E-Squared Book Club: Week 4

Shirley plays with magic wands as Tammy witnesses. It was a foggy, misty morning, but just before 10 o'clock, the sun began to shine.

We gathered to discuss Experiment #5 - the Dear Abby Principle. This states that we each have unlimited access to a constant source of inner guidance from the FP.

Pam talks mostly about the distinction between our conscious mind (logical, rational brain) and inner guidance. Too often we get the two confused, and we use our conscious thoughts as guidance. Oops!

The conscious mind has these important functions:

  • identifying problems
  • formulating goals
  • making judgments
  • comparing current experience to past experience
  • interpreting results and building models

However, it's not the source of guidance when you "don't know" what to do, or when you want to take a step toward a vision you want to create.

I'm curious: what forms has YOUR inner guidance come in?

For me, it's been learning to listen to my own body. My "temple of truth", as I call it. I used to use my mind to drive my body like it was my workhorse. Now I am more tender, more astute at listening, and take the time to honor what my body is communicating at all times. I am learning.

Others in the group described their inner guidance as "intuition", "gut reaction", "knowingness", a feeling, a sound or word, an image that appears.

No matter what your inner guidance looks, sounds, or feels like, it's about your relationship with it. Getting to know it so you can begin to trust it.

Shirley shared the results of Experiment #3. She asked for a piano to appear in her life. It was offered immediately and sincerely. She observed for over a week before she became clear that all she had to do was ACCEPT the offer. To SHOW UP and take the steps of receiving. WOW. That was a big one! It's always available, and sometimes it's right in front of us, but we have to be willing to walk toward it. Thank you, Shirley!

Tammy got a crystal clear answer to her question, "Should I get a new door, or repair the old one?". Now it's a matter of walking toward that answer.

We also tried the magic wands again (yes, we LOVE them! We'll even try them with strangers who wander into the clearing and wonder what we're doing there.). Tammy brought another question to the wands, one where the answer she had received was not quite lining up with the feelings she was getting in her body. The wands gave her crystal clarity.

Finally, we were gifted with the raw materials for our next Experiment #6! We each received a packet of sunflower seeds and some soil from Tammy's garden. I planted my seeds last night, and it's just amazing how much faster one row is already growing compared to the other! :)

Tammy presents

I wanted to share the recording of the evening phone meeting. It is one hour and fifteen minutes, unedited. There is some great discussion and sharing from Danielle as we talk about letting go of the "how", how to get clear on an intention, and practicing. Here is the link. Enjoy!

Next week, we talk about the next TWO chapters - Experiments #6 (the great seed race) and #7 (what happens when you infuse your food with love?).

You can join the E-Squared Book Club anytime until November 20th. And if you've been reading the book, please share your stories in the comments!

Why I Created "Self-Care for the Caring Professional"

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Bringing SELF care reform into HEALTH care reform

"How are things at home?"

My first experience shadowing a real practicing physician was in 1996, when I spent my spring break week staying in the home of a Radcliffe alumna and saw a glimpse into "a week in the life of..." someone in the real world. I thought, if I wanted to have a credible story about wanting to go to medical school (which my essential self really didn't want to do), I should at least see what one does. I shadowed a family physician in Philadelphia, who had a beautiful family of her own and a fun group of colleagues. At the time, I was naive to many of the challenges of having a small medical practice affiliated with a teaching hospital system, but I was keenly focused on how she interacted with her patients. I noticed that every time a patient came in, she would ask, "How are things at home?"

It almost became a running joke between us, because no matter how "mechanical" the problem seemed to be at first - an annual school physical, or a follow-up visit for a broken arm - she always asked this question. And it always opened people up to some long-awaited discussion about a lingering source of stress in their lives. They seemed so relieved to be able to talk about what was going on at home. Often there was nothing more she had to do except listen to the patient for a few minutes, giving them a space to be heard. Amongst us doctors, we used to call these "psychosocial" issues or "supratentorial" problems (a medical insider's term for implying "it's all in their head"). I returned from that trip with a profound respect for the job of a family physician - in the way she had taken it on - and also a desire to find some way to play an important role in people's lives through my work.

Self care isn't as sexy as medical care

When I actually got to medical school, I quickly learned the hierarchy of "sexiness" among the medical specialties - the unspoken but pervasively understood ranking based on how "challenging" or "prestigious" or "difficult to get into" they were. Family medicine pretty much ranked at the bottom. In contrast to the people who were "really" doing important things like surgeries, intensive care, and (oooh la la!) minimally invasive procedures, family physicians were the glorified "social workers" in the pecking order of traditional western medicine. At least that's how I learned it at the time.

