Be Selfish and Learn to Forgive

“Hanging onto resentment is letting someone you despise live rent-free in your head.”  By now, most of us have heard this quote that is attributed to Ann Landers,   We all know this intellectually, but we’ve all also experienced resistance to forgiveness and invent reasons to justify that resistance.

For example, we tell ourselves that it is our job to correct someone else’s behavior. Most of the time, people know when they’ve done something wrong. Your unforgiving behavior is not news to them. It’s more likely to make them feel resentful and that makes them want to do it again just to piss you off.

If we aren’t the correction type, we may call our unforgiveness a form of self-protection. We tell ourselves that letting someone back into our hearts makes us vulnerable and that’s a risk that can’t be taken. In some cases, I’m sure that’s true; no one is going to tell you to shack up with an abusive partner because it’s the forgiving thing to do (and if someone does, please don’t listen to them). However, most of the time you don’t need to shack up with someone to offer them forgiveness.

Similarly to the fear of getting hurt, there is the fear of going backwards—that we’re resigning ourselves to going back to some old dissatisfactory relationship—but that’s probably not the case, either. People evolve over time. As long as you honor that, all of your relationships will change over time, even the satisfactory ones. Some will get better, some will get worse and some will just fizzle out.

Most of all, we don’t make forgiveness a high priority. Sometimes forgiveness feels like emotional broccoli. Resentment feels like emotional chocolate cake, and we approach it the same way. “Can’t I just have a cheat-day full of resentment? On Monday, I’ll start my strict forgiveness diet.”

Rather than understanding it in terms of personal benefit, we relate it to ethics or some cosmic good, which isn’t exactly as motivating as a sugar rush or the satisfaction of imagining a giant safe falling onto the heads of the unforgiven folks in our lives.

Because of an abundance of recent studies, like with nutrition, we no longer need to rely on some vague notion that a way of behaving (or eating) is somehow better than another—now we know how. Eating your veggies makes us feel good fairly quickly.

Today, I stumbled across a study called “How the Brain Heals Emotional Wounds: The Functional Neuroanatomy of Forgiveness.”  It offers us scientific motivation to start learning how to forgive.

This study was conducted by asking volunteers to “[engage] in script-driven mental imagery of interpersonal wrong doings resulting in a hurtful condition and were instructed either to forgive or to feel resentment and think about revenge toward imagined offenders.¹”

The subjects were asked to imagine that someone did them dirty, and then either imagine offering forgiveness the person or imagine harboring resentment about it. Being entirely imaginary makes it sound as though it wouldn’t have much of an emotional impact compared to actually having been screwed over by another person. This makes it even more amazing that they saw differences between the “forgiveness” group and the “resentment” group.

They used both subjective measurements (like asking them how they felt) and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to study the results.

This is what they found:

We observed a link between forgiveness and subjective relief, which supports its use in therapeutic settings as an aid for the promotion of mental health. We observed activation in a brain cortical network responsible for perspective taking processes, appraisal and empathy, suggesting that these processes may play an important role in the adaptive extinction of negative affect and prevention of potential aggressive and socially unacceptable behavior.²

In other words, forgiveness makes the forgiver feel better. This study observed it both subjectively and neurologically.

These measurements were taken during imaginary situations with imaginary responses. Picture the potency of healing when the situations are real.

Because this is all happening in your head, I’m going to say that it won’t work if you merely go through the motions of forgiveness without sincerity. That probably works about as well as giving a gift with the expectation of reciprocity (you’re probably going to be disappointed).

If you’re going back and forth about whether or not to let someone back into your heart, then go ahead and be selfish about it: forgive for you.

How has forgiveness (or lack of forgiveness) played a role in your life? Does this change how you feel about forgiveness? Leave a comment to tell us about it.

¹Ricciardi, E., Rota, G., Sani, L., Gentili, C., Gaglianese, A., Guazzelli, M., & Pietrini, P. (2013). How the brain heals emotional wounds: the functional neuroanatomy of forgiveness. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7, 839. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2013.00839, p. 5-6
²ibid, p. 7

Guest Post by Adam Valerio – Healing Without Belief

This is a guest post written by Adam Valerio. Adam is a scholar who researches the intersection between science and Asian religions.

I once heard a Zen Buddhist master say, “You can have everything that you want in life, as long as you don’t care what form it takes.” For me, this comment applies to many subjects, including healing. Take Reiki, for example. Nowadays, many people have heard of it, some know that it is a healing modality, and it’s not so uncommon to have heard that the means by which Reiki works is often explained in terms of subtle energy (ki) transfer. Yet, when it comes to giving Reiki a try, for those who do not believe in the existence of a normally invisible energy that moves between people and their greater environment, this is a deal breaker. After all, if Reiki relies on this energy to work and you don’t think that this energy even exists, trying Reiki would be a waste of time, right? Though understandable, that would be incorrect, my friend! I’m here to tell you that belief doesn’t have to matter! You can attribute the functioning of Reiki and other healing modalities to any mechanism—ie, form—you’d like (or leave it a mystery!) and you would probably still get similar if not identical results. Think about the mechanism of action in terms of heat transfer, nerve-bundle signal jamming, endocrine system stimulation, subtle energy, or even microscopic elves doing Santa Claus’ bidding. It doesn’t matter! If it helps you feel better, isn’t that good enough? Not convinced yet? No problem! For those of you with a similar natural disposition to me—wariness toward the explanations of others—I’m here to help.

