Health: The Journey of a Lifetime, A Story in Four Parts

This is the last of a four-part blog post, describing my own health journey.

In recent years, I’ve begun to attune to the spiritual causes of illness and dis-ease—and the interference between head and heart and how to give the heart its due. This is not easy. It runs counter to most of my habits. Brain intellect can be rather boisterous and it’s hard to find a channel that’s not blaring. Heart intelligence comes in whispers, and creates its own music. So, I don’t expect the change to be easy, but I’m becoming more aware and that goes a long way toward helping.

Recently, I was listening to a workshop presented by Eugene, Oregon-based herbalist Howie Brounstein at last year’s American Herbalist Guild conference on “Affecting Lifestyle Changes.” One of the attendees mentioned a study done on male sufferers of heart attack. The men were asked, What caused you to have a heart attack? Not one mentioned anything having to do with physiology, lifestyle or what they had eaten for years. Everything that prompted the heart attacks had to do with aspects of their relationships with loved ones—a child leaving home, a long-wished-for promotion requiring a move in which the spouse was not going to take part.

It probably goes without saying, but no one—no practitioner—is perfect, even if our initial interest in working in the health field is prompted by our own desire to heal ourselves. For example, I occasionally eat restaurant French fries. I know the oil the potatoes are cooked in is not good. Restaurant margins can be tight and using a junk oil is a way to save money.

Here, I could tell you that it is best to cook fries using a high-heat oil, coconut oil, preferably, lard, perhaps. I could tell you to avoid your exposure to acrylamides, which are formed when starches are exposed to high heat via baking and frying, no matter the type of oil used, because acrylamides are recognized as carcinogenic. But, why would I tell you this? If you don’t make a habit of eating fries every day, if you are healthy enough to eat a wide range of foods, then what I might say is that moderation is important and that eating is as much about pleasure and taking the time to enjoy what we eat as it is about nutrition.

My “junkiest” food habit is probably espresso drinks. I find I can’t really drink coffee anymore; it just doesn’t feel good. But a decaf or half-caf cappuccino or latte is often quite nice. I’d like to bring more mindfulness to my java, though. That is easier with a good cup. Coffee is a plant, of course, a bitter that is stimulating in nature, OK for sometime medicinal use. I try to counter its effects by using decaf and by drinking more water. I don’t get much of the effect of coffee’s bitter properties, because they are diminished by the addition of milk.

I’m not loosey-goosey about food. Since the dawn of processed food, we humans have put a lot of junk into our bodies. The emerging science of epigenetics aims to pinpoint how food can switch various genes on and off and how our diets affect our children three to four generations into the future. Also, avoiding genetically modified organisms is important but more challenging these days as GMOs pervade so much of our food supply. But we are pliable beings. Not having eaten bread for years, I find I lack the cravings for carbs that others who eat carbs on a regular basis seem to have. And as an herbalist, I can tell you that our tastes (presumably, our taste buds) are quite maleable and can be trained and retrained, which means there is always hope, if we want to change what we eat.

I continue to work on my own behavior: What kind of behavior do I want to model for others?

Mostly, I work on trying not to judge myself too harshly or at all. If I can do this for myself, I figure I can truly meet people where they are and that ability is so needed in this era of recriminations of self and others and the increasing shrill sounds of polarization among competing judgments. The last thing someone who desires to change her health needs is for me to come across as judgmental. This doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings around what clients do. As herbalist and writer Stephen Buhner has pointed out, paying careful attention these feelings, listening to them through the heart, can help us point the way toward what someone really needs from us.

In a future post, I’ll gather a variety of health resources for folks to peruse.

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