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The Need to Return Home to our Inner Life: Lessons from the Pandemic

 

“The more a man’s life is shaped by the collective norm, the greater is his individual immorality.” ~Carl Jung 

I’m not alone in reeling from the fragmentation we are feeling and witnessing in our country.  How did we lose our kindness and our connection to one another and accept beliefs as facts? How did we let our external identities separate us? What has happened to us?

As a physician, my focus is often to uncover the underlying cause of illness, its seed, for me to find a cure.  This requires me to sift through many layers of history to uncover where it lies.  This process of unraveling always leads me to the root cause.  It is only then that I can recommend the medicine that has the greatest ability to heal.  Unlike traditional medicine where palliation prevails over all else, I work my forensic skills to dig deep, sometimes even deeper than the body into the history surrounding the causal seed where the illness first took hold.  The best chance of a cure depends on uncovering the level of this seed or, as Robert Johnson states, “The right medicine at the wrong level is ineffective.”  Illness, in fact, can be seen as a stage in wholeness. Many who have lived beyond their prognoses recognize how their journey through illness evoked a deeper level of meaning. As a society we are clearly ill, but how do we move towards wholeness?  Maybe these ideas can shed some light on where to begin.

“Society needs to put out the fires but it also needs people to scan the terrain and see where the trouble spots are and how each one is related or dependent upon another. “ ~June Singer.

Our medical system is addicted to only putting out fires, and has lost touch with where the trouble spots are and is not interested in where the illness comes from.  Trouble spots are important to identify so bigger fires don’t start.  But you and I both know that physicians aren’t paid to identify these.  Our assembly line corporate model has become a profit-generating machine, one that has lost sight of its core vision – its responsibility to guide, heal and make whole again.  It has conditioned us to ignore the big picture, to dig deep, to go within to make needed changes. It no longer guides us in how to promote health.  It does not encourage authenticity.  Its goal of symptom management is not interested in our relationship with ourselves. It does not teach us to find the seeds of our illness.  In fact, it discourages this.

Over the past year during the COVID Pandemic, I have heard my patients speak of their disillusionment, hopelessness, fear, anguish and grief.  I have wiped many tears and held space for much sorrow.  Many have lost loved ones. Many have gotten sick.  Many have felt desolation, loneliness and isolation like never before. Anxiety has reached an all-time high.  Many who pushed their feelings aside for decades have finally had to acknowledge them.  What is suppressed rises up.  What is suppressed for long gets amplified. When separated from the outside, we are thrust back inside, not by choice, but by necessity.  This is the discomfort a lockdown can evoke, but maybe, just maybe this is what our inner life requires.   

Lockdowns  are necessary for controlling viral spread.  So are masks and social distancing. This being said, we had to quickly adjust to a new way of life, one we were not prepared for.  We were separated from our jobs, our colleagues, our friends, our families and our familiar way of living.  We found ourselves separated like never before.  External norms no longer provided comfort.  We tried them but they were fleeting.  This made us vulnerable.  Vulnerability opened us to our inner life.

The COVID pandemic has forced us to look within.  Not only are we vulnerable to infection, we are vulnerable to uncertainty, to an unknown future, to not seeing an end in sight, to the loss of predictability and of control.  Even our goals and dreams are interrupted.  Most days we find ourselves standing on shifting sands. 

Vulnerability is not a feeling we like.  In fact, we have been taught to avoid it, to cover it up, put on a brave front, and pull up our bootstraps to keep going forward.  This way of being is normalized by the collective.  2020 changed this.  Vulnerability rose up and made itself known.  It brought us in contact with our unacknowledged feelings.  Our society does not honor feelings. Separation from the outside has forced us inside.  In a culture where our life is shaped from the outside, going inside can be unbearable.  

An illness in our culture is a disconnection from true feeling, from authenticity, the inner life, the inner world. The corporatization of our society is a symptom of this.  We do sentimentality well, but true feeling, not so much. If feeling is natural to being human, then why do we avoid it?  

Our culture devalues the inner life.  When our inner life is not of value, we get out of alignment with our deep Self, our True Nature, the authentic ground of our being.  Being out of alignment creates an emptiness, a void.  We fill this with distractions.  These distractions are normalized, in fact, our economy relies on them.  The collective encourages us to distract ourselves.  It encourages it over inner pursuit.  For a time, it palliates vulnerability, but over time it leads us away from our inner life.

