Meditation is Not the Problem

This is a response to the Atlantic Monthly article, “The Dark Knight of the Soul.” (http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/06/the-dark-knight-of-the-souls/372766/?utm_source=Mic+Check&utm_campaign=2f3ff84205-Mic_Report_6_26_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_51f2320b33-2f3ff84205-285410933

This article in the Atlantic Monthly highlights a clinic in Providence, Rhode Island where Dr. Willoughby Britton, “an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the Brown University Medical School receives regular phone calls, emails, and letters from people around the world in various states of impairment. Most of them worry no one will believe—let alone understand—their stories of meditation-induced affliction. Her investigation of this phenomenon, called “The Dark Night Project,” is an effort to document, analyze, and publicize accounts of the adverse effects of contemplative practices.”

This article deserves serious examination because if the demonization of meditation becomes the next fabricated trend in pathologizing and treating normal human behavior, then it might just signal the beginning of the end for the spirituality/personal growth industry in this country.

One of the obvious sources of confusion regarding meditation is that the word itself is used to describe a variety of different approaches and techniques. Across all these techniques, though, meditation is nothing more than focusing one’s attention. The critical aspect that differentiates one technique from another is what is receiving the focus, and the spirit in which the focus is being transmitted.

Due to the limited scope of a blogpost, I’m only going to contrast meditation practices that are health or relaxation-oriented vs. those that might be described as contemplative or transformative.

As we know by now, meditation can be used quite effectively as a relaxation tool, a means to lower blood pressure or pulse, and to counter the effects of stress. This is a very useful reminder of how we can program our physiology via our attention, and if it were adopted by a majority of people it could, for example, put a big dent in the ridiculous over-prescribing of blood pressure medication. A person might conceivably use meditation solely in this practical role for her entire life, because the mind has clearly established a specific agenda and it will not stray outside the set protocol if it’s to achieve that goal.

However, if someone begins to discover a persistent sadness that accompanies her relaxation protocol, she might think that she needs a new technique or that her execution is flawed. In such an approach to meditation, thoughts, feelings, and emotions may be regarded at best as annoyances to the task at hand, but not as useful sources of information in themselves. If there is a clearly defined agenda driving one’s motivation to meditate, then the mind will do its damnedest to suppress, rationalize away, disregard, and minimize any incoming information that conflicts with this agenda, just as Scrooge initially dismisses Marley’s ghost as “an undigested bit of beef.”

Generally, this approach to meditation, while having practical value, doesn’t encourage an attitude of exploration and discovery beyond the specific physiological results that are being sought. As such, it can coexist quite well with the baseline rigidity of the mind without much fuss.

Let’s contrast this with a meditation practice that is intended to cultivate a state of contemplation or witnessing of the mind itself, which is the type of practice that I’ll be referring to for the remainder of this blogpost. If a person undertakes such a practice, then he has already recognized on some level that there is something lacking in his life. All that remains is to discover what that “something” is and establish how much he’s willing to sacrifice in order to rectify it. In some circles, this is known as a spiritual path.

With this type of meditation practice one is usually encouraged to combine a point of focus with an attitude of vulnerability and surrender. (Already, we can see how the ramifications of such a focus might differ greatly from the limited goals of a relaxation/stress management model of meditation.) Since our culture at large actually discourages vulnerability and surrender and equates these with weakness, our initial efforts at understanding and putting these qualities into practice can be very painful and clumsy. The attitude of a contemplative practice is the opposite of how we live our lives most of the time, which is in a fiercely guarded state where we’re terrified that we may not be right about everything.

Because we begin a meditation practice with all of our social conditioning solidly in place, there are some underlying assumptions we bring to the table that are hidden to our conscious minds until we encounter our resistance to letting go of these same beliefs. Then we hold on for dear life.

I feel the number one assumption is the belief that we can know anything, including assuming that we know what a human being is. But if we assume we know what a human being is, then we think we know what the mind is. Next, if we know what the mind is then we know what meditation is, and so we know what to expect and what not to expect. Because, gosh, we sure don’t want any surprises.

When vulnerability and surrender meet these beliefs head-on, something’s gotta give. In attempting to reconcile these conflicting forces by allowing our rigid beliefs to soften in the face of being vulnerable to the possibility that we might be wrong, we gradually become aware of the power of quiet destruction that we’ve beckoned into our lives. Indeed, we would never have consciously asked for this, because something else—something other than our discriminating mind–has drawn us onto this battlefield.

Meditation can potentially devastate our illusions, identities, agendas, and roust our skeletons from their closets, regardless of what we thought our intention was going into it. The misperception that a meditation practice will necessarily be an enhancement of one’s present life situation rather than a force that may cause its disintegration is often one of the first sacrifices in achieving any depth in one’s practice. In our current 2014 environment, in which we’re conditioned to regard constant bombardment by external stimuli as normal, the impulse to look inward is an inherently subversive act.

Here are a few quotes from the article by clients who are said to be recovering from meditation:

“I had a fear of being thought of as crazy,” he says, “I felt extremely sensitive, vulnerable, and naked.”

David explains that he finally felt awake. But it didn’t last. “I started having thoughts like, ‘Let me take over you,’ combined with confusion and tons of terror. I had a vision of death with a scythe and a hood, and the thought ‘Kill yourself’ over and over again.”

“Psychological hell,” is how he describes it. “It would come and go in waves. I’d be in the middle of practice and what would come to mind was everything I didn’t want to think about, every feeling I didn’t want to feel.”

And there you have the prevailing American perspective on spirituality and personal growth: If I don’t get it just the way I want it, then there must be something wrong with the technique, my teacher, or me.

