Societal and Personal Health

 

 

Typical of David Brooks, journalist, author, and social, political, and philosophical commentator, he has written a beautiful piece in his recent NYT column, “The Prodigal Sons” (New York Times, February 18, 2014). Referencing Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son*, Mr. Brooks conveys the idea that the social health of society is improved when we are neither morally wanton in our ways (the younger son in the parable) nor morally self-righteous (the elder son).  It is a great and quick read if you are not familiar with the parable.  The ideal is the father of the two sons, who is constant in his forgiveness and inclusion of both, and of all around him.

Mr. Brooks’s conclusion to the article (See, http://nyti.ms/1fujvFB) is that “if you live in a society that is coming apart on class lines, the best remedies are oblique.  They are projects that bring the elder and younger brothers together for some third goal: national service projects, infrastructure-building, strengthening a company or congregation.  The father offers each boy a precious gift.  The younger son gets to dedicate himself to work and discipline.  The older son gets to surpass the cold calculus of utility and ambition, and experience the warming embrace of solidarity and companionship.”

This insight is not just about squandering inheritances and sibling rivalry, but is really about maintaining a healthy outlook through patience and understanding, rather than through self-righteousness.

It’s very practical. I once wanted to remove a tree root. Using my axe and long earned, but somewhat stale, camp skills, I began whacking away.  It wasn’t happening.  Instead of appreciating the problem I applied more force.  Right.  The axe head sprang back and hit me in the forehead.  Not a healthy outcome.  I had built up a self-righteous grudge against the root.  I learned.  Intensifying will was not a solution.  Gaining a calm perspective was.  When I did, the wound healed without a scar.

Sometimes we become quite certain in our views of right and wrong, …judgmental and critical, even condemning.  We want to just whack away at the root of what we see as “the problem”, the other’s point of view. That runs the risk of hurting everyone. The younger son wanted to rebel against his upbringing.  The elder wanted to criticize the younger for his wantonness.  Wantonness and self-righteousness, like bad roots, are best removed not by harsh judgment and contempt, but by a patient, understanding and forgiving awareness.

Certainly the correlation between forgiveness and health is well established today.**

The healthy approach is the one the father took. Steadily viewing both of his sons through the lens of a loving father, he embraced them both, albeit in different ways. This love of a father, in its largest context, is divine Love that reaches us all and teaches us the act of forgiveness and the embrace of mankind.  Perhaps, this is the fuller lesson of the parable and a key to our societal health, as well as our personal health.

 

*Luke 15:11-32

**Mayo Clinic Staff article, November 23, 2011

Published as “Your Health and Society’s Health are Intertwined” by Lake Havasu City News Herald, Friday, March 21, 2014

Embrace of Mankind Brings Mental Wellness***

 

As a child, I dropped a glass milk bottle on my bare toe.  I could easily have slipped into panic or fear, but I didn’t.  My family was at the lunch table and my father jumped up, put one hand on the smashed toe and the other on my shoulder.  The love expressed in the room stopped the fear that might have ensued.  My thought calmed and the pain ceased.  The day went on normally.

The presence of love at that moment definitely affected my mental wellness, to say nothing of my physical condition.  It is worth considering how such loving acts counter physical and mental disturbance and restore mental wellness of those around us, both within our view and outside of it.

January is Mental Wellness Month, which suggests we might reflect on what we can do to aid others who may feel that circumstances have “dropped a bottle on their bare toe”.  They, like all of us, can benefit from an embrace of compassion, if not directly, then figuratively.  We know when we have the support of family, even if we are far from home.  That sort of love is felt and it gives us peace of mind, solid comfort.

There are many dedicated professionals and volunteers working to bring comfort and health of thought to others who are not in the embrace of their formal families.   I was speaking to the head social worker at a state home for adults, who need support due to mental challenges.  I was encouraged to learn that there are measures taken to place a “hand over the toe”, if you will, and to provide an atmosphere of loving support for the patients living there.

The professional staff, indeed, are like family in many ways.  They play music, sing together, maintain a self-advocacy group for those ready for fuller communication, and develop skills that enable each individual to reach her or his capacity to integrate as much as possible into the community.

This compassionate work is augmented by a volunteer program, where members of the community may serve as surrogate family for individuals.  This furthers social integration and creates a sense of normalcy, aiding in mental awareness and self worth for the individual needing that.  This activity can lead to mutual mental wellness, for the volunteer as well as for the client in the home.  Unselfish acts lead to healthier thoughts.

We have seen these unselfish actions and their good outcomes throughout history.  Certainly it was evidenced in Scripture, as Christ Jesus gave two commands, to love God and to love mankind.*  His love for others was often repeated in healing, in feeding multitudes, and in befriending the less advantaged.  We can do the same and find mental wellness for ourselves by aiding in the mental wellness of others…”blessed is that man who seeth his brother’s need and supplieth it, seeking his own in another’s good”**.

