Death. It can really bring our stuff up can't it?
As a culture, we shy away from death. We don't talk about it, fortunately we don't see it very much and we certainly grieve differently to other cultures. Compared to "sorry business" that I've seen in Indigenous Australian and African cultures, some of us tend to stuff grief and sadness down don't we? Down down down into the pits of our heart, and we try to kid ourselves that this is the best thing to do. Perhaps, it is? Or perhaps our unhealthy relationship to negative emotions such as these can lead to more pain and even physical illness?
Recently I've been confronted by death twice over. After the shock subsided, and in amongst the grief, I can now see rich blessings that lie in these painful experiences.
My friend Jo Mall was a beautiful shining light in the world. She died from stomach cancer at a time in her life where most women her age start planning a family. It didn't seem fair that someone who was so committed to serving others and devoted to her spiritual path should experience this illness and die. And her being so young adds an extra something, be it anger ? sadness ? disbelief ? to the pain.
In fact, it made me question - why be on a spiritual path? If terrible things like this still happen to you, why?
Doesn't being on the spiritual path make you immune to things like this?
Drum roll please...
No it doesn't.
Even when we are on the spiritual path, it doesn't mean we will be given what we want in life. It doesn't guarantee living to 100, or that new job that we've been praying for. Even when we finally "surrender" to life, to the universe, to the unconditional loving energy within all, it doesn't mean we then get what we asked for.
I've only just recognised that all these years I've still been practicing "conditional surrender" - that is, I'll surrender to you universe if you still give me what I want. Crazy ego! How I love you and your clever ways!
Being on the spiritual path does however give you the strength, the resilience, and hope to deal with what life gives you. It helps you progress forward into love rather than backwards into separation and blame. Edo, Jo's husband, is a true example of how spirituality gives one the courage, the steadfastness, and tenacity to fall into love rather than darkness. In these difficult weeks, it seems Edo has been comforting and soothing us, sharing with us his unwavering trust of a love bigger than we can imagine.
Being witness to the outpouring of love from everyone who Jo had touched in some way has been a special experience. It's shown me how a brief encounter with someone can be so profound. It's shown me how loss can help people in so many ways. Like many others, I've certainly been living each day since Jo's passing with gratitude, and now am more keen then ever to "find my bliss" as Jo would say.
This is just a bit of what Jo taught me.
I'd love to share with you the gift that Jo has left the world. Please check out her and Edo's work http://www.edoandjo.com/ They are the most amazing Kirtan artists and if you are interested in music or sound healing then this is for you. I play Edo and Jo every day, as do thousands of others around the world. Enjoy!
May you take these words and live each day with gratitude for the gift of life! And may your spiritual path be your pillar of strength along the way.
From my heart to yours,
Om Namo Narayani
When the idea of The Healing Forum first struck me, my entire being buzzed with excitement. It was confirmation that this wasn’t just “any idea” but one that I had to follow through with. At that moment, my soul was the driver of my life and my ego had stepped aside, taking with it any fears or doubts around my capacity to do it. I knew I had to take action.
The journey thus far hasn’t all been peace, love and mung-beans. I’ve had the opportunity to come face to face my fears of failure and rejection, and confusingly, fears around success. At times, my need to get it “perfect” has crippled me from enjoying the moment of progress. And then there is that internal chatter of criticism, doubting The Healing Forum and afterall, who was I to think that I could actually create such community!
Over the past few years, I have come to learn that the journey is more important than the destination. So when I have fallen into self-doubt or felt overwhelmed with the task at hand, I have stopped and meditated seeking reassurance from the Universe.
In these moments of surrender, I’ve remembered that what my soul is most interested in is how I deal with these uncomfortable moments. How do I push off from these experiences to learn and grow?
So what can we do when we find ourselves in a tricky life classroom? When our limbic brain, the unconscious emotional part of us, kicks into overdrive causing a fight or flight response. How can we make the most of the situation and grow from it?
Here are my top three tips for dealing with these uncomfortable moments:
i) Watch your thoughts – make your mind your friend!
