Thursday, January 26, 2012

Cashing in the Chips

Grandma  by Seeking Tao
Grandma , a photo by Seeking Tao on Flickr.

After Evie got the news about her PET scan, for about the next twenty-four hours I kept envisioning a cashing in of all the chips. I kept seeing this poker table in my head and hands pushing all the chips forward. We had finally arrived at that all or nothing bet.

All the chips were in, pushed into the center of the table which seemed awfully like the edge of all creation.
That image and the ensuing free fall into nothingness kept looping through my mind until I heard a quiet voice ask in wonderment: What is it that you throw it all into?
Immediately I realized the obvious: It was the Void and it was God.

Once you've put everything
on the table
once all of your currency is gone
and your pockets are full of air
all you've got left to gamble with
is yourself.

Go ahead, climb up onto the velvet top
of the highest stakes table.
Place yourself as the bet.
Look God in the eyes
and finally
for once in your life

So that is what I did and that is just what happened.

I have a friend who’s fond of saying that there are really only two prayers in the world:
Help me, help me, help me! and Thank you, thank you, thank you!
It seems to me there might also be a third and it’s called surrender:
You look into the Void of Unknowing and toss yourself into it.
It wasn’t even a “take me, take, take me!” It was just a reverential toss, like you’d drop a flower.
And there wasn’t any great swell of emotion, but rather the cradling gentleness and love inherent in deep trust.
And then… there were about three weeks that felt like wandering lost in darkness of the Void.
During this period I recalled Adya’s advice to not resist the freefall or try to orient yourself. And, for once, I found I could simply wait and trust that the way forward would eventually become clear.

I wondered if Evie understood this “cashing in” and decided that most probably she’d say that something deep inside, some tight constriction had been broken. She’d felt a jump into living in a new manner where some of the old rules no longer would apply. But, I don’t think she’d speak of Void or even God. Perhaps she’d mention sacredness and energy or maybe even archetypes.  People noticed she was strong. She mentioned she was scared. But, she did not hesitate to act.

Leigh Fortson, having traversed three rounds of going deeper and deeper into the healing of her own cancer, puts it this way:
I find it hard to call it a "will to live," because I think will is different from what I tapped into and what I think people tap into when they heal themselves. Will is the energy that you use to carry out what you learn to do, but the initial thrust was a combination of surrender to something that you don't understand, that you can't control, that you can't comprehend-which goes outside of the arena of will.
It's like, "Okay, there's a power in me, in all of us. There's something in me that I am asking to tap into, that I will surrender to, that I will give myself to in every way that I can."
…It's a combination of will and surrender and dedication and self love.

When I read stories about healing the impossible, be it via diet, or energy, or Shamanic journey I always find that the person gave themselves to the process entirely.
Entirely! Do you realize how very seldom we actually do that in life? Hardly ever. We always hedge our bets and hold something back. In fact, we call that being smart.
This plays right into the discussion I posted recently about the placebo effect – how there is now a theory that placebos work by simply giving ourselves permission to heal; that we are biologically programmed to hold back some of our healing resources for a later date and more dire straits and placebos relax that rule… well, finally- no more holding back.

There was nothing I could do. So I cashed in all my chips.
Only to discover, there was nothing I need do because deepest desires are not personal.
By that I mean that when you really feel the gut wrench of true desire -that desire transcends the personal.
I want to live is built into our cells. It arises from the species. It arises from Creation itself.
Once you know that, then you simply play your part (or work your butt off) as an agent of Let Thy will be done.

This is the first thing I have learned about true healing: Give yourself entirely.
Give yourself so fully that you see firsthand just how the personal becomes impersonal and infinite. And then, you work from there.
Or, as the Bhagavad Gita says:
Established in being, perform action.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Travels in a Stone Canoe

This new journey, if it was to be anything beyond mere spiritual windmill tilting, was to be a journey of respect, a journey honoring sacred metaphors, of others and ourselves…Steve and I had invested meaning in the feather and the claw, and they returned that meaning to us a thousand fold.  We chose to see them as sacred, and they became sacred… by accepting them as metaphors of our own we found ourselves infused with their metaphorical power.  They gave us a kind of directional fix in that seemingly directionless world we were entering.
Harvey Arden, Travels in a Stone Canoe

Metaphors and the Seemingly Directionless – in other words, how do we understand the spiritual and physical?  How to we even speak of it, let alone understand and act? 
What Really exists and how do we change?