*The Bible, Matt. 22:37-40

**Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 518, Mary Baker Eddy

***[This article was published January 29, 2014 in the Arizona Silver Belt newspaper, print edition.]

Dimensions of Fitness ***

 

Sedona is a beautiful place to simply be outdoors…the red rock cliffs, secret canyons, twisting waters of Oak Creek, sunrises and sunsets.  People come from all over the world to climb and hike this part of the country.  Physical activity is the norm. 

 

But physical activity is not the norm for our nation, and this appears to have consequences.

The CDC (Center for Disease Control) is cited in a May 2013 CBS news article (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/cdc-80-percent-of-american-adults-dont-get-recommended-exercise/) stating that 80% of American adults do not get recommended exercise.  And as the article points out, the consequences can be more than physical…. Exercise provides mental health benefits as well as physical.

 

This was confirmed recently in interviews with two professional fitness trainers.  They stated that being fit was a mental decision — a life decision, whether forced due to risk of illness or a natural desire for balance.  The trainers find clients are often overcoming a sense of fear and limitation, so they work to help the individuals make the connection between consciousness and body.  While not always articulating it to their clients, these trainers find that physical and mental fitness are often tied to a spiritual dimension of thought.

 

Here is an example: a health club client, dealing with a condition of Parkinson’s disease, was afraid to drive to the gym and had low expectations for herself.  The trainer sensed the apprehensions of this client, and focused less on the physical activity and more on the patient’s confidence and trust. This caring attitude put the client at ease and enabled the fitness program to progress.  After a few visits the woman was not only gaining confidence in her abilities physically, but had overcome her fear of driving.  The client credits this change to the trainer’s loving approach. The trainer credits it to acknowledging a spiritual dimension of life.

 

This experience proved that a loving attitude and expectation of progress has a fear-diminishing and healing effect.  These effects are not confined to CDC percentages or geography but are as consistent in Sedalia as in Sedona, and they lift both the trainer and the trainee.  The spiritual dimension of the trainer’s approach may be captured in this Scriptural statement, “Perfect love casts out fear”*.  Further thought along these lines can be found in a book by Mary Baker Eddy, a seeker of health from a spiritual standpoint.**

 

Perhaps an inspired consciousness is as key to fitness as the physical activity we undertake, whether hiking among Anasazi ruins or walking our dog down Maple Avenue.  We can all participate in, and benefit from, this fuller form of fitness.

 

*I John 4:18

**See, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 475.

***This article was published in the Sedona Red Rock News, December 13, 2013

 

Cloak of Compassion

 She couldn’t care for herself. There was no family. There were loving friends but they didn’t have the skill. The need was apparent. Fear was pervasive.

Not far away was a hospice. After a call, two competent, quiet, non-judgmental individuals arrived to clean and redress the wounds of the ill patient. A bit of joy emerged. They assured the patient that they would return to help as needed, in a manner respectful of her beliefs and expectations.

There is no price to place on these instances of timely care — of loving, practical support present at the moment of greatest need. There was no lecturing, no analyzing of worthiness — no technology to separate heart meeting heart. Their efforts were remarkably kind.

A perfect model of palliative-care can be seen in the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan, who, finding a wounded man left unattended by others, approached this stranger, bandaged him, placed him on his burro, took him to an inn, and provided funds for his care by the innkeeper.

Fittingly, November is national hospice/palliative care month and there is reason to be immensely grateful for the commitment of those who do this work.

Several years ago in Arizona, there was a conference for end-of-life professionals. They had asked eight faiths to share their views on this subject. The purpose was to broaden the understanding of these care-givers so they could better meet the needs of patients, in a manner respectful of the individual patient’s beliefs…a most admirable pursuit.

While all can and should appreciate the care that hospice and palliative-care professionals provide the uncomforted, the assumed certainty of near-term death may be unnecessary. This assumption seems to be shifting currently.

Palliative (from the Latin palliare, meaning “to cloak”) has been defined as “care for the terminally ill and their families.” Yet, there is a distinction between hospice care and palliative care. Hospice care is offered at home or in facilities tending to the terminally ill. Palliative-care is multi-disciplinary, including spiritual care, which is not restricted to end-of-life prognoses. Palliative care continues expanding into traditional medical environments. As a recent report notes, “The focus on a patient’s quality of life has increased greatly during the past 20 years. In the United States today, 55 percent of hospitals with more than 100 beds offer a palliative-care program, and nearly one-fifth of community hospitals have palliative-care programs.”

In a recent article by the Mayo Clinic staff, this distinction was re-emphasized, stating that palliative-care is not tied to termination of life but to the need for comfort during times that would otherwise be more painful.

