Rebecca Elia's Blog

All about Feminine Health, Healing, and Greece

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Blessings in 2010!

Moon at Tholos, Delphi

Full Moon, Blue Moon, Eclipse...What a perfect ending to 2009 and perfect beginning to 2010!
Time to let go, clear, cleanse, and greet the new.

Blessings to you all in the New Year!

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Point of New Return

It’s supposed to be the most joyous time of the year, and yet we all know that depression rises at the year-end winter solstice holidays. It may the most joyous time of year, but it’s also the darkest. And, perhaps, this is the point. Joy and light need the darkness out of which they arise.

Our society doesn’t do well with all things dark. Nor do we appreciate dissolution or death. It’s no wonder we have such a difficult time right about now. Our fear and depression go far beyond seasonal affective disorder and lack of natural light. In the middle of a time when we should be able to slow down and rest, most of us are in overdrive. So much needs to be completed before the end of the year. So much needs to be done in preparation for the holidays. Winter holidays, in themselves, are bipolar.

Add to this a disastrous year of financial woes and unemployment, and it’s downright scary for so many of us. Many feel that they are on the brink of collapse, at the point of no return.

But this is exactly what happens before something new is born. The darkest hour truly is before dawn. I suggest that rather than the point of no return, this may, in fact, be a point of new return.

The end of the year is time to take stock of 2009 and set intentions for 2010. But many of us have fallen behind on the lessons of 2009. Now, perhaps more than any other time in our lives, we are being asked to let go. Let’s face it, if we don’t let go willingly, it will happen without our permission, because the change that is here is out of our control. It’s essential that we address what we’re still hanging onto, what we refuse to release—because this will be our weakest link for the New Year.

For those of you who are interested in astrology, mercury retrograde from December 26th through January 15th will work in conjunction with this release. It will support this intense clearing. So, take advantage, and 2010 will be that much easier.

If you notice a lot of old stuff coming up around the holidays—with work, home, family, self—you are not imagining or regressing. Rather, you are re-visiting all the leftovers stacked in your refrigerated-soul that need to be thrown out, once and for all. And you don’t need to thaw them out first! From one who fights tooth and nail against inevitable change, please don’t follow my example. It doesn’t work, and it only leads to more fear and pain. Instead, better to end the year as a true Thanksgiving, a time to recognize what we each hold dear, to shed what is not, and an opportunity to allow ourselves to walk on our true paths in 2010.

I wish you a Joyful Holidays and Blessings in the New Year.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fall Colors and a Long Winter’s Nap

I realize that it’s a bit late to be doing a post on fall colors, but, keep in mind, I live in California. I recently spent a wonderful week in the Washington DC area with a new friend. Although I wasn’t visiting to see the sights, it was impossible, with DC so close, not to take advantage. My friend was an amazing guide. The last time I had been in DC was as a young teen, and I hadn’t seen the places I was seeing now: Embassy row, Georgetown, a dozen different neighborhoods. Our tour culminated in viewing the major DC sights while whizzing around on a segway. It was a blast! I highly recommend it.

What I didn’t expect was that my trip would fall on the exact week of the spectacular change in colors. Everywhere we went, we were flooded with red, orange and yellow light. I had lived in Maine for two years, more than a decade ago, and I had almost forgotten nature’s spectacular fall show, followed by an equally spectacular winter show and, then, a magnificent spring show! My mother, having grown up in Michigan, had excitedly described to me the fall colors that I had only minimally witnessed on the scarce deciduous tree-lined blocks in the San Francisco Bay Area. But nothing prepared me for my first Maine autumn. I grabbed my camera and excitedly took pictures of every majestic deciduous display that I encountered. (Yes, I went through a lot of film in those pre-digital days.) But what I wasn’t prepared for was the light. I loved being bathed in the golden glow resulting from this marriage of trees and sun.

When winter arrived, I was equally unprepared for its magnificence. Unlike my thorough preparation for the mechanics of winter (some of which got laughs from the Mainers --collapsible shovels, all-wheel drive vehicle, silk underwear, fleece-lined boots) I was overwhelmed and awed by the serene deep quiet, the play of the moonlight against the white show, the ice-storm-adorned trees, and the bright blue sky.

And then, after mud-month, spring appeared with bursts of color and choruses of birds.

As I experienced the change of seasons, I started to notice something more profound, something that I had not experienced in California. My life slowly merged with that of the seasons. The weather became the most important local news, so welcome after the daily murders that had filled the other local news of my hometown. When there was a snowstorm, schools shut down, and life slowed down. The depth of peace and quiet there was almost palpable. My body and soul went into hibernation and experienced rest unlike any before.

We are entering into winter now, and most of us are running faster and faster. The holidays are always tough, but coupled with this financial disaster and the disintegration of our established structures, this holiday season is particularly difficult. If you live in a place that experiences this dramatic change, then use it to slow down. Our bodies and souls need this rest in order to make it through the rest of the year. If you, like me, don’t live in such a climate, then you must be particularly careful not to get caught up in the rat race.

Winter is for rest. Do not take on anything extra. Get more sleep. Take this opportunity to build peacefulness and retreat into your day. Everything is birthed from this state of gestation. It is necessary. Without it, new creation fails. Our bodies may make it to spring, but nothing is birthed. The seasons are here to mirror our journey and guide us along our way.

Pay attention. Quiet yourself and listen.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Hot Pink

What kind of pink are you? Before you cry out, “I’m not pink at all. I’m sick of the pink thing!” wait, you might change your mind.

There’s been a whole lot of pink going on lately. Between the pink ribbons and pink glove dance for breast cancer and pink standing for just about everything feminine, I, too, as one reader put it, am all pinked out!

But if I were to be honest, I like pink. When I was young, I chose a hot pink and orange shag rug carpet for my bedroom. The same two shades of pink and orange, as well as my favorite color purple, showed up in the fabric for my bedspread and window shade. A paler pink burlap covered my walls and the piece de resistance, a hanging basket chair, occupied one corner! It was the bedroom of any tweens’ dreams.

I always loved pink, but the pink I loved was the hot pink variety, not the soft mild shade that, with my olive skin and dark hair, would have made me look a ghastly jaundiced yellow.

My silver (protected under a pink cover) iPod is reaching the end of its days. I’ve ordered a new battery, but from what I gather, off the You Tube self-help battery-replacement video, I’m in for hell. No guarantees. So, just to be safe, I ordered a brand new top-of-the-line silver 16GB iPod Nano—you know, the one that takes videos, gets FM radio, doubles as a pedometer and gets you hot dates for the weekend. It arrived yesterday. I excitedly pulled off the massive amount of adhesive tape on the outer box (What are they thinking? That the thing is alive inside and ready to jump out at any moment?) And there it was my beautiful new shiny sil..v… OH NO! What is this hot pink thing?? Where’s my beautiful classy silver iPod?

That perky thing had the audacity to give me a saucy look back, as if to say “What, you can’t handle me? Too much for you, am I?” Why that little…

Then I thought, hmmm…the universe is playing a joke on me. Isn’t my pink this exact shade of hot pink? When has my version of the feminine ever been soft or gentle (or prissy or baby)? Nope, my version has always been electric, dramatic, powerful, and perky. She says what she thinks, doesn’t bow down to anyone, protects the innocent, and never backs down. So, yes, I kept her.

How about you--what version of pink are you? What color is your feminine?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

New Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines and the Pink Glove Dance

Warning: I’m putting on my white coat for this one.

I recently posted the video “Pink Glove Dance,” created by Oregon-based Providence St. Vincent Medical Center to raise breast cancer awareness. I received the following comment: “Dumb downed—think pink is past its time. This is insulting to women – they need science, facts, not moronic dances.”

Because I was not provided with a means to reply to this individual directly, I decided to reply publicly instead.

First and foremost, if by posting this video I have offended anyone, I sincerely apologize. Just in case, I have removed the video from my post. It was never my intention to belittle or insult women. As a gynecologist, I have devoted over twenty years of my life to helping and empowering women in creating healthier lives-- including those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. I have witnessed far too many women, including close friends, suffer or die from this disease. I, of course, fully support continued research to find better solutions and agree that we have waited far too long for breast cancer research and, frankly, for most women’s health research.