When I rotated onto the primary care services and saw patients in the outpatient clinics, I was struck by how little time could be devoted to asking, "How are things at home?" within the structure of our medical training. We're taught to find out what's wrong, and have a plan of action - involving writing orders for diagnostic tests, referrals to specialists, or a prescription for a pill - to address the problem. Never were we told to inquire about what might be the underlying cause of the complaint or symptom. Never were we allowed to ask what really brought the patient in to see the doctor.

I can't blame modern western medicine for getting to this point. As we've become more and more disconnected from our bodies, and as our lives have become more and more complex and demanding, our physical problems have become more severe. Naturally, our tendency toward innovation has led to the creation of more and more sophisticated technologies for dealing with those escalating problems.

But what no one seemed to care about - at least when I was in medical school - was health and wellness. In other words, doctors played no active role in promoting their patient's SELF care by asking, "How are things at home?". Some of the most basic questions and observations were left out of our assessments of "normal" patients - like posture, breathing, diet, exercise, work-related stress, quality of relationships, and emotional coping mechanisms.

I've heard all the arguments about doctors "not having the time" to ask these questions. I believe those pressures are real. But I also believe that the intention to maintain and restore health to the whole person is not at the forefront of our medical training or even our health care paradigm in this country.

Self care is simply not part of our health care system.

I had to learn this myself, outside the system. I've always lived my life with an underlying belief that if there was a heap, I would find my way to the top of it somehow. Luckily, through a sensitivity I was born with and also cultivated through years of musical practice and listening, I also had the ability to "check in" with myself and set limits for the amount of work and stress I would sign up for. I didn't like being around the crowds of medical students who got together in groups to hype up their own stress by studying together for exams. I didn't drown my sorrows in alcohol at the end of each week either. I found other outlets - playing music with people who managed to live on a different setpoint for stress was one, and exercising was another. Both of these gave me a chance to surround myself with different kinds of people, who spoke a different language, and would not allow my particular stresses to spiral and escalate through constant storytelling.

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Moving into balance

Later on, I discovered yoga, which started out as a pure fitness activity and has slowly evolved into a deep personal self-care practice for my mind-body connection. After ten years of practice, I can "drop in" to my own body and consciousness each time I get on the mat. By repeating many of the same poses each time, I can sense subtle differences from day to day, and from the beginning to the end of practice. Now that I include chanting, meditation, and breath work in my practice, I can also tell immediately when my mind is racing or wandering, and when it is quiet and receptive.

As I look back, it has been during the most "busy" and "stressful" years of my life that I have chosen to neglect yoga in favor of more "active" exercise like going to the gym and doing more "efficient" cardiovascular activities. I think at the time I believed that the more vigorously I worked, both in my life and in my exercise, the better I would perform. I thought that constant activity would protect me from things. I didn't want to think about what might happen if I actually slowed down and took a few deep breaths.

In every case, I learned from my own body that breathing is the only option. The opposite of what I believed was actually true - if I didn't slow down and take a few deep breaths, I would not have come into contact with the restorative power of my body's own energy, or quieted down enough to listen to the tangled web of outdated thoughts that were keeping me stuck in old patterns. Becoming aware of these things enabled me to take specific actions to improve my own experience of life, and consciously create my own state of well-being.

How's your mind-body hygiene?

I just read a fascinating article in this month's Yoga Journal about a Harvard University neuroscientist at Brigham and Women's Hospital whose lifelong mission has been to scientifically prove the health benefits of yoga. After twenty years of being unsuccessful in raising funding (while he worked on research in the field of insomnia and Circadian rhythms), Sat Bir Khalsa, PhD, a yoga practitioner for over thirty years, finally received a grant in 2001 from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. His far-reaching vision is for yoga to become the preferred "medicine" in America, by promoting it as a "toothbrush for body and mind". Says Khalsa:

"I think of this as hygiene. We have dental hygiene, which is a well-accepted part of American culture. Schools teach it, doctors recommend it, parents reinforce it. Imagine if people didn't routinely brush their teeth. That would be unheard of in this country! But what about mind-body hygiene? We have nothing for that."

"The American lifestyle generates an enormous number of sick people, and there's a huge cost to repair them. We're constantly looking for high-tech solutions - a new magic pill, a new surgical procedure. But what if we went low tech instead, giving people yoga strategies? It would be the biggest bang for the buck in terms of making an impact on the world."

Why is yoga as SELF care perceived as such a "soft" approach - like family medicine compared to neurosurgery? Part of our distrust of yoga as a therapeutic activity is that it includes spiritual or sacred elements and isn't a "pure" physical activity. We seem to feel more comfortable separating mind from body in our culture. We want to "isolate" a problem and "solve" it, once and for all. And oh, the technologies we've created that give us the illusion that we're doing that!