We are what we think. It shapes the lens that we look through and influences our reality more than we give credit for. In tricky times there may be a constant stream of negativity playing in the background of our mind; a hum of despair, a sigh of criticism and a moan of self doubt. Recognising these thoughts can be helpful; changing them so that are more positive and helpful is life transforming.
ii) Self care
Einstein said “We can not solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”. Sometimes the best thing that we can do in a situation is to walk away and take a deep breath. Get some fresh air or move the body. I’m all for getting those endorphins pumping - give yourself permission to have fun! Do what it takes to have those deep belly laughing moments or get cuddles from your loved ones. The oxytocin will help soothe the fear of the moment and you will be surprised at how doors open to new ideas or ah-ha moments.
When we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed in a situation, the basics of eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep seem like an optional extra. How many of us allow our good habits to slip away because we are “too busy” and feel like we don’t have enough time for these essential needs? When we fail to nurture our beings, we can get stuck in a problem. As exhaustion overwhelms us, it’s difficult to see even the most obvious of solutions.
No matter how big the problem seems, meditation can help you gain a fresh perspective on it. It’s simple, affordable and can be done any time you have a few free moments. Like most things it takes practice to gain the most benefits from meditation and in my experience, certainly worth the effort.
Perhaps there is something in your life, a challenge, that is pushing you beyond your comfort zone? If so, perhaps meditation, watching your thoughts or paying more attention to self care can help you in this process...
Dr. Fiona Enkelmann MBBS FRACGP MPH
When I was sixteen I was an avid runner who loved competing in long distance events. One day I collapsed at the finishing line, pale as a ghost, with my heart beating too slowly and not pushing enough blood around my body. I felt terrible and it was all rather dramatic.
Leading up to this day, I had been having funny turns at school. At the time, with the wisdom of a sixteen year old, I thought it was funny to be having these “drop –attacks”. They occurred while I was walking along and then bam! I’d find myself on the ground. Along with this I felt irritable, had gained weight and was feeling extremely tired. My teachers and family put this down to “raging hormones” or “growing pains”, shrugging it off as normal adolescent behaviour.
Eventually I was diagnosed with thyroid disease due to an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I started taking Thyroxine, a synthetic form of thyroid hormone and began to feel better. I was traveling along reasonably well until I woke one morning and found that half of my face was paralysed. Yep, paralysed. I wasn’t even able to fully close my eyelids on that side.
Can you imagine how horrific it was to see only the right side of my face moving as I screamed out to my mum?
This time I was diagnosed with yet another autoimmune disease called Bell’s palsy. This is a condition in which the facial nerve, supplying the muscles of my face, was attacked by my own immune system. After a course of strong steroids, I was one of the fortunate ones who fully recovered after 6 weeks. For others it can take months or even years to recover.
Prior to this double whammy of “bad luck” I had been a fit and healthy girl. Being a farm girl, I was more active than most. However I loved eating fruit and tomatoes, and this habit took its toll on my teeth. Six months prior to falling ill, I needed to have several dental fillings and in those days it was mercury amalgam. Was it just a coincidence that I fell ill with two auto-immune conditions after getting several mercury fillings? Had I known then what I know now, I would have avoided mercury fillings (aka silver fillings) at all costs . I explain my reasons for this below.
As an Integrative GP who has lived with thyroid disease and clearly remembers living with Bell’s palsy, I’ve been intrigued as to why I had this “bad luck”. There is so much more to autoimmune thyroid disease than just treating it with Thyroxine and this is a quick summary of what I’ve learnt.
Never look at the thyroid in isolation
In my case it’s clear that my immune system was going ballistic. It didn’t know what was friend or foe, and it is a good idea to ask why.
Start with gut health
Over 85% of our immune system lives in the gastrointestinal tract and there is very exciting emerging evidence that links gut health to a range of conditions including auto-immune diseases. Don’t worry I’ll be sharing this with you soon!
My general approach is to start with diet and nutrition, and whilst I believe no one diet fits all, I generally recommend removing any food allergens, especially gluten. I know. I get it. I too had a carb addiction, and it took me four months to quit the habit. Yet, there is evidence that patients with thyroid autoimmune disease have autoimmunity suggestive of coeliac disease (gluten allergy) and type 1 diabetes. It is definitely best to avoid gluten to prevent further problems, and for a number of my patients I have seen their thyroid function improve as a result.
