Friday, December 28, 2007

The Kennedy Center Honors

"Diana Ross makes it sound so simple.'I really, deeply believe that dreams do come true,' the international entertainment icon has said, while also believing that 'you can't just sit there and wait for people to give you that golden dream-you've got to get out there and make it happen for yourself.'"

Tonight I watched a Kennedy Center program honoring Martin Scorsese, Steve Martin, Diana Ross, Leon Fleisher, and Brian Wilson. Each tribute was beautifully done, full of the appreciation and joy of expressing artistically, the passions of life as art, emphasized by those who were influenced by these artists. Each person has his or her passion, their perseverance for using or finding the medium through which their passions could live, could be expressed joyfully, happily. Fleisher still says, after having lost the use of his right hand for piano and regaining it decades later, to play music is wonderful, is to be in a state of ecstasy. After the despair of losing his gift, he came to realize that the music came from him, not just his hands. He began to teach, beloved students, to conduct, and finally, again, to play, first with his left hand. Each of these artists was honored by contemporaries and those who have come behind.

Some of the Beach Boys hits persisted through the years I was growing up in boarding school far away in Africa. The older girls danced and sang while we listened and danced with them, energized by their fun and the music. Girls from around the world sang those lyrics together, loudly, and clapping. Diana Ross is a diva who personifies the word. To watch her even now is to appreciate that spirit she personifies – reach out and touch somebody’s hand, make this world a better place, she sang, and I feel it as she took Brian Wilson’s hand, Martin Scorsese’s hand on either side of her as they took their final bow of the program. Familiar faces from our public arena, and entertainment history,appeared everywhere in the audience. As the camera showed Condoleezza Rice as she listened to one of Fleisher’s students play a beautiful grand with the Peabody Conservatory orchestra and a grand choir behind him, I wondered if she ever longed for more of that pure ecstasy of playing music, without the tangle of politics which so often has no harmony. She moved with the music. Steve Martin always sought to invent new ways to express himself, to laugh at the absurdity of so much of life. His college study of philosophy gave him the prompt to go beyond the physical sleight of hand to overt absurd props which he used in new ways, and to use his own physical humor with absolute freedom. Just to be physical is funny! He was hilariously silly. Recently I saw his memoir in the bookstore (Born To Stand Up). I picked it up but didn’t buy it then. I’m adding it to my list, again. For me it is a tribute, too, to read the ways such personalities express their lives on paper. Martin Scorsese – to capture his vision on film, full of the sounds and sharpness of the streets, the personalities with the raw energy which keeps the streets humming. As he listened to the tributes, he smiled, and his face was full of emotion– as he listened to the aria, to the music, listened, no doubt remembered. I cried with joy as I watched. These tributes remind all of us, and especially the creators, how much their presence means in the world, how the ripples expand.

What a tribute, what a place, what passion. Thank you.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Everywhere I Look

Julie Newmar

Recently I was reading the January issue of Esquire magazine. (I like to peruse all kinds of magazines that get my attention.) Johnny Depp is on the cover (which always gets my attention), and the headline is "What I've Learned." All kinds of people were asked this question, some comparing their answers from years ago. It's an interesting view of public personalities, our culture, ourselves. It made me think about the question, which I often do, in new ways. It also invited me to think about Julie Newmar again. On p. 16 is Julie Newmar's (Catwoman)response to "What I've Learned." It's beautiful. She finishes with, "More is not necessarily better. Better is better. You can't fail. The further you fall, the greater the opportunity for growth and change. Shape up, folks. There is no death. Think of it as evolution."