It doesn’t appear that the Good Samaritan expected the stranger, whom he had helped, to die at the inn. He had offered to return and pay for additional provisions for the injured traveler. He was expecting the man to continue his life.

As the hospice concept and the palliative-care concept further develop and overlap in purpose, all care can become less disease and end-of-life focused. The compassion witnessed in both approaches will take the lead in how to treat the uncomforted, with the added expectation of wholeness and health. No longer will hospice and palliative-care be simply a cloak to cover the acceptance of decline and termination. The great good that the hospice and palliative care workers do today may find yet greater good in the projection of life, not death, with the role of compassion progressing beyond the cloaking of pain.

Many have found comfort in this excerpt from an interpretation of the 23rd Psalm by the health seeker, religious leader, and author of “Science and Health,” Mary Baker Eddy, where the term “Love” is used for the Divine: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for [Love] is with me; [Love’s] rod and [Love’s] staff they comfort me.”  As a human expression of the divine Love, the compassion given by hospice and palliative-care workers can help patients walk on through the valley of death, not merely come to final rest there.

— Rich Evans of Scottsdale is the spokesman for the Christian Science Committee on Publication for Arizona.

Published: November 18, 2013 at 9:15 am, as guest opinion in the Arizona Capitol Times
Read more: http://azcapitoltimes.com/news/2013/11/18/cloak-of-compassion/#ixzz2lg49cabV

Who’s Responsible For My Health?

 

 

Health care solutions multiply as we learn to take responsibility for our own health.

 

This is true even in the face of exigencies such as those reported in the September 11th edition of the Arizona Daily Star entitled, “Aging US faces cancer-care crisis, report finds”, by Lauran Neergaard of the Associated Press.  A panel under the auspices of the Institute of Medicine reported that a crisis looms as a result of the expected increase in cancer related cases.  The demographics regarding aging in the US, the complexity of treatments, and the shortage of specialized medical professionals raise a serious concern.  The forecast is that cancer cases could increase from 1.6 million per year to 2.3 million per year in 2030.

 

The article mentions, “too often, decisions about cancer treatments aren’t based on good evidence, and patients may not understand their choices and what to expect”.  For example, “two-thirds or more of patients with poor prognoses incorrectly believe the treatments they receive could cure them”.  It goes on to advise, “Topping the list of recommendations is finding ways to help patients make more informed decisions, with easy-to-understand information on the pros, cons and costs of different treatments”.

 

Shifting the responsibility to an informed patient is apparently gaining traction.  A book, released in 2011, entitled, The New Health Age, The Future of Health Care in America, by David Houle and Jonathan Fleece, says “…it is time for all American citizens to accept greater responsibility for their own health”.

 

These writings, along with certain aspects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, indicate a clear trend to engage the individual in health care choices and to make each of us more responsible for our health, both preventative and curative.

 

Underneath all of this is an assumption that individuals know where to obtain the information for making wise decisions about their health.  Both the news article and the book, however, are based on a modern surgery and drug utilization model of health and, by definition, assume that model as the scope of understanding needed to make informed decisions.  But health and how to achieve it begs broader consideration.

 

The history of health is not tantamount to the history of medicine.  The latter in its modern form has only been around for the last two centuries, according to Houle and Fleece.  Whereas, maintaining one’s health has always been a concern of mankind.  Methods of care and healing have evolved and have been embraced in different ways.  They include physical, mental, and spiritual approaches to health.  For example, those who find that they are faced with a prognosis of incurability in one dimension can appeal to another, which may provide the path of health.  Taking greater responsibility for one’s health may also involve shifting one’s view of what health is, and how to achieve it.

 

An acquaintance of mine had been diagnosed with Meniere’s Syndrome, for which the caring physicians could offer no cure.  So, my friend began to study more earnestly how a mental and spiritually prayerful approach could help.  Her search led her to see herself as more than a physical organism and to recognize the possibilities coming from a spiritual concept of health.  She was healed.

 

While to some this may seem highly unusual, changing one’s basis of thinking about life and health from an entirely physical point of view to a more mentally conscious or metaphysical one, is becoming increasingly common.  The work and writings of physicians like Larry Dossey or institutions like the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, are leading more and more patients and physicians to broader considerations.

 

The idea that health is more than what goes on with the body, and that it is important for each of us to take charge of our health, is not necessarily new.  Certainly, Mary Baker Eddy, a seeker of health and a religious leader of the late 1800’s, experienced this in her recovery from a near fatal accident.  The attending physician had lost hope.  She took responsibility and turned to a spiritual source with which she was familiar, Christian healing in the Bible.  Soon she found herself healed of the injuries from the accident, increasingly able to establish her own wellbeing, to help heal others, and to teach them to replicate this healing approach.

