Showing posts with label Connection. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Connection. Show all posts

Thursday, October 20, 2016

What I Know About Medium Chain Triglyceride Nutrient Dense Ketogenic Diets....and Lupus

I am not a doctor, nor do I hold any special degrees or training in medicine or nutrition. Therefore, the recommendations that I am following could easily change as more information becomes known through study and research. I encourage you to do your own research as I have done. Many of the past studies as well as current ongoing studies are available to read at no cost.
Much of the information I write abut comes from reading Dr. Terry Wahls' book,  The Wahls Protocol. I will also include information from studies I have read and will include a list at of those studies the end of this post. Once again, I am not a professional. My intent is to point you in a particular direction. My hope is that after reading this post, if you think this protocol is something you want to know more about, you will purchase Terry’s book and do your own research.

Please consult with your own doctor before trying this or any nutritional therapies. Attempting this protocol can be harmful if not followed properly. This protocol is not for everyone and should be considered in the same regard as new medication or supplementation. Consideration must be made for how it interacts with current medications as well as ongoing illness.

Terry Wahls used to run marathons, ski the American Birkebeiner and climb the mountains of Nepal. She even won a bronze medal in women’s full contact free sparring at the trials for the 1978 Pan American Games in Washington DC. She was also a doctor when, in 2000, she was diagnosed with MS. By 2007 she was in a tilt wheelchair, barely able to breathe sitting up. She was 52 years old. At this time she was on the same medication that I am currently on. I am also on an additional two chemotherapies that were not on her list.

Prior to this time, in 2002, her neurologist directed her to the website of a doctor who had reported that his son’s MS had improved by changing his diet. As a physician, she was hesitant to look into anything that seemed like “alternative care." Much to her surprise, the website was full of scientific references. She began to read them one by one. And what she found out was that this was not what she called "fringe medical practices", this was a website full of scientific references. It contained peer-reviewed journals written by scientists from the best medical schools. It was legitimate research. And it was in reading these studies that she became very interested in the role excessive carbohydrates and sugars played in the excess of insulin and inflammation.

Knowing that conventional medicine was not stopping the progression of her disease, she decided to change her diet and see if it had any impact while she continued her research. She read every mouse study she could get her hands on. She researched Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease and Huntington’s disease. She discovered that,

“... in all four of those conditions, the mitochondria - small subunits within cells that manage the energy supply for that cell - stop working well and lead to early death of brain cells, causing shrinking of the brain. More searching lead to articles in which mouse brains and their mitochondria had been protected using vitamins and supplements …”

She translated those mouse-size nutrient amounts into human-sized ones. She consulted her doctor and they decided that each one was safe to add to her list. She took those amounts in pill form for two months and at the end of two months was so disappointed in the results she quit taking them. Within a few days she could not get out of bed.

It was working!

So she went to the Institute for Functional Medicine to find more information. The goal of this institute is to “provided clinicians with a better way to care for people with complex chronic disease by looking at how the interaction between genetics, diet, hormone balance, toxin exposures, infections and psychological factors contribute to the development of disease or the improvement of one's health and vitality”.  Through educating herself she learned that she could improve the condition of her mitochondria and brain cells. She knew that she had a genetic vulnerability that increased her chances of getting MS, but now she was developing a much better idea of the significance of leaky gut, food allergies, and toxins. And that mitochondria that were not providing enough energy for the cells, neurotransmitter problems and not having inefficient enzymes for the metabolism of B vitamins and sulfur all had a very significant impact on the BRAIN. She worked with doctors, scientists and nutrition experts and came up with a list of foods that would provide all the nutrients she needed without taking one single pill. This was the beginning of the Wahls Diet.

"The old me, who had relied on drugs and procedures to make my patients well, who had been made progressively more feeble by my illness, had been replaced with someone who understood intellectually and physically that disease begins at a cellular level, when cells are starved of the building blocks they need to conduct the chemistry of life properly, and that the root of optimal health begins with taking away the things that harm and confuse our cells while providing the body with the environment in which to thrive. I finally understood what I had to do to provide my cells with all the building blocks of life that they needed to heal. I was doing it, and it was working."

Today, Terry Wahsl still has MS. But she has not only improved her quality of life she has reversed much of her disease. And instead of being bound to a tilt wheelchair with a progressive disease she had no control over, she is once again an active, thriving doctor who rides her bike to work everyday, travels around the world lecturing to the medical community, appears on webinars, interviews, radio shows and talk shows. She has created a website where people can read her newsletters, watch recorded lectures and gain community support. She is also involved in ongoing research and clinical trial as well as written the The Wahls Protocol .

Terry’s overarching message to those with chronic disease is that you don’t have to be a victim .
You can actually repair your broken biochemistry and restore your body's vitality by how you live your life.