I went to her web site, then, just to acknowledge, and found her "The Very Last How To Book" (The Conscious Catwoman Explains Life on Earth), along with her bio, which I read. Thank you, Julie. Check it out if you're surfing and want to pay a visit.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Oh Baby

“The nicest mammary glands I ever saw belonged to an American Alpine goat at a county fair in upstate New York.” Sandra Steingraber

Human labor does not follow a one-way chain of command. “Determining what ultimately sets childbirth in motion is less like tracing a path up to the top of an avalanche-prone mountain than like searching for the headwaters of a swiftly flowing river. What one finds at the source is a nexus of interconnecting creeks and springs, each feeding the other.” (Having Faith, 180)

I’ve been reading a lot about childbirth lately. Not because I am having a baby but because I wanted to read Sandra Steingraber’s book, Having Faith: An Ecologist’s Journey into Motherhood. My nine-month-old niece and her irrepressible energy also prompt me to think, to want to know more. (See how that works - thanks, Banner :) Wanting more, learning more is to appreciate more. Steingraber is a good writer, and an honest, diligent appreciator of the value of knowledge in its many forms. She is also a lover of nature’s intricate and infinite expressions. She knows what she wants to know, asking questions that lead to others. Whatever happened to natural childbirth? What is her emerging desire for it all about? Interwoven with her research journey, and interesting historical facts that are sometimes incredible, are details of the baby herself, and the emergence of that new, charming life. The pictures she paints of the history of obstetrics, for example, shows how we create our “facts” and support them by our beliefs, which then influence our interpretations of other “facts.” Steingraber exults in finding a piece of her puzzle: “Trained to treat trauma and disease, physicians tend to see pain as a problem to be fixed and the refusal to accept analgesics as an exercise in masochism.” (165) There are many kinds of pain that are not pathological, she writes, pointing out that no one rushes to a marathon runner finishing a race with a needle full of narcotics. The focus is on the thrill of “victory,” not the relief of pain. Our focus must change to supporting life rather than disease.

I’m learning a lot reading this book – physical details in the history of childbirth, medical histories, most popular contaminants and where and why they show up as they do, and more personal details about one woman and her family. The history reminds me how our collective attitudes about “medicine” and “health” have been created and fostered. Individually, we are part of a collective, and it is individuals that initiate change in a collective. At the risk of seeming to choose the most glaring examples of the misguided "male-mind" control of life (whether in males or females), I’ll point to one Steingraber mentions. In 1920, Dr. Joseph DeLee, a noted gynecologist particularly disliked by “natural childbirth” advocates and midwives, printed a paper which led to the use of episiotomies as routine procedures rather than emergency measures. He wrote, “Labor is a decidedly pathological process.” Episiotomies could restore the vagina to its “virginal condition,” he argued, and medical students were once taught to call the final suture the “husband’s stitch.” I see in full measure how our collective minds have been mainly passive as women, aggressive as men, in creating and keeping this mindset of “male convenience” or male-mind preference in all things. Even childbirth! Labor is pathological! What??? There were male heroes along the way, who tirelessly campaigned for change, along with female heroes, but the examples are clear to me: until we acknowledge our internal equality as human beings, with the compassion of ethical values as our guide, we will still cater to this male mind focus in how we treat our bodies, how we live our lives.

To say there was life before medicine is not to dismiss its critical importance. I’m simply educating myself about the ways we have become dependent upon drugs and accepted their use and their advocacy as “normal” and necessary. In my own life, I can see how challenging it can be for a mind to change, and how ingrained our minds are in the habits of “what is.” While in the emergency room with my mother just after Thanksgiving, we were very dependent upon what help they could give her as she struggled for breath, and grateful for any relief. As I looked at monitors, listened to machines humming, watched fresh-faced nurses intent on their duties, I was alert to the energy of the hospital itself, and each nuance of change as people passed, as the clock ticked. Some nurses were completely engaged, lovingly attentive. Waiting for the nurse to solicit help, at one moment I knew all I could do was “love my mother” – we were doing the physical things we knew to do. I sent energy to her with my mind, and focused on her heart and lungs. I put my fingers on her chest. She opened her eyes, with a look both foreign and full of love. I felt the warmth of love between us, and this sense overcame all others - physical distractions of the monitors, bright lights, other sounds. Because I have studied Neural Depolarization, and work with the woman who created the technique and has used it all her life, I thought about the power of our nerves to create and sustain life, and all the communication that happens. I felt the power of the energy in the room, the flux of energy within my mother as she struggled to breathe, the inanimate presence of machinery. Yet I did not automatically think of helping ease the pressure my mother felt by removing the energy of the fluid buildup in her lungs and around her heart. My mind was influenced by the still-present belief in “we are in a hospital emergency room,” what do they do next.” These are normal thoughts, I know – this helps me to understand how we created and reinforce this pattern of submission and aggression, in this case in relationship to our health. Think! Our body as one whole organism, an Intelligent Design of energy and matter, is made to be efficient, to support itself, to celebrate life. Do our interventions and considerations always have this aim? We must learn to know how to choose them, to know them for what they are.