To continue with our example of Reiki, its story oddly has a lot in common with the story of the tomato, at least in North America. Really, it’s true (kinda)! The story goes like this: by the mid to late-1500s, tomatoes—native to Central and South America—were a staple of many continental European diets. However, it seems that most North Americans weren’t eating tomatoes until well into the 1800s. According to legend, it wasn’t until 1820, when Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson had the audacity to eat a tomato (or perhaps a bunch of tomatoes) on the steps of the Old County Courthouse in Salem, New Jersey, that Americans considered giving tomatoes a try.¹ Even though most Americans had supposedly never tasted a tomato up until that point, it was obvious to them that tomatoes were poisonous, as these fruits belonged to the same family (nightshade) as several poisonous plants. Thus, in theory, to eat a tomato was to eat poison. Not unlike our present-day friend, the delicious tomato, many helpful therapies have been rejected at one time or another because it didn’t make theoretical sense to try them. This phenomenon has been termed the “tomato effect.”² In some cases, therapies previously suffering from the tomato effect were thought to be harmful; in others, they were simply viewed as a waste of time. Hmm….waste of time…. Sound familiar?

Before we take a look at how the tomato effect plays out in our own decision-making, let’s first look at it in the context of conventional biomedical thinking. Medical knowledge and decision-making function in accordance with two sometimes conflicting modes: rationalism and empiricism. In medicine, to be a rationalist is to base treatment decisions on what makes theoretical sense—much like our long-gone tomato-avoiding brethren. Medical empiricists, in contrast, are concerned with observed outcomes in past patients and research subjects. In other words, they prioritize experience over theory—the delectableness of the red fruit over the toxic yuckiness of its distant cousins. Yet, even those empiricists most dedicated to maintaining a practice of “evidence-based medicine” will get tripped up by observations that don’t cohere with their theoretical assumptions. This is because the majority of medical professionals are actually a mix of rationalist and empiricist. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for medical professionals to be very out of touch with their own reasoning as to why they prioritized one mode over another in any given situation. In the case of pharmaceuticals, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can be quite empirically-minded, sometimes approving drugs where the mechanism of action is still unknown and all they have is evidence that it works. In other words, when it comes to pill popping, efficacy seems to be good enough for the FDA.

Is efficacy also good enough for the general public? Well, most of us aren’t pouring over research studies when making decisions about our health treatments. Some of us will peruse internet sites, but most of us have neither the time or training for an exhaustive analysis. Isn’t that what doctors are for? They tell us what works. We take Doc’s word on it and most of us are cool with that. Still, do they tell us how our treatments work? Perhaps sometimes, but certainly not always. And really, do you have the time and interest in acquiring in-depth knowledge as to how every medication that you take functions to improve your health? You know that it works and that’s good enough, right? Doc may not know exactly how it works—and perhaps you find that a bit disturbing—but do you let that stop you from receiving relief?

Many Reiki studies have and continue to be conducted and the popularity of Reiki is growing, which means that many people are coming away with positive experiences—including me! I don’t know how Reiki works, but I know what I’ve experienced. I have entered treatment sessions sometimes with significant pain and generally left with significantly less and often no pain. I have felt unexpected bodily sensations—usually some combination of heat and an indescribable pulse-type stirring—during treatments that challenge my understanding of how the world works. I don’t know how Reiki brings about its results, but I do know that, in addition to having found my pain and stress reduced during Reiki treatments, I am also healthier for having received them.

The words of the Zen master echo in our pain: “You can have everything that you want in life, as long as you don’t care what form it takes.” Will you let theory stand in the way of what you want most? Are explanations really more important to you than results? How are you feeling physically and emotionally today? Why wait around in pain for a satisfying theory when what you need is relief and vibrancy? When you’re ready to start feeling better, there’s a ripe, delicious tomato waiting for you in the form of Reiki!

¹Smith, Andrew F. (Fall-Winter 1990). “The making of the legend of Robert Gibbon Johnson and the tomato”. New Jersey History (New Jersey Historical Society) 108, 59–74.
²Goodwin, J. S, Goodwin, J. M. (1984). The tomato effect: Rejection of highly efficacious therapies. Journal of the American Medical Association 251, 2387-2390.

Private Assisted Yoga and Contest

See below for contest details!

I am now offering private assisted Yoga at Threshold Wellness!

To celebrate, I am raffling off a copy of Happy Herbivore’s newest book, Happy Herbivore Light & Lean. See below for contest details.

HappyHerbivore_small

I am only mildly embarrassed to admit that I own all four of her books.  Each one is better than the last, so if you’re going to get one, this is the one to get.  Is there a better way to start off the New Year than with a bunch of wonderful, brand new, tasty and healthy plant-based recipes?

To enter, leave a comment below about something that has inspired you.  It can be a moment from your life, a quote, a work of art, anything.  You will not be graded on your level of inspiration or your writing.  Just be authentic!

I will choose the winner randomly at 9PM EST on December 18.  I will let the winner know via email, so please make sure the email you use for your comment is correct.  I will not use your email address to sign you up for my newsletter or any other mailing list.  I will only use it to inform the winner that he/she has won.

Your copy will be sent to you directly to you from the publisher.

How to Develop a Passion for Compassion

When I decided that I was going to write about compassion, my first thought was that I couldn’t believe that I had allowed my blog exist this long without writing about compassion.  My second thought was that I have to get this entry right because compassion is such an important topic.  That’s when I launched into my spiral of self-doubt and second guessing myself to the point of frozen deer-in-headlights-inaction. Generally speaking, I had no compassion for myself.

I taught my Reiki Level 1 class last weekend.  Again, the difficultly we all have with having compassion for ourselves was demonstrated for me.  This is a serious problem.  I’m sure that you’ve heard that old adage, “You need to love yourself before you can love someone else.”  The same goes for compassion and this is true for a couple of reasons.