The difficult periods of meditation, feeling like we don’t enjoy anything anymore or that our life is meaningless, is a way to get us to STOP doing what we’ve always done, because the inherent emptiness of our old life is being shown to us. For a lot of us, our internal dialogue simply never makes it to an audible level because we censor it so completely, precisely because it includes such disturbing material. When someone feels depressed, panicky, anxious, or hopeless as a result of their meditation practice, it is alerting them to a whole level of repressed emotions and feelings that have not been allowed to see the light of day. The fact that they are now at the surface where they can be acknowledged means that there is finally a possibility for healing.

Have I personally experienced depression, white hot rage, thoughts of suicide, and intense fear and anxiety as a result of meditation? Yes, and I continue to do so, but it’s not “a meditation-induced affliction”! It’s opening the door of my mind’s cluttered attic, finding out what’s inside and learning to cope with being a more fully-feeling human being in a world that is increasingly determined to produce robots, to feel as human as possible without going insane. Meditation is simply the vehicle by which I give myself permission to do so.

Does it help to have someone to talk to during these difficult periods? Of course! But that person certainly doesn’t have to be a mental health professional that is poised to tell us that there’s something wrong with having normal human feelings. A person is much better off not embarking on a meditation practice if he isn’t willing to risk discovering that there is something other than his mind, and that it has nothing to do with his individuality or agendas. Because the mind doesn’t appreciate being deconstructed, to put it lightly, it may view its obliteration through the lens of a mental and emotional breakdown and cause one to seek intervention so that it can abort the process of transformation and preserve its dominion. Mission accomplished.

With the widespread use of antidepressants and other mood-altering aids, as well as suffocating social pressures such as political correctness and public shaming, we are driving our collective emotional selves deeper and deeper into inaccessibility. Our rapidly shrinking outlets for honest emotional expression doesn’t squelch our need to find that expression; it does, however, mean that an encounter with our true feelings is more likely to be unexpected and precipitated by events seemingly beyond our control. Meditation can certainly be a way to counteract this trend and intentionally enter into an interaction with our deeper selves, so we don’t have to wait for life to beat the stuffing out of us for us to feel something.

We make the mistake of believing there’ll be a straight line from desiring change in our lives to seeing evidence of change, and this linear way of thinking about personal growth or transformation is yet another mental construct that can fall apart in the face of a meditation practice. The difficult truth is that it may require years of opening ourselves up to repressed fear, depression, or rage that is standing between our current, unsatisfying life and something quite different and much more honest. Until we’re willing to really feel the pain that has drawn us toward meditation in the first place, we’ll continue to look anywhere else for change except where we almost certainly need to go.

In our “you can have it all” culture, we think we can subject our mind to the rigorous examination of a meditation practice and still believe in the American Dream, still keep our failing marriage together, and still hang on to our miserable, high-paying job. We want to be connected with the whole universe and all humanity except for that person over there that doesn’t smell very good. It’s like thinking you can open Pandora’s box just a smidge. When we permit ourselves to get away with this degree of internal haggling, it’s no wonder that we rarely see the change in the world or in ourselves that we passionately claim we long for. We persist in the contradictory line of thought that we want change, but we want it to feel familiar so that it doesn’t scare the shit out of us.

We advocate taking risks in order to experience life fully, but we stubbornly maintain that we can take risks and control the outcomes at the same time. If we need intervention to recover from glimpsing the reality of our inner state, then what’s next?

The clinic featured in this article is the latest twist on American health care’s fine tradition of killing the messenger, whether it’s in the arena of physical or mental health. In this case, meditation is seen as the problem rather than the means by which a person recognizes some truths about her emotional and psychological self, just like an orthopedist who tells a patient that’s experiencing pain while jogging to stop jogging, while the real issue is the patient’s badly misaligned pelvis. It also reflects western medicine’s inclination to confuse the qualities of a healing process with the pathology itself.

“Many people in our study were lost and confused and could not find help,” Britton says. “They had been through so many doctors, therapists, and dharma teachers. Given that we had so much information about these effects, we realized that we were it.”

Cool! Let’s create a brand new affliction and just happen to be uniquely positioned to treat it. Et voilà, the expert is born! In the guise of the helper or healer, we once again have someone who wants to short-circuit the process of healing, in this case the disintegration of the ego, the big daddy of them all. And, let’s just happen to be associated with an Ivy League university medical center so that our research will have brand name cachet, bountiful funding, and a fast track to publication.

I get seasick just trying to make sense of someone researching the adverse effects of meditation on the mind. It’s like a husband who is cheating on his wife that hires a private investigator to prove to himself that he’s cheating on his wife. Well, the brain may give up some of its secrets to researchers, but the mind has very little interest in revealing itself. We simply can’t reliably study the mind with the mind. It’s like a dog chasing its tail, but much worse because at least a dog will eventually get exhausted and lose interest. But our misguided and relentless efforts to understand the mind results in entire belief systems, institutions, and social structures that only serve to prevent us from accessing anything beyond the mind. As a result, we only discover what the mind is willing to give up without risking the existing order of things.

Meditation, however, provides us with a perspective from which we can actually witness the mind without trying to understand it, which in my experience is the only way it will reveal its secrets, strategies, machinations, and most importantly, how it creates and perpetuates what we perceive as reality. Unfortunately, the price that one pays to have this experience is in the fine print and rarely provided up front. We don’t realize we’re asking for the destruction of those parts of us that are just distractions from seeing ourselves for who and what we really are, and now we want our old life back. Guess what? Your old life is what you were asking to be freed from.