Next is healing the gut, which is one of the most exciting and interesting areas of medicine. Call me crazy, but I feel everything from depression and autism to arthritis and asthma, relates to gut health. For some, healing the gut means incorporating bone broths (or glutamine/glucosamine/turmeric supplements), and herbs like slippery elm, omega 3, and probiotics into your routine. Often there are accompanying mineral deficiencies such as magnesium and zinc, which when corrected contribute to the healing process.
I recommend seeing a dietician/nutritionist who has training in GAPS or paleo diet to really help you fine-tune your diet and treat the cause of autoimmunity.
Manage the adrenal gland
During medical school I learnt very little about the adrenal gland. I got the impression that they were somewhat insignificant glands that hung out above the kidneys, rarely causing trouble. How wrong that was!
When supporting the thyroid gland, we can’t ignore the adrenals. They are responsible for producing our stress hormones (cortisol, adrenaline, noradrenaline), DHEA, sex hormones and mineralocorticoids (aldosterone; responsible for salt/water balance). Cortisol excess impairs thyroid function. As the gross majority of us live in a chronic state of stress, the constant fight or flight response, increases demand on our adrenal glands and in turn our thyroid gland.
The adrenal gland is key to the mind/body connection and I will endeavour to explore the adrenal gland in future articles as a holistic approach for managing and supporting the adrenal gland is required.
Remove the triggers!
There are a number of known factors that inhibit proper production of thyroid function. These are called “goitrogens” and include mercury, pesticides, lead, cadmium, halogens (fluoride etc.) and medications such as lithium. These are known “endocrine disruptors” and taking the steps to educate yourself about environmental pollutants so you can limit your exposure is so very important. If your thyroid is under strain, eating excessive amounts of certain foods such as isoflavone phytoestrogens from soy and thiocynates in cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage) can tip the balance, impairing thyroid function. Best not to consume too many kale smoothies if your thyroid is strained!
Support the thyroid – give it the fuel it needs.
The thyroid gland needs iodine for production of thyroid hormone. The majority of the Australian population are iodine deficient and will require supplementation or review of dietary intake. Unfortunately, an excess of iodine can also interfere with thyroid production, so getting your levels right is essential. It is best to do this under the care of trained integrative medical doctor or naturopath, who may choose to check levels (known as a corrected urinary iodine level). Iron and vitamin D are critical for proper production of thyroid hormones, and levels need to be optimised in management, alongside a number of other essential nutrients including vitamin E, B, and C.
Gotta love zinc and selenium!
When it comes to thyroid health, zinc and selenium are the top two minerals that I prescribe. The production of thyroid hormone and the homeostatic feedback loop takes a bit of patience and perseverance to fully understand. A key point is that the thyroid releases T4, a mostly inactive hormone, which requires conversion to the active form T3. Zinc and selenium are essential in this conversion, with zinc also improving the responsiveness of cells to the thyroid hormone. If you are zinc and selenium deficient this pathway won’t be running at full steam, and I know I felt much better after optimising my own zinc and selenium levels.
The thyroid contains the highest concentration of selenium, an essential trace element and powerful antioxidant, in the body. Studies have proven that selenium deficiency worsens autoimmune disease. Other research suggests that selenium is protective in prevention of disease also, especially against the harmful effect of mercury.
NB. I encourage you do to your own research on mercury (a good resource to start is http://thegooddoctors.com.au/health-podcast/dental-mercury-amalgam-an-environmental-and-health-issue/doctors) and if you elect to have it removed, do so with a dentist trained in safe removal. In a future article I will share my experience of getting mercury safely removed.
Never forget the mind body spirit connection
Stress is a risk factor for autoimmune thyroid disease. There is clearly a link between our stress hormones and thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormone has the same precursor, tyrosine, as our stress hormones including noradrenaline and adrenaline. When under stress, Tyrosine is preferentially used for production of stress hormones, impacting normal thyroid function. High cortisol (seen in stress) and low cortisol levels (seen in adrenal fatigue resulting from prolonged stress) have a negative impact on thyroid production and how the tissues respond to the thyroid hormone.
Our desire to be authentic can push us through fear that keeps us playing small. Yet, stepping out of our comfort zone is no easy feat. When we do, it feels like a cascade of internal warning signs are triggered blaring, “Danger, Danger” and “WTF are you doing? Are you crazy?”
