Ommani Center Blog

The Hope of Transforming Healthcare

In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Of all forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.”

My past few articles have been on the unhealthy infrastructure in health care today and how it adversely affects patients as well as physicians, nurses and those who work within it to serve.

Over the past few weeks, I have seen an inordinate number of patients who are hurting because of the way they are treated by administrative practices within this system.  The patterns of conditioning through ‘learned helplessness’ are pervasive and worsening as the systems continue to compete with each other for market share out of greed.

We all comprise their ‘market’.  What they forget is that money is not a substitute for care.  Care is a choice born of intent.  But when physicians and nurses are ‘boiling frogs’, they are unable to provide the care they intended to offer.  Their care cannot be limited to a 15 minute office visit done under pressure.  When physicians take longer to problem solve, they are reprimanded and punished as it reduces revenue and threatens quarterly profits.

A ‘boiling frog’ is a frog who is heated in water till it dies.  The teaching point is – because the torture is started in cold water and heat is applied slowly, the frog does not realize it is being boiled alive.  Its senses are sensitized to greater levels of heat.  As morbid as this analogy is, this is used to describe how people adapt to abuse.  This is no different in health care.

Today’s physicians are no longer seen as healers.  On the contrary, they are viewed as tools that serve health care administration in all its extractive methods, merely generators of revenue, likened to Pavlov’s dog.  Today’s physicians have lost heart and meaning.  The mandates that grind them down demoralize and wound them in deep ways.

I left corporate health care 15 years ago when this behavior was escalating.  I was unable to live under patriarchal rules.  Today, this treatment is being normalized by ‘the powers that be’.  For me, this is unacceptable.  For others, adapting is their only hope.

It is important to lift the veil, to view the shadow beneath the blanket of illusion projected in marketing ads, with terms like ‘health’ and ‘care’.  We must wake up to what is really happening.  This is a system that purports to serve.   It offers neither health nor care.

When patients wake up and demand authentic care, and physicians gain the courage to speak their truth, transformation will be the inevitable outcome.

“Health care needs to be examined from the inside out, from the top down and the bottom up. There must not be any stone left unturned. When physicians analyze the current system in ways in which they were trained to analyze the body, they will be able to identify the pathology that keeps it sick. They will have to reach deep inside and stand in the face of criticism and rejection, with courage and heart to transform their system that has lost its soul.”

                                                    ~Becoming Real, 2011, by Rose Kumar M.D.

Health care is in crises.  In Southeast Wisconsin, both patients and physicians are struggling to make sense of the lack of consciousness that has taken over the health care system.  Morale is at an all-time low.

I implore you all to awaken to what the reality of today’s health care system.  Nothing can transform without holding the light to it, including the shadow.  It is the only way to transform this system into one that actually serves the mission of its vocation.  When a critical mass of conscious consumer’s expects real care, the system will be forced to deliver what is expected.

I believe this is the only hope we have to transform health care.  This is also how it will ultimately recover its soul.

A DEEPER KIND OF HEALTH CARE REFORM

Many of us are disheartened by the state of health care today.  The solutions being proposed to repair and reform it are not sustainable for physicians or patients.  Every system functions from operating principles that govern and direct its mission.  In order for us to understand why health care is dysfunctional, we need to analyze and understand its business model as it relates to is mission.

Nearly two decades ago, physicians delegated the business of health care to administrators and accounting experts to manage and run it.  Unfortunately, their mission was in conflict with that of the health care system. Theirs was profit centric rather than patient centric.  They believed that patient care interfered with generation of profit.  They began to see time spent with patients as a compromise of their mission.  They began to value numbers over people. Health care’s mission became disjointed when two contrasting missions were being served. Profit became the dominating mission for health care as business managers established control over physicians and regulated and limited their time with patients for maximal revenue.

When I worked in this system, I was unable to find meaning in my work.  I was also unable to sacrifice my mission as a physician for the mission of health care administrators.  I was told that my work in their health care system was a conflict of interest to their mission.  My patients were staying well and not generating enough hospital dollars.  I left traditional health care to create my own business model.  As a physician who remains devoted to my patients I wanted to create a model that generated value for both my patients and my business creatively.   I have never sacrificed mission for profit. I run my business with good business savvy, all the while devoted to my purpose as a physician.  A health care business model risks losing its way when it becomes profit centric.  For healthcare to be successful and sustainable, mission must never be compromised for profit. Our health care system has lost its way.