 

Wellness Briefs–“Medication Toxicity”

All of the conditions described in these posts are effectively treated with Pattern Release Energetics (PRE).

http://www.patternreleaseenergetics.com

Do you ever wonder why pharmaceuticals have endless lists of possible serious side effects? One reason is because after our bodies have made maximum use of the medication and excreted as much of the excess as possible, whatever traces of it remain can get stored in a variety of tissues, including muscle, nerve, brain, and organ tissues. Residual medication can settle in these tissues indefinitely and create a toxic environment that can persist long after the medication has been discontinued. This toxicity can produce symptoms such as chronic muscle and joint pain, nerve pain (neuropathy), organ system dysfunction, allergies, headaches, and insomnia.

Chemotherapy meds, antibiotics, antidepressants, interferon, blood pressure medication, and blood thinners are just a few of the medications I’ve encountered stored in clients’ tissues and causing the previously mentioned symptoms. The mere fact that a person must be weaned off a medication already suggests that his or her system has become unnaturally accustomed to having the substance in its tissues, since it is considered risky to simply stop altogether. As with infections, stimulation of the lymph system with PRE encourages the body to release medication toxicity in a safe and efficient manner.

Unfortunately, medication is often used as a long-term treatment strategy which makes the body dependent, lazy, and unresponsive. Over time, this can result in the medication causing the very same symptoms that it was intended to eradicate. If you have symptoms whose origins no one has been able to trace, and you’ve been on a prolonged course of a medication at some point in your life, then medication toxicity should be considered as a possible source.

Wellness Briefs–“Infection Medley”

All of the conditions described in these posts are effectively treated with Pattern Release Energetics (PRE).

http://www.patternreleaseenergetics.com

For both people and pets, multiple types of infections often occur concurrently. For example, an infection constellation composed of bacterial, viral, yeast, and fungal sources, or any combination of these, is common. If only the bacterial component is diagnosed and treated with antibiotics, it can obscure, and perpetuate, the other infectious elements. In fact, antibiotics can actually create the environment for these other infections to enter the scene in the first place.

The non-bacterial infections may mimic the symptoms of a bacterial infection, so it’s essential to know what exactly is present from the start, before the picture is muddied with any external stimuli. The dangers of indiscriminate use of antibiotics have been known for decades now, but it is still surprisingly rampant.

A grouping of different infections needs to be released layer by layer, in a specific sequence dictated by your mind-body. Otherwise, the healing is incomplete and encourages what is referred to as a “chronic, low-grade infection” or some such wording. Very often, there are emotional patterns that are being repressed in association with a particular infection layer, and these also need to be identified along with the infection type. Infections of any kind can be quickly cleared through activation of the lymph system with PRE, and people can easily be taught how to do this for themselves, as well.

The Intervention Fallacy: Part III, Freeing Yourself from the Cycle

This is the final installment of a three-part series.

http://www.patternreleaseenergetics.com

[The approach to self-healing that I use in my Pattern Release Energetics work is described in detail in my e-book, “Activate Your Inner Physician,” available through amazon.com, but this post is intended to summarize the principles behind it.]

Breaking the habit of intervention and re-learning how to heal oneself is–pardon the cliché—simple, but not easy. The first step, of course, is to stop intervening or allowing others to intervene whenever you have an uncomfortable, disturbing, or unfamiliar sensation, pain, emotional reaction, or obsessive thought. This at least gives you a chance to discover what experience is being short-circuited with intervention. Most often it’s an encounter with hidden beliefs, repressed memories, and unexpressed emotions.

Since we’ve taught ourselves to fear this encounter, we need a strategy to replace our default response of suppression, and develop a different relationship to pain and discomfort. We start by restoring the lines of communication between our bodies, thoughts, feelings, and emotions. These lines of communication are silenced over time as we’re socially conditioned to regard a human being as a compartmentalized phenomenon.

I teach people breathing and grounding to create a foundation for reestablishing this communication and encouraging the mechanism of expressive healing. These two tools provide a means to stay anchored while focusing on the symptom you’ve chosen to explore. Then you rotate your attention between all the physical sensations and emotional components that accompany the symptom, which might be described as a voluntary embracing of chaos.

This causes a type of tension to surface caused by the mind raising its resistance to examining the deeper sources of the symptom. Allowing this tension to build while staying grounded erodes the false compartments between body, thought, emotion, and sensations, and enables a freer flow of information between the conscious mind, the hidden self, and the physical body. By simply choosing not to suppress this experience, you are harnessing the healing forces inside you and encouraging them to interact until a resolution occurs.

This may feel very foreign at first, because in American culture we’re generally encouraged to resolve tension as quickly as possible, regardless of the context. The creative possibilities that non-resolution of tension engenders are unimaginable to the conscious mind, whose agenda is to choose either black or white and then rigidly defend whatever it’s chosen. In expressive healing, black and white are allowed to occupy the same space until they work it out and a third possibility reveals itself: healing. Tension and chaos are essential elements in expressive healing, and they are precisely what are trampled on with a suppressive approach. This is not a logic that can be reproduced by the intellect.

Another way of describing this approach is that it’s a way to make yourself vulnerable to yourself. Until you can do that, making yourself vulnerable to anyone else is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Vulnerability–the willingness to feel–is necessary to access whatever is trying to get our attention through disease, illness, pain, or dysfunction.

We like to think of ourselves as feeling beings, but until we’re actually asked to feel we don’t realize how profoundly intellectualized our experience of life has become. We say all the time that we want to feel more alive, but are we willing to experience what that really feels like after a lifetime of being programmed into a narrow band of feeling and self-expression? It’s not a stretch to imagine, for example, that your personal experience of feeling more alive might get you a diagnosis of bipolar disorder from certain mental health professionals.