 

Accepting responsibility as individuals expands rather than diminishes our health care solutions.  This is a propitious time.

 

 

 

Grandmothers’ Wisdom and Integrative Medicine

I was listening to a brief video  chat with Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, M.D. who is Director of the Fellowship program at the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona.  She is also the author of the book,  Life is Your Best Medicine.   While targeted at women’s health, both her video chat and her book have some useful insights for all (http://www.drlowdog.com/omm-medicine-road.html).

The one that caught my attention was the statement made by her grandmother, that when we are born “we’re set upon a path and that path is our medicine, and that everything we do in our life, from the food that we eat to the thoughts that we think, it affects us”.  She calls this our “medicine road”.  Dr. Low Dog goes on to say in part that “so much of the diseases that we see…really have their roots in the way we live our lives.”

That encounter caused me to ask, “What is my medicine road?”  Well, it has been and is a spiritual one.  Why?  Because it is the path exemplified by Christ Jesus, whose “medicine road” many seek to follow and whose “food” was the “bread of heaven” and whose thoughts were always in touch with God, with the divine sense of existence.  The evidence-based outcomes of his medicine were healing, redemption, and unending life.

There are sensible, practical suggestions of care for oneself given by Dr. Low Dog.  These include meditation, conscious breathing, wholesome foods, herbs, etc.  But a path must lead somewhere.  Should it be a path that ends in plants or physique?  Or, might our path be more enlightened if it leads to grace, to love of man and the universe in which we find ourselves?

One of the thoughts that I feed myself fairly regularly in the path of life is this statement from Mary Baker Eddy, a theologian who traveled a unique “medicine road” to found Christian Science.  Her statement in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures is this, “What we most need is the prayer of fervent desire for growth in grace, expressed in patience, meekness, love, and good deeds”.  That is the most practical and healthiest “medicine road” I know…one my grandmothers left to me.

What’s In A Name?

Names are powerful.  Lincoln, Mount Everest, the Yankees, bring forth strong associations for each of us, depending upon what we have learned and accepted from the opinions of others and from our own experiences.

On July 29th, in The New York Times, Tara Parker-Pope reported on a rather courageous research report by medical scientists recommending changes in the approach to detection and treatment of cancer, including “eliminating the word cancer entirely from some common diagnoses”.  A significant point in the report was that too often the “cancer” label led the patient to an assumptive conclusion: if the word cancer was mentioned in the patient’s diagnosis, then the probability of death was assumed.  As a result, often more drastic procedures were undergone than were necessary.

A telling statement in the article was, “The advent of highly sensitive screening technology in recent years has increased the likelihood of…findings detected during medical scans that most likely would never cause a problem”.  However, once doctors and patients find an early symptom they feel compelled to conduct a biopsy, and treat and remove it, “often at great physical and psychological pain and risk to the patient…The issue is often referred to as overdiagnosis, and the resulting unnecessary procedures to which patients are subjected are called overtreatment.”

While much of humanity would find there are useful medical interventions that save the health of patients or, at least, forestall more severe consequences, this report explains how a name of a disease, fraught with terminal overtones, can create exaggerated fear and lead to wrong actions and, perhaps, actually foster more severe illness and harmful procedures.

This doesn’t surprise me.  After college I served in the US Peace Corps in a rural part of the southwestern Philippines. We volunteers had been told about the possibility of malaria in ways that made that “name” fairly alarming. It was as if someone had planted a terminal seed.  Within a few months I became ill and was extremely dizzy and incoherent at times.

I had always relied on prayer for my well-being, prayer that is the conscious affirmation of man’s, my, divinely natural health, as Christ Jesus taught and proved.  Healing in this way soon came about and I was free of this condition in a couple of weeks.

The Peace Corps physician was required to conduct a physical examination of me and the diagnosis was blackwater fever, an acute and often fatal form of malaria, which had regressed and become non-threatening.  I don’t think knowing those names beforehand would have been helpful to my healing, as they would have implanted greater fear and more obstacles to overcome.  Patterns of consequences would have been predicted by my physician friend out of concern for my survival, inadvertently germinating and watering the seed of fear.  Instead, without the labeling, I was less burdened in my spiritual work and able to return to my normal life and move on.  There has never been a recurrence of any symptoms.  For me, that name holds no power.

The lesson here is that the name of a disease is not the truth about anyone.  It is a point of view, the accuracy and consequences of which can vary considerably.  It is bold for this report to break from historical labeling patterns.  The direction of the report is encouraging in the elimination of unnecessary fear and treatment and in its acknowledgement that perhaps mitigation of disease starts by avoiding names that alarm, for what we hold in consciousness about disease may play a large role in outcomes.