We have many examples of profit driven health care in our country today and especially in southeastern Wisconsin.  These systems purport to care about health, but on closer examination, we see otherwise – they rely on sick care.  Health care is a conflict of financial interest. Currently, the highest expense in health care are administrative costs.  Many layers deep, administrators manipulate and control physicians, nurses and employees  serve their mission of profit over health or care.  This has demoralized physicians and nurses and driven away patients. Moreover,  it has increased the incidence of medical errors, placing patients and physicians at risk.

Author and president of Business Ethics Magazine, Marjorie Kelly, defines a business model that functions with this type of focus as ‘extractive.’  Its’ purpose is merely financial – maximization of profits.  Worth is extracted from workers to generate profit by layers of administrative hierarchy.  The extractive business model is prevalent in most corporations today.  Outsourcing work to Third World countries for cheap labor to increase profit-margin is extractive.  Extractive economics are bad for our country’s economy.  It displaces domestic workers and extracts as much work as it can from the remaining workforce to serve profit margin.  Extractive economics deplete meaning from work.  Employees find themselves working merely to pay the bills for survival.  They lose pride and meaning in their work. As a result their physical and mental health suffers.  We all pay the price for extractive economics.  The state of our country’s middle class is a result of extractive economics.

The majority of health care systems function from this extractive model.  Health care employees are currently working merely to meet quarterly projections.  For health care to operate in this manner is unethical.  Health care’s mission is to serve andheal.  When the vulnerability of patients is used to generate profit, they are deeply harmed. The ‘care’ they receive is motivated by the drive to maximize testing and treatment.  Physicians are unable to diagnose and treat cost-effectively when working for an administrative system based on extractive economics.  They must follow the rules of the game to keep their jobs.  Patients are left with super-sized bills for mere symptom management.  Administrative bonuses depend on this.

A ‘generative’ business model provides services that generate value.  Health care based on generative economics focuses on health and healing rather than maximization of profit.  The focus shifts from one of greed to one of service. Patient care is not provided at the cost of profit, and there is a balance between both without compromising either.  A health care model based on generative economics operates from the principles of sustainability.  There is a fair exchange between doctor and patient.

What this would look like in the health care system is already visible at The Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine.  Patient care as well as sound business principles are utilized to serve patients cost effectively.  In addition, the most cost-effective diagnostics available in the community are recommended to patients.  Small businesses in the community, such as organic grocers, complementary practitioners and businesses dedicated to health and sustainability that operate from a high standard-of-care, receive support and collaboration by practitioners through patient referrals.  Education and empowerment are of foremost value and achieving optimal health at all levels is served.  All retail profits are used to subsidize business overhead to keep health care visits affordable for patients.

Practitioners work collaboratively with patients to uncover the causes of illness and empower patient responsibility.  The mission of health care is served and all profits are reinvested to support the staff and employees of the Center.  The business is also dedicated to the health of the environment and recycles to reduce its carbon footprint.

The Ommani Center is a generative business.

Those who administer the business of traditional health care state that a mission centric model cannot succeed financially, that a generative business model is not profitable.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Shifting the focus of a business from profit to mission, from extractive to generative can actually draw in morerevenue in service of its patients.  In addition, in a model like this, patients are truly served by physicians practicing from heart without the demoralization they currently experience within an extractive model of health care.

This is health care reform at the level of its core mission.

I believe this is one of the key solution’s to healing our broken system of health care.  This can also restore the soul of our sacred vocation.

LOVE is here on Earth

LOVE is here on Earth

I have often felt that LOVE is what we are here to feel and give to each other.

Many share how I feel so why don’t we have stories of LOVE everywhere?

Ever since I was little, I felt it often and deeply.  It was inspiring and a bit frightening but warming, a bit overwhelming yet comforting.  I was raised to hold my feelings in, medical training tried reinforcing this, but that didn’t work very well for me. I didn’t adapt well and do as I was told. I felt LOVE every time I witnessed a simple act of kindness – you know, that sensation that wells up your tears and feelings. That is LOVE

LOVE makes us FEEL.

I feel it every day with my patients and staff, my dogs, my cat, my family and friends and even with total strangers – it is ever present and sustains life.  It awakens joy and the will to live.  It brings depth and meaning to the simple moments that make life worth living.

Last week when the snow fell heavy and deep, I was on the freeway on my way to work.  A snow plough entered the on ramp, ploughing and salting, clearing the path.  I was overcome with gratitude for the driver, a total stranger to me whose act of kindness saved us from skidding, who was up early, making it safe for us to go wherever we needed to go.  Yes, this was his job, but I chose to see it as an act of kindness.  I chose to see it directed at me and the others on the road at that moment in time. My heart felt warm, my tears welled. I was so thankful.  I saw his work also as an act of LOVE.