The first: Without compassion for ourselves, we abuse ourselves to the point of exhaustion with negative self-talk and judgment.  We have learned to navigate this world by teaching ourselves about what not to do in any given situation.  When we do the thing we’ve told ourselves not to do, we come down hard on ourselves.  This is a form of self-preservation, but left unchecked it can easily become a form of self-destruction.  When we exhaust ourselves like this, we have nothing left to give to anyone else.

The second is this yummy¹ quote that I found in The Buddha’s Satori: “Compassion means the elevation of all that exists, including the grass, stones, animals, humans, to buddhahood, to the state of emancipation.”²  The important word here is “all.”  That means everyone.  In case you didn’t get the picture, he included rocks and plants, too.  “All” does not mean “everyone except you.”  The second important word here is “emancipation.”  This implies that no one is free (from suffering) until everyone is free (from suffering).  This is a basic Buddhist idea.  We are all one entity,³ and if any part of that entity is suffering, then we are all suffering.  If you don’t take care of yourself, you’re not just letting yourself down, but you’re letting all of us down.

Hopefully, you’re now sold on the idea that it is important that you have compassion for yourself.  Even so, I know that having an intellectual understanding of something and feeling that thing in your bones is not the same thing.  This is the reason that your life has not been transformed, yet, despite the number of uplifting bumper stickers you have read, lately.

Cultivating long-term compassion for oneself is a difficult and complex issue.  Often, this requires the healing of many, many layers of wounds.  However, that doesn’t mean you can’t have one magical moment of true compassion for yourself.  Having this type of experience will move you much further along the path of self-compassion because you’ll finally see what it looks like.

I can’t tell you how to manufacture this moment, but I can tell you what it contains.  It contains the third person perspective.  This means that you stop experiencing the world as you, and you start experiencing the world as your observer.  This is something that happens naturally with enough meditation, and it is not as outlandish as it sounds.  Most of us have people in our lives that we love unconditionally, flaws and all—friends, family members, pets, etc.  If you can shift your perspective enough to see yourself in the same way that you see them, you will start getting glimpses of what it is like to truly have compassion for yourself.  This is not about self-indulgence.  It’s a balanced mixture that includes love, understanding and acceptance, which opens the door to emancipation—and truly thrive.  This is a balance that only you know because that scale is internal.

I have only fully experienced this while in a meditative state, but those glimpses have informed all of the subsequent conversations I have had with myself.

If getting into a meditative state isn’t for you, you can start by talking to yourself in the way that would be the most soothing to you.  You know yourself well enough, so you know what would make you feel good.  Even if it sounds cheesy, canned and forced, no one else is going to hear it, so why not?

Give it a shot, folks, and don’t be afraid to comment on how it goes!

¹I’m using this word because Rita Fierro taught me how to use this in a non-food context, and I like it.
² Motoyama, H. (n.d.). Buddha’s Satori (1ST edition.). CIHS Press. Page 52.
³ My nit-picky Buddhist scholar boyfriend wants you all to know: “It’s worth at least footnoting that this ‘all one entity’ can be misconstrued. It would be more accurate, in many Buddhist contexts, to say that phenomena are connected in a way where all phenomena can be seen in any one particular phenomenon—yourself, for example—and that in all phenomena any one particular phenomenon (eg, yourself) can be seen. This is the notion that One is All and All is One, which can be seen in lots of Mahayana Buddhist traditions. Therefore, there is a sense in which we are all one entity, but a sense in which we are all separate but interdependent entities.”

Locating and Dissolving Energy Blockages

Last week, I talked about self-care systems in the context of psychology. This week, I’m going to talk about them in the context of subtle energy. In terms of energy, anything that registers emotionally also shows up in our energetic bodies.

You can test this theory out. Sit quietly for a minute and think about about where in your body you feel anger, grief, love, happiness and any other potent and clearly defined emotion. These physical sensations are considered to be a part of your energetic framework.

An energetic blockage works in the same way a scab works on the skin. It forms as a result of some trauma in order to protect us from further damage. Unlike scabs, they don’t always leave once they have outlived their usefulness. These blockages show up in our psychologies as self-care systems, and as stagnant energy in our bodies. This stagnant energy eventually leads to muscle tension or a physical weakness in that area.

If you read last week’s entry, you probably have somewhat of an idea of your self-care systems. Through energy work, you can start to locate and dissolve them. Even if you don’t believe in subtle energy, these exercises can be useful merely as a visualization techniques.

This is a thing that takes practice, but it will reveal itself to you with consistent effort.

Locating Your Own Energy Blockages

  1. Find a quiet place where you can sit undisturbed for several minutes.
  2. Concentrate on your breath until you reach a relaxed state.
  3. Stay alert and become aware of your bodily sensations.
  4. Think about a situation where you personally feel stuck.
  5. Try to turn off the stream of thoughts surrounding that situation; such as, “X, Y and Z are stopping me from doing this,” and tune into your emotions about the situation.
  6. Locate the places where those emotions seem to be residing in your body.
  7. Note the sight, sound, texture or other visceral aspects of these emotions.

Clearing Energy Blockages

Now that you have located your blockages, you can try to clear them. I know you’re thinking, “What? No way!”

I’m here to tell you: Way.

When it comes to energy healing, you are your own best healer.