By the way, my mentor in Philadelphia ended up going back to pursue her psychiatry residency at the age of 50. She's diving deeper into those questions about "How are things at home?". In a way, I've taken my own deep dive into these questions by devoting myself to holistic wellness education and self-empowerment.

I believe we need to develop a vocabulary and practice of SELF care in our culture, starting one person at a time. When we see examples of exquisite self care - the energy and vitality of someone who is joyful, powerful and at ease - we know it. It's undeniable.

But how many times do we use a limiting belief like, "I don't have time!" or "Some people are just born that way...", to keep us in our comfort zones and safe from the risk of learning?

Sure, changing your behavior may seem "hard".

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But haven't we gotten to the point where we've seen that our old ways of thinking, the systems we have come to rely upon, just don't make it any easier?

If you want to keep beating up your body and waiting until you get a diagnosis before you start caring about your health, be my guest. The new "reformed" health care system will be right there waiting for you.

But if you want to learn - for yourself - some ways to care for your SELF, you can start right now.

I'm going to be bringing all kinds of ideas and practices your way. You can join me, too, either here in cyberspace (hopefully I'll get you away from your computer for a few minutes a day!) or in the real world, face to face. I would LOVE to help you learn how to care more deeply for your SELF.

The language of the essential self - Part 3 of 4

"I have to live a glamorous life like all of my friends who graduated from law school with me!", says your social self, leading you to feel guilty every weekend you're not slaving away at your computer, responding to emails within minutes of their arrival in your inbox and feeling overwhelmed before you can even start your own agenda for the day. Meanwhile, the small, childlike voice of your essential self says, "I want to create something I am proud to call my own, and sound like a human being again when I write. It's like I've forgotten what it's like to be me."

How is it that we can end up with the demands of the outer trappings of our lives leading us one way, and our innermost desires - the thoughts and feelings we are hiding from - leading us in another?

From the moment we are born, we live in contact with a world of ideas being absorbed into our brains, becoming part of our habitual thinking. We also have an innate intelligence that is present inside us before, during, and after all the habituation. If you're like me and have lived most of your life without consciously examining this innate layer of intelligence (which some call "intuition", others call "heart", and others call "soul"), at first it might seem downright outrageous to even consider that there might even be a distinction between what we've been taught to believe versus what we know in our hearts to be true.

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All of the "learning" that we do in school is basically training the social self. If we were really lucky, we had one or two outlets in our childhood which allowed us to explore the expressions of our essential self - a sport, a musical instrument, dance, visual arts, collecting comic books, or staring at the sky. And when I say "if we were really lucky", I mean that many of our essential self expressions are not easily accepted in social settings or approved of by parents, and not always encouraged in school.

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The essential self speaks through passion, imagination, and hard-to-explain joy. Not all "extracurricular activities" allow kids to explore their passion, or connect with the real reason for doing the activity. This is why I'm more than a little amused by the current obsession among Harvard undergraduates to remain "as busy as possible". At the highest level of our education system, we are perpetuating the myth that our self-worth is tied to how much activity we do.

But the essential self is about being. It speaks subtly and sometimes quietly. Especially when compared to the volume and frequency of signals that feed our social self's neverending list of "have to..." and "should..." statements, the essential self speaks like a whisper, or like a cool breeze, which is felt long before it makes an audible sound.

Just as music is the silence between the notes, our essential self needs space to express itself between the fast-paced demands of the social self's thoughts. The essential self is persistent. If you don't create the space to feel what your essential self is trying to say, it will find a way to speak more loudly to you. It may even find a way to stop you in your tracks, through immobilization of your body by pain, forcing you to get still and listen.

Everyone's essential self speaks in a unique way, discernible only to you. So how do you start to decode the language of YOUR essential self? What are some clues that your essential self is speaking to you?

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Ways the Essential Self Says "YES":

- You feel, in your heart, that you are OK, even though "Everybody Else" is telling you something different.

- Your body is in great physical shape - you are sleeping well, eating what you need, are pain-free and feeling energetic.

- You can't explain in words why you feel good or why you are drawn to something that makes you happy. You just do it and it truly makes you feel good inside.

- Your mind is clear, your mood is not dependent on what other people do in response to you, and you are at peace.

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Ways the Essential Self Says "NO":

- Every time you drive to the job that you hate, your stomach starts to hurt.

- Your body feels stiff, immobilized by pain, or numb to any sensations at all.

- You have lengthy explanations - full of quotes from other people - about why you keep doing the thing you know you hate doing and secretly wish you could stop doing.

- You forget things associated with the work you hate doing, your mood is very susceptible to fluctuation based on how other people respond to you, and you feel a vague sense of discomfort that you can't quite name.

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Notice that the essential self speaks in a dialect that involves YOUR BODY as well as your mind. The social self is a PhD-level expert in THE MIND. It could care less about how the body feels, unless it serves one of its purposes as a symbol of something to the outside world. The social self teaches us to override internal signals in order to get what it thinks we need. The problem is, the social self on its own isn't a reliable guide.