Becoming a more feeling person doesn’t mean having one’s emotions spill all over the place at the drop of a hat. It involves being able to sense and honestly evaluate one’s internal state at any given time. Am I angry? Am I jealous? Is alcohol destroying my liver? Do I get a headache every time I visit my sister? Have I fallen out of love with my husband? Do I hold my breath when I talk to my boss?

Recovering one’s self-healing abilities is a solitary pursuit, because you’re not going to find much support for it out there. There is an unceasing exposure to elements that reinforce the intervention model, and the degree to which society attempts to keep a lid on our fundamental ability to heal ourselves is daunting, to say the least. If you do pursue it with some commitment, you’ll realize more and more how our culture’s approach to living one’s life is about suppression in practically every context you can imagine.

The point of all this is not to skate through life in some pain-free state or “tidy things up” emotionally. That’s a big part of the problem to begin with since tidying up suggests that certain emotions are unacceptable. It’s to observe, feel, acknowledge, and express. It’s a way to become more aware of why we do what we do, think what we think, and how that makes us feel on both a physical and emotional level. We can take the initiative to begin unwinding ourselves right now, or go with the flow and wait until life beats the crap out of us yet again, or we wait for the wake-up call of an emergency level of crisis.

 

The Intervention Fallacy: Part II, The Illusion of the Health Care Practitioner

http://www.patternreleaseenergetics.com

First, a few definitions.

Vulnerability: A willingness to feel. This applies to physical sensations as well as emotions. Without it, healing does not happen in this model.

Conscious mind: Everyday awareness. Some of its tasks are to categorize and label, interpret sensory data, and search for meaning. A few of its qualities are resistance to change, avoidance of chaos, fear of death, and a need to be right.

Hidden self: Those aspects of being human that the conscious mind judges as undesirable and hides from view. Whatever doesn’t correspond to the personality and image that the conscious mind wants to show the world is banished to the hidden self. This includes cultural and religious taboos, socially unacceptable attributes, unpleasant memories, and painful emotions

Wholeness: A human being’s fundamental yearning to merge the conscious mind with the hidden self to experience a greater range of expression.

Healing: A movement toward wholeness.

This series began with the statement, “All healing is self-healing.” So, where does the health care practitioner fit in?

A lot of what passes for health care is the equivalent of an athletic trainer who gives an injured player a painkiller injection and sends her back into the game. Nothing is done to address the acute or chronic injury/illness pattern, and the messages of the mind-body are totally disregarded through suppression.

Sometimes we’re sick or in pain because something inside us is trying to keep us out of the game, and will continue to do so until we get the message. Let’s say we’re working 12-hour days to avoid being alone with the pain of our divorce, and as a result we’ve got daily migraines. In that case, a practitioner who simply prescribes migraine medication is enabling our addiction to a lifestyle that’s literally making us sick. We’re all familiar with the custom of killing the messenger who brings unwelcome news, but the intervention model of health care kills the messenger before we even have a chance to hear the message.

Training or certification in any therapy or healing art only grants someone the possibility of participating in a person’s healing, to be in a position where others can make themselves vulnerable to him or her, and vice versa. Unfortunately, all the focus is on training, technique, and how many letters the practitioner has after his or her name. Because we’ve set it up this way, the only way we can recover our permission to heal ourselves is by getting it from someone else, again and again. If we really pay attention, though, we may eventually remind ourselves that there’s only one doctor, and it’s inside of us. Does this diminish the role of the practitioner? On the contrary, this is a very privileged position! It’s just that American culture doesn’t value the quality of the practitioner’s presence over a bloated resumé.

This leads us to the patient-doctor role playing exercise, which itself is based on a lie: that there is a broken one and one that does the mending. In reality, the practitioner is no less broken than the patient. The irony is that by expressing symptoms of illness and dysfunction the mind-body is functioning optimally to inform us that the hidden self is asking for expression or recognition. However, standard medicine sees only undesirable symptoms, which it describes as “ill health” and sets about eradicating. Actually, it is suppressive approaches to health care that cause someone to be broken in the sense that the normal communication of signals between the conscious mind and hidden self is rendered non-functional.

If a treatment is to result in anything other than suppression, then it requires what I call “neutral witnessing” on the part of the practitioner. Among other things, being a neutral witness requires the self-discipline to NOT try to fix someone when they’re not broken in the first place, to NOT reinforce the client’s attachment to their diagnosis, and to be willing to play the practitioner role while knowing at the same time that it’s an illusion. It requires that the practitioner be vulnerable herself so that the patient’s vulnerability might actually result in a movement toward wholeness. In short, there’s the potential for real honesty, a rarity in any given human interaction. This creates an equal possibility for healing of both patient and doctor, but don’t tell that to the billing department.

Illness, disease, or dysfunction is held in place by belief, and if doctor and patient agree (consciously or not) to stop maintaining the beliefs that are holding it in place, the illness pattern can come undone. However, if both parties agree only to validate the beliefs around the symptom, and treat the diagnosis as gospel rather than as a point of departure, then they forge an agreement as to what is “wrong,” thus holding the illness patterns in place.

Because of our conditioning around intervention, our conscious mind requires proof that an acceptable means of external stimulation is occurring. Hence, the role of the technique or medicine. In the setting of neutral witnessing, however, a healing technique is akin to a ritual, in that an intention is represented in form to distract the conscious mind so that the hidden self has an opportunity to reveal itself. If a person’s repressed guilt and chronic muscle pain are inseparably linked, those elements have to communicate with each other in order for expressive healing to take place.