In many cases, especially if you are new to your subtle energy body, merely acknowledging your emotions will be enough. They will dissipate as soon as you recognize them. The tricky thing here is that you can’t force them to dissipate. Trying to force an emotion to dissipate can cause it to repress itself and move to a place where you can’t consciously access it. Remember, blockages were installed to protect you. They’re programmed to stay in place and protect you forever, even if it’s long after you no longer need protecting.

Instead of forcing an emotion to dissipate, get to know it, learn to accept it, and even love it (it was created to protect you, after all), breath through it, stay focused on it, and something will change.

When you recall your situation, chances are that you are going to be tempted to get stuck on the story of it.  You’ll repeat incidents over and over to yourself and maybe even start daydreaming about how those incidents could have turned out better.  If this happens, it is not a big deal, but recognize that you’re doing a different exercise at the moment and give yourself the space for it.

Once you’ve located your blockages, and you’ve gotten familiar with them, you can try different approaches to working them out:

  1. If you feel the need to move around and mull it over while you’re doing other things, you can do that, too. I often find that while doing light housework, I can simultaneously try to work through blockages. Try to avoid anything that is too stimulating or distracting.
  2. If you are very visual, sometimes it helps to draw while accessing those feelings. Allow yourself free reign on the paper, but stay focused on your feelings.
  3. If you are musical, but having trouble really getting in touch with your emotion, think of a song that exemplifies that feeling. Sing the song yourself, put it on and sing along with the song, or just listen to it.  Allow that to help you get in touch with your emotions. If you’re more of a physical person, try dancing to it (even if it is really sad and slow).
  4. If you are most comfortable with words, try writing about your feelings. Try not to get too sucked into writing about the analytical details of the situation. Focus on your feelings.
  5. If there is something else that you think that may work for you; such as a long walk alone, then do that.

If you’ve reached the point of activity where you can no longer feel your body, then you have gone too far. You can’t locate your blockages if you can’t feel your body.If you find your mind wandering or you keep getting sucked into the story of the situation, recognize that it’s a normal response, and refocus on your emotions.  If you really can’t give up the story, promise yourself that after you’re done with your energy exercise, you will allow yourself time to think about your story.

Give this process time. It may help to put yourself on a schedule where you spend 20 minutes on it a few times a week. If you do this a lot, then you’re going to relieve a lot of blockages. Once these blockages are gone, the results will manifest in your life. They may not necessarily manifest in your life in the ways that you expect, but there will be changes.

Eventually, you’re going to be left with only the more stubborn-hard-to-break blockages. By this time, you’ll be an old pro, and you will have a better idea of how to deal with them. However, there is no end to healing. Even if you get to a point where you recognize that your remaining blockages are too stuck for you to handle on your own, don’t discount the new blockages that will continually emerge merely from the daily grind of living. The earlier you catch them, the easier it is to release them.

Still need help?  Come see me, and I will work on your blockages with you.

In a later post I will talk about how to address those stubborn-hard-to-break blockages.

Self-Care Systems – An Introduction

Have you ever heard of self-care systems? Most people who work in subtle energy have some familiarity with self-care systems because in our experience, they manifest themselves as energetic blockages. In psychology, these are called “self-sabotage,” “limiting beliefs, “conflicting parts,” and “self-care systems.”

According to Daniella Sief’s article in Psychological Perspectives: A Quarterly Journal of Jungian Thought, “The psyche’s internal response to trauma sets up a ‘self-care system’ designed to ensure the person’s survival, but that this defensive system ultimately re-traumatizes the person from within, cutting off life-saving attachments to others and eclipsing all possibilities of true-self living in the real world.”¹

Imagine a little girl wandering near a pool. Her mother sees her, and out of fear, screams at her.

After that, the little girl avoids going near any pool again. That little girl has set up a “self-care system.”

It’s like installing a piece of software on your computer that prevents one particular event from ever happening.

Her mother told her that water is dangerous, and so she automatically installed a behavior to protect herself. Now imagine the little girl as an adult woman. Times have changed, she has learned to swim, and the thing that was dangerous in the past is not as dangerous in the present.

The little girl who once wisely protected herself from drowning in pools is now a grown woman who feels anxious swimming, and never feels totally comfortable on a boat. She even turns down opportunities that will put her near water because of the associated anxiety. We leave self-care systems in place long after they have outlived their usefulness.

This is a part of life. Things happen. We create self-care systems out of love for ourselves and the instinct to survive. They are like over-protective parents that follow us around and don’t want us to do anything that might potentially cause us pain or discomfort.

Maybe we fear public speaking because we’ve been embarrassed in front of a crowd. Maybe we fear commitment because we over-committed ourselves once, and that caused problems. We don’t even have to suffer the consequences ourselves. Merely seeing someone else suffer is enough to make us modify our behavior. As a result, we truncate our lives in unnecessary ways, and we suffer from anxiety.

It’s much easier to see self-care systems in other people than it is to see it in ourselves. Part of the self-care system is to run underneath your personal radar, so you don’t dislodge it and expose yourself to danger. If you are not sure how to identify a self-care system, try looking at situations that seem stuck, or think in terms of it’s other name—self-sabotage.

Think about the people in your life who come to you with the same complaints over and over, yet, nothing seems to change. Maybe one friend doesn’t get along with his spouse, maybe another hates her job, another has a never-ending string of failed relationships, and another has a phobia or habit that he can’t conquer.

They try to fix their situations, but they don’t make any progress. They repeatedly use the same few approaches, and they continually fail.

To identify your own self-care systems, start looking for patterns. It doesn’t have to be a big dramatic thing, like hating your spouse, your job or your life. It can be a simple thing, like weight loss or not getting enough recognition at work.