Regardless of what any of us may think of “pink,” or the use or misuse of this term, this video has become viral and is reaching hundreds of thousands of people. This was their intent, to raise awareness. By and large, most comments to articles about this video going viral on sites such as The Huffington Post have been overwhelmingly positive. With the exception of the hundreds of pink gloves used to produce this video (don’t get me started on the environmental and health effects) I, personally, cannot diss Providence St. Vincent Medical Center for their creative approach, especially if it brings more support for the continued research that we need to save our women.

Because many of you have asked for information regarding the new breast cancer screening guidelines, and because I do not use my blog to post medical information, I have decided to launch the Creating Feminine Health Newsletter to address current women’s health topics such as these new guidelines. This newsletter is free. It is my gift to you. If you are interested in receiving it, please sign send your full name and email address to: rebecca (at) rebeccaelia (dot)com or on the home page of my website:
Excellent New York Times post explaining the research behind the new breast cancer screening guidelines.

And, by the way, commenter, if you happen to read this, I completely agree with the information in the link that you supplied regarding the limitations of mammography screening and had already addressed this in my newsletter, just as I hope it will be discussed between each woman and her healthcare provider.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Are You Artemis or Athena?

Gods or Goddesses?

Wait. Before you answer this, be sure you know these Goddesses.
Our versions of each are quite superficial—and I do want you to make a wise decision. If you read our modern American literature about the Goddesses, you may not get the real scoop. So, when you think Artemis, who do you see? A tough, independent, somewhat masculine Goddess equipped with bow and arrows…Goddess of the Hunt, right? You see her surrounded by animals. You may even see her demanding a bow and arrows from her father Zeus, at the age of three. Anything else?

Did you know that Artemis is connected to the moon and its cycles? Are you aware that she is the protectress (yes, I know, that word doesn’t show up as a real word on spell-check) of pregnant women and of childbirth? The oldest depictions of Artemis portray her with long flowing hair in long flowing (feminine) gowns. She is communing with swans, not tigers.

How about Athena? Wise feminine Goddess? Well, wise, in some ways, yes. Feminine? No. Not very. Even her statues are without curves. And there’s that small matter of her birth…yes, the one that took place without her mother Metis, the Goddess of cunning wisdom. Didn’t know that one? Athena was born from her father Zeus’ brow. This is what happens when a God eats a pregnant Goddess. He ends up with a fetus in his brain. Nice thought, huh? And you thought Athena was feminine…

Here’s an example. Take a look at the pictures above. If you know these statues, then, sorry, your vote doesn’t count. Are these Gods or Goddesses?

How did you determine their gender? They both have similar hair, similar features, almost identical garb.

On the left is the Goddess Athena. On the right is Artemis’ brother, the God Apollo. They look sort-of similar, don’t they?

I had the opportunity to see the Worshiping Women exhibit at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Specifically, the exhibit was about Goddesses, Priestesses and women participating in ritual in Classical Greece. I was struck by how Aphrodite was the only Goddess who was consistently portrayed in a feminine way. Athena was never feminine, and both my Classicist Professor friend and I were dismayed that a more recent (masculine) statue of Artemis appeared on the exhibit’s banner, rather than a more ancient feminine one.

It made me stop and think about our current state and how similar our mindset is to the one present in Classical Greece. It’s as if the influence of Plato and Aristotle has surpassed Socrates, still. What is this strange state in which we find ourselves? When did valued wisdom have to be masculine (even when contained in a Goddess’ body)? When did we trade in the multifaceted nature of Artemis for the highly specific “Goddess of the Hunt?” This is not a modern Greek creation. Ask Greeks, and many will give you a fairly accurate description of Artemis. This is our western interpretation, and it happened a long long time ago. When will we be ready and willing to reclaim our feminine Goddesses, along with their corresponding powers—all of them—not just the erotic, sexual Aphrodite?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Monday, November 2, 2009

Bring on the FLOW!

Elissa Stein (in collaboration with Susan Kim) has done the unimaginable. She has written a book about the cultural story of menstruation—the good, the bad, and the ugly—a book that will be released on November 10th.

It seems that the still somewhat predominant view, voiced most recently by REDBOOK, that menstruation and a book about it should best be ignored, has not dampened public interest. After centuries of suppression and abuse of the feminine, including the demonization of the menstrual cycle, I, for one, am excited about the debut of FLOW. As a gynecologist who firmly believes in the power and wisdom of the body’s natural cycles, I am even more thrilled that such a book is seeing the light of day (or should I say night?)

We are in for a rare treat today, as Ms. Stein has agreed to speak with us about her latest creation.

[Rebecca Elia] Tell us about how you came to write FLOW.

Elissa Stein: Years ago, my period stopped. I was both too terrified and embarrassed to say anything to anyone for over a year. When I finally went to a doctor and all checked out, he handed me a pack of birth control pills, patted me on the knee, and said “Honey, we just need to jump start your hormones.” But I didn’t want to be on the pill. Even worse, no one bothered to figure out why my period stopped in the first place. From that point I’ve wanted to put something out into the world that would help women feel more comfortable talking about menstruation without that deep-seated shame we’ve been raised with.

[Rebecca] If you were given the opportunity to deliver one message to all American girls and women regarding their menstrual cycle, what would it be?

Elissa Stein: THIS IS NORMAL! You’re not going through anything every other girl and woman on the planet hasn’t gone through.

[Rebecca] When researching for FLOW, what fact or bit of information surprised you the most?

Elissa Stein: I had no idea how negatively menstruation had been viewed throughout history. In the Bible, menstruating women are considered unclean. Ancient Greeks thought menstruation was an efficient way for a woman’s body to get rid of “poisoned” blood. The New York Times was against women being given the right to vote because menstruation adversely affected their ability to think. This normal, natural cycle was vilified for thousands of years and, so sadly, we’re still trapped in that mindset.

[Rebecca] Do you have a daughter? If so, what have/will you teach her about menstruation?

Elissa Stein: I have both a daughter (11) and a son (8), who’ve been living with menstruation as a constant topic of conversation for almost three years. They are remarkably open, accepting, curious, and honest about it all. They will go out into the world with such a different mindset than most. When enough people treat menstruation as nothing more, nothing less than what it is, we’ll have made great strides.

[Rebecca] In your opinion, what one step can we take to support women now?

Elissa Stein: Educate. While researching FLOW, it was astonishing at how many old wives’ tales and rumors persist. And when we live in a society that shuns open conversation, they’ll continue to fester.

[Rebecca] What is your greatest hope for FLOW?

Elissa Stein: I want FLOW to start conversation. To encourage women to re-evaluate how they think and feel about their bodies and their cycles—too often we accept negative messages hammered into us by the media and advertisers, instead of looking inside and figuring it out for ourselves. By chipping away at that age-old stigma and shame, we can work towards acceptance and understanding.

Thanks Elissa! I am really looking forward to the arrival of FLOW. We have been waiting for this book for a very long time!

You can pre-order FLOW through Amazon or at Elissa Stein’s websites: and

You can follow Elissa on twitter at: @elissastein or on Facebook.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Free Time!

Here we are. One more daylight savings time has arrived. I don’t know about you, but I always get excited when we get that extra hour. It’s almost…well…like Christmas! And then there’s the opposite, when that hour is taken back again…we’re not going talk about how that affects me.

Linear time has become such a tight sergeant. It rules most American lives. Most of us find ourselves trapped in it, unable to find the escape key. How did this happen? The Greeks have two words for time: Kronos and Kairos. Kronos is the type of time that all of us Americans know too well. Kairos is the one that we’ve forgotten. It’s the time that passes without measurement or awareness. It is also, the Modern Greek word for the weather. It is the time from the biblical passage and the Byrds’ song, “Turn, Turn, Turn…” It’s the time to which we refer when we say, “It’s time to make a change in our lives, to settle down, to find that perfect someone.”

I often wonder what it says about a culture that lives within only one type of time, the drill-sergeant type. No wonder Buddhism, presence meditation, Eckhart Tolle, teaching doctors mindfulness meditation and such, have become so mainstream and necessary to our emotional, spiritual and physical survival.

I am reminded of our rat-race every time I step off the plane in the good old U.S. of A. I try to look into the creased haggard faces rushing by. I try to meet someone else’s eyes…almost impossible. (Certainly the opposite experience that I just had in Greece!) For a few moments—because that’s all I have now that I’m back in America—I feel sorry for all of us. And then slowly, insidiously, over the next few hours or days, or—if I’m lucky—weeks, the sympathy disappears and is replaced with a dull nausea.

