felt like it was floating, not sitting heavy on my neck.

Some dispute chiropractic's efficacy. Mike says they've talked about this in class, about the placebo effect. He said, well, if it's just a placebo, then why the effect? Here you can't help but delve into the mind-body connection, even treading into the realm of faith healing. Now I'm not really into faith healing, it looks like a farce to me, and often is; just a stage act to get monetary donations. But sometimes it's real. People healed at Lourdes, or by faith healers, by this or that. Or hell, people healed by a sugar pill in a double blind experiment. Same thing. If it's just a placebo, why the effect, indeed.

Part of the problem is the word "just." "Just" a placebo effect. It's a disparaging term that has no basis in fact or logic; only in emotion. Wikipedia calls that a "weasle word." That science has so long avoided looking into this, casting it off as "just" a placebo effect is a shame, a crime, really. I say a crime, because if a sugar pill or a saline injection can cure people who think they're getting medicine, then why are we being poisoned with medicine with so many toxic side effects, and paying egregious amounts of money for the pleasure? What ever happened to "first do no harm"?

More to follow...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Swing of the Pendulum

It seems incredibly self evident to me why our country has shifted so much to the right. Beyond the (often credible) conspiracies of banks, business, and government, our population is aging. You look at the countries like Libya and Egypt, they're massively young countries, with the majority under 30 years old. Here in the US, we've got this big bubble of the Baby Boom hitting their old age.

Revolutions and rebellions tend to be more common among the young. Hell, it was this same generation that led during the 60's hippie revolution. Now they're aging, have become conservative, and want security more than they care about ideals. A natural shift, really. Sad for the rest of us, and sad for the state of democracy in general.

And we all know old people vote far more than the young. Plus, kids/young people these days are all hypnotized with their iPhones, iPods, wii games, internet, and the good old TV. We have no time or energy anymore to put towards social rebellion. We guage our ears and get tattoos, which is all pretty bland and safe as far as rebellion goes; even the drugs are largely passe; at least, they don't lead anywhere like one might say they did in the 60s with the psychedelics. Now it's just party drugs, like ecstacy and rave shit.

It's like Tom Petty sang, about rebels without a cause. There's no more idealism.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Desert Religion

I've always had this... fantasy, I guess, of going off into the desert, fasting and meditating. Weird fantasy life I live, eh? Still, it appeals to me. To strip down everything. No internet, no books, no news, no music, no food even. Nothing at all to do but focus down all my attention like sunlight through a magnifier, to a sharp point, to get down to what is really there.

I admit a lingering fascination with the "Desert Religion," of going off to the desert to find God; of those Zen monks cloistering themselves away on some remote mountain for decades, of the Irish monks of my own heritage, floating off in rickety little boats, possibly all the way to America, looking for a quiet place to live and pray on the remote rocks of the harsh northern Atlantic.

In much of this, I know my 9 years of Catholic schooling must have had their subliminal effect; there's no such thing as an ex-Catholic, after all. But it seems like just about every "wise man" in history had to go off alone somewhere to figure things out. Do I have aspirations of being some such wise man? You're goddam right! Maybe someday, anyways.

I suppose I would be partially looking for "enlightenment" out there. Mostly, though, I just want to know what I'm like without all the input, information and culture being laid upon me every second. No distraction, nowhere to run to, nothing to hide behind. No excuses. Just a pure experience. A bit like what I wrote about in my Gorilla Suit of the World post.

What would I find?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Surviving peak oil

Thurman told me to look into this documentary, called The Power Of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil. Well, I found a video of it online, you can watch it here.

It's pretty fascinating, a real case study of a society experiencing and dealing with Peak Oil and its issues and problems. Gives me a more hopeful feeling than I've had, which I really needed.

There were some interesting points raised at the end. For one thing, the idea that we have used in 100 years half of the oil the Earth has been producing for hundreds of millions of years. As the man in the film says, it's absurd.

Secondly, they made reference to the way Cuba, like all island nations, have a sort of natural sense of limited resources. And it seems this island consciousness is what started the whole environmental movement, when we had for the first time an image of the whole world, as pictures of Earth from Space came out back in the late 1960s.

