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Mind over Meds Book Review

Mind Over Meds: Know When Drugs Are Necessary, When Alternatives Are Better--and When to Let Your Body Heal on Its OwnMind Over Meds: Know When Drugs Are Necessary, When Alternatives Are Better–and When to Let Your Body Heal on Its Own by Andrew Weil
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve always had a lot of respect for Dr. Weil. I read my first book of his in my late teens. I studied nutrition in university and the Alternative and Integrative Medical Society I belonged to in undergrad brought him out as a keynote speaker.

I think this book is essential reading for anyone who takes, prescribes, fills prescriptions, recommends or administers these medications to anyone (which is likely pretty well everyone). It is written clearly with language that an educated lay person should be able to follow and find interesting but still detailed enough so as to not insult the knowledge of a medical professional. He plays it safe and sticks mainly to biomedical terms — no woo and nothing too terribly controversial. Sometimes I find this a bit “medically euphamistic” but I understand why he did it. He doesn’t go into too much detail about the alternative/integrative therapies and alternatives but does suggest some herbal, mind-body, exercise, diet approaches and different ways to look at these issues…enough to get people started.

He doesn’t go much into the history or policies that have brought us to this point where most of our population is overmedicated, most medical/pharmaceutical colleges don’t teach about diet and natural therapeutic agents, and most doctors and patients get their information directly from pharmaceutical companies…knowing how long he has been in the field I would very much like to know his perspective on this. The recommendations in his “last words” at the end of the book are worth taking a good look at. I also do like the recommendation at the back to go to the pharmacist if you are on multiple meds, OTC meds, supplements and/or herbs — they really are the ones trained on drugs and drug interactions.

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River of well being

This concept of balance and wellbeing has been coming up for me over and over so I’m going to share. In The Whole-Brain Child Dan Siegel defines mental health as our ability to remain in the “river of well-being”. One bank represents chaos, where you feel out of control. Confusion and turmoil rule the day. The other side is the bank of rigidity where you are imposing control on everything and everyone around you. This is no good either.
Sometimes, I find, life feels a bit more like a luge run. I was in a luge camp once when I was young. The first lesson you get in luge is if you hit one wall to steer into it because inevitably you will hit the other wall with double the impact and that will probably lead to a major wipe out. Steering into the wall you just hit requires self-awareness and the faster you are going the harder the crash.
E A Meek wrote a thesis for her PhD in Depth psychology on a similar concept related to creativity: creative flooding. We want to aim to be in a state where creative flow is manageable. When our creativity is blocked life is stagnant and depressing. Not talked about as much, is the state of creative flooding where we are overwhelmed and overloaded.
In DBT they stress the importance of acting from the Wise Mind. Emotions can give us a lot of information to help us connect with our environment and other people but too much emotion is overwhelming and chaotic. The rational mind is also important for making a good decision based on the facts and previous experience but too much and one becomes robotic and distant.
Finally, another more esoteric look at this concept of well-being comes from an Anthroposophical book I picked up last year called The Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker by Manfred Schmidt-Brabant. He writes “In anthroposophy there are two great spiritual powers that try to disturb our balance: Lucifer and Ahriman. The Luciferic forces lead the human being away from earthly life, detach him from obligations. The Ahrimanic powers force the human being into a form, bind him fast. Ahriman is the solidifying, Lucifer the dissolving element…everything can disintegrate into chaos – or end up in sterile order. But balance has to be maintained, a middle ground found”

Creative Flooding

I want to introduce a concept that has helped me make a lot of sense of my difficult experiences and I hope it may help others. This is the concept of Creative Flooding proposed by E. A. Meek.

The goal of this dissertation will be to identify and supply those individuals who experience creative flooding with a new context for the understanding and assistance that Western scientific materialistic culture has been unable to provide. Instead of falling through the cracks in our culture, stereotyped as yet more crazy artists, those who experience creative flooding will be recognized and effectively supported through their spiritual emergency to greater creativity.

Creatively Blocked           Manageable Flow of Creativity         Creative Flooding
Less flow <————————————1—————————————->More flow

In her PhD dissertation (2005), Meek goes over  few reasons why this concept has taken so long to come into existence. One reason is that most people are trying to work on increasing their creativity. There are many self help books and workshops out there that focus on moving from a state of creative blockage to one of manageable creative flow. However, complaining of having  “too much creativity” in our culture is considered inappropriate and in bad taste. She also discusses how men like Freud and Jung went through uncomfortable periods before coming up with their famous ideas, but because they were male they didn’t seem to have the metaphor of pregnancy and birth readily available in their minds so they thought of these uncomfortable and difficult times as “creative illness” rather than a process of incubation and emergence. Just as the normal process of childbirth has been over medicalized in our culture, the creative process, and especially the overwhelming aspects of creative flooding, has been pathologized and over medicated.