If there is an area where you have been trying to make progress, but you feel like you are spinning your wheels, then chances are that this is the result of a self-care system. A good way to identify these things is first to identify the place where you are stuck (that’s the easy part), then start to journal, or talk it out with yourself (yes, you can talk to yourself, I won’t tell!).

How do those situations make you feel? How do you feel about the risks involved with making a real change? Where did that start? It may help to think about the advantages of keeping your patterns and the disadvantages of changing them. This will help you be completely honest with yourself and drill down to your self-care system.

Next week, I will be talking about self-care systems in terms of energy blockages, and I will post some subtle energy exercises to help you identify them and remove them. It’s going to be good, so stay tuned!

¹Sieff, Daniella. (2008). Unlocking the Secrets of the Wounded Psyche: Interview with Donald Kalsched. Psychological Perspectives: A Quarterly Journal of Jungian Thought. 51:2, 190-207.

Stress: The Wellness Killer?

At the bottom of this post is a Ted Talk given by Kelly McGonigal.

In the first half, McGonigal talks about a study that was done on stress. This study found a correlation between stress related death and the belief that stress is bad for you. The conclusion is that stress itself is not unhealthy. It is the belief that stress is unhealthy that is unhealthy. People who believed stress is helpful did not suffer from stress related death.

McGonigal then goes on to tell us about another study that showed that training people to believe that stress is helpful made it possible for those people to cope with stress better and this improved their survival rate. While she offers some compelling evidence and some amazing solutions, I’d like to discuss stress from another angle.

I don’t know about you, but no one needed to tell me that stress is unhealthy. Long before I had heard the words “stress” and “anxiety” I knew that how I felt in certain situations was not healthy. I didn’t need to hear, “the thing you are experiencing is stress and it’s a bad for you.” I already knew.

Maybe some people believe stress is unhealthy is because that their life experience has taught them that stress is unhealthy for them. Likewise, maybe some people believe that stress is helpful because it has been helpful for them. Like I mentioned in a previous post, one of the problems with clinical studies is that they often don’t account for individual differences. While generalizations can be helpful, when we’re trying to figure out how to navigate this (stressful) world, generalizations can really put some limiting beliefs on us as individuals.

If you can’t start with generalizations, then where can you start?

The conglomeration that makes up you is the most powerful problem solving entity that human kind has ever seen. You are at the helm of something that is designed to solve problems—not just one or two kinds problems either, all kinds of problems.

Think about it this way: When your body needs food, it tells you. When your brain needs sleep, it tells you. When you very quickly need to get out of the way of a speeding vehicle, that happens before you’ve even realized what has happened. When your body needs to stop and make repairs, it gives you pain to force you to stop and make repairs. I’m venturing to guess that when you in a situation that is causing you unhealthy stress, you have a mechanism that tells you that, too.  After all, not every situation can be solved by being able to run faster, yell louder or think on your feet.  When that happens, what do you do with all of that extra ability?  Try to shut it down?  Ignore it?  Say to yourself, “Stress is really awesome because even though I’m standing in this long-ass line at the bank, I am totally prepared for a robbery.”

I’m venturing to guess that you can identify the times in your life when you have experienced stress in a good way, too. That is the kind of stressful situation where your stress can be put to use.  It helps you rise to a challenge. It helps you find your loud voice when you need to yell. It helps you run faster when you’re getting out of the way of that speeding vehicle. It helps you stay up all night and get a report done that is due the next morning.

Does it make sense to put all stress into one box labeled “healthy” or “unhealthy?”

Here’s an analogy: Imagine that the major stressor in your life (be it your job or a relationship) is a hot stove and the stress you feel is the pain of leaving your hand on the surface of that hot stove.

You notice the searing pain, but you also notice that everyone else is holding their hand to the surface of the stove, too. As a matter of fact, everyone is telling you that hot stoves are great, and there’s nothing better than having your hand burnt by a hot stove. It may suck now, but the rewards in the future will be amazing! Stick with it and like everyone else, you’ll get the rewards that you are due. You desperately want to pull your hand away, but now you’re committed to this stove thing, and you’re worried about what people will think if you stop. You start injecting a numbing agent into your red, blistered, blackened flesh and start training yourself to believe that the pain is a good thing. As a matter of fact, you and all of the other stove people have developed a nightly ritual of injecting a numbing agent into your hands so you can get through the next day.

You probably get the picture. Sure, convincing yourself that the pain is good for you is great for your heart health, but what about your hand health? What about that mechanism that is telling you that you are in a bad situation and that you need to get out of it?

You can’t necessarily use the behavior of others as a guide. In my experience, some people have hands that are built for hot stove tops and some people don’t. For example, I used to work a regular 9-5 job and most of my coworkers were pretty satisfied with that, but I wasn’t.  It doesn’t make sense to hold every person to the same standard.  I guess we can say one person’s hot stove is another person’s pleasantly warm pillow.

One of the other things that I have noticed about this analogy is that causing yourself suffering in order to gain some promised reward in the future is an incredible act of faith. If we must commit daily acts of faith, we probably want to be really careful about exactly where we choose to put that faith.

McGonigal’s talk is certainly very helpful, and it’s a great reminder that our stress mechanism is designed to help us. However, stress doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s usually caused by some circumstance, and feeling bad is designed to help us, too.

It’s up to us to recognize our personal patterns of stress. Where do you easily rise to the occasion and where do you usually shut-down and flounder?  In which situations does it make sense to think of stress as helping you, and in which situations does it make sense to use that stress to move yourself into a situation in which you’ll blossom?  You know, that place where your stress becomes your joy.

If you have a hot stove in your life, figure out how you can get your hand off of it.