Steingraber’s study of the history of obstetrics in particular, as it relates to her own journey of the moment, prompts me to relate my own recent research about early physicians and scientists’ interest in the nervous system. Kathy Oddenino created NDP as her own technique of working directly with the nervous system, and her particular hero is John Newport Langley, British physiologist at the turn of the century who spent years studying the intricacies of the nerves and their function. He coined the term “autonomic.” His work was groundbreaking, and yet has he for all practical purposes languished in obscurity? Do medical students hear of Langley? I assume that students of neurology encounter Langley and his work along the way. Yet what importance is his work given? Without nerves, we have no life! And without nerves we would not know what pain is. At different forks in the road, opportunities to expand our collective knowledge in one area or another, why do we choose one over another? For centuries, Steingraber writes, medicine considered childbirth was more than happy to cede the whole business of childbirth to midwives and their sympathizers. Birth was controlled by women at home, and then came the Inquisition. As time passed, knowledge as science developed and it became more and more relegated to men only, and the patterns and divisions continued to expand. There are statues to man’s discovery of ether (1846) and the anesthesizing of pain. We are, it seems, more concerned with regulation, security, and profit than we are with health and education. We love education, but our education mostly supports the tradition, regulation, profit, and market rather than expanding our minds to more, the possibility of change and the validation of history beyond our most influential minds and textbooks of the moment. We must learn to love knowledge. To believe that “labor is pathological” is to believe that life and death themselves are pathological. What would Hippocrates say?

What sets disease and trauma in motion is much like what sets childbirth in motion - i.e., "what one finds at the source is a nexus of interconnecting creeks and springs, each feeding the other." And, I realize, what sets life and death in motion. The energy of growth and change, as energy and matter, is a constantly flowing river with the power of life and the beauty and force of nature. And we don’t just hold on for the ride. We Are the ride! With each thought, each choice, a seed is made and the complex of connections which create the life of that thought begins its motions and change. Yet within these causes and effects are specific actions and reactions that we can work with beginning with Nature (good food, air, and water). We are not simply people who “create” energy from coal, nuclear reactors, or even biodiesel – we are people because we are energy in matter. That changes everything.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Thanksgiving - Family Moments -

Most snaps taken by Bill Wiles, brother-in-law for whom songs have been written.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Nature Knows Better

I’ve just come back from Memphis, for the holiday and an extra surge of support as my Mother went into the hospital. The week was a powerful tunnel of energy complemented by the novel I was reading en route, The Theory of Clouds by Stephane Audeguy. As my mother strained for breath, bending over, laboring over each step, I felt the energy of her life within her - that beautiful spirit of life she lives, and the forms of clouds came with it. Memories of my mother’s week stay with me along with images from the novel. Audeguy writes about why Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo was “meteorology’s revenge.” Years earlier an aristocratic scientist came to Napoleon to explain cloud classifications. Napoleon didn’t understand the importance of it (the relationship of this scientist’s knowledge to his own reality of the moment!), and even made fun of the man and his nuanced descriptions of cloud formations and movement. Napoleon mistrusted this new science. What the chevalier learned was that the new order was not open to serious thought. He never came back to court, the story reports. An indifference to weather is the crowning ego’s aggression in thinking it knows best. Waterloo remains in our collective minds a monumental symbol of defeat, death, sorrow, triumph for some, and humanity helping humanity for others. Then think of this: military genius created orphans and widows across Europe.