Okay! You’ve been given an extra precious hour today. How will you spend it? How about remembering Kairos and inviting him/her back into your life!

Check out this post about time: Lost and Found in Linear Time.

Books about Time and Presence: Leslee Keenan's It's About Time
Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now and A New Earth

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Will Mindfulness Meditation Cure our Healthcare System?

On October 15th, The New York Times posted an article written by Dr. Pauline Chen that discussed the benefits of teaching mindfulness meditation to physicians. In a quest to help alleviate physician burn-out (along with depression and suicide!) and increase meaningfulness at work through improving the physician-patient relationship, mindfulness meditation was found to be beneficial. Why then did this article make me so angry? As I read it, my breathing became labored, my heart started to race, and my cheeks became red. By the time I had finished, I, myself, needed to practice my mindfulness!

I have long observed the amazing benefits of mindfulness meditation, both personally and professionally. Any practice that brings us into the present moment, that allows us to fully experience the present and removes our thoughts from past and future, has incredible healing effects. Many years after I first practiced mindfulness, I was working at a major HMO. Our typical work day had become increasingly hectic, just as was described in Dr. Chen’s article. Advances in information technology were, in many ways, a godsend, but, in other ways, a contributor to our living hell on earth. We physicians, by nature, are excellent multitaskers. It’s as if we represent a fast-forward version of survival of the fittest. If you can’t multitask, then you have no place in medicine. The increased use of electronic charting played into this skill. If we hadn’t been so good at multitasking, the technological advances would never have made a significant difference.

One of these so-called advantages allowed us to perform most functions from one computer screen. We could chart the patient’s visit, order lab tests, order radiological tests, make future appointments, conduct billing, answer emails, converse with colleagues and contact patients—all on one screen and, quite often, simultaneously. This all seems great, right? Think again. Most systems, whether one is in a HMO, group practice or private practice, do not allow for the extra time required to conduct all of these functions. Let’s face it—there’s only so much one can do in an allotted amount of linear time. So we had two choices. Work longer hours (show up earlier, work through the lunch hour, fall behind in seeing patients, leave later) or cut out face-to-face patient time.

For most of us women, this was a no-brainer. Almost all of us chose to work longer hours, because we weren’t willing to sacrifice time with our patients. I haven’t run across a single physician yet who chose the practice of medicine in order to enter data into a computer. But, regardless, our patients pay the price, and we pay the price. Our patients get less and less face-to-face time. Their visits are abbreviated. Almost worse, we as physicians suffer—not just from inevitable burn-out, but from loss of job satisfaction. Mindfulness meditation is not only a useful tool; it’s become a necessary way of life. But no amount of mindfulness meditation can make up for an ailing abbreviated healthcare system.

Some of you may be wondering why I am writing this on a blog about feminine health and balance. Others of you have already identified the common denominator. Most of the systems in which we currently find ourselves (healthcare, law, higher education, marketing, etc) are using information technology advances in this very same way—as a fast-forward, as a way to squeeze more and more out of each individual. Everyone is moving so fast that the merry-go-round is no longer merry and is, in many cases, spinning out of control. We need to recognize this first before we can decide what to do about it. For those of you who can’t heal your present situation with mindfulness, you may need to step off your merry-go-round.

Take a few moments to assess your own merry-go-round. Is it out of control? Do you really need to be on it? What are your choices? Are there internal steps you can take to make it manageable? In other words, by changing you—your beliefs, your responses/reactions/attitudes, by acquiring certain skills, such as cognitive behavior techniques or mindfulness meditation, will this be adequate? Or is it time to step off?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Is Perfection Your Middle Name? vs. If I Only Had a Brain!

Do you allow yourself to make mistakes? Or do you share my middle name, “Perfection?”

I lost my brain again today.* It’s been happening a lot lately. Perhaps it’s menopause. Or maybe I’m just letting go of perfection and allowing myself some mistakes.

I didn’t want to leave Delphi, but, alas, I did…only to get stuck at the rest stop in Livadia. I was texting a sick friend and sitting right in front of the bus. When I finished and looked up, the bus was gone! I hadn’t seen, nor heard, a thing. I looked up at a few Greeks standing lazily outside the café and asked “Eh-fee-gay? (Did it leave?)" Their answer, with characteristic Greek shrugs: “Yes. Of course.”

I ran inside and saw the kind ticket-taker-man sitting in the café sipping his coffee. He looked at me in disbelief saying, “I announced it inside the café!” I answered, in equal disbelief, “I was sitting outside, next to the bus, texting a message on my cell phone. I didn’t see anything; I didn’t hear anything.” He dialed a number on his cell phone and pleaded in Greek, “Please wait. Only five minutes.” The bus couldn’t have been more than a half kilometer away; I was sure it had just left. He asked a dignified trustworthy-looking gentleman to take me to the bus--in his Mercedes. I apologized profusely the whole-like-five blocks, and thanked him, telling him, repeatedly, what a good man he was. I explained that I didn’t know where my brain was today, that I had been sitting right in front of the bus and didn’t notice a thing, that in twenty years, this was the first time that this had happened to me.

I got onto the bus, offered an apology to the bus driver and sat down, but not before noticing how completely uninterested the Greeks were…no big deal. There was a foreigner, however, whose judgmental glance was paired with thoughts so loud the whole bus could hear: “Oh, of course. It would be YOU, stupid American.”

I recognized his look and his thoughts, realizing that, for most of my life, I have shared the same opinion of myself. My mind then wandered to the times in my life that I had made similar mistakes, like showing up late. I could only come up with two others. One was during the shooting of My Life in Ruins (also at Delphi) when I was Nia Vardalos’ stand-in. I left the set to pee, and, of course, this was the one time that they needed me…so my absence suspended the shoot for a few minutes. I never heard the end of it from the Assistant Extras' Casting Director (who, to this day, probably has no idea that I’m a gynecologist with responsibilities far beyond what he can imagine). The Extras' Casting Director, thought nothing of it, and reassured me that it was no big deal.

The only other time I could recall was to an important job interview on the East Coast. Somehow, I managed to sleep through my alarm, or perhaps it never went off. I woke up to a ringing phone and my future boss (yes, she still hired me) asking if, perhaps, I had slept in.

I could come up with these two incidences, only, in my entire life and, yet, I still berated myself. Even I realized that something was terribly wrong. How have we come to this point, when no one is allowed a simple mistake? When did we start treating ourselves and others as glorified machines, instead of as human beings? If my medical career, we continually strive to minimize, if not eliminate, human error. This has been one of the arguments in favor of electronic charting, prescription and lab test orders. But even the most elegant system is subject to human error. And even if we do everything correctly, there’s always the possibility of technological problems, ranging from viruses to system shutdowns.

I remember one such situation when our medical practice was transitioning to electronic charting. Paper charts were soon to become a thing of the past. Everything moved along smoothly until one day, we had a heat wave. The electric grid couldn’t handle the extra stress and the system shut down, throwing off access to electronic charts for several hours. We had no access to patient history, medications, lab results, orders, and electronic communications. We were, essentially, operating deaf, dumb and blind, as far as technology was concerned. The administrative response was, “What can we do? Do the best you can. It will be back up as soon as possible.” To this day, I have never seen such a response for human error. Why is it that we treat ourselves more harshly, expect more from ourselves than from technological systems that are far superior to human capabilities?

Please don’t wait until you go through menopause, or, if you’re a man, until you reincarnate as a menopausal woman, before you allow yourself some leeway. This is one area in which the Greeks are ahead of us. They have had to learn patience (after a several hundred year Turkish occupation) and accept lower expectations. I wouldn’t be surprised if this practice adds years onto their lives, as well.

Remember, you’re so much more than your brain. You’re human.

*Originally written on October 2, 2009

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What You’re Not Hearing About “Balloon Boy”

Did you, like me, get caught up in the “Balloon Boy” story? I long ago promised myself to stop watching the news since I was fully aware of its devastating effects on the immune system. Research supports that bad news wreaks havoc with our immune system, potentially making us more susceptible to such diseases as infections and cancer. I often wonder if the news came with an attached hazardous health warning label, similar to cigarettes, whether or not it would convince more of the general public to turn it off.