It’s the quality of the practitioner’s presence that really counts and not the technique, technology, or medication. This is not a suggestion to fire all of your health care providers! All of us look for permission from others before we’ll grant it to ourselves, and a lot of us will never learn how to give ourselves that permission. However, the further we can break down the limitations created by artificial patient-practitioner roles, the more vulnerability will be possible between both participants, and the greater the chances for a true healing experience.

Next time: The Intervention Fallacy: Part III, Breaking the Cycle

The Intervention Fallacy: Part I, How It Starts

This is the first in a three-part series.

All healing is self-healing.

What feeling does this statement elicit from you? Does it register as a vague recognition or a distant memory? Does it make sense, but you’re not sure how it applies to your own health in a practical way? If so, you’re not alone. Actually, this simple truth is highly subversive with regard to our health care industry, which works overtime to conceal it from us.

In general, standard medicine doesn’t trust a body’s ability to heal itself. So, it intervenes with medication to produce an effect. This effect usurps the body’s innate capability of self-regulation, which is analogous to wearing a breathing apparatus instead of presuming that our breath can operate on its own. Consequently, our system gets lazy and before long it relies exclusively on intervention instead of its own ability to monitor and heal itself. We unconsciously train our bodies to wait for this external stimulation in order to obtain relief from distress, instead of seeing to it ourselves.

All healing is self-healing. How do we lose track of a truth this profound? For starters, we human beings are predisposed to being easily conditioned and manipulated. This applies not only to our behavior, but to the very thoughts we allow to enter our awareness. This is not an aspect of human nature that we’re eager to own up to, but many of us are desperate to be told how to live our lives and health is one area in which our greatest fears and insecurities reside.

We get accustomed to intervention even before we can talk, in small, but powerful ways. The earlier the exposure starts, of course, the more ingrained is our belief in it. Baby aspirin, flintstones vitamins, Vapo-rub, antibiotics, vaccinations–these are just a few of the elements that cement the belief that we require external stimulation in order to heal or feel better.

The people we trust most in this world, our parents and family, are the first to deliver this message of powerlessness to us. Everyone means well, of course. It’s simply the trance we’ve fallen asleep in, and if we don’t ever feel compelled to question our conditioning then we simply pass it on down the line. If I’d had children as a younger man I would’ve done the same thing.

Our self-healing abilities atrophy just as a muscle that is not used shortens and weakens because it has no reason to maintain its full function. So do we enter a society in which we’re urged to seek help from the experts who are trained to intervene, and dissuaded from learning the language of our own bodies and minds.

We’re constantly cautioned to view our physical sensations, emotions, and feelings with suspicion and fear, instead of curiosity and patience. Our blanket perception of pain and discomfort as being undesirable and a sign that something is wrong is the best example of this. This practically guarantees a disconnection between our mind, emotions, and physical body by the time we’re young adults, and promotes the intervention-based model of health.

The pharmaceutical and health care industries ensure their survival and relevance by creating the very problem that they serve, that of molding “patients” who abdicate responsibility for their own well-being and line up obediently for their meds at Walgreen’s. Drug companies can get away with listing a medication’s endless fatal or near-fatal side effects, yet still sell a shitload of drugs because they wrote the manual on the intervention model of health. Many people feel that drugs are their only option, and gee, at least Big Pharma’s being honest about the side effects.

In addition, so-called experts apply disparaging labels to our ability to heal ourselves, such as “faith healing,” “witchcraft,” “placebo effect,” and “pseudoscience,” which plays into our embarrassment at being associated with fringe groups and “unscientific” perspectives. The collective effort to hide our power from ourselves is actually quite a well-oiled machine, and rarely receives the type of scrutiny that would engender a revolutionary alternative to the health care industry.

In this model, when we’re taught that certain functions are “involuntary,” such as breathing, heart rate, and digestion, we unfortunately take that to the extreme due to our conditioning by assuming that we have absolutely no influence over these functions. Our conditioning ensures that we’re constantly poised to avoid a direct confrontation with our mind-body, so we look for the language to justify the avoidance, and seek the medication that will replace our encounter with a scary involuntary function. So much for the spirit of adventure and exploration, to put it mildly.

Essentially, we have two choices of dealing with a symptom. We can drive it back below the threshold of our awareness (a suppressive approach) or we can participate with it (an expressive approach). With suppression a door is closed, and with expression a whole world opens up.

Most of what is typically described as healing occurs as the result of suppressive mechanisms. Painkillers and antidepressants are obvious examples, but any type of therapy can employ a suppressive approach. It is often a fear-based strategy, as we unconsciously fear to examine what is underneath the symptom.

Expressive healing describes the mechanism of self-healing, and views a symptom as an indication that something within us is asking for acknowledgement, most often trapped or repressed feelings and emotions. Relief or resolution occurs as the result of recognizing and giving expression to these underlying sources, because the symptom was only there to point us toward the deeper cause in the first place.

Next time: Part II, The Illusion of the Health Care Practitioner

The Trap of the Politically Correct Mindset

Under the guise of respect for diversity, we have quietly cleansed American culture of any chance for honest public discussion around race, sexuality, gender, class, or any other distinguishing feature that would differentiate one person from the next. Political correctness is one of those cultural phenomena that cause us to shake our heads and think, “This must’ve seemed like a good idea at some point.” And then it becomes another cobblestone in the rickety road to hell.

The disconnect between what is allowed in public conversation or discussion and how we talk in private behind closed doors has reached an unprecedented level of absurdity. The PC mindset is a form of mental and emotional conditioning that accomplishes the exact opposite of its implied intention, resulting in divisiveness rather than unity. It is the literal embodiment of the “thought police” from Orwell’s 1984. PC behavior is what passes for respect in a society that wants to show how accepting it is, but is not really interested in honest connection between individuals, because that’s too dangerous.