Our inner life is where our energy, creativity and sanctity lie.  It is the true ground of our being.  It is here where we connect with our instincts, our authentic Self.  As Jung says, “Most of our difficulties come from losing contact with our instincts with the age-old forgotten wisdom stored up in us.” 

When our instincts rise up, they can offer us clarity, but only if we value them.  Some part of us knows where our inner life is, but the dreaded distractions prevent us from listening.  If we rely on the external world for assurance and self-worth, we project our feelings on the outside, onto others. We become dependent on the outer world, the outer sway and become vulnerable to losing sight of who we are.  Society places value on money, power and status.  If we are externally defined, these become our values, and we let society do our thinking for us.  Its goals become our goals. 

But our inner world has no interest in external values.  They are not sacred to it, on the contrary.  Our inner world values authenticity, kindness, love and connection.  Most of all, it values our relationship with ourselves.  For it, money and power have no intrinsic value.  The inner life is the abundant life.  This is where our true meaning lies.  

The external world separates, the internal integrates and makes us whole.  In order to feel whole, we must cultivate a relationship to our inner life.  Like any relationship, this requires practice and nourishment.  But most of all, we must value it.

So, the Pandemic through paradox, has connected us with our inner life, one that has suffered from neglect for a very long time.  We must learn to feel, to listen, and to validate what we carry inside.  We must learn to find meaning in our suffering and be dedicated to our necessity for growth. We must begin to value what is authentic and real.  Only then, can we transform the external, and reorient its focus to what really matters.

This is our individual and collective work.  We have to be in contact with the inner ground of our being to shift our perceptions, to see life as sacred, once again.  I believe it is the only real solution for finding meaning in our times, to evoke kindness and care, equanimity and love.  In fact, our relationship with our inner life shapes our humanity.   In the final analysis, an authentic life is the only life worth living.

I leave you with a reflection by Laurence Van der Post  who advised POW’s in the Second World War with the following sage advice: “Don’t think the continuity of what you are has been broken.  It is still there.  It simply needs to be discovered in a new way, and together we can live our lives in a way that maybe we should have lived it before.”

©February2021 Kalpana (Rose) M. Kumar M.D., CEO and Medical Director, The Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine, Pewaukee, WI. www.ommanicenter.com   Author of 2nd Edition – Becoming Real: ReclaimingYour Health in Midlife 2014, Medial Press. She is currently accepting new patients-call 262.695.5311 for an appointment.  During this time of the COVID19 pandemic, she is offering both telephonic or in-person appointments for those people free of symptoms. 

 

Pandemic Blues and Personal Needs

In a recent article published in the October JAMA Network Open, compared to a year ago alcohol consumption in United States increased 14%, including 17% for women. Many bars are closed for the most part but it’s important to remember isolation causes addictions to flourish. Without distractions our brightest but also our darkest instincts tend to surface. Chronic stress will trigger the brain to express its deepest unconscious material. A wise soul accepts challenges and addresses their illusions, while others act out and wonder why they struggle.  This article will address self-care and offer five suggestions designed to meet your needs in order to become a more effective person and/or leader. 

Loyalty to oneself is the cornerstone of understanding our divine nature. The fierceness to which we listen to our needs, comfort ourselves when we are distraught, and follow through with our core needs is the degree we love ourselves. Meeting our core needs ought to be the highest priority in our life since we are an eternal soul having a human experience. If the most beloved person on the planet asked you to do a favor, would you do it? If God appeared to you in all his/her glory, would you do what was asked? The real question becomes…are we willing to do ourselves any favors?

If we want something, we should go get it. Many people put others before themselves claiming love is their motivation. There is a problem with this idea because they are spiritual being creating their experience. However, we need to meet our needs first before moving onto others. We need to give from joy and generosity comes from a full heart. Giving to others when it goes against our own needs means we must abandon our self to give to others. Rescuing another, dishonors their opportunity to self-nurture, if they fail to meet their own needs. 