As everyone was calling the Balloon Boy story a “good story,” I was left questioning what was good about it, beyond, of course, the obvious—that he was safe and alive. Was anyone else out there upset by all of the usual drama? It was quite familiar to me. It was the same drama that the news strives for, the same kind that had convinced my father, several years ago, that the new strain of Japanese flu was going to lead to the worst outbreak ever. Sound familiar? This year, same story, different flu… While the newscaster excitedly reported that this was going to be the most devastating flu ever, that it would lead, potentially, to thousands of deaths, I turned to my father and said, “Every year tens of thousands of people die from the flu. This doesn’t appear to be any different than usual.” Ignoring my expertise as a physician and accepting, instead, that of the newscaster, my father answered, unconvinced, “But he said it was going to be the worst, ever.” My father is not a stupid man so he’s reaction was shocking. I was witnessing the power of the media, of sensationalism, right before my very eyes, with someone who “should know better,” who was rarely swayed by others. I continued, “Watch, in a few days, they’ll have to retract everything they’ve just said, because they are wrong, and what they are doing, scaring hundreds of thousands of people, is wrong.” Sure enough, three days later, what I predicted took place, very quietly, so that one could have easily missed it. Again, I was sitting next to my father when he heard the good news. He barely reacted. I asked if he had heard it. He said “yes,” and shrugged it off, like an afterthought.

But well before that third day, the damage had already been done…to hundreds of thousands of immune systems.

So, when I watched the “Balloon Boy” saga, I couldn’t help but notice the drama, the excitement of the unknown, the fear, the terror. It was disgusting. And I couldn’t help but wonder what toll this drama was taking on our immune systems. How many parents were thinking about the possibility of their own children being in danger? How many were filled with anger that the child could have been in such an unprotected situation?

When they announced that he had been found, safe, at their home, hiding, some two-plus hours later, my relief was coupled with a bad taste in my mouth. Once again, we had all participated in this wasteful drama. And our payment goes beyond the enormous financial price tag of such a rescue mission. One of the crazy hopes I have is that, in my lifetime, I will see those who purposefully create negative drama pay the price for the harm that they cause to others. I wonder--am I the only one who sees it this way?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Would You Intervene to Stop a Bully?

I was walking back from the farmer’s market today, trying not to think about a different farmer’s market, one that I had walked by a few days ago, 6700 miles away in Greece, when my daydream was interrupted by a disturbance from the middle of the street. Now this certainly got my attention, because, unlike Greece, it is rare to hear anyone shouting in my neighborhood.

There was a young man, probably in his upper 20’s, taunting and harassing an elderly man in the middle of the street. Traffic was stopped in both directions. Observing this outburst from the sidewalk was a group of half a dozen young men, roughly the same age as the bully. None of them came forward, but continued to watch. The bully became more inflated, was shouting something at the elderly man and dancing around him like a boxer trying to find his opponent’s weak spot. I started racing down the street with my cell phone in hand (Greek phone numbers dancing in my head), while trying to remember how to dial the police in the United States. I was a quarter of a block away when the situation escalated and the older man attempted to take a swing at the young bully. Only then did the half dozen male observers step in, en block. I could overhear them quietly telling the bully to, “Just get in the car and go.”

I, the only woman amongst the (sorry guys, weak) testosterone pack, called out, “Has anyone called the police yet?” One of the young men looked at me, apathetically, and said, “The police can’t stop a bully.” I replied, “He will continue to do this to others. If observers file reports against him, then the police can do something!”

I was appalled by his response. It was as if some unspoken code kept them from breaking up the confrontation. Didn’t any of them have elderly parents or grandparents? Didn’t any feel the least bit responsible for stopping such an incident? Certainly they seemed oblivious to the fact that people who harass, people who bully, are only one step away from violent behavior. Quite frequently, emotional abuse leads to physical abuse, and even if it does not, I know, too well, its equally damaging effects.

Another young man turned to me and quietly said, as if he didn’t want the other guys to hear, “Yes. The incident has been called in.” So, I proceeded up the street and was stopped by a female shopkeeper who asked me what had happened. I explained what I knew. I shared that I did not know what had precipitated the conflict, but that I was quite disturbed by the men’s lack of response. Her opinion was, “No one wants to get involved.” She also said that she had seen the woman in the car behind make a call on her cell phone.

What has happened to us that we are unwilling to step in? That we are so willing to claim no responsibility? What is this silent male code not to interfere, that trivializes and therefore accepts bullying, labeling the abuser as “just a bully?” What allowed these men to equate a call to the police as “weak” or labeling them as “tattletales?”

People, get the word out: bullying is abusive. Emotional abuse is as damaging as physical abuse, even when one does not lead to the other. We have become socially irresponsible to our elderly and to one another. The bully certainly did not exhibit any admirable masculine traits, but the group of male observers fell short, as well.

It’s a sad day when it takes a fifty-year old physically weak woman to step in.

This post may, at first, not seem relevant to the theme of feminine healing, so let me point out just two significant links. First, the acceptance of abuse and violence to others or to ourselves or, its opposite, too easily accepting the position of victim and the entitlement that goes with this, is a common state in our society and one that needs to change in order for all of us to heal.
Secondly, taking responsibility for ourselves and others, assigning worth to interdependence equal to the status of independence is another necessary change towards balance and healing, not only in our own society, but in our global world.

What do you think? In what ways have you been a bully to yourself or to others? When have you taken on the victim role? When have you left it behind? To what do you feel “entitled?” When have you valued interdependence as highly as independence? When have you stepped in, taken a stand, begun your path toward healing?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Evil Eye

Each time I return to Greece I am acutely aware of the latest fashions--and not just because Greek shoes are small packages of amazing art, but because on my very first trip I immediately recognized that my American clothes made me stand out like a sore thumb. If you want to blend into any foreign culture, one of the first steps is to dress like the natives. Fortunately, it wasn't too long before my first Greek boyfriend was dressing me in his t-shirts.

Additionally, like the clothes, accessories change each year. Sunglasses are the first that you notice. The Greek sun is so extremely strong that the first time you get tricked into thinking those clouds are most certainly going to produce rain and you leave this essential accessory behind, you not only pay dearly with blinding eye pain, but future cataracts and racial wrinkles as well.

This year, I noticed that every one of my Greek girlfriends was wearing a evil eye pendant. Any of you who have traveled to Greece, or eastward, have undoubtedly noticed blue eyes everywhere. The eye is all over Greece, and where it's not, there's blue. Did you ever wonder about those brightly blue painted windows and doors? The blue provides protection. I forgot this fact when I purchased my first--I thought, rather cool--handmade silver eye pendant...until my Greek friend asked me if perhaps my pendant was from the Middle East. I, affronted, replied, "What do you mean: It was handmade by a jeweler from Thessaloniki!" He asked,"Where's the blue?" and I realized that in my haste to make the necklace match the rest of my apparel I had changed the colored cord from blue to brown. So I went out the next night and bought a real blue evil eye pendant and hastily hung it on the cord, too. (I wonder--are two eyes better than one? I hope that isn't bad luck...)

When I ran into my girlfriend in Athens (while shopping in Zara, of course), noticed her eye pendant, and commented that everyone was wearing them this year, she said, "Well, we certainly need it!"

So, I thought again about the evil eye, about the protective quality assigned to certain shades of blue. I had always teased my Dutch friend that I didn't need to wear an eye when I was with her, because her eyes are one of those extraordinary blues. It was a great form of entertainment--observing the Greeks' reaction to her--something between shock and reverence. Anyway, she didn't make the trip this year--so I was on my own. But there is something soothing about an entire country that recognizes the power of thought and intention, that recognizes the harm that we do to one another by our mere thoughts, that acknowledges the role of evil and ill will in our world--or the consequences of bad intent coupled with ignorance.

This is a culture that recognizes our energetic connection and our power to shift our focus from jealousy, anger, and cruelty to forgiveness, thanks and blessings. It is refreshing to not have to explain this connection; the Greeks already acknowledge its existence and its impact on their everyday lives. I often wonder how different our world would be if we, as individuals, acknowledged this tremendous power and responsibility we carry. We have an incredible capability to affect others for ill or for good.

And, yes, I have placed a blue eye just about everywhere...just in case.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Internet, Unplugged

Wouldn't you rather be looking at this than your computer display?

