Monthly Archives: February 2012

Speaking Up For Change (and Health): Speak Your Mind, Mind Your Speech

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A man joins a religious order and takes a vow of silence. According to the rules of the monastery, he is allowed to speak two words per year.

After the first year the head Monk calls him in for a meeting and asks for his two words.

He replies … “Bed hard.”

After his second year the head Monk asks him again for his two words for the year.

He replies … “Food stinks.”

After the third year the head Monk asks him his two words for the year.

He replies … “I quit.”

The Head Monk says … “Thank goodness. You’ve done nothing but complain from the minute you arrived here!”

Like the character in the story, you have limited words to speak in your lifetime. Are you going to use them to complain or to spread positive energy? You have a finite number of breaths to take and limited time and energy. To quote Mary Oliver, “Tell me- what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Do you want to be remembered as someone who saw fault in everything or as someone who looked for opportunities to encourage and build up?

It’s sometimes a challenge to stay positive, especially at a time when you see so much inequity and suffering in the world. Do you speak up and call people and systems to account for their dysfunction, or do you bite your tongue on the basis that everything happens as it needs to happen, and in good time?

Even a few words of criticism can be deafening like a slow drip from a clogged gutter. The sound of silence can also be deafening when you feel that you have lost your own voice and no one around you is speaking up. As Simon and Garfunkel sang many years ago, “Silence like a cancer grows.”

Occupy Wallstreet

One of the most enduring, striking images to come out of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement is the man with the dollar bill taped over his mouth. The American dream where everyone has equal access to resources has turned into a nightmare where you scream for help because it’s all gone so horribly wrong but no sound comes out of your mouth. You feel silenced by a system that offers tax breaks for millionaires, enables corporate greed and turns the gap between rich and poor into a full scale chasm.

As MLK said, “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”

This is most certainly a time to speak up, confidently and clearly. Speak up because things are upside down and your carefully chosen words could help to put them right way up for you and others. Speak up, but do it mindfully, aware that your words have the power of both life AND destruction. Speaking up is a double edged sword, and the OWS movement does well to remember both the power of speaking up and the responsibility. The words you use when you speak are just as important as the choice to speak up. Choose words that come from your core values, and words that empower others to live their highest values. Speak your mind, and mind your speech.

Via Soul Seeds, see entire blog post with more tips on non-harming communications  by Ian Lawton, Speaking Up For Change.

I share the above post with great respect for Ian’s words. I discovered it in good time as I celebrate Lent, and one of the acts I have decided to do, is to complain less. How I wrote it was actually, “No complaining unless necessary.” At first this was my way of allowing myself some wiggle room, when I was going over my list yesterday I had to smile at my husband when I added these qualifying words. However, the more I thought about why I stated it that way, I understood that it was because I didn’t want the idea of not complaining to mean simply silencing myself which would not be good for my well-being–as mentioned above, “Silence like cancer grows.”

With that said, I am very happy Ian Lawton shared some of Marshall Rosenberg’s simple guidelines to compassionate, non-harming, healthy communication to keep me honest in my endeavor.

Four steps to express yourself non-violently

  1. Observing– State what you observe, from your own perspective, and without judgment.
  2. Feeling– Explain how what you observe makes you feel without blame.
  3. Needs– Explain what is at stake for you and others you care about.
  4. Request– Ask for specific, concrete, changes.

I add a preliminary step that I find necessary to allow the other steps to follow and that is, Stop, let it all out uncensored (in private), and self-assess: While we all tend to move quickly in fast-paced society, try waiting before you speak. Stop and ask yourself what is it that is really bothering you? Write it down if it helps. Do not censor yourself, blame all you want, sometimes you need to let it out to let it go. But then do not forget to evaluate, self-assess, remove the blame and your ego, and get to the core of the matter. Listen to your mind, heart, your gut, and your soul before you speak out. If it is really serious, talk to a mentor or an elder about your observations. I find when I complete this first step, I am well on my way to practicing mindful communications.

Reclaiming Ritual: Confessions of a Skeptic

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While I heard about ritual in my master’s program and even participated in a few healing rituals myself, I never really felt like I connected to the simulated ceremonies. I always thought they were a little goofy, and I never felt the liberating power people talked about, in my heart. I would come home with a cool new rock, and my husband would ask me about it, and I would stare blankly at him and recognize that I didn’t even remember why I had a rock in the first place. Well if you know anything about rituals, the one thing you might know is the importance of symbolism. So, me forgetting what the rock was for at the time, was very symbolic of my disconnect to ceremony.