The effect of this on the body can feel absolutely awful. It can stop you in your tracks or create an uneasy sense that the world is about to open up and swallow you in.
Recently I published a statement on my website that unexpectedly pushed me outside my comfort zone. “There should be no division between conventional and complementary medicine; just best medicine to serve that unique individual”, I announced. Since the evidence shows that 70% of people in Australia use one form of complementary therapy, (see more here) you would think that I’m relieved knowing that the odds of people agreeing with me were in my favour.
However the flight and fight response pinging away in my limbic brain said otherwise. I felt uneasy…. Like waiting to be hauled in front of the medical board kind of uneasy.
So I question myself. If this action feels so uncomfortable, why put myself through it?
Whilst my amygdala (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amygdala_hijack) is yelling “press delete, press delete”, the desire to be authentic, to voice my opinion and have it count for something, rises up from within.
I am not denying the benefits of what conventional medicine offers. As a GP with a ton of clinical experience (see blog post here) I would never deny what standard medical care offers. That would be ludicrous.
It is more the “one size fits all” prescriptive approach that I have a bug bear with. Countless times patients have shared with me how they feel disempowered with the conventional system. Not heard or engaged in the process. Their stories highlight a paternalistic model of care, a “let me tell you what’s best without asking you your needs, expectations or desired care” approach that society in general is outgrowing.
Recently my patient Thomas saw another GP for back pain. After a 10-minute consultation he was given a prescription for antidepressants and 100 Panadeine Forte tablets.
Hmmm…. I hear you say?
Now this may be the appropriate management for some, but within the first 10 minutes of our consult it was clear to me that this wasn’t the best medicine for Thomas.
Five years ago, he suffered a work-related back injury. With this, his life was dramatically turned upside down. Previously a fit football loving and happy person, pain now ruled his life. He was struggling to do the most simple of tasks.
During this time, Thomas had tried different types of antidepressants and found that they didn’t work or made him feel worse. Understandably he didn’t want to take them again. Plus he felt that the cause of his depression related to his back pain and loss of function. He wanted to treat the cause of his pain and felt that the treatment prescribed so far wasn’t doing this.
Yet, Thomas’ efforts had so far been futile. General Practitioners, Sport’s Physicians, Orthopaedic Surgeons, Physiotherapists, Psychologists, Personal Trainers, pain relief, MRI’s, CT scans and so on. Nothing had worked.
It seemed that Thomas had exhausted standard treatment options and he was a mess.
So as a GP what should I recommend? I could prescribe a medication that clearly hasn’t worked before and unlikely to work this time? Or perhaps give an opinion as fact like so many doctors do and tell him “there’s nothing more that can be done”.
Instead, I ask Thomas whether he would be interested in opening the doors to other potential therapies, so called “complementary therapies”. Thomas immediately lit up. This is what he had wanted to do for ages but didn’t know where to start.
We plotted out our proposed management plan with complementary therapies to be used in conjunction with his current pain medications. He decided to trial acupuncture, osteopathy, meditation, address his diet and lifestyle including evaluating other stress management techniques. We had a plan and Thomas felt like he was the driver of his decisions.
Thomas left my consultation smiling, filled with hope yet realistic. I didn’t promise him a cure. I made it clear that with some complementary therapies there is limited evidence of effectiveness. But that doesn’t mean they don’t work or that there is no role for them in his management. I explained that the path ahead is uncertain but I promised him support along the way.
How and when we incorporate complementary therapies into his care requires thorough evaluation of his situation and risk. Really, this should happen regardless of whether the treatment is conventionally accepted or not. My role is to empower him with his choices, even if this means using complementary therapies to augment standard care. I explain that I can help him appraise any evidence of harm of treatments including side effects and cost, and weigh this up against other possible therapies. My role is to support him to navigate the entire health system including both conventional and complementary therapies to help find the best medicine for him.
There is a common assumption that we have to choose between conventional and complementary therapies. Recently I had a patient who commented that she was surprised that I would be prescribing conventional medicines because I was into natural therapies.
Whoah. Hold on now!