On January 4th, 2012 we expected that the oncologist wouldn’t call for at least a few days.  Instead, he phoned Evie within hours.  Her PET scan was lighting up.  All the ominous nodes that were seen three months ago were still there, plus a new one:  10/10 as a hot spot, 3 cm in diameter.

First, there had been the diagnosis over 2 years ago: Hodgkin’s lymphoma, “the good cancer that is easy to cure.”
Then, there was the early relapse after the chemo. … not so easy after all, they called it “aggressive.”
Now, there is the apparent relapse after high dose chemo and a stem cell transplant.  The doctors want to do a biopsy, re-state the diagnosis, and prepare for a second transplant.
In essence, they suggest we confirm that cancer has returned and they offer the very slim chance that a second transplant, more dangerous than the first, and reducing an asymptomatic Eve into a someone resembling a concentration camp survivor, will actually provide a cure.

Eve has politely declined the offer.
Within a day she had quit her job, she and Michael had decided to sell their house and move up to the mountains where they can build a healing center.
She told me, “Something physical inside broke,” and I knew exactly what she meant.
These turning points feel physical.  It can be a breaking, a letting go, a wrenching loose, or simply a dissolving – but you feel it. 
It’s the end of clutching onto beliefs that simply do not serve – not if you want to live.  And mostly, it occurs so deeply that just exactly what is going can be hard to say.
None the less, something physical inside brakes as you finally throw yourself into the unknown, out beyond the rules you knew.

To the nonbeliever, which we all are when it comes to systems we don’t “believe” in, the belief systems of others tend to be quaint, bizarre, even silly.  The more we’re stuck on the truth of our own metaphors, the more the metaphors of others seem false… and yet…If this was quackery, it was apparently successful quackery.  Does it matter how we’re healed as long as we are healed?
Harvey Arden, Travels in a Stone Canoe

At each critical junction of Eve’s journey with cancer, we have tried to read all the science.  Curiously, we are suited to this task.  Eve, her dad (my brother), and I all have PHDs in biology.  We have followed the traditional Hodgkin’s treatments, and we have supplemented with the best complementary therapies we could find including nutrition, qigong, and meditation. And again, curiously, we are well suited to this as her dad is founder of a lab to do this.
At each turn we’ve felt we’ve taken the best path and followed that.
And still – there is that PET scan lighting up.

So, we’ve had to fashion yet another best plan. And it now looks like this:
1)       Therapeutic Nutrition:  The Gerson Diet – with modifications Evie feels make sense to her.  My dad became fixated with this during the 1970s – not that he had cancer or even knew anyone.  He just got interested and really studied it, eventually meeting Charlotte Gerson herself.  Jaquie Davison’s book Cancer Winner describing the power of the diet to heal and has stayed in with me for over thirty years.  I tried the diet myself back then and became convinced that while it supplies nutrition and physical substance, its actual power lay in the prana or Qi that it supplies.

2)      Medical Qigong: Early on we found the story of a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor relapsing three times and finally curing himself with Qigong. We also found the work of Guo Lin, a Chinese woman who used her family's Qigong to cure herself and many others.  So, what the diet stirs in Qi – here we add trained professional support.  Our practice of Taoist guided movements also works upon this level.

3)      Archetypal or Shamanic healing:  I made up this term.  It stems from what’s growing within my own practice of Taoist meditation.  Working with Eve the past 18 months, spontaneously I started channeling .  I’m sorry now I never wrote up our experience with a rather Samurai-like character who helped release the stems cells Evie need for her transplant.  I’m not sure whether one would categorize this energy as subtler than the level of Qi – it is certainly more personified and thus seems to suggest a different yet complementary approach.

4)      Meditation:  We have been practicing a Taoist breath meditation for some time.  Eve also learned TM over Christmas.  We also decided to try the Holosyn binaural beat assuming that a physical way of entraining coherence into the brain may help at times when too many others things in mind and body seem to swamp the system. 

So, there’s the plan.  It still feels like we’ve assembled a lot of band instruments and they are strewn around the floor, yet to be picked up and played in anything resembling a concert or even a simple tune.
But, I feel compelled to understand healing – physical, practical, healing of the tissues.
Curiously, this seems to require understanding metaphysical: the nature of reality and what is true.
“Something physically broke inside” and with that thought, that metaphor, Evie jumped into a new way of being.  It feels like something breaks, but actually what breaks is merely a construct of consciousness, something that we’ve held inside and can only express in words and metaphors. 
And while such beliefs or metaphors can hurt us, they can also heal.