If you've joined me on the path to twitter addiction (see Are You a Tweetaholic?) then I'm happy to report that I've found a cure. Travel to a place sans internet access. Yes, that means no Wi-Fi. I traveled to Athens. You're thinking but surely there's free Wi-Fi access in Athens? Yes, there is--in Syndagma (Constitution Square), which is not as convenient as walking across the room and flipping on my modem, not as quiet as my apartment, and certainly not devoid of distractions. But what about Flo-Cafe or other spots that, for the price of an icy frappe, provide free internet access? Well, just arrange for your brand new mini laptop to display a "fatal error" message within the first thirty minutes of Athenian use. That's enough to scare an unsecure internet connection out of you.

So, now I'm left with a thirty minute walk in 98 degree weather Monday through Friday, only, to the Centre, where I took my Greek lessons, to use their computer or infrequent (paid) usage at the Internet Cafe. Since I'd rather spend my euros on food rather than tweets, I think I'll stick with no access for awhile.

Add no TV (which I thought I was also missing my first night here when I tried repetitively to get the little red power light to go on...and then remembered that I had to press the channel button after the power button,) and you're all set. Easy enough if you're renting a room and not staying in a hotel. Skip major hotels, by-the-way, because they have free Wi-Fi as well.
So, without Twitter, Facebook, 100-plus e-mails awaiting you in your five different accounts, and no access to your websites, blogs or Skype...just what will you do with all of your time? Let's see, I've been here two days and. besides sleep (at very strange hours and intervals), I've managed to go to the supermarket, exchaange money at the bank (a feat in itself), purchase a pair of sandals (okay, yes, my other addiction), visit three friends at the Centre, joined a couple of other friends for coffee, visited outside of town with a couple and their new baby, and meet up with a former boyfriend. That's more socializing than I normally accomplish in several months...but, then, Greece is an extremely social country.

So folks, sometimes it takes going to the extreme to tear yourself away from that addiction. Just say no! Or get rid of the TV or the internet connection...or travel to Greece!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Who Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

I remember a moment, suspended in time, when I was eighteen. I lay in bed daydreaming…or so I thought. I was imagining the perfect life of me, at about the age of thirty. I visualized my physical life, my mental life, and my emotional life. Physically, I would have a decent job by societal standards, something important, accomplished. I would make a decent amount of money, enough to work part-time, perhaps a three-day week, and still have all of my needs met. I would be living in my own place, an apartment. My location would be my hometown, close to my family. I was single, no children. I valued my independence too much to be married just yet, and would have worked hard for my career-related accomplishments.

Mentally, I would feel a calmness, a security, that comes with such hard-earned accomplishments. My focus would be on my work, on my place in the world. I had a pride in the work that I did, because I was helping others. I felt respected. I was confident. Others looked up to me without putting me on a pedestal. I didn’t stand out, because I accomplished my work quietly, not drawing the attention of others. My thoughts were mostly involved in intellectual linear matters. My mind, attitude and way of being was, in fact, quite masculine.

Emotionally, I was pleased with my life and accomplishments. Emotionally, I didn’t feel highs or lows, because I had everything that I wanted. No, security was the most important quality. That and respect. I was not invested in a relationship with a significant other. I didn’t need another person to be happy or fulfilled in my life. I eventually saw myself with a partner, with children, but not just yet.

I don’t recall contemplating the spiritual part of my life. It was a given…or an afterthought.

I also remember another moment, suspended in time; this time I was thirty. This was the moment that I realized the enormous power we hold to create our own destiny.

During this moment I was also lay in my bed, daydreaming. I had just finished my eight years of medical training. I lived alone in an apartment in my hometown. I was working three days a week, making enough money to cover my expenses and begin to pay back my medical student loans. My parents lived within walking distance. I was single. I had no children. I valued my independence. It was too early for me to marry. After all, I had worked so very hard to get to this point, and, frankly, there wasn’t room yet for someone else in my life.

I felt calm, a sense of security that comes with a hard-earned accomplishment. I had completed my training in a respected field. Even though I was doing things my own way and choosing a path slightly different from my colleagues I was confident. Even though I was in a respected field, I didn’t stand out. Even though my choices differed from others, I went about my life quietly, not wanting to draw attention to ways in which I was different. My mind was occupied by linear, rational things. The only place where my mind was free to wander to the feminine was during my annual trips to Greece.

Emotionally, I was please with my life and accomplishments. I seldom felt highs or lows, because I had everything that I wanted…or so I thought. Security and my standing in the world were the most important aspects of my life, and I had these. Although I had several relationships, none were long-term, because I was not ready or willing to share my life with another person, to leave my career to become a mother. I soon would turn down my first offer of marriage, and much later, my second.

At that moment, I remember the first moment, and, like a lightning bolt realized that the life I had was exactly the one that I had envisioned at eighteen. Exactly. As a matter of fact, not only was my physical life exactly as I had envisioned, but my intellectual and emotional lives as well. I was blown away. I got it.

We have tremendous power in creating our reality.

I would like to say that the story ended here, but life does not end at the age of thirty, and because I’m a late-bloomer, I had quite a ways to go. The next ten years were spent defining myself, discovering my tribe, identifying the way in which I wanted to practice my work, having amazing synchronistic experiences that lead me to the right people and gave me a vision of where my life was heading.

But at the age of forty, something happened. It was as if I felt that I had already been there, done that, and, as many of us do, I went into remote control. Instead of my forties being a time of growth and expansion, they actually ended up stagnating and eventually imploding. By the time I hit forty-nine, my ignored soul declared itself. It gave me an ultimatum. It would not allow me to continue down that same path, the life that I had envisioned at eighteen and achieved by the age of thirty. I had pressed the pause button and placed myself in cruise-control for nineteen years. I realized that I hadn’t envisioned my life at forty or fifty or sixty or at one hundred.

What followed was a year of catch-up.

Today I am fifty. Once every fifteen years Saturn appears to lose its rings, the rings that are made of debris the size of SUVs. Today, Saturn loses its weighted middle, and SO DO I!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Ankle Cellulite

Believe me, this is so much prettier than the picture you were expecting…

First, I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to every single woman who has ever come to see me complaining of weight issues at midlife. Everything each one of you claimed is indeed true. One day, suddenly, your body goes out of control—like a teen over whom you have absolutely no influence—and also like a teen, wants desperately for you to love her just the same, even though she’s completely out of control and refuses to listen to you.

Every month, heck, every week, she’s changing right before your very eyes. Nothing you do makes a difference. As a matter of fact, the more you try to control her, the worse she gets. You increase your exercise one extra day a week, then two, then double—then you add other routines. Now you’re exercising eight hours a day, and you still don’t look like Madonna (but, boy, are you happy about that!). So you go on strike and starve yourself. Your “menopot/menopudge” reacts by drooping further over your pubis; your belly button has turned into one big smile, laughing its pants off at you.

Nothing works, no matter what you do.

The last straw for me came today, when I was at the beach in my bikini. Yes! Bikini! It’s nothing but strings that stretch, the least amount of material that miraculously still fits—and hasn’t yet snapped in two, although I’m waiting…

No. That wasn’t the last straw. I was casually wiping off the sand from my feet when…What the…?! Cellulite on my ankles? Come on! Is that even possible? No one told me this could happen, and I’m a doctor. Certainly, I should have been informed.

So for all of the women out there with my twin ankles—I have supreme empathy for you.

As I was trying to explain to my fifteen-year-old nephew today, sometimes it sucks to get old—I mean, this is almost as bad as (one of my Tweeps came up with this diagnosis) “Broken Brain Syndrome.”

But, if you haven’t yet realized it, menopause gives us multiple creative opportunities to learn its main lesson:

Let go of what no longer serves you and appreciate what you already have.

I will gladly accept my body of cellulite; I am so thankful that despite all of the abuse suffered by my poor body it still manages to give its all every day of my life. As a matter of fact, I am so thankful for all of the tremendous gifts and blessings in my life that these cellulite ankles are doing a happy dance right now!

For a related post see Lisa's Story.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

“Just Go With the Flow”

The Elia family on the infamous red retro shag carpet

Are you, like me, tired of hearing "just go with the flow?"How many times have I heard that? And what does it really mean? I’ve seen so many people insist on doing so, and then use it as an excuse to so completely let go, that they lose all sense of direction. Suddenly, all responsibility is relinquished into the cosmos, playing into the belief that we are truly empty vessels, without will, at the whim of the first force that comes our way.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for "letting go," and, being an incredibly stubborn human myself, know how difficult that can be. But “letting go” and “just go with the flow” are not always prescriptives to relinquish all will. Unless it is your intention to stop completely, then “just go with the flow” does not imply lack of direction. Actually, it usually implies exactly the opposite.