PC is a brand of censorship uniquely suited to American sensibilities because of our persistent belief that we are the good, decent ones who won WWII, the protectors of democracy, the white knight of the western world, and the caretakers of a Disneyland where anyone can be anything they want to be. We instinctively know that the iron-fisted oppression of free expression and activism exemplified by the Russian, Chinese, or North Korean approach to censorship, for example, would never fly here. But, give us Americans a strategy to gag ourselves that can be justified as compassionate and democratic, and we’re all in.

It has become such a morass that it’s difficult to tell whom, if anyone, exactly benefits from the perpetuation of PC: Groups who want to retain the advantages of victim status? Prominent individuals or organizations that want to strengthen their façade of being the champion of the oppressed?

Guilt and shame are possibly the strongest elements that can sustain an intensely polarized situation, outside of an overt threat of physical violence. PC utilizes guilt and shame with a surgeon’s skill, playing on our secret fears that we’re not actually the good, honest, virtuous people that we hoped we were, but in fact that we’re just like everyone else. If we tow the PC line, though, we can at least fool ourselves and perhaps others that we are those guiltless beings of light.

Like everyone, I spent most of my life cherry-picking which thoughts I accepted as “my own” and which ones were “something else that wasn’t me” in order to create an identity I could bear. Eventually, though, it stopped making sense that the bad, evil people were always over there. I would find myself watching the news and continually asking, “Who are these fucking people who think it’s okay to believe in white supremacy, or think it’s okay to fire someone because he’s gay?” Eventually, the extremely uncomfortable answer was, those people are me!

Now, if I’m honest about the totality of what I see in myself, I see a homophobe, a racist, a misogynist, a misanthrope, a classist, and any other clichéd type of prejudice that can be imagined. And if there’s one I haven’t found yet, it’s just because I haven’t looked hard enough. And if anyone who’s reading this thinks they are not in the same boat, then they are deluding themselves.

PC encourages the suppression of thoughts that we don’t want to accept as our own, and beefs up our need to punish others for those very same thoughts so that we don’t have to look at them within ourselves. This is what creates the world in all its brutal duality. If these thoughts are not ours and don’t reflect our own nature and beliefs, then whose are they and how did they get into our heads? If we keep our taboo thoughts buried in the unconscious, then we can sustain the illusion of our innocence in it all. And that’s how history repeats itself ad nauseam.

Our social conditioning encourages us from the moment we slide out of the womb to choose a very narrow definition of who we think we are, and defend it until we die. That necessarily includes choosing what thoughts we’ll regard as our own. Rarely, if ever, are we presented with the alternative of acknowledging thoughts and acting out behaviors that seem to contradict each other. This could be superficially dismissed as hypocritical, but in fact it is just the opposite. We can weigh all the aspects that reside within us and go with what our heart decides, instead of choosing one side and going with what our mind decides.

Very few people buy into the idea that more you acquaint yourself with your own prejudices, the greater is your capacity for true compassion and acceptance. We simply don’t trust that a human being is capable of doing the right thing while consciously recognizing his or her judgments of others.

Unfortunately, the willingness and ability to witness all these conflicting forces and influences would be labeled by a lot of people as mental illness, instability, or at least a reason to see a shrink. Our mental health system would pathologize what is a normal and necessary recognition and expression of the vast range of a person’s mental and emotional being. Rather than expand our recognition of who and what we are, we’re told to change the way we think, when it reflects traits or beliefs that are deemed undesirable. It’s another exercise in contraction rather than expansion, because we stubbornly believe we have a choice in being who we are.

I feel this begins with a standard for human behavior that is embarrassingly over-inflated. It’s one of those “despite all evidence to the contrary, we still believe . . .” moments. It’s abundantly clear on both gross and subtle levels that one of our fundamental challenges as human beings is to live our lives from a place other than fear and survival. Look at how we behave even when our situation far exceeds having met our most basic survival needs. Yes, we’re quite capable of many admirable qualities, but we’re often chasing and appreciating only those, and in the process completely denying the messy ones even as they’re played out on the grandest stage possible. We want to clean up everything about ourselves, while we destroy the planet in the meantime.

The best we can hope for in a lot of situations is tolerance, not love, or even acceptance. But tolerance is a quality that is often not valued. No, we expect humanity to leapfrog right from bigotry and hatred to love, acceptance, and understanding, and anything less is unacceptable. This is way beyond a reasonable expectation. And, because being tolerant just isn’t enough, then we get to feel guilty about that as well.

All of us believe that the world should accept us for who we are, and on the surface it seems like a reasonable request. However, as individuals we often struggle with accepting ourselves for who we are, and we can’t count on others to do it for us. Look at your family and friends and see how many are on antidepressants, sleeping aids, or in rehab. It can be a painful process to become who we really are in this world because we know it may result in not being accepted.

The degradation of language is another aspect of PC that makes it so insidious. There’s no better example currently than the use of the word “racist.” In the past, as I recall, the word was used to describe a person or policy based on racial prejudice that prevented one from freely living one’s life. This included where you could work, live, or socialize, and included physical violence, verbal threats, and segregation.

These days the definition of the word has been expanded to include anyone who even has thoughts of racial prejudice, which includes all of us. This causes us to feel even more guilt and repress our own prejudices, and focus our efforts toward finding the “real racists.” This arbitrariness of the word “racist” is incredibly dangerous because the word has lost none of its incendiary nature yet is meaningless at the same time, which means it can be manipulated to serve any purpose and create instant reaction and action. There is no reference point anymore for what a racist is, so we are looking behind every bush and around every corner to find them. It is awfully reminiscent of Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare tactics.