Meek offers a new metaphor for understanding this process. I hope to draw from my personal experience to come up with ways artists (and those who don’t yet consider themselves artists) can work to to manage creative flow in their lives.

1) Journals
When I was discussing my psychological distress with my friend she suggested (with best intentions) that I keep a journal.
I was shocked! Is this not obvious? I told her I had boxes and boxes of journals downstairs. At the time I probably had three journals, one notebook for inspirational passages, and three sketchbooks on the go…plus an unpublished blog and a pile of random papers. I have kept a journal since I was a child. When I was working in 3D animation I had piles of notepads beside me where I could scribble random ideas that came to me as I tediously moved points around on the screen. Not keeping a journal is not an option. I do like Julia Cameron’s idea in “The Artist’s Way” of morning pages and I should try to get back to them. Getting your thoughts down every morning clears some of the mental clutter and you can go back and see how fragments of ideas start to develop into good solid concepts that could be the workings of something wanting to being born into this world through you.

2) Sleep
Everyone is different, but for me, sleep is very important for the healthy management of creativity. It’s a delicate balance between the slightly altered state of working late into the night and the washout flood that comes from a few missed nights sleep. Build up a tool box of methods to help you fall asleep when your mind is racing…I’m still working on mine.

3) Nutrition
Eat well. Your body and brain functioning well depend on what you put in. I actually do have a degree in nutrition and I’ve encountered all kinds of ridiculous puritanical diets and tried to understand them. My advice is to follow Micheal Pollan’s advice — Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. To that I would add — give thanks.

I’ll end this post with one of my favorite quotes.

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening
that is translated through you into action,
and because there is only one of you in all time,
this expression is unique.

If you block it,
it will never exist through any other medium
and be lost.
The world will not have it.

It is not yours to determine how good it is;
nor how it compares with other expressions.
It is your business to keep the channel open.
You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work.

You have to keep open and aware directly
to the urges that motivate you.
Keep the channel open.

No artist is ever pleased.
There is no satisfaction whatever at any time.
There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction;
a blessed unrest that keeps us marching
and makes us more alive than the others.

–Martha Graham to Agnes De Mille

 

 

 

Alchemy in Art, Science and Life

Nearly a year ago I read the book “Alchemy” by Brian Cotnoir and I’ve been sitting on it for a while. I just recently read the last half of the book “Sacred Economics” by Charles Eisenstein and it has stirred up a few of the ideas I’ve been sitting on over the past year based on principles of Alchemy.

1. Before you begin your Great Work you should have the funding for the highest quality materials available. This Work comes to you as a gift and is to be offered to the world as a gift. This is not a for profit or even a “break even” venture. Make your money elsewhere.

2. To do your best work, the body must be kept healthy through proper lifestyle choices and the mind kept steady through spiritual/meditative/contemplative practices. It is recommended to stick to one tradition.

3. All sources of conflict and disruption around your Work should be reduced as much as possible.

4. Your Work should be started with dedicating it to the alleviation of suffering and any results should be given over to the alleviation of suffering. Ones success with the Great Work should be put towards caring for the poor and the sick.

5. This final principle comes from “Future Primal” by Louis G. Herman and “The Bushman way of Tracking God” by Bradford Keeney and isn’t really alchemy, but I find it useful. When in doubt about if the vision you are birthing into being is Great Work, or not, ask yourself; is it for love or for libido dominandi — a lust for power. That is it.  As Bradford Keeney said: “The final battle is between love and power” 

 

Holistic Education

I’ve found this diagram to be a nice framework for my exploration of holistic education with my son in mind and in my own search for optimal well being. http://www.hent.org/world/history/historical.htm

Currently I am:

Listening to Audio Book: The Art of Being by Erich Fromm

Reading Book: Child Honouring. This book includes essays by people mentioned in the chart above who are new to me; Matthew Fox, Raine Eisler, Fritjof Capra…as well as those whose work I was familiar with; Sanda Steingraber and Barbara Kingslover

Taking courses on:
Meditation with Bud Agnew at The Yoga Haven
The Happiness of the Child: Montessori Information Series through Full Circle Parenting