Let’s Get Sciencey: Cancer Studies and the Practitioners Involved

If you have ever been on the search for a Reiki practitioner or any subtle energy practitioner, you have probably asked yourself whether it matters who you get. Or, maybe you’ve had a particularly good or particularly bad healing experience and you wondered whether or not it had anything to do with the practitioner. I’ll try to shed some light on that question by talking about two studies that were done on two different subtle energy healing practices and cancer.

Subtle energy healing techniques have been around for centuries, but it has only been recently that we have applied the standard research and clinical study models to them. Unfortunately, there are several problems with applying the conventional study models to non-conventional treatments. As a matter of fact, there are so many problems and those problems run so deep that I can only talk about one at a time.

This time, I’ll talk about the individuality of the practitioner. I chose these two studies because they’re both compelling and I think that when we compare them to one another, they say something about practitioners.

In most conventional study design, the focus is on the treatment, not the administrator of the treatment. They often control for this by not allowing the administrator to know whether he is giving someone the real deal or a placebo. When administering a subtle energy technique, that’s kind of impossible. Also, given that each individual practitioner is an individual, she brings her own particular set of talents, knowledge and history to the table every time she practices. Every person is unique and every situation is unique.

The Studies

The first one is on the grizzly side and definitely not for animal lovers, but it turned up some interesting data.

William Bengston is a subtle energy practitioner who doesn’t believe in subtle energy healing, or at least he says he didn’t until he discovered that his techniques could cure cancer. He tried for decades to get his data studied by conventional medicine, but no one would touch it. He eventually gave up and went back to his regular job as a professor of sociology.

Bengston did the same study a few times, tweaking it each time to improve the design. The details of that were chronicled in his book, The Energy Cure. You can read the last study that he did by clicking on the following title (warning: this study was conducted on mice and there are some photos of mice that had been injected with cancer cells): The Effect of the “Laying On of Hands” on Transplanted Breast Cancer in Mice.¹”

To summarize: Bengston trained skeptics and non-believers in his subtle energy technique and asked them to try to cure the mice of cancer. One of the problems that he found with study design is that the control mice kept getting healed, too (despite being injected with double-doses of cancer). Because of this, he started sending a set of control mice off-site to an undisclosed location.

These were the results of his last experiment: 29 out of 33 “experimental” mice remitted (the mice getting intentional treatments), 18 out of 26 on-site control mice remitted (presumably unintentionally healed because the volunteers were aware of the location of the control mice and visited them sometimes). Zero out of 8 off-site control mice remitted and ended up dying in a way that is considered “normal” for someone who has been injected with cancer cells. As you can tell, Bengston was cut off before he could conduct larger scale and more serious studies. According to his book, there was no support and no money to continue.

The second study is a little more mundane, but it also turned up compelling data. It’s called The Effect of Therapeutic Touch on Pain and Fatigue of Cancer Patients Undergoing Chemotherapy.

This study was for a subtle energy technique called Therapeutic Touch. From what I can tell, TT is less popular than Reiki, but it was apparently big in the 1980s. The reason I like this particular study is because it contained 90 participants, making it much bigger than most studies done on subtle energy healing.

There is nothing scary or grizzly about this study, except that all 90 people were cancer sufferers. It was also oddly controlled—they used the same practitioner for both the “real” treatment and the “placebo” treatment, demonstrating that she was probably pretty experienced and knew what she was doing or was at least confident in her ability to control the technique herself. The odd part was that she was right because the placebo group did not do as well as the group that received the real treatment.  As usual, the control group got the worst results.

No one was cured of cancer, or at least, if anyone was cured of cancer, it wasn’t mentioned in the study because this study wasn’t about that. They used a couple of different measures for the pain and fatigue that is associated with conventional chemotherapy treatments.

According to study results:

“Pain scores of the experimental group were reduced compared to placebo and control groups’ pain scores significantly.²”

and

“Fatigue scores of the experimental group were reduced compared to placebo and control groups’ fatigue scores significantly.²”

I can’t really quote much more than that because the results contain lots of complex info with charts and graphs. It would be much easier for you to click the link above and look at the study yourself. It will tell you how they set up the placebo, the control groups and the measurements that were done.

The Practitioner

Given the results and slight background on these studies, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to say that the practitioner matters.  In the first study, the newly-trained practitioners unintentionally caused a healing response in the control group by merely being in proximity of them, or in some cases, by just being aware of the location of the control group.  In the other, the practitioner could set up the exact same atmosphere and situation with the placebo group and give them a placebo.

Right now, in most studies that are done on subtle energy practices, the practitioner is not even identified (let alone his/her experience or level of training).  When studies are designed, they try to control for everything except the treatment itself.  This makes sense when we’re studying something like a drug.  One pill-hand-out-person is pretty much the same as the next one.  When we’re studying something like a subtle energy technique, we don’t know enough about it to say whether one practitioner is the same as the next one, but most studies still use the old it-doesn’t-matter-who-it-is design.

As a practitioner myself, I have found that every healing session is unique to itself. As we pass through time, we are constantly changing. A healing session is the result of the intersection of who the practitioner is at the time, who you are at the time, and the new entity that is created by the healing. Does it matter who you get? I say yes, but with one huge caveat: There isn’t enough information out there for anyone else to tell you who the best practitioner is for you. If you are seeking healing, you are the most important component of that process, so find a practitioner that works for you.

In the future I hope to blog about studies that measured the autonomic nervous system, anxiety and depression while receiving subtle energy treatments, so keep in touch!