Then, I stopped at the coffee shop and the owner had been there early on that cold morning making sure the hot coffee was ready and waiting, to warm me on my drive to work.  She was grateful for my presence and I was grateful for her efforts – again, LOVE.

When I arrived at work, the sidewalk was already salted by a stranger who made sure I didn’t fall on my way to the front door.  Yet, another act of LOVE and

As I walked in the door, I was greeted by my beloved patient who came early to fill out paperwork so we had our time together without it being cut short by protocol – an act of LOVE.

This was all on one day before 9.a.m.!

Before my day even started, I felt loved.  I felt that all the LOVE was directed at me.  I took it in and it filled me up.

If we remember to be grateful for the many ways we LOVE each other every day, and hold this sacred, our world will change.  What matters will be valued more thannot mattering.

Think about this.  It can make all the difference in our experience on Earth.

LOVE is present everywhere we choose to see it.

Make sure your day is filled with gratitude for the many acts of LOVE that come your way that you may otherwise miss.

The Intention Behind The Ommani Center

How does one adapt to being uprooted and unearthed?  The human spirit strives to survive, to continually move towards its destiny to carve out a course that reclaims ones sense of meaning.  My mother is a person who experienced this.  At the age of 10, her parents were killed in the India-Pakistan partition, leaving her orphaned and terrified.  As life presented her with gateways, she was able to walk through some, and not others, due to the fears resulting from the acts of violence she had experienced that had been imprinted upon her.  She engaged her courage as she grew large at the wounded places and carved a course for her life that offered her meaning and purpose.  Over the history of the human race, millions like her have been left with varying levels of paralysis in our world with little emotional context. The context with which the unknown was encountered for them was through the experience of terrifying loss.
We may think that our generation is protected from this level of loss, that it is from a more distant time, but this is far from the truth. Our world has been warring for decades, leaving casualties of violence and encounters with the terrifying unknown embedded in our collective psyches.  We are living in a virtual reality.  We have learned to cover up our feeling function and learned to deny our deep emotions with creature comforts, with superficial solutions, none of which endure.  Eventually we must stand naked before ourselves, confront our gateways and step into our largeness, reclaiming what was taken from us and redirect our course consciously into the unknown.  This is what midlife expects of us.  In the areas my mother was unable to choose, due to her circumstances, I must.  Where she could not reclaim, I must.  We, the children of the last generation, now in midlife, must find the courage to engage our consciousness in the areas where we become stuck, and live  from our superficial yet familiar cultural framework and believe in the potential of our souls.  To redefine health from this context is our sacred task.  This is how REAL Health Care can be accessed.
The Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine was born from my strong intention to create a context for health that is deeper than just the physical level.  Health is more than just symptom management through integrative methods.  As important and vital as this is, it does not access true health or healing.  Being conscious of how and where one lives and relates to life from may be the more important and deeper context that determines one’s state of true health.  This can and must be evoked.
If those that killed my grandparents and irrevocably changed the course of my mother’s life had this level of consciousness and asked the important and REAL questions, needless suffering could have been averted.  We cannot go back in time and change history.  We can, however grow strong at the places where we have been wounded.  We can use our wounds to acknowledge our humanness and engage our courage to grow in consciousness and health.  We must engage our wounds in order to offer ourselves a larger context for empowerment, reclamation and ultimately for healing.  This will uncover a deeper sense of meaning in our lives.
A Health Care System that can hold this level of space from a context such as this, inclusive of modern technological advances with high-standard –of –care, is what we all deserve.  It is a place where meaning is restored.  Cultivating and supporting a system like this is sacred work.  For me, it is a vocation.  Where my vocation aligned with my mother’s biography is where I found meaning and an opportunity to create a larger context in the form of The Ommani Center where true health and meaning could be accessed that was inclusive of my love of medicine and my devotion to high quality health care.
If we want a system that cares and offers us more than what our current system offers, this needs to be our collective work.  Together, we must  support and expect health care to be REAL for us so it can  address our REAL needs and ask the REAL questions of us, questions that we can live out in our destinies from a place of health and meaning.  I encourage all of you to expect this from our Health Care System.  Our expectations of what is REAL will truly change our world for the better.

Midlife as a Gateway to Authenticity

Are you a midlife woman who doesn’t understand what is happening to your body and your mind?
Have you told your doctor how you’re feeling and were dismissed with medications or hormone replacement therapy?

Do you feel overwhelmed by the volume of information available about managing midlife and peri-menopause?