First and foremost, love needs to have a home in our hearts. When we truly love our self and love resides inside our home, a wonderful transformation occurs. This transformation reminds our physical body of its divine origins and helps us embody love. Remembering our worthiness enables us to realize we are lovable. When we accept this truth beyond a shadow of a doubt, then the belief we deserve to have our needs met starts to makes sense. The courage to fight for our needs follows because it feels natural. This is how dreams manifest. Soon, respecting other’s rights and the environment around us becomes normal. 

Today, some people refuse to social distance or wear a mask during this pandemic. Unfortunately, self-care has become a political statement. They claim risking their and their neighbor’s health is their first amendment right. Unfortunately, they forget that the universe is only interested in the highest good for everyone. The social distancing/mask debate can be boiled down to policies designed to benefit the collective versus self-centered and/or destructive individuals.  

Everyone has needs-based on fear and unconscious belief systems designed to prevent fear. An unexamined intellect will create mental constructs that know fear and were created from fear. Immature aspects of our personality try to solve problems and have good intentions, but often lack the wisdom of our heart and soul’s guidance. This lack of participation of our heart and soul’s participation leads to suffering if unchecked and unexamined. Problems occur if our frightened or stubborn inner child grabs the microphone and leads the band.

Unconscious aspects of our personality were created to protect wounded inner children. Often immature and shortsighted, fear-based protection solutions exist without supervision by our heart and soul. Unfortunately, they are frequently out of balance with others and the global community. Our unconscious motivations can and will harm others. We see this during our country’s disjointed pandemic response, which is spiraling up in the wrong direction. There are three challenges laid before each and every one of us during this pandemic as we collectively struggle with establishing safe solutions:

  1. Can we surrender to divine wisdom, which always supports the highest good for everyone involved? 
  2. Will I consult with my heart and soul and treat others as I would myself, which some call The Golden Rule
  3. Do I possess the courage to examine and confront my illusions if I fail to do so? 

Narcissism and exploitation stem from those who fail to self-examine or explore their deeper motivations. When we are cut off from our self, it’s easy to cut off others. The desire to uncover the truth of our unconscious material, which was created to protect wounded inner children, is the stuff of legends. Mythological tales that speak of heroes and heroines slaying nasty dragons are really speaking metaphorically of the courage to seek and slay our unconscious illusions, which remain unconnected to our heart and soul. These fables do not promote slaying in a real sense but suggest we confront, love and possess a passion to embody our internal personal truth.

 

The enlightened path requires a true desire to love oneself without conditions. Embodying the love that originates from our heart and soul is the next challenge. If we surrender to our soul’s agenda and express the joy of our soul’s expression, many good things happen. When we live at this level, we send out a frequency to the universe, which will reach the other side of the veil. Through the mirroring principles within quantum physics, the law of attraction and karma (cause and effect) our efforts to embody love for the highest good of all are often reflected back to us…sometimes stronger. 

 

The universe also mirrors love to those who embody The Golden Rule. This helps generous souls give more love to themselves and others. People tend to love them more because those that pay love forward are truly present in their joy. Becoming a shining example of living a joyful life draws people to you…like ants to a picnic. When we know how to nurture ourselves, we will always have an unlimited source of food.  Everyone needs food but also love, so they will want to learn from our success. 

 

When we pay love forward our self-esteem rises and then more positives happen. We become more generous with our giving because it is our joy to pass love on. When we give at this level, everyone loves us more and the process accelerates in a positive spiral. Give from this place and everyone benefits because other people will want to emulate us. If we give while depleting our self, people will take what we give but will not be inspired to copy us. These individuals frequently fall into patterns of seeking what they need outside themselves or continue a long cycle of using others. Patterns of quick fixes and addictions can result. These dysfunctional behaviors are an attempt to use other’s love and energy and ignore their own ability to connect to their own energy within their heart and soul. The soul will never let this happen and the cycles of pain, struggle and strife come in to help them learn another way. 

This article offers a gentle reminder to…love yourself, love your heart and listen to your soul. Recognize your needs and address them regularly. Remember your divine home and your absolute birthright of happiness, joy and fulfillment. When we live through our heart and soul, we will never stray from our path home.