¹Bengston, W., & Krinsley, D. (2000). The Effect of the “Laying On of Hands” on Transplanted Breast Cancer in Mice. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 14(3), 353-364.
²Aghabati, N., Mohammadi, E., & Pour Esmaiel, Z. (2010). The Effect of Therapeutic Touch on Pain and Fatigue of Cancer Patients Undergoing Chemotherapy. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 7(3), 375–381. doi:10.1093/ecam/nen006

 

Happy Herbivore Visits Mindful Mending!

If you are not familiar with Lindsay Nixon of Happy Herbivore, it’s time to become familiar with her.

Mindful Mending has been given the privilege of being a stop on her blog tour while she promotes her latest book, Happy Herbivore Light & Lean.  She answered a few questions and provided me with a recipe from her new book.  She is not just a popular vegan cookbook author or even a popular vegetarian cookbook author, she’s a popular cookbook author period.

I can’t express how excited I am about this!  This is a dream come true for me.  I have been following her blog since the very beginning—which is the reason that I seem to have a creepy amount of knowledge about her life.  I was also allowed to choose among a handful of recipe’s to feature here.  I chose a recipe called Meatloaf Bites because I think it epitomizes a Happy Herbivore recipe.  It only has a few ingredients, none of which are obscure or crazy expensive, and it’s super fast and easy.  I have not tried this recipe, yet, but if history teaches us anything, it will be delicious.  Scroll down for my questions, her answers, and the recipe!  YAY!


HappyHerbivore_small
MINDFUL MENDING: You had a serious health scare several years ago which was a turning point for you. How do you define health now? What are your current health goals?

HAPPY HERBIVORE: I’ve found that in general, society tends to define health as an absence of something – an absence of sickness. You’re healthy if you don’t have XYZ health problems. I don’t care for that way of thinking. I define health in terms of abundance. Health isn’t just an absence of something, it’s also about what you’re adding. Health for me is about thriving and feeling good.

My goals at this point are to continue to live well and thrive. I think our health is a journey and one that never really ends. We can continue to improve. Make still another tiny tweak to our diet and lifestyle. Each day I strive to be better than I was the day before.

MINDFUL MENDING: Your business helps people live better lives and that wasn’t accidental. Do you have any spiritual beliefs or practices that influence the way you do business?

HAPPY HERBIVORE: I’ve always wanted to help people. It’s why I went to law school. I thought I could help people if I was a lawyer, and to be fair I did help my clients, but it just wasn’t enough for me. I wasn’t satisfied. Wanting to help others has always been my ultimate passion. I think it must be similar to what many doctors feel when they explain why they choose a career in medicine. They had this deep desire to be healers.

MINDFUL MENDING: To me, one of the running themes of your blog is one of forgiveness. For example, you often use the phrase, “progress, not perfection,” to emphasize the benefit that we all receive when we build each other up instead of tear each other down. Can you talk more about that?

HAPPY HERBIVORE: I can’t believe I’m about to quote a Will Ferrell movie, but, in one of his movies, the character is always saying “you’re first or you’re last,” and I think that statement sums up the pressure society puts on us. I think a lot of us feel like we have to be perfect. That if we’re not perfect, then it doesn’t even matter. We feel it’s 100 percent or 0… like all the numbers… 5…23..56…92… between 0-100 don’t matter. I want to change that—rage against that mentality. Progress matters more than perfection. I’m not sure perfection really exists anyway because there is always room for improvement. 🙂

MINDFUL MENDING: You are a trailblazer, not just for plant-based eaters, but for entrepreneurial women. During the tough early days of your business, what kept you going?

HAPPY HERBIVORE: Aww thank you! What I tell my students (I’m teaching a business class on entrepreneurship right now through exitstrategyschool.com) is that you have to have a clear motivation. Maybe it’s monetary, maybe it’s spiritual, maybe it’s a passion in your heart, maybe it’s achieving a certain lifestyle you want—but whatever it is, you have to keep it in your line of sight. It’s what will get you through the hard times and the hard days (which you will have), and it’ll be there to comfort you when you make hard calls. I’ve always had this overriding passion and desire to help people, and that kept me going. Even when it was hard and my situation felt hopeless, I would remember why I started in the first place. I would tell myself (I still tell myself) that every day is another day I get to help someone, no matter what else that day brings (good or bad). For me, it’s about the work. Doing good work I believe in.

A million thanks to Lindsay Nixon for having me on the blog tour and for putting so much thought into her answers to my questions.  I would also like to thank Lindsay M, her marketing person, for setting this all up.  Now for the recipe:

Meatloaf Bites
Makes 8
Gluten-free, Quick, Budget

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One afternoon I grabbed what I thought was corn from the freezer but later realized it was mixed vegetables. Once they thawed on the counter I knew they weren’t going back in, so I looked for a new, inventive way to use them. A can of kidney beans started calling, and before I knew it I had a vegetable-filled meatloaf in the oven. Since this meatloaf is baked in a muffin tin (great for serving sizes and portion control), I call it meatloaf “bites” and, yes, leftovers are great as a burger!

1 15-oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
1 tbsp chili powder (add another 1 tsp if you like it spicy)
3 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp mustard
1 tbsp Vegan Worcestershire Sauce (recipe in full cookbook)
1 c frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
6 tbsp instant oats

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line a muffin tin with paper liners or use nonstick. Mash beans in a bowl with fork or potato masher until well mashed. Add remaining ingredients, except oats, and stir to combine.

Stir in oats. Spoon into muffin tin and pack down. Bake for 20 minutes until crisp on the outside and fairly firm to the touch (firms a bit as it cools). Serve with ketchup, Quick Gravy (pg. 188), etc.