We don’t even know from week to week what words are acceptable, and so any public discourse becomes increasingly artificial and constrained because of the fear of offending and being labeled as insensitive at best, and at worst a racist. This results in even more resentment of minorities and special interest groups because they’re given special protection from language, and we have to navigate a verbal minefield to have any meaningful discussion.

It also dulls our ability to recognize actual racism because so many false examples are thrown in our faces daily, and the over-saturation and mental exhaustion causes us to lose our capacity for empathy. Rather than opening a discussion, PC language is intended to immediately identify the victim and oppressor, polarize the situation, and prohibit any further discussion of substance. The language loses its meaning and people stop listening.

Recently this was driven home to me by the headline, “Oprah Claims Obama is Target of Racism.” Now, how much focus can I spare for one person who makes many millions of dollars for simply giving her stamp of approval to products and productions, and another who has the power to give a verbal command to blow my house up with a drone? Even after someone has clearly amassed the maximum power and influence that this country allows, can they still play the victim card whenever they see fit, despite the fact that their capacity for retaliation is practically limitless? Is victimhood a lifetime membership in a club or is it defined by a moment in time? Isn’t this disrespectful to the plight of those whose lives are being severely limited as the result of racial discrimination, or who face a threat of violence every day and are comparatively powerless to oppose it?

We’re making victimization a form of empowerment. If we don’t think there are distinct advantages to being regarded as a victim, then we’re being truly naïve about human nature. When a single word can be wielded to cause someone to lose his or her job or cause a company to go broke, it replaces personal responsibility and dialogue with the verbal equivalent of a handgun.

PC also perpetuates the lie that there is a rational fix for prejudice, and that all we need to do is think the right way, have the right exposure to people and circumstances, and then we’ll see the light. In reality, though, we acquire so many of our beliefs from family, friends, culture, tradition, education, and other unknown sources, that it is largely impossible to discern where we’ve come to believe what we do. In fact, prejudice is the epitome of irrationality, and that is one major reason for its confounding persistence.

We cannot simply tell people “don’t think like that” or “it’s wrong to believe that,” because any one individual has to come to those conclusions from his or her own experience. It can actually worsen our resentment when we’re instructed to think a different way and we don’t even know why we think that way in the first place. It doesn’t make sense to us that we judge people the way we do even without having a personal experience of them, so it becomes an additional source of shame.

Prejudice is largely a reflection of self-loathing, so expecting such an approach to work is like asking someone why they can’t simply love and accept themselves. When it comes to loving and accepting oneself, we’re talking about a very bumpy road that takes a lifetime to travel if indeed it ever happens at all.

We can legislate against discrimination but not against prejudiced thinking. It’s incredibly important to legislate against discrimination because we can show ourselves that we will at least take responsibility for fairness at some level, regardless of whether we’re willing to explore our own prejudices or not.

It’s incomprehensible to me why anyone would purposely pursue fame in America anymore, since the PC thought police have clearly made celebrities a prime target to use as high profile scapegoats. How many times have we seen this occur in the last five years or so? Here’s how it goes. If you follow a celebrity around long enough, you’ll catch them in a verbal misstep that you can hear on any street corner or bar, made even more possible nowadays by Twitter. Then the quote is immediately made public, mortification ensues, and then the contrite and humbled celebrity makes his or her public apology. Then there is the race among the so-called experts as to who’ll proclaim this a “teaching moment,” and thus has legitimacy and importance been bestowed upon an offhand remark.

This happened recently to Serena Williams, who had the misfortune to suggest publicly that a 16-year-old girl might bear some responsibility in not getting drunk out of her mind while being in the company of a group of horny teenage boys. Then came the mortification, and right on cue, the public apology.

The tentacles of PC are now spreading to silencing comedians, such as Tracy Morgan, Michael Richards, and Chris Rock. The most recent whipping boy was Steve Martin, who unfortunately caved and made his public apology. There is a very real danger to a free society in censoring comedians, because we rely on them to give voice to a lot of our cultural taboos under the rubric of “entertainment.” Without this, we lose a critical pressure release valve on the collective suppression of our socially unacceptable selves.

With our government’s increased surveillance of our daily activities, the PC nightmare will not get any better any time soon. One word in an email, blog, or a facebook post and you’re done. May as well learn how to life your life in a state of constant exposure and vulnerability. We are so afraid of who and what we are in so many different contexts it’s very difficult to know how an unfettered human being might act. Maybe it will lead some of us to a state of simply not caring about protecting ourselves anymore. Wouldn’t that be something?

I Don’t Need Help, But I Could Sure Use a Witness

This is an excerpt from the e-book, “Activate Your Inner Physician,” available on amazon.com.

Have you ever been fortunate enough to be in distress in the company of someone who did nothing except be with you? They didn’t try to help, console, or advise you. They didn’t hug you and say, “Everything’s going to be OK.” They simply stayed with you and what you were feeling. Do you recall how rare and liberating that felt? Just experiencing that objective presence can be a healing experience.

In essence, all the person did was stand in for you and give you permission to feel. When you combine witnessing with not interfering with expression, you get humanity. It’s a demonstration of the seeming contradiction that compassion is best expressed from a neutral place.

After all, when we try to console someone, we often do so out of selfishness. Either we don’t want to be in the presence of someone who’s having a rough time because it makes us uncomfortable, or we want to be the hero who makes him or her feel better. In either case, it’s more about us than them. We’re also passively denying their feelings by telling them it’s all going to be okay. In that moment, everything is not okay with that person and they need to acknowledge it.