I am not only a practicing internist but a midlife woman.  I have been helping midlife women for over two decades with their menopausal symptoms and have gained significant personal insight about how little support is currently available for us.

During my forties I noticed my body and energy level change. I began to feel tired and heavy.  I also felt restless and had trouble sleeping through the night.  I looked for answers to these symptoms in my medical books and journal articles. I even went to my gynecologist to understand why I was feeling this way.  All she had for me were prescription drugs and hormone replacement therapy.  She told me that this is peri-menopause and that I have entered this category in midlife.  “It’s downhill from here” she said.  My visit was a huge disappointment.  As a scientist and a problem solver, I was determined to understand why I was having these symptoms and what I could do to restore my sense of health and well-being.

I found a lot written on this subject.  What I read though was theoretical but not practical and it did not address the deeper aspects of what I was looking for.  Why did my soul feel restless?  Why did I feel emotional ‘heaviness’?  Why was my body changing in this way and why were issues resurfacing that I thought were solved?  I was forty-two when I began to feel this way. I was an intelligent and a dynamic woman who had lived a very healthy lifestyle.  I had also created a successful medical practice and on the surface,  appeared to be at the top of my game.  Deep inside, I felt empty and disconnected.  My marriage felt deeply unsupportive and I found myself less able to tolerate the disrespectful ways I was being treated.  It was as if I was not able to compromise myself in order to adapt anymore.   My tolerance for the superficial was receding.  I found myself being more reactive and angry.

What I discovered was that hormonal shifts in my body that were normal during this stage of life brought with them emotional and soul shifts that were offering me an opportunity to take a look at my life from a deeper perspective.  Since I was conditioned to pathologize this, it engendered a deep fear of aging and degeneration. It was anything but.

This time in a woman’s life holds immense transformational power.  When a woman arrives at this gateway, her hormones shift, recalibrating her identity.  She is meant to question who she has pretended to be and move her deep into her soul and her authentic self.  Our society deems this a ‘midlife crisis’.  I like to think of this as the alchemical process of becoming real.   Women need to learn how to take care of themselves through this gateway and beyond.  They need to learn how to use theframework of transformation to connect with their intrinsic power and truth.  At this juncture, women are in need of balance at all levels of their body, mind, emotions and soul.  Many have lived unbalanced lives up to this point, neglecting to take care of ourselves.  As their bodies change they are called to heal their self-neglect.

I would like to offer some simple solutions to support your midlife transformation:

1. Work with a physician who can help you balance your hormones, not replace them.  Bio-identical hormones are much safer alternatives to synthetic ones.  They can quickly restore your feeling of well-being when used correctly in small doses.  Most women are in need only of natural progesterone to balance the estrogen to progesterone ratio.  Taking estrogen in even natural form can aggravate many symptoms of the menopausal transition.  This needs to be customized by your physician to suit your biology and your sense of well-being.  There is no “cookie cutter” way to balance hormones.

2. Acupuncture can make a significant difference in your well-being particularly if you are having a difficult time with menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats.

3. Have your thyroid levels checked.  Make sure your physician orders a thyroid panel to give her/him a better understanding of the status of your thyroid as it can become sluggish during midlife.  Make sure you have free T3 levels checked.  These commonly decrease in midlife resulting in weight gain, fatigue and foggy thinking.  Replacing your free T3 and normalizing your TSH to a value between 1 and 2 will make a big difference in your sense of well-being.  Moreover, low free T3 levels have been correlated to an increase in all cause mortality.

4. Clean up your diet.  Change your diet to one that is mostly organic and plant based.  A plant based Mediterranean diet has been shown to significantly lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, three of the most common diseases in the U.S. that present in midlife and beyond.

5. Begin taking a therapeutic grade omega-3 supplement and vitamin D.  These will decrease inflammation and strengthen your immune system, reducing the risk of disease.

6. Make aerobic exercise a priority.  At least 20 minutes of exercise, 6 days a week is needed to decrease the impact of physiological stress and restore cardiac health.

7. Incorporate massage therapy, yoga and meditation in your life as ways to heal stress and bring you closer in contact with your authentic self.

8. Work with a psychotherapist to gain a better understanding of your real needs and desires and to dismantle the parts of you that no longer serve your life.  Many feel that they can do this alone and with the help of friends, but it is much more effective and efficient to engage a professional who is objective and can clearly mirror what you need to work on to connect to your authenticity.