But it still hasn't sunk in for most of us on the necessary scale. Earth is an island of habitable, livable environment in a sea of inhospitible space. But we still think in terms of growth, endless growth. Not gonna happen. Especially if this century long spasm has used half of one of the most energy dense, versatile, easily used fuels ever known.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Acceptance Part 2

I feel I must revisit my thoughts about Acceptance, as written about in that post. Mostly I stand by what I said, but I feel I glossed over the most important issue: how can you accept clearly negative things? Didn't really deal with the issue. So I'm going to hash it out here, and see what I can come up with. Your thoughts and ideas, as always, are welcome.

For me, right now the best example is silence. As I wrote in that original post, while reading One Square Inch of Silence a part of me kept feeling annoyed at all the bitching about the noise the author experienced. Like, the Zen side of me saying, hey, the air traffic is part of the landscape you're trying to get a recording of, it's not an intrusion, it just is. The problem is your preconcieved notions of what it should be. But of course, then the environmentalist, asthetic, and Wild Man sides of me come out and I'm right there with him, arguing against human created noise.

So as I sit out on the patio evenings after work, I can accept the endless jet traffic roaring over me; but will I ever really like it, will it ever sound beautiful, and will I ever be able to relax in its context? Perhaps on a deep Zen level, all existence is beautiful... but I kind of doubt this will ever happen.

But now, as I write, an idea occurs to me. I suppose, if I'm really accepting the experience, I also have to accept the thought and feeling within me that the sound is ugly. Acceptance doesn't delete all the old feelings, does it?

So I no longer fight my experience... but the experience is inherently disharmonious. Accepting that the noise is there, but also accepting that I hate it. This must be the motive for action, right? Not asthetics, but this, a more primal urge: the move towards harmony between the inner and outer experience?

Or does this disharmony mean I haven't really accepted the noise? Does working to change a thing equate to non-acceptance of a situation or condition?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Turn From Your Heart

Turn from your heart into the wild rippling water,
away from your warm and wood-paneled loves
into the roll of hills you never knew,
trust your lungs to continue grabbing air,
your aging hands to hold to what you need
as you go beyond these rain spangled cobwebs
of the past; soar into those passing storm clouds
to the stars beyond, crack your mind like a broken bell
and leap from the steeple tower to the freshet's run,
down with the fishes as they lead you to the sea,
where monsters and madness and mystery dwell.
Your spirit is in the foam painting every foreign shore;
your passion threads fingers into every crevice
like the mountain top gusts that make the rocks
sing. Strangely laughing, you are waiting in a silent place
for yourself to come along, a place where
straight though the roads are asked to run,
the only path in sight is the step you're taking now,
an endless bushwhack over the broken ground of the limitless.
Turn your face around and see your moment's trail
fading— the grasses stand up one by one,
the pebbles' upturned bottoms slowly dry.
What wind could ask for more than this trackless world,
these miles of solitude, flagrant and rife
and alive to the riffling pattern? There is shift
and sparkle as the ungraspable waters of life slide by,
and the acres swallow you completely, vast distance
and forest transcending the tiny hamlet of the heart.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


The mug of coffee sits hot between my hands, sitting window-side in the cafe. The quiet conversation, jazz music, and banging of the baristas behind the counter fuse into that old familiar rhythm which keeps me coming here time and again.

Out the window, I am watching the airplanes. More than that; I am counting them. There goes one... and another two... and two more... there's one...

Over a half hour, I tally the flights rising up from the airport just to the northeast, watching the planes nose up into the south wind. I count 30 in as many minutes, give or take a couple; chalk that up to this caffeine buzz and my imperfect attention to what passes beyond the window. The endless traffic on Main Street and the intersecting Airport Freeway distracts me. So many cars, so many faces, so many utter strangers whom I will never know, never meet, never see again. And one plane every minute. Every minute!

Hundreds of souls foreign to me hurtle through the sky, leaving only a haze of spreading contrails behind, as the roads outside fill with a flow of glass and steel and exhaust and noise, never absent, never returning.