I was beginning to see the value of such notions... It’s a real power, a palpable power, such notions, such metaphors, aren’t soft headed mysticism.  They’re entirely practical even essential…all conceptual worlds- yes, even America… are in the final analysis metaphors.
Travels in a Stone Canoe.

Sunday, January 01, 2012


Dogs can respond to placebos when administered by their owners. Nicholas Humphrey interviewed by Richard Dawkins for “The Enemies of Reason” (part 2)

Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist whom I find rather irritating, arrogant and anti-spiritual.
So, I was curious when I read:
Richard's eyes grew wider and wider as I gave a defense of alternative medicine, saying of course it works, and it works for a reason, because it gives people a safety signal.
It gives them the belief that they are in a secure environment in which they can now release their healing resources, they can afford to let down their guard.
Richard put the lengthy unedited out-takes from the interview on his Website. It's a very strange bit of film because the camera's wandering all over the place. Richard and I are throwing ideas around.
Nicholas Humphrey

So, I went to the video and I heard amazing things:
Eighty percent of the effect of Prozac has been shown to be placebo.  (part 2)
Curiously while the healing is placebo, the side effect of suicide in teenagers is actually attributed to the pharmacology.

And they introduced me to a new term, Darwinian Medicine:
until less than 100 years ago, there was hardly anything a doctor could do that would be effective in any physiological medicinal way—and still the doctor's ministrations often "worked".
That's to say, under the influence of what we would today call placebo …
The reason this works is that it reassures people—subconsciously —that the costs of self-cure will be affordable and that it's safe to let down their guard.  It’s an evolutionary situation… how we use our immune system… we don’t want to get better before [it’s] time, if in fact it’s not safe to do so. 

Not yet safe to get better! 
Humphrey is speaking about how evolutionarily an organism never wants to spend all its energy at once.  We always need to hold a bit in reserve for the next disaster. 
But, I think of cancer patients, real survivors, not recovering until their entire life patterns have been altered.  The body didn’t heal until the psychological stress, the life rules of their environment, have been altered also.

This is a deep healing indeed.  And Humphrey has expanded his investigation into broader implications which make me wonder about our specie’s current push to awaken much quicker than in the past:
If placebo medicine can induce people to release hidden healing resources, are there other ways in which the cultural environment can "give permission" to people to come out of their shells and to do things they wouldn't have done in the past? Can cultural signals encourage people to reveal sides of their personality or faculties that they wouldn't have dared to reveal in the past? Or for that matter can culture block them? There's good reason to think this is in fact our history.

And all of this speculation that resonates and excites a Yes! comes from two hardcore scientists:
How far do you think the so called alternative practitioners believe the mumbo jumbo…?
In many cases they are self-deceiving.  Well it’s not even self-deceiving.  They have seen in their own experiences that these treatments work… They have to invent a rationale and then all sorts of nonsense may come… some spiritual and magical explanation…
Supposing you were Jesus and that lame men got up and walked when you told them to. 
You’d be rather impressed with yourself.
But, I am sure it was placebo effect.
Humphrey  (part 3)

And I am not so sure we understand all the layers at which placebo operates.  Dawkins and Humphrey also admit that there may be new laws of physics awaiting discovery.  Dawkins says he’s even suggested to the true believers that they aim at a Nobel Prize.
I like that notion an awful lot.
In fact, it harkens back to why I learned meditation in the first place.  I wasn’t interested in ending my suffering or world peace or getting better grades. I wanted to see if the rumors were indeed true – did Jesus really walk on the water?
Because, if that were true it would change science for millenia.
It would change everything.
Or so I thought when I was nineteen.

Which puts me in mind of yet another personally irritating man, the conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, writing last October about the discovery of a faster than light particle:
It cannot be. Yet, this is not a couple of guys in a garage peddling cold fusion. This is no crank wheeling a perpetual-motion machine into the patent office.
These are the best researchers in the world using the finest measuring instruments, having subjected their data to the highest levels of scrutiny, including six months of cross-checking by 160 scientists from 11 countries.
But there must be some error. Because otherwise everything changes.
We shall need a new physics.
A new cosmology.
New understandings of past and future, of cause and effect.
Then shortly and surely, new theologies.