I reassured her that MY approach is about finding what is right for the patient and in some cases this clearly means conventional therapy. In certain circumstances, the benefits of standard medical care outweigh any harm, and supersede any complementary therapy by itself. I’ve seen patients so focused on natural therapies that they fail to see the gift that conventional therapy offers. Gently helping patients explore their fears and judgement around medical management is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work.
So I decided to publish my statement despite the uneasy feeling and clammy hands. Being so passionate about this gives power to my desire to be authentic. Being authentic is like a proclamation of self-love to the universe. In that moment we open ourselves to the infinite (it's like we are saying "yes, more please!") and are lifted into the perfection of our soul. From this place, creative and supporting energy flows to us and we can blaze even more brightly. Being authentic is an ever-evolving process, never static and constantly being defined as we expand our consciousness into the truth of who we are.
Of course, being authentic is not all peace, love and mung beans. Consider some of the great leaders who have blazed authentically in the world. I’m certain Nelson Mandela, Albert Einstein, or Oprah Winfrey would be the first to say that it can bring criticism and challenging times. Yet would they regret it, even if it created a ripple against the norm? I doubt they would.
Rather then the retribution I was expecting, I received emails and messages from strangers complimenting me on standing for something that resonated so strongly in their hearts. For one woman, it was so significant to her that she cried when she read it. I know we should be able to give ourselves the approval that we need and not rely on external approval to feel good. But it is a natural human response to want validation, feel appreciated and valued. It feels awesome to receive this encouragement.
So here is my encouragement to you. You know that voice within that has been guiding you to change? To be more YOU in the world? To no longer hide behind a mask or pretend anymore?
It’s worth listening to.
It’s giving you an opportunity to blaze. To tap into that infinite field of unconditional love. To feel good and create a better life.
So give it a go. Remember progress not perfection. Take one step forward, for it’s time to shine!
This week I had to make the decision to cancel The Healing Forum in Erina as ticket sales were slow. On top of this has been some fears about whether The Healing Series was going to be supported. So, I did the only thing I could. I surrendered and offered this up to the Divine.
It was wonderful.
I've stopped seeing "problems", "failures" and have developed acceptance. I've re-evaluated my approach and my ego has undergone some refinement in the process! So many positives from this tricky time and it is still a work in progress ...
This morning, looking for further guidance, I opened my Guru Sri Shakti Amma's book "Connect with the Divine volume 2". I opened it on a discourse that was highlighted with a quote "Simplicity in our lives will bring forth fulfillment and peace of mind". I want to share with you parts of this discourse as I know it will bring many of you some relief, just like me!
"When you are on the spiritual path, the great blessing, the big gift you get, is a great heart that makes you accept everything. When you are not on the spiritual path, everything can seem to be a problem. It could be a health issue or an illness you are fighting against. It could be some problem in the office.
When you are on the spiritual path, the great thing it does is it allows the great heart to accept everything. The first stage of the spiritual path will bring answers for many things. When you are on the spiritual path and when you understand the cause of all problems is karma, then automatically you will accept what is happening. When you are not aware of karma, then many things in life seem very horrible, and you will feel that these things are happening only to you. But that is not so. Everyone has problems in different ways"....
Towards the end of her discourse Amma shares -
"In a life without spirituality, you have to struggle for your day-to-day survival. But when you are on the spiritual path, you start to see your life and the world in different ways. Before, the world was for you, and when you think the world is for you, your mind wants to take everything from the world, which is not at all possible. This can cause a lot of worry and struggle. But once you are on the spiritual path, you see that you are for the world. The moment you understand that, you will feel very rich. You will feel content. Once you are content, you don't need anything from this world.
There are so many things like this that bring balance and joy in your life, when you are on the spiritual path. When you live in this world for survival, you want everything from this world. The moment you achieve something, the very next second, you will start to worry about something else. That is the nature of the mind. The spiritual path is not the place that will give everything you want in this material world. It is the path that will teach you to accept and to be happy, and to see this world in a positive way. What you are meant to have, you'll get. Everyone has different karma - you have to go through that. But the benefit when you are on the spiritual path is you get so much guidance, strength, courage, peace, happiness - everything. So it's a great blessing to be on this path. Amma blesses you all to have patience and faith.'
And so with a dose of acceptance, faith and patience (I'm not the best at patience), the show will go on but at a different vibration!
From my heart to yours,
Namaste and Happy Healing