Tired of this sordid game, I return to my mug, now cooler and half empty; back to my book with a slight shake of my head, as unable as anyone to ponder long on these subtly frightening realities. Averted eyes are our only answer to this madness.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Give 'Em an Inch

So, I finally finished Gordon Hempton's One Square Inch of Silence. It's a great book, and only took me so long to read because... well, I've been reading less of late, and have generally been very distractable and scattered these past few months. Too much time online as well, I think.

Anyways. He has an uphill fight ahead of him, but it's a noble cause and I support him. It's interesting to think about quiet places I have known. Having never really been as attuned to these things in the conscious way I have been since picking this book up, it's not likely to be quiet as what he would consider quiet. But I can name a few experiences, at least.

Porcupine Mountains
Top of the list is the Porcupine Mountains State Park of northwest Michigan. I remember it as being full of leaves-in-wind, and the gentle lapping of Lake Superior's unusually gentle waters on the stony shore, the almost silent night-thrum of the Big Carp River valley spread below me where I sat on the open ridge in the early morning hours, bathed in an astonishingly bright half-moon, feeling like the only man in the world save for my father, behind me sleeping in the trees.

And there are the alpine slopes of New Hampshire's Presidential Mountains, especially Jefferson after the chaotic crowds of Washington; I think it was the contrast that did it, though in actual fact just then on the side of Jefferson only an occasional fly could be heard. Also places in the southern Appalachians, and in Utah-- a few rare parts of the Wasatch Plateau, and especially Zion N.P., which despite what Mr. Hempton writes, struck me as a very quiet place, very mellow in spirit compared to Canyonlands and Arches, which felt much more hectic in spirit. I think it was because there were not private cars allowed in Zion, just the shuttle busses. Or maybe that valley really is special, and named appropriately...

Zion NP
Sadly many of these silences and quietudes are mere moments. Air planes and cars and chainsaws and all manner of other intrusions occur continually. But I'm thinking positively just now. I like Hempton's idea. Imagine if everyone picked a square inch to defend, some place they felt a connection to and meant to preserve. Not limited only to preserving quiet, but for whatever. It could be a trout fisherman protecting his favorite pool in the stream. We all have special places that we love-- maybe a place only we know, maybe a place loved in common.

It's a fascinating thought experiment. Imagine a website where people could mark an interactive map with their spot and find others nearby with whom to form coalitions. It'd be a real democratic, grassroots environmental ethic. After all, I firmly believe that for the environmental ethic, the land ethic, the green ethic, call it what you will... for it to matter, it has to be personal.

This is why organizations like the Utah Conservation Corps build trails. It doesn't seem like conservation (though keeping people on a designated path reduces impacts elsewhere), but it is, and vitally so. It helps get people out there to experience those places, to make them real. It's why there's many programs to get urban kids out in the woods for a weekend. I fully support, for example, not drilling in ANWR, but it's abstract to me. I most likely will never get there. So there's no connection. And environmentalism, ecology, is ALL about connection; building a relationship with Nature, from which we've become disconnected thanks to civilization.

Waste and Madness
in Appalachia
Example: who cares more about mountaintop removal mining? Some Sierra Clubber in Seattle, or some hillbillie back in the hollers of West Virginia? I argue the latter: it is their home being shaken by the blasting day and night and being covered in the settling stone dust, it is there land values that are plummeting, their streams and drinking water poisoned, their daily landscape being marred forever. Props to the Sierra Club and its work and empathy, but a vested interest is the prime driver for passion and action. But the people need to connect, to find one another.

I wonder if this would be feasable. I know nothing about website design, or whether this is needed or a useful idea. There's already clubs and coalitions out there, locally and nationally. I'm sure there's networks already that connect them to each other, and connect people to local clubs. Still, it's a cool thought...

Spirituality Simplified

It seems to me that all of spirituality can be summed up in one word: relax.

That's it. That's all the scripture you need. You don't need the Tao Te Ching, the Bible or Qu'ran, priests and sages, insense, candles, beads, techniques, or exercises. Or maybe at some point you do (I'm no expert), but at least not for starters. Just relax. That's it. All the words just get in the way. Make it seem like there's something to do.

There's nothing to do!