We are constantly involved in short-circuiting each other’s feelings with the rationalization, “that’s just what friends do for each other.” Um, . . no. Friends allow each other to vent whatever nasty-ass feelings are surfacing while doing their best not to take it personally. If you have even one person in your life with whom you can do this, you know what a treasure you have there. Of course, a friend is also someone who’ll tell you when you’re being manipulative around your emotions.

Thankfully, we don’t need another person to experience the power of witnessing. We can simply sit our asses down and witness whatever surfaces as a result being vulnerable to hearing what our mind is telling us and what we’re truly feeling. This also includes witnessing physical sensations without immediately attending to their suppression. This may sound simple, but for many of us our whole lives are designed to avoid anything but a very superficial examination of our internal state.

Witnessing is a state of suspension whose qualities can range from exquisite calm to utter terror, depending on the mind’s judgment of what’s being witnessed. The more you’re able to witness the conscious mind, the more you realize that it’s constantly judging. And herein lies a sobering recognition: as long as we’re alive we will have judgments.

Throughout this book I use the term “neutral” instead of “non-judgmental,” for a very good reason. American culture promotes a naive innocence by encouraging us to be non-judgmental, because we’re programmed to believe that it’s a quality of a “good person.” This results in widespread shame and guilt around our non-stop habit of judging (“I feel guilty about thinking that homeless people are just lazy.”) If a person doesn’t feel that it’s possible to do the right thing in the face of his prejudices, then he has no choice but to suppress his judgments (“That’s not really me. I know that it’s not right to judge homeless people.”). Now he thinks he’s being non-judgmental and he’s wreaking more havoc than before. Any act of kindness toward a homeless person is now borne of guilt and a denial of his prejudice.

By “neutral,” I’m referring to straddling the line where you can hear your judgments but not judge yourself for having them, which allows for something amazing to occur. You can smile and give that same homeless person a dollar even as your mind is saying, “Take a bath, you worthless piece of crap.” Because guess what? The compassionate person and the elitist snob are equally part of who you are. It’s neutral witnessing that allows both of these to exist in the same moment without either one being “right.” The conscious mind abhors sitting in this contradiction because it needs to be right. That’s why learning how to maintain a neutral witness state with one’s own judgments is invaluable, because it siphons off some of the energy that goes into maintaining a rigid, polarized position.

I’ve never met anyone who was not judgmental to some extent, and I’ve known some extraordinary people. I have known people, however, who knew that their judgments were nonsense even as they were voicing them.

Separation in Health

The following is an excerpt from my e-book “Activate Your Inner Physician,” available at http://www.amazon.com.

Separation: The conscious mind’s attempt to maintain order by imposing artificial boundaries around aspects of mind and body. As a result we have the physical self, the emotional self, the psychological self, the spiritual self, etc. It is the opposite of movement and hence the opposite of healing. Pain and suffering are by-products of separation.

Our health care system is based on two falsehoods: that we will never die and that we’re entitled to a pain-free existence. When you create a model that denies two of the most fundamental truths of human existence, how can that not create separation of the highest order? And, if separation is what causes pain to be necessary in the first place, it follows that our accepted model of health actually sets the stage for pain and suffering.

We get funneled into various specialists who will treat the physical problem and one who will counsel you on the emotional and psychological issues, once again reinforcing in our minds that these are two unrelated problems. The linking of physical and emotional-psychological symptoms is often left up to the individual because very few practitioners will tell you that liver inflammation and repressed grief need to be treated as one event.

The multitude of diagnostic tests and procedures that grows daily is another reflection of this fractured perspective. A lab tech at the hospital is evaluating your blood glucose level while another tech across town at a private lab is testing the pH level of your urine. Talk about separation—your bodily fluids aren’t even in the same building!

One of the original Old English meanings of health is “whole.” The deep desire of the body-mind is to return to wholeness, and pain is the price for recognizing that we’re not whole. If health is meant to describe a whole experience, why can’t we talk about it without classifying it as “good” health or “poor” health, or applying a diagnosis to a feeling or a mental state?

Our conditioning to regard our minds and bodies as separate entities sets us up to become fodder for the health care machine. For example, our body has little opportunity to show us that it can heal an infection on its own, because we cannot hear the word infection without hearing the word “antibiotics” in the same breath. The mind will hold the infection in place until the actual physical proof of the antibiotic is presented to it in the form of a pill or an injection.

A good example of how separation permeates our language around health is how we regard a cancer diagnosis. The person is described as “battling cancer.” By definition, there has to be a winner and a loser in a battle. If the patient adopts this perspective, she has already compromised herself with this declaration of war, which is the equivalent to stating, “I am not my body and my body is the enemy.” How is she supposed to have compassion for an enemy that’s trying to kill her? Then she chooses a practitioner (her general in the battle against her disease), draws her line in the sand and goes to war against herself to eradicate the clues to her humanity.

If the patient survives and wins the battle, who or what exactly lost the battle? The standard answer would be, “Well, the cancer lost, of course!” On the contrary, the loser was more likely a deeper part of that person seeking attention–such as unexpressed regret or grief–and the only way to make itself known was through something as extreme as a life-threatening disease. It had otherwise run out of options. Since the mind will never equate cancer with our humanity this connection often goes unexamined. So, we congratulate the victor on avoiding yet another close call with self-recognition.

A woman’s breast cancer doesn’t heal because thousands of people are doing a 5K walk, which is just a gussied-up version of going to war. Who else marches but an army? Again, it’s an expression of separation. The only enemy to confront is in the mirror. Her healing, if it occurs, is a very private and unique event that cannot be marketed or branded, and if we want to help then we stay as neutral as possible about the disease.