If your mind is disconnected from your heart and soul, self-responsibility is required to examine all of your unconscious parts with love. Pain, struggle and obstacles to your dreams will come and suggest another way by staying around until we learn to live from our heart and soul. Perhaps this is the collective lesson United States is struggling to learn. The universe always provides reflections of whatever truth is present through its loving mirrors.

Here are five suggestions to meet your needs in order to become a more effective leader or person. 

  1. Give from your heart.
  2. Listen to your heart and do what it wants to do from joy, passion and love.
  3. Healthy forms of love require a total alignment with your truth and then fierceness. Be relentless in your expression. Hold the awareness in your heart and mind to constantly look for opportunities to meet your needs and express your truth.
  4. And of course, remember to do so in a loving manner. Be gentle, kind and ruthless in your kindness as you give to others.
  5. However, never lose sight of your needs, while doing the four previous suggestions. The fierceness to which you honor your needs will automatically spill over to a compassionate understanding of other’s needs.

November 2020 Eric Ehrke LCSW, LMFT is a psychotherapist at Ommani.  He sees clients on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Zoom, Skype, or telephonic services are offered.  Call our office at 262.695.5311 to schedule an appointment.

 

Reducing Stress Can Be As Simple As ABC

Over the past three decades, the stress level in our world has escalated.  This year, as the COVID19 Pandemic has unfolded, stress has taken center stage.  Research has shown stress to be an underlying risk factor for most of the common diseases in our society, in fact, 75 to 90% of all doctor visits have been shown to be for stress-related complaints. Stress impacts both our mind and body in unhealthy ways. Understanding the mechanism of the stress response is the first step towards mitigating its negative impact on our bodies. Then, when we learn skills that have been shown to intercept its negative impact on our mind and body, we can reap the lasting benefits that can restore our health and well-being.  

What is stress? Stress is defined simply as ‘a pressure or tension exerted on an object.’ This can be physical, mental, or emotional in nature.  The response generated by a stressor in our body triggers a physiological cascade of reactions designed to help us survive. The stressor or threat can be either real or perceived.  Both will trigger the same response in the body.  When an external event is perceived as a threat, we react automatically or unconsciously to it, in the same way as we do in the presence of a real threat. Our brain perceives either kind of threat as a threat to our survival. Our response against a real threat can save our life, but against a perceived threat will often create disharmony in our mind and body. This is why a skill set to decipher a real from a perceived threat can be so helpful.  Learning how to reduce perceived stress can also be lifesaving in the long run, so learning the skills described below, can be an important addition to your toolbox for promoting health and well-being.

The biological pathway of the stress response is fascinating. When our senses perceive danger, they send a signal to a part of our brain called the amygdala.  This is an area of the brain where emotional processing takes place. The amygdala interprets images and sounds. When it perceives danger, it sends an instant distress signal to the hypothalamus, another part of the brain located in its vicinity. The hypothalamus functions as a command center and communicates with the rest of our body through the involuntary or autonomic nervous system.  This happens without our awareness or control. The amygdala and hypothalamus comprise the limbic system, the part of our brain that reacts and responds to stress. 

The autonomic nervous system has two components, sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system is like an accelerator in a car. When it is triggered, the autonomic nerves send messages to our adrenal glands to pump out adrenalin. Adrenalin increases our blood pressure and heart rate and sends out a burst of energy through our nervous system that helps increase blood flow in our large muscles that helps us to ‘fight or flee.’ This is commonly known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. The parasympathetic nervous system is like the brakes in a car. It calms the body down after the threat has passed.  It is the ‘rest and digest’ response of our body. If our parasympathetic nervous system is not strong and healthy, our body will stay activated long after the stressor has passed.

When the stress response is prolonged or chronic, our adrenals glands pump out the hormone cortisol, in addition to adrenalin.  When the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated repeatedly (as in a stressful job or relationship), cortisol levels remain elevated.  Chronically elevated cortisol can wreak havoc in the body and is thought to be a contributor to many of our chronic diseases.  In fact, it also acts as an immunosuppressant, causes weight gain, heart disease, ulcers, microbiome disruption, and inflammation, anxiety, depression, and sleeplessness, and many others, independent of lifestyle choices.