9. Make a commitment to be true to yourself and seek for a deeper sense of meaning every day.  Stop compromising your real needs to be liked or accepted.  This is one of the hardest patterns for women to break.  Garner the courage to be true to yourself.  You will earn the respect of many around you.

I invite you to reframe midlife from a time of crisis to one of transformation.  The best years of your life are yet to come.  Grace them as a seeker with deeper meaning and understanding  so you can experience the power and sacredness of your authentic self and most of all experience a deeper sense of meaning now and for the rest of your life.

The Ommani Center – A New Model for Healthcare

Rachel Remen M.D. is a physician and mentor who inspired me 23 years ago. An article about her current work, Medicine’s Search for Meaning was recently published in The New York Times. It made me reflect on where I started as a young physician, and where I have arrived today as a physician who holds a vision of a healed health care system in my heart. I was a fledgling 3rd year resident in Internal Medicine at Stanford when I attended the talk that Rachel gave on ‘patient-centered’ medicine. I sat on the steps in the auditorium, listened to her and wept. My heart has remained open wide since that day at Stanford and I have pursued a path of LOVE and DEVOTION for my patients and it has been my hope for health care ever since.

As stories of entrepreneurs go, mine has been lined with challenges as well as immense creativity. I weaved in and out of corporate medicine after residency and left it forever in 1998 when I was told that “wellness is a conflict of interest for health care” and “preventive medicine does not generate hospital dollars”.
I suddenly realized that the business model that corporate health care serves is exclusively a financial one. The dollar is what is served, not health, healing or patient care. Physicians are merely assembly line workers who generate money for the health care systems quarterly profits. My heart continually breaks for my colleagues who work in a corporate model that serves administrators and policies, not patients.

Let me tell you something about what a doctor’s heart is like. As I talk about mine, I can assure you that many doctors entered their profession with similar stories and experiences and were seeking the grace in their work that fulfilled their passion to heal.

When I was little, I remember the first inklings of how I knew I wanted to serve in this capacity. When I was around people, I felt a deep ache in my heart. I didn’t understand what this was for a long time. I knew I was always searching for why people got sick and how they could get well. I think I came into the world this way in addition to being raised around the scientific inquiry of my parents who are brilliant scientists. Because I loved science so much, I voraciously read everything I could get my hands on to help guide my understanding. Nothing was as fulfilling for my soul as seeking answers to difficult questions. I knew I had to spend every day of my life in this numinous place. Going to medical school felt like a natural extension of my passion for learning within the healing model available in our society. To be immersed in it and to be able to feel the joy that accompanied complicated problem solving was nothing short of bliss. When I was on the wards during my clinical rotations, that old familiar ache in my heart from childhood resurfaced. I now recognized it as LOVE. This strong and deep feeling, this ache, this love that I discovered I had for my patients has never stopped flowing.

I feel privileged and honored every time I am with them, ever since the first patient I ever saw. She privileged me as a medical student, to study her condition and honored me with her patience during my very green inquiry. Since that very first day, my patients have made it possible for me to explore answers with them. The closest I came to this with colleagues was with nurses during night shifts on call. I watched their dedication and devotion – a Florence Nightingale energy that held their patients in their hearts embrace. I followed them on the wards to learn how to balance intellect with love and to this day, owe my deep learning to them. They
mentored me on how to hold space and how to stay real in times that were stressful, during life and death, illness and health.

When Rachel Remen spoke of patient-centered care in her talk at Stanford, I was just getting ready to graduate from residency and enter my medical destiny track. That day, was the beginning of the rest of my career. It was as if it all came together inside of me and I received an ‘initiation’ of sorts into practicing medicine to honor the soul of my sacred vocation.

After I completed my training, I worked in corporate health care. No such feeling was present in that system. The numinous was unreachable. In fact, if my patients needed time and attention, I was penalized. I soon realized that I was now a worker on the assembly line, towing the party line and making money for administration that served the dollar, not the soul of medicine. After 7 years of experiencing this heartless model, I left it forever. Without a degree in business or any experience in running a medical practice, I took a leap of faith and designed The Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine – a place where I could practice medicine from that same sacred place that unfolded my path through medical school and residency, initiating me in this sacred vocation of science and healing.