Any form of body movement helps us connect with our essential self more. If you're avoiding exercise, chances are your social self is afraid of what the essential self might have to say if you tried. By the same token, if you're an exercise "freak", examine your body's reaction when you give it rest and allow it to be totally still.

Making music - from a simple humming sound to clapping your hands or tapping a rhythm on a tabletop - connects us with the inner vibrations of our bodies. Sometimes simple music is best for this purpose. When you're heavily involved with the mind in trying to control the sounds made by a musical instrument, especially if you're a "trained" musician, sometimes you forget to feel your body. You are engrossed in "figuring out" how to make a sound, and how to make it sound "right".

OK, this is all great in theory. But how have I personally experienced my essential self?

I'll tell you three brief stories of life transitions that I have made and how. While I didn't call it "my essential self" at the time, I now realize that I've been listening to my life in this way for many years, learning to trust more and more each time.

- I was standing in the Operating Room in January 2000, a third year medical student on vascular surgery rotation. With a patient's leg open, I watched as our Fellow leave the O.R. to throw up in the sink outside, and return immediately afterward to finish the surgery because he "couldn't" take the day off. I saw a fourth-year general surgery resident excuse herself from the same surgery, to lie down on a gurney outside the O.R., so she wouldn't faint out of exhaustion on top of the patient. I watched these people and decided that my life was not going to be about this kind of self-sacrifice. I wanted to work with people in some other way. I didn't know what, but I did know - without a doubt - that I would not be continuing in a residency after graduating from medical school. Everybody Else thought I was crazy.

- I was living in Cleveland in late 2003, and was on the phone with a fellow venture capitalist (who'd also opted out of a residency after medical school) about fifteen years my senior. He was living the dream I imagined in my head when I set out on that career path - he had all the material trappings of a "good life", including the house in the hills, the many cars, the expensive man toys. I thought that anyone with his level of "success" must have gotten there through belief in his own dreams. I found out that his real dream was to be a musician, but he never got over his fear to really go for it. He was good. I heard him play. I asked him why he was a venture capitalist. He explained that everyone in this business had "a number", some goal that they've set (in millions of dollars). Quite calmly and rationally he explained that once he got to his number, he would stop. THEN he could start doing his dream of playing music. I was stunned. I thought, "Really?? And what if you DON'T get to your number?" I even said out loud, "If I had twenty million dollars, I'd start a violin school." And then it clicked. I didn't need twenty million dollars to start a violin school! What was stopping me? Within two months of that conversation, I had given notice to my partners that I'd be leaving the firm. Within five months, I had moved across the country to California (with my house in Cleveland still on the market). Within three more months, I started teaching my first students.

- Fast forward to this past year, 2009. I had been sitting on top of another summit, having gotten to many of the goals I'd pictured in my mind when I started my violin school. I was financially self-sustaining, I had many students, I had my own studio space, I had built a performing group that was beloved by audiences, was able to play in tune and was disciplined. I had built "an institution". But I was exhausted and confused by the feeling that my work, which had started out as my passion, had somehow become a spigot through which my life force was being drained. My social self was so frightened of what might happen if I listened to my body and took some time off. "Won't people think I'm lazy?" my social self said. When I finally gave in to the immobilizing pain in my body and took one month off from teaching last June, doing yoga again and correcting my posture, I started noticing new opportunities arriving in my life, calling me to make the deep changes my essential self so craved. It was a slow process of discovery, but I knew from my teaching and learning to play the violin, that small steps taken consistently over time eventually lead to dramatic results. For me, it was a question of where my small steps were taking me. Was I still pointed in the right direction for my essential self?

In January of this year, I let go. I changed directions. I am still working on deciphering the language of my essential self, discovering it each day. When I get still and check in, I know that I am pointed in the right direction because it is where my essential self feels calm, at ease, at peace.

Ask me again in five years to make sense of this recent transition. I can't wait to tell that story, because I'm already writing it with every step I take right now.

Next in this series: Mastering Your Mind (and Not Letting It Master You) - Part 4 of 4

**At my Free Sampler Evening this Thursday, I'll teach you ways to hear YOUR essential self, and also HOW TO USE YOUR BODY'S KNOWLEDGE to bring each day more in alignment with your essential self. Hope you'll join me!***

Photo credits (used through a Creative Commons license):

Girl in school: http://www.flickr.com/people/seeveeaar/

Baby joy: http://www.flickr.com/people/seandreilinger/

Jump for joy: http://www.flickr.com/people/cdell/

Pepper in mouth: http://www.flickr.com/people/wstryder/

Bed of nails: http://www.flickr.com/people/zawtowers/