When our limbic system is activated, it reacts within nanoseconds, high jacking our gray matter, the executive function of our brain.  This nanosecond response is meant for survival only, and nothing more. It triggers us into fighting or fleeing from danger, as described above, rather than offering us the ability to respond in a level headed, conscious manner.  In contrast, when our parasympathetic nervous system is activated, it assists us to respond more consciously rather than react by fighting or fleeing.  With this engaged, we have more access to consciousness, reason, and logic, because unlike the nanosecond sympathetic response, this response takes milliseconds, which is 1×109  times slower. This gives our nervous system time to access our executive function.  

The parasympathetic response is so much better for our health than the repeated fight or flight response, that a company called Heart Math, founded by Doc Childre in 1991, developed a scientifically based system to empower people to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and to intercept the impact of the stress response on health.  The results of their interventions ranged from the resolution of anxiety and panic to the resolution of life-threatening arrhythmias. 300 studies have documented the benefits of Heart Math’s protocol for resolving emotional and physical health conditions caused by stress.

Herbert Benson, a prominent Harvard trained cardiologist, also demonstrated the powerful impact of stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, in his technique termed the Relaxation Response. This too was a skill set he has taught for the past four decades to intercept the stress response and promote relaxation instead.

Given that we know that the parasympathetic nervous system can be lifesaving and healthier for us, how can we stimulate it more often?  I have created a set of tools that can easily intercept the stress response mechanisms and promote a healthier way to encounter a perceived threat. I call it the A, B, C’s, of reducing stress, where A stands for Awareness, B for Breathing, and C for Consciousness. 

As stated earlier, our sympathetic response highjacks our connection to executive function, so becoming Aware that we are triggered is a critical first step.  In this moment of awareness, we can evaluate if the threat we are feeling is real or perceived. This momentary pause can be enough to short circuit the fight or flight response, and prevent our body from dumping adrenalin and cortisol into our bloodstream. Awareness can buy us enough time to slow down our nervous system from reacting in nanoseconds to responding in milliseconds, enough to engage our executive function.  If we realize during this time, that the threat is perceived and not real, we can take the next step to assist us, by engaging conscious Breathing. 

Breathing consciously from our abdomen is an age-old technique known to promote relaxation and centeredness.  When we are stressed, our breathing becomes shallow and rapid, but when we breathe consciously from our abdomen, (expanding it when we inhale and contracting it when we exhale), we can stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system. Breathing this way requires practice. When our abdomen expands outward as we inhale, our diaphragm moves downward into the abdomen, stimulating the vagus nerve.  This stimulates the parasympathetic neurotransmitter, present in the vagus nerve called acetylcholine, which triggers relaxation. In addition, the downward movement of the diaphragm enlarges the chest cavity, increasing oxygen delivery to the heart and vital organs, which supports and relaxes our cardiovascular system. Acetylcholine intercepts our limbic circuitry, allowing greater access to executive function.  This offers us the ability to respond more Consciously, offering us access to our maturity and wisdom, by engaging our problem-solving abilities rather than our desire to fight or flee.

So next time you are triggered by a stressor, try using the A, B, C skill set to bring yourself back from an adrenally charged and reactive, fight or flight, adrenalin triggering reaction, to a more centered and conscious response to mitigate the perceived threat.   You will be amazed as to how much easier this gets with practice.  An added benefit of cultivating this response pattern is that it adds an additional measure of respect towards ourselves and also from others towards us.  We unknowingly mentor others around us with our mature and conscious responses to stress which creates a healthy environment around us.  I think we could all use a more conscious way of responding during these uncertain times of transformation.  Don’t you?

Additional modalities that reduce stress by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system are CranioSacral Therapy, Acupuncture, Reiki, and Yoga, all available at The Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine.  Call to make an appointment with one of our skilled practitioners: (262) 695-5311.  

  ©October 2020Kalpana (Rose) M. Kumar M.D., CEO and Medical Director, The Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine, Pewaukee, WI. www.ommanicenter.com   Author of 2nd Edition – Becoming Real: ReclaimingYour Health in Midlife 2014, Medial Press. She is currently accepting new patients-call 262.695.5311 for an appointment.  During this time of COVID19 pandemic, she is offering both telephonic or in-person appointments for those people free of symptoms.