Today, my intention for creating this Center permeates its presence. Despite my lack of confidence in running a business, I discovered that in addition to loving it, I was also a fierce advocate for patients. The Ommani Center was born as an answer to what I felt is missing in health care- my love for my patients and for being able to practice with heart and meaning without compromising the scientific method or patient safety.
The Ommani Center is a unique health care model. I created it with a mindset for sustainability, both from a financial and environmental context. The architecture was designed to give the feeling of ‘flow’. The paint used on the walls, the water and teas served, cleaning products and even the soap we use to wash hands and cotton gowns are all environmentally friendly. We recycle everything we can and are fiscally responsible in how we manage overhead and even where we refer patients for lab and diagnostic tests. I believe that we all have a responsibility to keep health care costs down. It takes extra work, time and energy for all. On my end, I pay extra to have my medical assistants enter lab and diagnostic data (into electronic medical records) performed at labs that cost my patients significantly less compared to hospital based tests. I would rather pay the $6000 – 7000 per year for staff time to save hundreds of thousands in health care costs. We must all do our part to transform health care. We cannot underestimate the power of one.

As a physician, I knew I would be sacrificing financial security to do what felt ethically correct for me. My moral compass came at a financial price. As a response to this, I shifted from a profit mindset to a sustainability one. The Ommani Center’s sustainable business model has proven to be solid for more than a decade. Since 2001, it has sat gently on the earth, served patients with heart and meaning and kept its carbon footprint light.

Meanwhile, my colleagues in corporate health care, struggle to adapt to endless policies that micromanage them and restrictions that make it nearly impossible for them to practice from heart. Corporate health care is an experiment gone awry. In my least optimistic moments, I gain solace in knowing that The Ommani Center, a sacred health care model that stands in the heart of Pewaukee,Wisconsin is poised to be replicated in communities across America where patients and physicians are hungry to access sustainable, cost and therapeutically effective health care. This is my contribution to restoring the soul of medicine and for bringing meaning back into physicians’ lives who have sacrificed so much to heal others and are less than able to in the corporate system today.

When I see them working under emotionally abusive conditions in the current system, I feel an unbearable pain in my heart. I want them to know that it is now possible to practice with heart and soul and to serve patients rather than policies and administrators. The Ommani Center is like a lighthouse for health care. As it grows and expands in the near future, it will become a haven for physicians looking to restore their souls and reclaim their hearts as they follow the golden thread of their purpose for choosing their sacred craft.
I have come a long way since that threshold day on the steps of the Stanford auditorium. The vision in my heart that was ignited there continues to burn bright and is brighter each day as my beloved patients add their light to it.

Let us create the new model for health care together. Let us all remain true to its sacred purpose and mission so we can finally gain access to health and healing.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/09/18/medicines-search-for-meaning/?smid=fb-share&_r=1

The Gift of Our Wounds

A few nights ago, I had a dream that, my children, my ex-husband and I were driving down the road in our car (when I was still married to him).  My daughter was 12, my son 9 and I felt IT. You know, that feeling when you are a family, when you feel like you belong, when you are connected organically through blood, heart and SOUL; a feeling like no other on earth.  We got out of the car and I said to my daughter, “Did you feel it?” She said, “Mom, it’s not going to last.” Then I woke up.

This dream was actually my reality.  I did feel this organic connection inside when we were a family. Every now and then, when I’d close my eyes I’d feel IT – that magical sense of belonging, of being woven together like a beautiful tapestry.  My soul radiated out to my family with a love so deep, it took my breath away.  And she was right, it didn’t last.

Eight years ago in early September, on a beautiful fall day, I discovered that my family had been shattered by adultery.  When I discovered this, I fell into a deep hole that seemed like it had no bottom.  My heart imploded like a bomb went off inside and vaporized it. Its million fragments scattered into space. All that I held sacred was desecrated and in shambles.  Even Ommani was defiled. This was a dirty wound. I feared I would never heal.

Fall has always been one of my favorite seasons.  As we move inward after harvest, we tap into the depths of our inner self.  As the days get dark and our journey inward spirals into the all-knowing Yin, we gain wisdom and connection with our roots.  We prepare for hibernation, for moving closer to the heart of the Earth Mother, to gain connection and nourishment before renewal in Spring. Fall is a sacred time – a time of transition, when the veil between Heaven and Earth is thin and we can access the Spirit world more freely for guidance.

For me, that fateful day in September marked an initiation into a deeper level of Soul. I fell into an abyss where I crawled around for years, asking questions of myself whose answers I am now living out.

For me, as magical and sacred as Fall is, the transition into it is often difficult. Memories imprint the heart. In the Fall, I am reminded of the cold, sharp shards of betrayal.  They were jagged.  They pierced my heart and startled my Soul.  My heart heaved and then contracted.  I tried hard to keep it open for years for fear that it might close down forever due to this pulsing and throbbing wound.  It took courage and grief to keep it open, a grief that was sometimes hard to bear.  At times, I felt it would never heal.  To my amazement, it grew stronger. It grew ‘proud flesh’ over the portal where betrayal had entered. Sometimes I imagine it heaved deeply,  like an exhale, releasing pain and the weight of the wounder’s shadow it could no longer carry.