The rock now sits on the window sill, and I still don’t know what it is supposed to represent, but I do know that when I see it, it must be fulfilling some part of its purpose, because it is a visual reminder that brings me back to ritual and makes me reflect on my relationship to ritual. When I look at it today, I am thankful for it, because I recognize how it has helped me reclaim ritual in my life.

What was once a minor curiosity of mine has ballooned into a great interest. Now, I cannot seem to avoid the concept of ritual. It keeps surfacing in the oddest places. I notice it while observing patterns in my dog’s behavior (don’t ask me which ones), while engaging in various readings, and while meeting new people and old friends. Because I started to notice it, I now recognize that despite my original unenthusiasm for it, I am actually starving for more ritual in my life.

But how do you recreate something that you aren’t even sure you understand? Also, a big part of ritual happens in a community-based setting, so how can you have ritual if you do not have a community eager to share this experience with you?  These are the questions I sit with and investigate.

What I have discovered in a few, short months of inquiry has been life-changing, and I imagine it will continue to be enlightening. As I understand ritual more, and incorporate it into my life in a way that feels genuine to me, I find that I am healing, I am connecting to my community, and I am enabling myself to follow my dreams.

As a result of my personal research, below is some food for thought about the power of ritual and how it relates to our personal and collective stories of healing, community, and personal development, three favorite topics of mine.

Definitions of ritual 

From the Korean perspective, a ritual or a kut, is a “controlled artistic activity springing from a human urge to transform time, space, and a community’s life together into a realm of contact with the gods and ancestral spirits.” As ritual relates to healing, the ritual is more dependent on whether the ritual expresses the sympathy of the healer AND “the prayerful concern of the ill person’s family and the concern of the praying community.” This reflection on ritual, healing, and community makes me think about the isolation people experience today. When we are trying to heal, it doesn’t matter if you receive state-of-the-art health care and have the best healer in the world. In my opinion, if you do not have a family or supportive community that is concerned about you, your healing journey will be longer and more difficult. This notion also reminds me of how people have become so disillusioned with religion, that they have given up all aspects of spirituality in their lives. What suffering has the human spirit endured because we have forgotten that we actually are spiritual beings and need to address ourselves that way?

My women’s spirituality group which is rooted in European traditions, also shares similar thoughts on ritual. “Ritual serves to focus our attention and intention so that we have the opportunity to honor, heal, and work with personal and collective energy. It is how we manage energy and/or matter in a sacred way. Ritual provides a container that allows energy to transmute consciously. It is an invitation to the mystery and to the soul to listen, guide, and help move life force energy…We recognize that ritual is an intentional weaving of spirit into form.”

Malidoma Somé writes in The Healing Wisdom of Africa, about ritual, healing, and community. He explains that ritual helps us “connect with unseen realities” and that “the realities made visible in our symbols, is crucial to the well-being of our psyches.” He says, “a person who walks through a ritual…ends up feeling charged and invigorated” and “is a blessed recipient of healing waves of energy that no one can see but everyone can benefit from.”

Somé continues to explain that ritual “is central to village life, for it provides the focus and energy that holds the community together, and it provides the kind of healing that the community most needs to survive.”

Why we are skeptical of ritual in the “West” and the consequences of our skepticism

Somé speaks to the misunderstandings surrounding the idea of ritual. He says, “The West is also struggling with a confusing notion of ritual, for the word usually refers to some sort of dark, pagan, and archaic practice that has no place in modern society. The only accepted rituals are ceremonial practices with clearly predictable content and outcome, such as what can be seen in the Sunday church service of one of the organized religions. When we talk of ritual here we are talking about something much deeper. We are talking about the weaving of individual persons and gifts into a community that interacts with the forces of the natural world. We are talking about a gathering of people with a clear healing vision and a trusting intent toward the forces of the invisible world.”

With his words, Somé suggests that the loss of ritual and the loss of community in the West are linked. He explains that this absence is also connected to the decline of health and well-being in “modern society.” He explains how important it is for us to reconnect with each other, and to acknowledge and interact with our surrounding environment and the subtle energies in a way that is healthy. Ritual is a way to do all of those things.  