I was reminded of this today when I made my second attempt to use a very old (and heavy) upright vacuum cleaner to clean our carpeted cabin floor. I had tried once before, several weeks ago, but abandoned my efforts when—for the life of me—I couldn’t find the “on” switch. Where the heck was it? There were all kinds of potential switches on the thing, but none of them panned out. Even a call to the parents didn’t solve the mystery. So instead, I pulled out an even older vacuum cleaner from under the benches and practically broke my back, hunched over the darn thing. The latch was broken and was (not) held closed by duct tape. It was a nightmare.

Today, I dragged the original enigma out of the closet and, determined this time, found the magic button. But when I attempted to use it on our red retro shag rug, my back immediately screamed protest. It was like dragging a boulder over tree branches. Surely there was another latch on it somewhere for carpeted surfaces. It glided over the puny one foot uncarpeted slate square. But you know how successful I am with finding buttons…so instead, I, by sheer willpower and unknown force, accomplished the task to the detriment of my back. When I was finally finished, I wrapped up the cord, popped it back on its hind legs and directed it to its parking place in the bedroom closet. Again, it glided (with glee, mind you!).

That’s when I was reminded of the phrase “just go with the flow.” If only I had found that magic button, would it not have glided over the shag carpet too? I mean, the task of cleansing had to be done; it wasn’t a directionless task. Without the magic button I was faced with “going with the flow” and leaving the darn thing in the closet, or expending a tremendous amount of energy in order to enjoy a newly vacuumed cabin floor. But, oh, if I had only found that button, then that vacuum cleaner would have glided itself—with very little steering effort on my part.

Bingo! I got it! That’s what it really means to go with the flow. We’re still doing the steering, but we’re not the power behind it. The task is practically accomplishing itself, because we’re moving with the bigger flow, the bigger power. Yes, that cabin floor needed to be cleaned, and yes, it was my job to do so, but I had help available. Instead of old, heavy, backbreaking help, there was a magic button somewhere. All I had to do was find it, and we’d both be gliding across that carpet!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Confessions of Yet Another Writer

Ancient Dedication to Hygieia, Delphi
Do you know a writer? Perhaps, you're a writer? If so, then I'm sure nothing I say here will be a surprise. For you self-proclaimed non-writers out there, hopefully, at the very least, this will help you understand writers better.

Writers have the best profession on the face of this earth.

1. We have no problem choosing our career since it chooses us. We aren’t plagued by doubts about our chosen profession. Thoughts of other career choices don’t wreak havoc with our thoughts. Why? Because writing chooses us. How many hundreds of writers have said this? They are telling the truth. We aren’t burdened with low job satisfaction. We love to write, and we are compelled to write. No other outlet will suffice.

2. We are allowed to create daily. Furthermore, creativity is encouraged and valued. The more unusual our perspective, the more our efforts are valued. One would think that this would be true of most professions, but it is not. The status quo is not of particular value to readers or writers.

3. Writing is cathartic. This is one of the best kept secrets of our profession. If the word got out, it would probably drive psychotherapists out of business. On an antidepressant or anxiolytic? Try journaling! Notice I didn’t mention anti-psychotics. This is because if you’re on an anti-psychotic, there’s a good chance that you’re already a prolific writer. Which leads to the next and, perhaps, most useful point:

4. Being a writer allows us all kinds of excuses. We have much more squiggle room than most. Because unique perspectives are encouraged, we are able to voice all kinds of opinions in all kinds of ways, ways that would be thoroughly unacceptable through other channels. We can use bad language and slang. We can rip apart people, systems, ideas, and beliefs. We discuss deep dark secrets and express the unthinkable. Freedom of expression is grand!

5. We also have numerous excuses for our behaviors and lifestyle choices. Everyone knows that writers are introverts so I can, for example, disappear for months at a time without anyone taking offense. It’s also common knowledge that we write best at odd times of the day or night. So it’s perfectly acceptable for me to stay up all night, go to sleep at 5am and wake at 12 noon. It also means that I will not be disturbed by my friends or family, who would never think to interrupt me. After all, I might finally be constructing that most perfect sentence. (Doubtful, since it hasn’t happened yet.)

6. I also have a wonderful excuse for my sluggish nature, lack of exercise, and poor food and snack choices. One of the absolute greatest excuses is that of just sitting there and doing nothing at all. Everyone knows that writers need the open space of nothing in order to create. Who else gets to justify doing nothing in our present society? Add to this that I can eat anything I want. If that means cereal and peanut butter for fifteen days straight, so be it! Tack onto this the added benefit of escaping an expensive dinner that would otherwise use up my entire monthly food budget. Oh, and that fifteen pound weight gain? No big deal. Everyone knows that all writers become alcoholics or fat or both. Heck, some of my friends are even trying to comfort me, convinced that I was too thin before. They couldn’t respond more perfectly if I had trained them.

7. One of the best excuses of all—it allows me justification for traveling anywhere, anytime. Need two weeks of uninterrupted time at the family mountain cabin to write? No problem. Writing about Greece? Must go again! Obviously, the previous nineteen trips weren’t enough. And of course, I must be at Delphi to produce superior prose.

Writers have the worst profession on the face of the earth. (Yes, I know. I just said the opposite in the paragraph above. I haven’t lost my faculties yet.)

1. “Writer,” by definition, implies, in many cases, jobless state. Oh, I have a job. I’m a writer. But I, like many other writers, am unpublished and, currently, unpaid. Being jobless, penniless and living off the goodwill of others becomes old really fast!

2. Writers hate to write. Yes, once again, I know this is the opposite of what I wrote above, but it is true. We do hate to write. We love it and we hate it—sort of like many important things and people in our lives. We write because we are compelled to. Have you ever thought about exactly what we are compelled to write and how painful writing about this “what” is? It’s worse than visiting the dentist and the gynecologist in the same day. Really. And we’re not talking a simple dental cleaning and pap smear. No, we’re talking teeth extractions, root canals and endometrial biopsies.

3. We must pay the price of our free use of the English language. This can get us into a heap of trouble (and I’m not talking grammar police), not just with the general public, but with our friends and loved ones. What writer hasn’t had a falling out with a friend or family member after they wrote something “incriminating?” And our warning of “know a writer, become the content” doesn’t go very far when they actually see it in print.

4. We’re reminded on a daily basis of our inadequacies and the miserable nature of our existence. This is one consequence of deep observation, contemplation, and feeling. Fortunately, the flip side is also true; otherwise, we’d all commit suicide, which leads to #5:

5. High rates of addiction, depression and suicide. Fortunately, this is of no consequence to me since my original profession of physician also holds these same high risks.

6. Warped sense of reality. Most writers live in a different reality than those who surround them. Early on, we question which is the true reality. This can get us into an even bigger heap of trouble. If we’re really unfortunate, we may win a room in Boston’s McLean Hospital next to Sylvia Plath. (Yes, I know she is no longer alive. What’s that about 5150? Please put that phone down!)

7. We lose track of styles, fashion, news, the date

8. Even Grecian travel has its problems. See for detailed explanation.

So-yes-I did notice that there are more items in the second list than in the first, but it doesn’t matter, because, if you were paying attention, I have no choice. I must write. Furthermore, there are oodles of repressed writers reading this. You know who you are. It’s time to admit it and join the infamous lot. Suffer the consequences, and enjoy the wonderful benefits.

Happy writing, everyone!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

When Not to Follow the Signs

My Fave Sign

Are you someone who pays attention, who follows the signs? Do you see the signs but ignore them? Do you miss the signs completely? Or do you see them and follow them, but they turn out to be wrong?

Yesterday, I paid close attention to the signs--traffic signs, that is. I was making the 180 mile drive up to our mountain cabin, the temperature in the valley was 101°, I was driving the last air-condition-less car in California, and roads were being repaved. As my pre-iced water bottle turned tepid and the back of my seat grew stickier I thanked God that the usual bottlenecks were flowing freely. Extra bonus: the highway patrol car that had joined us five miles back moved onto the off-ramp. Only thirty-five more intolerable miles to go. I might actually escape the usual nausea and migraine this time. What a treat!