What I discovered is that staying open heals us even when we feel that it won’t.  The pain of staying open is more intense, but a kind of Medicine flows through an open wound like a salve for the Soul.  The heart and Soul engage more deeply through an open wound. The Soul reshapes the heart around it so it can flow through it more freely. The wound marks the Soul and changes it forever. I now feel that my wound is encircled by a ring of light. This was how my Soul chose to shine its brilliance into the world from that day forward.

Our wounds often define us in amazing ways.  For example, people with cancer or a significant illness remember the day they were diagnosed.  It changes them forever. The wounding itself initiates. The wounded enter the sacred tribe of Warrior and Mentor.  They earn their role on Earth through the pain and Medicine of  initiation and then transformation.

In a tribe in South America, when a person suffers a deep wound, people in the tribe want to be near them. They say they feel closer to God through the pain of the wounded one.  They honor and revere the gifts of wounding.  They know they are in the presence of Soul alchemy. They hold sacred space for the one in pain.

People in our culture are afraid to be around pain.  If we have an incurable wound, many people avoid us. They deflect any talk of it and remain in superficial dialogue. They want us to ‘get over it’ and to focus on ‘the positive,’ to say we are ‘fine’ or ‘better off,’ as if this tactic will somehow erase the memory of the sacred wound in our Soul.  All that our pain needs is to be witnessed, to be held and honored by another when it is unbearable. This is what helps it change shape and form, and morph into Medicine through sacred alchemy.

There is grave danger in avoiding (denying) pain.  There is also danger in medicating or suppressing it. This interrupts the alchemical union between heart and Soul.  The energy of pain is here to transform us.  When we deny or suppress it, we get sick. We must reframe it so we can learn and grow in wisdom.  We must understand its alchemical purpose.  Pain ultimately helps us love more deeply.  It makes us trustworthy.  It gives us strength.

These are the gifts of our wounds.

Fall is a time when I re-member.  When I remember the pain I also connect with its power that shaped my Soul and healed me in ways that no other wound could.  I now feel an even deeper kind of LOVE, a fierce love, from where I can offer myself out into the world.  The ring of light around my wound keeps me humble and makes me REAL.

Now I am much stronger. The ‘proud flesh’ that grew from the broken place within has power and resilience.  It has the capacity to love like never before.   It can hold the pain of others who ask me to bear witness to what feels unbearable.  Proud flesh is good Medicine for the heart and the world.

And yet, the soft, tender center of my wound remains open.  It will never heal. It is the mark of my initiation. This is now where my LOVE flows through. Like a river that changed course, empathy, truth and beauty flows through it like never before. Sometimes it still bleeds and hurts, but mostly, it feels gratitude and loves deeply enough to want to heal the pain and sorrows of the world.

And my 12 year old with infinite wisdom is now a beautiful woman who like me and my son carries ‘proud flesh, and yes, she was right, it didn’t last. But my love for them is a love like no other, woven now with golden thread between the tender places in our hearts.  We know the Medicine we carry and have become the family we once lost.

For that I am forever grateful.

The Gift of My Near Death Experience

At 14, I had a near death experience that left me re-calibrated and deeply sensitive.  It brought a dimension into my presence that was unknown to me before.  This dimension has never left me.

What I experienced is an otherworldly feeling of love and compassion that was multidimensional and utterly penetrating.  I could never have received the intensity of this in my 3-dimensional body.  Only my disembodied self was able to take this in.

The energy I was embraced in during those moments is always with me.  It has deepened my intuition and brought a depth of knowing that continues to move me to seek.  It is other-worldly.  It accompanies me where ever I go and with whoever I am. The compassion that I felt during this disembodiment was not understandable to my 14 year old psyche.  The depth of it can only be likened to the power and love of a mother giving birth.  This is the best description I can give of what I was immersed in.

For many people who have been near-death, the experience of the world is changed from that moment on. They are able see through the chaff and illusion and connect with a REAL sense of what being here is all about.  Their inner eye opens to a degree that brings clarity of purpose and a depth of soul vision that assists them in a knowing that only an initiation like this can offer.

In some ways, it is difficult to have this sight.  In other ways, it makes soul work more intense, ever pregnant with possibility and potential. It makes it easier in many ways to not get caught up in worldly illusions and develop a right relationship with oneself so the fleeting and superficial values of the world don’t hook in.