What happens when we practice ritual?

We increase our awareness, and we transform. We come to know ourselves. European, African, and Korean traditions more or less agree that “ritual is aimed at increasing our awareness, for awareness of the existence of the reality beyond the palpable world that we live in is one of the keys to transforming individuals. Ritual can shake a person free from the rigidity of that part of the ego that wants to limit growth and experience.”

For those of you who have trouble envisioning the reality beyond the palpable world think about it in terms of yourself. “Eventually such awareness becomes an honoring of the shadowy and hidden parts of ourselves, those parts of ourselves that are invisible. There is such a thing as a spirit person and a physical person, and more often than not the physical being is so detached from the spirit that one feels split inside. Awareness should ultimately lead to an attempt to bring these two parts of the person together to become one.”

How do you practice ritual?

The answer to that question, is up to you. How will you answer it?

Still hungry? Reflect on the questions that appeal to you.

1) What is your relationship to ritual? Are you a skeptic? Why or why not.

2) What rituals do you have in your life? How do they contribute to or suppress your health and well-being?

3) Where do you have community or a sense of belonging in your life? How does community impact your health, and how can you build community?

Overachiever? Or just plain lost? (Or both?)

Call or meet with an elder in your family or a person you know who is connected to themselves and to those around them. Interview them about how they create ritual and ceremony in their life.

Quick Tips to Improve Your Urinary Tract Health

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Did you know that the urinary tract infection (UTI) is the second most common type of infection in the body? Annually, approximately 8.1 million people visit the hospital for a UTI. Because of the anatomy of the body, women are more prone to developing these infections– their lifetime risk of experiencing a UTI is over 50%. While men can and certainly do suffer from UTIs, they are less common.

Because a UTI is an infection, part of prevention and management involves supporting the body’s immune system. While proper hygiene is part of the equation to urinary tract health, below are some quick tips on how diet and lifestyle changes can help fight off infection as well as support everyone’s urinary tract health.

Diet:

Watch water intake. Dehydration concentrates the urine and increases the chances of infection. Drink enough water each day to help remove bacteria from your bladder. If you do not like water, eat foods that have high water content, such as: leafy greens, melon, broccoli, carrots, yogurt, apples, grapefruits, celery, and tomatoes. For those suffering from kidney failure, as you know, you must be careful not to ingest too much water. Connect with your health care provider to determine the amount that’s best for you.

Eat blueberries, lingonberries, and cranberries. Blueberries, lingonberries, and cranberries contain antioxidants that have properties that prevent bacteria from attaching to the walls of the bladder. Although scientists are having trouble finding consistent results, cranberries and cranberry juice are still a popular natural remedy for urinary tract prevention and treatment. So if you do not enjoy drinking water, try out some pure cranberry juice. It is tart, so feel free to use a natural sweetener to help with the taste.

Incorporate garlic into your cooking. Garlic helps boost the immune system and helps fight off infection (and vampires).

Avoid caffeine, if not, drink more water. Because caffeine is a diuretic, it promotes fluid loss, makes urine more concentrated, and increases the chance of infection.

Limit alcohol intake. Alcohol also dehydrates and reduces the function of the immune system. If you are partaking in alcoholic festivities, make sure to drink extra water.

Limit refined sugar and flour. Refined sugar and flour are hard to avoid in the modern diet, but they are responsible for the rise of degenerative disease and they suppress immune function.

Take a probiotic. A growing body of research finds that probiotics support the immune system as well as genital and urinary tract health. If you suffer from recurring UTIs a probiotic may be a good supplement for you.

Lifestyle: 

– Don’t hold it. When you need to go, go. The longer you hold urine in, the more bacteria will grow and impact your urinary tract and bladder.

Exercise. Exercise boosts your immune system, helps reduce stress and improves sleep, all of which benefit your general health.

Stop smoking. Smoking irritates the bladder and is connected to bladder cancer. What are you waiting for? Just quit.

For general information on urinary tract health and to read more about symptoms of a UTI, visit the US Department of Health and Human Services website. For a more comprehensive list of preventative lifestyle measures and resources, check out the University of Maryland’s website.