It may take some time, stilling the body, letting your mask of tense muscles in the face, the neck, and wherever open up again. It may take some practice, learning how to let your brain settle into those theta waves. But meditation seems to me the only (and here words fail me) "activity" that is founded not in practicing something, but in practicing nothing.

(You might say you are practicing attention, because obviously attention is key to meditation; but I think of it this way: Relaxing is like ceasing to stir up the waters of attention; the waves get smaller and finally stop, and the water remains, and now you can see deeper through its glassy, unroiled surface).

So just sit down an just really groove on the word, follow every implication. Get into it deeply. You can go a long way with this as your only practice.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Don't just sit there, DO SOMETHING!

My last two posts have been circling a central issue that I feel underpins a lot of what's going on in the world. Energy. Energy is central to the functioning of economies and states. Naturally, by energy I mostly mean fossil fuels, and especially oil.

Well, there's this thing called Peak Oil. It's a multifaceted issue, but the long and short of it is, as with any limited resource, there is a production peak. After half of the oil is gone, it becomes harder and more expensive (in terms of money and energy investment) to get the rest out. What remains is lower quality, and harder to get (deep water, for example, or in or smaller reserves). So, you plateau a while as the market struggles with it, then the long slide down of production begins, while the line of expense goes ever up. Eventually the two lines cross and it takes more energy to get than to use, and it becomes not worth going after... this happens long before all the oil is actually used.

I'm reading now that oil peaked in 2006, putting us in the volatile plateau area. We're massively fucked. Consider:

With the immense petroleum input that goes into modern agriculture (fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, tractors, transit...), food prices are going up and will continue to do so. Thus the unrest in the Arab world these days. They want freedom and an equal share in their economies, but driving it is the need for affordable food. Adding to that are other systemic problems, like depleted fossil aquifers, wasting food for making ethanol (gotta keep soccer mom's SUV and joe sixpack's pick-up going!).

Goodbye soil,
goodbye future.

That alone should make us worry. Food is life, after all, and we aren't ready to jump into a local, organic food production system. The sooner we start the better. Modern agriculture is ruining the soil (what doesnt blow or wash away), which is a crime against the generations to come. This is one of the top issues in my opinion.

This reality of Peak Oil also helps explain the two wars we have going on (it's the oil, stupid!). It helps explain the power grabs and corruption in our government, and the endless recession we've fallen into, which I personally doubt we'll ever climb out of. The point is that the system is in chaos, and probably falling. Those who can are scrambling to grab what they can, it's looting at the highest levels. Peak Oil isn't the only variable in all this, of course; the system is complex. But it's a major one.

So. As I mentioned at the end of my recent post on unions, the system looks like it's going to crash. No other state or economy so depends on fossil fuels as does America's. We live too far from our jobs, from grocery stores (which are themselves too far from food sources), and from clean water (clean water? what's that?). We have paved over miles and miles of prime agricultural land. The suburbs were built on and depend on cheap oil/transportation, as does trade and manufacturing. Part of the housing bubble's collapse might be a growing if yet unconscious awareness of the coming death of suburbia. Our jobs are largely service jobs now, and do not create tangible goods or wealth. In fact, the growth economy and globalism seems to be in its death throes, which is very good for the long term but very painful for the short term. Do the words "die off" mean anything to you?

This is part of why I think getting into sustainability is vital. It's half environmental ethic, half awareness of the end of western civilization as we know it if we aren't proactive. Sounds extreme, but surely a Roman in the year 400 would have said the same of his Empire. Yet just 100 years later, Rome, at least in the West, was a memory as the so called Dark Ages began.

I don't really want another Dark Ages, and I'm sure no one does. But to avoid it, we have to wake up and realize that we are not going to be saved by a miracle technology or fuel source or some other deus ex machina. We have realities to face. We need to stop being lulled by the politicos and economists who are blind, stupid, or corrupt. The storm is coming, and praying for blue skies won't save us. We need to prepare. Large systems fall slowly, and we can help soften the blows, but we need to start yesterday.

Here's a few interesting sites, blogs and otherwise, that I've been reading lately on this topic and others. I'll be adding them to my link list as well.