The challenge sometimes is to be able to relate to this energy with the three dimensional body and one’s humanness that can limit the felt experience.  It is also challenging to put it into words and describe it with an accuracy of feeling.

I was forever changed by this.  It initiated me into a sight with my patients that is deep and utterly sacred.

One of its greatest gifts for me is the depth to which I can feel what is REAL.

At this point in my life, I cannot settle for anything less.

For this, I am forever grateful.

 

The Power of Bearing Witness

I have been seeing a patient, who I will call Ann, for 10 years.  She is a therapist who is a gentle and sensitive soul.  I can only imagine the gentle yet powerful space she is able to hold for her clients.  As she bears witness to the many facets of their lives, they have a powerful witness to their process.  They have her love, guidance, expertise and strong arms that hold them through their journeys. They are fortunate to have her in their lives.  With the space she holds they know they are not alone.

I saw Ann the other day when she needed me to bear witness to her process.  She had to hold space for a mother who had lost her daughter.  She was not sure what to say to this mother to help her pain.  It rattled her to her core.

As I sat with her and held space for her, all I could do is bear witness to her process. I told her that the most powerful gift she could give the grieving mother was her presence.  Bearing witness is a gift we can offer each other at any time.  In a world that is moving at warp speed, it is easy to forget that we matter.  Since we don’t live in communities like we once did that marked our passages and witnessed our lives, it is common to spend our milestones alone.  Once they pass, people get occupied again with their busyness and forget that we are in process.  When a person experiences a loss, the process through grief takes time.  It is important for them to be supported through its different stages.

Bearing witness is a sacred act.  It even changes the one who bears witness.  It deepens and fortifies one’s soul.  It makes one trustworthy.

As a person’s grief transforms and shifts through its various stages, one gains access to the inner endurance that lives within.  The vacuum that is left in one’s life is somehow filled with memories and a deeper level of wisdom.  This is an alchemical process.  The pain of loss never goes away, but it changes  form and also changes the greiver in profound ways. Without bearing witness, one could never experience the power of  Soul in process.

Many of us feel alone in our process.  This is not good for our health. We feel isolated. We may feel that our process is a burden on others.  Isolation is one of the most profound stressors on Earth.  Being witnessed, on the other hand, makes us feel like we matter.  Mattering is good for our health.  It makes our life worth living.

Mattering is a form of LOVE.

As a physician, I feel that bearing witness is the most sacred part of what I do each day.  Holding space and bearing witness to sometimes unbearable suffering deepens my heart and fortifies my soul.  It makes my patients feel that they matter, that their pain and suffering matters.  To be asked to bear witness for another is a profound honor.  Life presents us with so many ways to bear witness to each other every day. We must embrace these opportunities for loving.

Like Ann who will be changed forever by her witnessing, we must hold our strong arms around each other with open hearts. As Ann bears witness to a grieving mother, I bear witness to Ann.  Somehow, I feel that my arms are around her and this mother, all at the same time.  My heart is open to holding space for all of this.  For me it is a great honor and a blessing.

Making another feel like they matter also makes my life matter.  Isn’t this ultimately what we are on Earth to experience? For me, this is one of the greatest forms of LOVE.

Modeling Healthy Eating for our Kids

When I ask my patients to change their diets to healthier, plant based ones, many tell me that they will be met with resistance from their children.  Isn’t the role of a parent to raise their children with healthy imprinting?  Ultimately, it is our role as parents to teach our children what is best for their health, to model it for them and to provide our children with nourishment at all levels.

Children do not come equipped with accurate information in these areas.  They rely on us to guide them, which we must, despite their resistance.

When I was pregnant with my daughter 23 years ago, I realized that what I ate impacted her health, not just mine.  A ‘light bulb’ went off in my brain that was based in common sense. I stepped onto an organic path that was based on the premise of Food as Medicine. It made a lot of sense and since then, there is a monumental amount of scientific data that supports it.  I have never swayed from this path.  As a matter of fact, I have moved more deeply onto it. I am happy to say that both my children are imprinted with the premise that Food is Medicine!

Twenty three years ago, our food supply was not as contaminated and genetically modified foods were not commonplace.  They are today, and it takes more work and consciousness to make sure our family’s are safe when it comes to what we feed them. This is one of the greatest acts of LOVE that we can show.  Its benefits will last our children a lifetime.

For parents who have young children, the link below has some superb recommendations.

http://www.takepart.com/photos/kitchen-chores-kids/elementary-school-kindergarten–2nd-grade?cmpid=foodinc-fb