Per Bite
Calories . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 101
Fat. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.7g
Carbs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16.9g
Fiber. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6.5g
Sugars. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3g
Protein. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5.8g
WW Points. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

The Power of Commitment

Lately, I have been learning the same lesson over and over again, and it’s about the power of commitment.  By “commitment” I mean this: making something a true priority in your life.  You probably already know what that looks like and it likely has something to do with food, shelter, and your job.

As for the “power” part, I can only explain by telling you some stories:

Do you want to know how I got into healing?

I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was lethargic and exhausted all of the time. I was still doing a lot, but I had no enthusiasm for it.  I was doing things because they seemed like the right thing to do, they had worked in the past, and because everyone else believes that’s the right way to live.  The ways I spent my time didn’t recharge me; they only depleted me. I believe that everyone has a natural glow and charisma about them, and mine had been snuffed out.

I needed a turning point, so I made one. At that time, I had been a Reiki channel for a few years already. I was pretty adept at healing, but I wasn’t totally committed to it. Then, like I said, I got sick and tired of being sick and tired. I finally reached a point where I said I wasn’t going to mess around, anymore. I was going to get better, for real. Up until that day, it had been my habit to only heal myself just enough to keep myself going; until I felt ‘good enough.’

My new commitment said that I would heal myself every day for a month—no excuses. I would go beyond ‘good enough,’ and see what was there.  I put my healing on the priority level of eating daily (and I never pass up a meal). It didn’t matter if there were dishes to be done or if I’d rather watch TV. It didn’t matter if I felt good enough. There was no more ‘good enough,’ there was, ‘can I feel better?’ (the answer was always, ‘yes’).

As we’ve previously established, healing can mean a lot of things.  For me, personally, this meant a lot of things, too. Some of them were unique to me, as I imagine most of your healing rituals would be unique to you. Some of them were ordinary, like getting enough sleep, eating right, finding joy, having a creative outlet, etc. A lot of it was Reiki. Every day, I performed a mental scan on myself. I would sit down in a quiet place and ask myself what I needed to get better—to thrive! At first, the answers were fuzzy, but as I continued to practice, the answers got clearer.

When that month ended, I knew that I needed to continue because by that time I had come to the realization that healing never ends.

While the ability to heal is a powerful force, it needed my commitment to complete its task. And, it completed its task in unimaginable ways that totally changed my life for the better.

Here’s another story about commitment:

As you may have noticed, I am offering a free Reiki class. I thought I had the ingenious idea of having a class that accommodated the schedules of everyone who wanted to be in it. I was feeling all self-satisfied as I got my students and set up my doodle. It wasn’t long before I realized why no one ever schedules classes this way. My ingenious idea was a bust, so I had to switch gears. At first, I didn’t want to switch gears. Even after it became clear that it was physically impossible to accommodate all of our schedules, I still fought it. I still tried. I grasped at straws trying to make it work, and then I collapsed in frustration and exhaustion.

Shortly after my collapse, I realized that my desire to get the students first, and then accommodate their schedules, rather than set a date first, and then get people who can make that date was a way for me to not be fully committed to the class and teaching Reiki. It was a way to play it safe and not stick my neck out. I could hand-pick my students and only have the students I wanted. That is not committing to teaching Reiki, that’s committing to having a fun time with people that I like. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with committing to a fun time with people that I like, but that is not the goal of teaching this class.

Upon this realization, I immediately committed to the dates of a weekend in my head.  I needed to confirm the dates with my Reiki teacher, but I wasn’t going to confirm those dates with anyone else.  If people could attend, then great.  If not, I would find people who could come and live with the class with which I was dealt.  Within seconds of me confirming those dates with my Reiki teacher (and telling her about my newly established commitment), emails started popping up on my screen.  I didn’t look at them until after I was off the phone, but when I did, I saw that the scheduling impossibilities had lifted, and the schedule fell into place.  The weekend that I had already chosen in my head surfaced as the weekend that would work for everyone.

I have learned this lesson about commitment several times now, and I am beginning to realize that the commitments we make determine the overall direction of our lives.  It sounds so simple, but really it isn’t.

We tend to think of non-commitment as a way to go with the flow, keep our options open and being available for new opportunities. The problem is that without commitment any new opportunity that comes along has no legs to bring it forth into reality.

When we don’t consciously commit to something, we are unconsciously committing to something else.

How so? When we don’t choose our commitments, then we have no place to direct our thoughts, focus, and intentions. We hand all our power over to whatever mood we’re feeling that day, the weather, or the momentum of the past. By not fully committing to healing, I was actually committing to keeping myself in a rut.

So, obviously, when we commit, we must commit wisely. When I made the commitment to accommodate the schedules of all of my students, I was committing myself to baby-stepping, and not taking the leap that I needed to make.

Not everything in our lives can be on the priority level of do-or-die, but that doesn’t mean that you have to give everything else up, either. For example, I love dance. I have been taking weekly dance classes for years now. I have even performed a dance routine in front of an audience, but I don’t prioritize dance the same way I prioritize work, school, or healing. I love my dance school, I love my dance teachers. I also love keeping on the priority level of: It’s there for me to enjoy when I can, but I don’t sweat it when I can’t.

When you consider where you have placed your commitments, think about what dominates most of your thoughts.  Think about most of your daily, habitual actions and where they are leading you.  If you have a lot of negative self-talk, please STOP THAT IMMEDIATELY because every word of that is a commitment to keeping yourself down.  I am not saying that you need to commit to going all-in with healing, but I hope that you choose to commit to yourself, your success and your happiness.