When I made it up to a high enough elevation for the inside temperature to drop to a tolerable 90°, I thought I was cabin-home free. That is, until I started seeing “Left Lane Closed Ahead” signs. The first such sign forced me to pull over behind a 100,000 pound truck going 35mph up a steep grade. Take one of those slow deep-I-hate-yoga-and-there’s-nothing-calming-about-this-breaths. Problem was that the left lane was still open…still open…still open. A couple miles later, finally convinced, I pulled back out into the faster lane.

The next “Left Lane Closed Ahead” sign appeared five miles later. Huh! I thought, I’m a quick learner. No sir-ee, you’re not going to fool me this time. I’m not going to let the next fifty cars pass me by while I’m stuck behind 100,000 pound truck’s twin brother. So I continued on my merry 75mph trek up the mountain. Cars started moving over, and I kept thinking Suckers! As far as I could see, my left lane was still open—no signs—no orange cones—no construction trucks—no nothing…oops! Until NOW! Suddenly the left lane was-yes-closed. Fortunately, I was able to move over without endangering myself or others.

There were several more “Left Lane Closed Ahead” signs—far more than one would expect in the twenty or so miles left of my trip. Some were on the road, some on the backs of slow-moving vehicles. Some were real. Some were fiction. My psychology background kicked in, “Intermittent reinforcement is the strongest reinforcement.” Ain’t that the truth. I felt like Pavlov’s dog or Skinner’s duck (He was the one with a duck following, wasn’t he?).
How often are we reminded to pay attention to the signs, both outer and inner? And how proud are we when we actually do pay attention and avoid yet another catastrophe? But it looks like my lesson for the day went beyond following the internal and external signs. That, in itself, is difficult--how often have you disregarded your signs? Nope, it appears that we also must be able to distinguish truth from fiction, and this is not always easy or obvious.

If you would like to take a quick trip into the world of signs, travel to the list below:

1. What signs have you ignored recently? Has your intuition been knocking at your door? How loud does the knock need to be for you to pay attention?
Make a list of your signs. Listen to what your intuition is telling you, to the voice in your head, and write it down.
Look at your list. Are these signs real or fiction? Is it a “crazy” voice talking? Is it your voice?
Is the voice coming from someone or somewhere else?
What would happen if you were to follow them? Have you ever followed them before? What happened?

2. What Signs have steered you wrong? Which have steered you correctly? Were they internal ones or external ones?
Were these signs dependable?
Who made the signs? Were they your own homemade signs or were they composed by someone else?
Which signs can you trust?

3. Have any of the familiar signs changed? Did you notice?
What signs have changed? Did you have a hard time believing and trusting the change?
What is preventing you from taking action?
What would happen if you followed this new sign?

Happy Travels! Here’s to following the real signs!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Are You a Tweetaholic?

Okay, I get it. My post on addiction is overdue. First, there was the not too subtle hint with the controversy over Michael Jackson’s death. I could almost ignore that one, but this one I cannot. I admit it, I am a Tweetaholic. Step 1: I admit that I am powerless over leaving Twitterland. I am powerless over turning on my laptop without logging onto Twitter. I am powerless over controlling the number of Tweets that leave my fingers and arrive on your Tweetdecks.

Twitterholism is such a wonderful addiction, though. It connects me with all of these wonderful Tweeple, all over the world, at all hours of the day and night (essential for an introverted writer). It balances out the enormous depersonalization that is intrinsic to the internet universe. It provides a wonderful excuse for procrastination (I know that I’m not cranking out those book chapters, but I’m building my platform, instead!). It connects me with like-minded crusaders of women’s rights, supporters of women and children, fellow healers, writers, artists, feminists, femininists, fem docs and lovers of Greece.

What a perfect addiction! So much better than my old ones—movies and shopping. Funny. I haven’t spent much time or money on either since I started writing. Oh, and this addiction doesn’t add pounds to my waist (although lack of exercise certainly does!).

I know that I’m not alone. Twitterholism and Tweetholism are sweeping the planet. But even if you have no idea what a twitter, tweet, tweeple or tweetdeck is, don’t despair. Almost everyone has had an addiction at one time or another. Addictions are universal, because we are all human.

For those of you who are ready to face your addiction head on, you may find this simple exercise helpful. Although simple, it is not easy, because it takes an enormous desire or incredible pain to decide to face the underlying problem head-on. But I know that you can do it! So here goes:

1. The most difficult step is the first one. Are you ready and willing to let your addiction go? If not, then stop here and enjoy it as best you can for as long as you can. We’ll keep our fingers crossed that you get away with it for as long as possible with the least amount of damage. ;)

2. Decide what behavior you would like to change

3. Each time you find yourself repeating that behavior, ask these questions:

A) How am I feeling? Identify the “negative” emotion—tired, frightened, bored, sad, depressed, angry, frustrated, agitated, anxious, etc.

B) What do I need in this moment that I am not getting? Or--If I engage in the addictive behavior, how will it make me feel, initially? If you’ve identified the emotion in step A, then answering step B will be easy.

C) Write down every single need that you have identified. Make a list. Everything that you need in each of these moments goes on the list. You do not need to record each need more than once. Continue for at least one to two weeks until there are no new needs on your list. The list will, most likely, be a long one!

D) Do not proceed to this step until your list is complete. You’ve written nothing new on your list for at least a week. Now, step D takes time. You may want to ask supportive people in your life to help with this step. Your addiction is giving you every single “need” that you’ve placed on your list. Your addictive behavior is a quick and easy way to get all of these needs met. We tend to value others’ needs over our own, placing ourselves last, so don’t distress if your list is long. Take each “need” one by one and ask: “How can I get this in other ways?” Have others help you. Brainstorm all the ways in which you can get each need on your list met, even if some of the ways are crazy, impossible, unrealistic or dangerous.

E) You now have a list of the reasons why you are engaging in your addictive behavior (C: your list of needs) and have brainstormed for possible solutions to having these needs met (D). The last step is to decide what actions you can take from your brainstormed list in D that are helpful healthy solutions to getting your needs met.

You may notice a few discouraging things. First, your list of needs will probably be long. This is okay! We all have personal needs that we place on hold for everyone else—our children, our families, our partners, our work. Second, to get these needs met in a healthy way usually takes more time and effort than resorting to the addictive behavior. That’s okay too; just start with one behavior and slowly add to this. Over time, one change will make the next one easier. Remember, until you have all of your needs met in healthy ways, you will be prone to repeating the addictive behavior.

This is one reason why addictions are so hard to break, because we need to have our needs met! This is why when we stop one addictive behavior we are likely to replace it with another one, like overeating after we’ve stopped smoking. This will happen whenever we are not addressing our underlying needs. I have, too often, watched countless women being told that they must stop smoking or lose weight or exercise more, without their underlying needs being addressed. This is the same as saying, “Quit this behavior; your needs are not important.”

Most of us are not ready to take this step, because it means that we must make ourselves a priority, but it is essential that we do so, especially with an addiction that is interfering with our lives.

Good luck to you all...I must get back to twitterland!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Are You Free Yet?

Did the 4th of July set you free? If not, don’t despair; it’s not too late.

The 4th of July brings a smile to my face, because so many of my Greek acquaintances are quick to point out the many ways in which we, Americans, are not free. They are baffled by our definition of freedom, by the number of restrictions and the amount of control present in our society. Their definition goes something like this: you are free to do anything you want at any time with, perhaps, the exception of killing another human being. The most recent example is the reaction of some Greek smokers (40% of the population) who are enraged by the recent ban on smoking in public places. They insist that they are free to do whatever they want with their bodies, no matter the consequences. When I bring up the effects of second-hand smoke and list my friends who have contracted cancers or died from these effects, they merely become angrier. I remember their reaction to foreign veterinarians who volunteered to neuter the cats in the Sporades for population control. The Islanders were furious that such a practice would violate the cats’ freedom. I’ve noticed a pattern: theirs is a freedom that frees them of social responsibility.

But my Greek friends do have a point. It is easier for them to see what we do not see in ourselves. They are quick to remind us of the many ways in which we are not free. The 4th of July is a great time to contemplate our freedom, not just nationally but personally. It gives me a chance to ask am I free yet? Or, perhaps, more useful, where in my life am I not free?

What is the construction of your own personal prison? There are many forms it can take. Here are a few:

1. Physical: Are you limited by your body, by your physicality? Do you have a handicap? How have you dealt with this? Have you become more limited physically because of an illness, an injury, or conditions associated with aging, such as arthritis, pain, lack of energy, weakness?