One sentence is a kernel for my relationship with Audeguy’s words: “Napoleon had not understood the point of it (cloud classification) - or understood that greatness of spirit sometimes involves accepting things with no immediate practical utility.” (84) This, to me, means vision, an open mind and heart. True Form knows function, and this is one way to define practicality, efficiency. Earlier A. writes, “Humanity could only be obliterated by self-destruction.” Nature knows better. When inventions eclipse the inventor, we have accepted the utility of the invention? When creations know the energy of life as their own, their function and utility is meaningful. Children learn this as they grow; parents know this as their children are born and grow. The cycle continues. The book brings in more examples of how memories are created, hidden, brought back to life.

This week my parents helped remind me of the power of the energy of life (as energy and matter in motion and change) and the love of life. I love to feel the kindred spirits of knowledge-seekers that lead to our knowing the patterns of life as human nature learns to be with Nature as we share the energy of evolution and change. Earlier this week as I listened and took in the energy of those whose focus is taking care of patients, I felt the boundaries of that world, especially the gate which is made of our belief in drugs as our way of addressing the body’s needs. Our intention is to “take care of,” to be sure all signs are stable and following the pattern of “back to normal,” yet our idea and understanding of “normal” is relative to that world as we have known it. We trust what we can control. We mistrust what our senses help us to know – because we have relegated (separated) our “sense of science” into what we call Fact. The chevalier knew what Napoleon didn’t – the relationship of weather to all else. Some doctors acknowledge the basic foundation of Nutrition as something we too often ignore. But what does “nutrition” mean? It seems to them to mean that we must have the nutrients of food to keep us strong, to help our body heal – and that medicine will not work as well without the absorption of food. An equation of “healing” without medicine doesn’t seem to exist. I only mean to think “aloud” about this world we have created and why.

As I write this I have tissue beside me to blow my nose, since I have the remains of a cold. These levels of symptoms remind me, too: pay attention to the weather – internal and external. I remember my mother’s hands, black and blue with needles and memories of needles, fingers laced across her stomach. Her tiny blue veins were like little branches against a mottled sky. I felt the intensity of her vision, of her determination and appreciation of life. With hers, she enhanced mine – we shared the energy of these moments because they were real as energy. These are all permeable fields: We are energy and matter. As my internal temperature fluctuated with the air vent flow, as Mom tried to be comfortable beneath her coat and thin warmed blankets, monitors hummed and machines outside made more noises. I felt sad yet strong, determined to be present, not half-there. It was easy. I felt fully formed in that moment. I had visions of others’ dying, a friends’ mother whom I loved, sirens waxing and waning, and this time I felt the terrible music of instruments set up to play in such a world. Food, air, and water, I remember, are the elixirs of life, and love is the true chemical basis of creation and change. This may sound fanciful and simplistic, but within this energy is the way to finding the Facts of Life that support health and healing. The science of life supports life in all forms. From this basis the work of research, learning, and application that lasts can begin.

Some of the personalities written about in Audegy’s novel are disappointed by a lack of enthusiasm for their expanding insights – and the point is made: inventing something before it is technically feasible is deemed failure in the sciences. The utility of Nature’s knowing itself and our own utility of function in relationship to Nature we still miss. Cyclones, floods, drought, fire – all are front-page news these days, as is disease. We continue to hammer away with the same tools, variations of the same theme, feeling strong in our determination to prevail despite it all. I admire the courage and strength used in rebuilding, regrouping, keeping families together, creating families. My week’s experience – Thanksgiving with my family, then the hospital environment – brought visible more clearly to me what Presence means as physical support in times of need, how all energy is real and always making itself known, the beauty and strength of love through times of challenge and change. We ease transitions for ourselves through our experiences in ways far greater than our conscious minds are aware of, and I am grateful for this. We must trust the new science of the old philosophers-physicians-scientists who knew that we must first “do no harm,” and that we are part of Nature. We must re-think support, and "harm," life and death. Thank you, those of you who tend the sick and comfort those who are suffering. Compassion is truly an art which shows science the way.