2. Emotional: Are you an emotional sponge? Do you sense and feel everything and everyone? Do you find yourself reacting to uncomfortable situations through expressing your emotions? Do you have difficulty controlling your reactions? Do you find yourself crying or shouting? Do you feel controlled by your emotions?

3. Mental: Are you trapped by your mind? Do you have a hard time turning your mind off when you get home from work or when you try to fall alseep? Is meditation impossible for you, because you are unable to “still” your mind? Do your thoughts control you, rather than the other way around? What beliefs do you hold? Are your beliefs causing you pain and suffering? Are your beliefs actually true? Are they controlling your choices and actions? What expectations do you hold of yourself and of others? Are these expectations dictating your choices, dictating your life?

4. Past: Are you stuck in the past, frustrated by past choices, angry at past events, or missing an earlier happier time?

5. Future: Are you trapped in the future? Are your choices and actions motivated by a possible future point in time? Are you making choices now that are unbearable or harmful to your health in order to “have” or ‘be” something in the future?

This is a sobering exercise. Most of us are much less free than we realize. We are controlled by all kinds of things: limitations of our bodies, our minds, incorrect thoughts, beliefs, expectations. We are often stuck in the past or in the future, rarely present in the present. Look at your list and make yourself a promise that you will free yourself from at least one of your many cells.

Take out that key now and turn the lock. You don’t have any more time to waste. Step out and be free.

Make every day the 4th of July.

Happy Freedom, Everyone!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Who is Responsible for Michael Jackson's Death?

Because Michael Jackson’s death has affected us all, I’m going to deviate from my usual posts to share my thoughts. Many individuals have asked me, in my role as a physician, to comment. His tragic death (and life) has brought up many important controversial issues.

First, let me be clear: I am not condoning any irresponsible or criminal behavior on the part of a physician. If these medications were not prescribed responsibly then, of course, this needs to be addressed, as it should be in any situation in which doctors are prescribing irresponsibly. When a person is addicted, they will use extreme means to obtain the addictive substance, and anyone with power or money will be more successful in obtaining these substances.

1. Michael Jackson was misunderstood by many. He viewed the world differently from others. We need to be very careful when judging another human being whom we do not understand. I would go so far as to say that we probably shouldn’t be judging him at all. But it is clear to me that he suffered from being misunderstood. It is also clear that he was dealing with both emotional and physical problems that were not treated by addressing the underlying causes. Conventional medicine is limited in diagnosing and treating underlying causes. This needs to be acknowledged. Addictions are also extraordinarily difficult to treat, and, when treated, relapses are the rule rather than the exception. Also, perhaps most important, the individual needs to want to heal (or be forced by those around him to seek treatment).

2. This leads me to the next point. Did Michael choose treatment for his addiction? Did those closest to him fail in getting him help? These are loaded questions. It is near impossible for someone who is addicted to “choose” treatment. It is equally difficult for others to enforce treatment, especially with someone so independently powerful and isolated.

3. So who, ultimately, is responsible? The doctors who filled his prescriptions? Michael, himself? Michael’s friends and relatives who were unable to recognize that he needed help, or recognized this need but were unable to intervene? What about those making career-related demands? How about society as a whole? What about all of the people who misunderstood him? And those who may have abused him emotionally or physically?

I feel that the issue of responsibility is too complex to blame any one person. If we look deeper, we will probably find many responsible. I was surprised by the extent of Deepak Chopra's anger. I have no reason to doubt his allegation that this is a common occurrence between celebrities and their doctors, and, as a physician who can’t remember the last time she wrote a prescription for a narcotic, I certainly understand his anger. I can’t help but notice, though, that his anger seems personally charged, and this makes me ask the question of whether or not he personally feels responsible for not being able to help Michael. I heard the same anger in the Jackson family attorney’s voice when he said that he had “warned” the family. I understand this all too well. Patients frequently expect me to take responsibility for their health. We each need to start taking responsibility for our own health and choices, rather than passing off this responsibility to others.

The chronic pain management situation has become almost schizophrenic. As physicians, we, in the past, have been so hesitant to prescribe narcotics that many patients who truly need them have been undertreated, and their chronic conditions have worsened. This has become so common that the State of California now requires all physicians to take a twelve-hour course about chronic pain management and end-of-life care. I hope that the outcome of this “investigation” of Michael Jackson’s death does not have the undesired effect of decreasing access of these medications to those who are in true need. I also hope that his death will bring more attention to finding viable solutions to addiction and chronic pain.

Lastly, I hope that Michael Jackson has finally found peace. We honor him, and we will miss him.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Human Beings are Members of a Whole...

"Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

It Takes a Family

One Family...Five degrees in one week.

Supportive nurturing environments are feminine creations, and since our structured world does not value feminine creations as much as masculine ones it is no wonder that our country is suffering the consequences. We are reminded of the sad state of American families on a daily basis. More often than not, financially providing for the family as well as caregiving and nurturing falls upon women, and, frequently, this burden is unshared. It is no wonder that our families are crumbling.

This last weekend, I was reminded of this in an expected way.

Those who know me are aware that I would not have made it through my grueling residency training if it weren’t for two facts: 1. The location of my training hospital was the closest hospital to my family home. 2. The two other women who went through my program with me became my sisters. In other words, without the support of family-both genetic and environmental-I would not have survived.

Well, one of these two women flew across country for the Stanford graduation of one of her closest friend’s sons. Now, I’m a Berkeley gal. In fact, my family is a Berkeley family. Four of us have obtained six of our eleven degrees from UCB. The only time this Golden Bear has set foot on Stanford soil was for the Cal-Stanford Big Game—so this was no small compromise. But I would do just about anything for my dear friend, given that she saved my life over and over again.

I thought I was the one making sacrifices. I couldn’t have been more wrong. First of all, although I came uninvited, I have never felt more welcome. I was accepted, without hesitation, into her extended family of friends. Okay, in all fairness, their acceptance was as much a reflection of my friend’s extraordinary nature as her friends’ extraordinary generosity. But that was just the beginning.

For the first time, in a very long time, I participated in preparing the meal with a group of women. When was the last time that you, as I woman, had the help of three other women in preparing a meal? We forget that this used to be the norm until fairly recently. The biggest surprise, though, was the graduation ceremony that followed afterward. This wasn’t her “nephew’s” actual graduation ceremony but a separate ceremony for the students who were of Native American descent. Although her nephew is only one-quarter Native American, the percentage was irrelevant. My girlfriend explained to me that when her friend had gone through the same ceremony several years earlier after earning her Ph.D., there had been very few Native American graduates. This time there was standing room only, and the ceremony took several hours.

Each graduate approached the stage with his or her support system, which included family members, extended family and significant friends. Most groups filled the stage. A Native blanket was placed over each graduate's shoulders. Then, graduates, along with their family members and friends, were invited to speak. It was the most wonderful graduation ceremony I had ever experienced. This is a significant statement, coming from a woman with an extremely tight-knit family that valued education highly, a woman who has experienced more graduation ceremonies than she can count.

One after the other, the graduates explained how difficult their University experiences had been and how they could not have made it through without the support of their families and the Stanford Native American community. Many of the graduates were the first in their families to obtain university degrees. Some were the first in their towns. Almost all were the first to obtain degrees from Stanford. Then their families and friends spoke; many of them cried. I have never seen so many men cry in such a short period of time—not even at a funeral. Many expressed their admiration and pride. All expressed their love. Some reminded the graduates to give back. All impressed the importance of community and working for the greater whole.

It was extremely inspirational and sobering at the same time. I kept thinking: this is the way graduation ceremonies should be. It takes an entire family, extended family, friends and community for each of us to accomplish not just our educational goals, but to accomplish anything of significance in our lives.

It did my feminine heart good to be surrounded by family the entire weekend. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t related to a single person that I encountered, yet I was accepted as a family member. This is the heart of the feminine. This is what we are missing. This is what we need to reclaim.

Are you still trying to do it all alone? Who is your family? What family will you create?

As for me, I so missed my own family after being surrounded by so much caring and love from people unrelated to me that, when I left my friend, I drove straight to my brother’s home to spend the day with my nieces and nephew.

It’s not popular to create community, to work together, to practice interdependence--but create family we must! Our future and our world depend on this.

Congratulations Graduates!