That’s huge news for anyone with an autoimmune disease! Instead of taking pills for symptoms, she was living proof that you could eat food to heal your body at a cellular level. Chronic disease is never a deficiency of the drugs you are taking for it, but a deficiency in your own cells and it is the most obvious manifestation of long term mitochondrial dysfunction. When your mitochondria are not fueling your body correctly, entire bodily systems don't work properly and in a negative spiraling chain reaction, eventually lead to organ dysfunction and chronic disease.

"Diabetes, heart failure, hepatitis C, fibromyalgia, schizophrenia, mood disorders, epilepsy, strokes, neuropathy, memory problems and autoimmune disease are just a few disease linked to mitochondrial dysfunction."

A little biochemistry.

Most cells in your body contain mitochondria. Some have a lot more than others. The more energy a cell needs to function properly, the more mitochondria it needs to produce the energy it needs. For example, your brain, retina, heart and liver cells all contain a lot more mitochondria that most other cells because thinking, seeing, pumping blood and processing toxins are all things that require high energy.

All cells eventually die and it is the job of mitochondria to send the signal when that time is appropriate. (Not before!)

Mitochondria also produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate) which stores energy, helps your body to create proteins and antibodies, and it is the FUEL used by our cells for ALL that they do. Without it, cells begin to function improperly and eventually die prematurely.

To produce ATP efficiently, the most important things your mitochondria need are glucose or ketone bodies from fat and oxygen. Your mitochondria can get by for awhile on only those things, but to do the most efficient job and to live they also need vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, sulfur, zinc, magnesium, iron, manganese, antioxidants, L-carnitine, alpha-lipoic acid, creatine and coenzyme Q. They also need to be protected from toxins like arsenic, lead and mercury. If this basic process does not happen your cells will produce less energy and more waste (free radicals).

Dr. Wahls gives a great example of the progressive signs of mitochondrial dysfunction in a person’s life,

I hope you can still remember a day when you felt well. You could work or play all day and you felt happy, or at least normal, in your body. At some point, however, you probably noticed some subtle changes. Perhaps you noticed that you couldn’t move as freely or think as clearly, or you began to experience pain. These very outward symptoms were a signal that your biochemistry was changing. The signaling between your cells was gradually becoming confused.
You could recognize that you didn’t feel well, though you may not have been able to explain precisely what was amiss. You eventually saw your doctor, who performed an examination and conducted blood tests but found nothing wrong. Perhaps you were told to come back in a year. When you did, you felt a little worse than you did the year before, but all your tests still looked okay and the doctor continued to say you were “fine.” Perhaps this dance went on for years, perhaps decades, before your body finally suffered enough damage that a test or two began to come up abnormal. Finally, your doctor began to investigate more seriously. And perhaps, at long last, you were given a diagnosis. Your doctor had not been trained in functional medicine, and so opportunities to recover your vitality were missed, but the inexorable process of biochemical decline was happening all along, through all those years of negative test results and doctors reassuring you. Your body began to produce and accumulate incorrectly made molecules in your cells and your organs. To you, you probably felt like the music of your life slowly began to deteriorate, note by note, losing the melody and harmony, moving from a beautiful symphonic concert to a chaotic noise. That is how it felt to me.

At a cellular level MS, autoimmune disease and chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease and some mood disorders like depression, autism and schizophrenia all look pretty much the same - they all share mitochondrial dysfunction.

Health problems begin in the cells.
If your dysfunctional cells produce symptoms of X, Y and Z...they label you with MS. If your dysfunctional cells produce symptoms of A, B and C...they label you with Lupus. If your dysfunctional cells produce symptoms of L, M and N...they label you with heart disease, and so on. Like Terry says, diagnosis are simply "labels doctors put on conditions, based on parts they can actually quantify, like symptoms, test results and which medications improve or worsen symptoms, as well as through a process of elimination." Remember that when giving weight and importance to getting a diagnosis.

When science looks at the cellular level, all autoimmune diseases have six common characteristics according to Dr. Wahls.

  1. Mitochondria are strained, producing energy inefficiently and producing too much waste. This leads to too many free radicals in the body, which damage cells.
  2. The immune cells are too reactive, leading to excessive inflammation throughout the body.
  3. The immune cells specifically attack “self” or cell structures that belong to us.
  4. Toxins such as lead, mercury, and pesticides stored in the body and chronic low-grade infections such as Lyme disease or even periodontal (gum) infection worsen autoimmune-related symptoms.
  5. Low vitamin D and excessive hormone levels are present, both which worsen inflammation.
  6. Deficiencies or excesses of particular vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and antioxidants phytonutrient molecules are common.

Your DNA could very well predispose you to certain diseases. These mutated DNA could effect inflammation control, how toxins are managed, how we absorb nutrients, how effective hormones work and effectiveness of neurotransmitters. But the truth is that scientists believe that it’s epigenetics (your environment and what you eat) that determine about 70-95 percent of your risk of developing those diseases. Very few conditions are caused solely by a single mutation in your DNA. Those mutated DNA can be sitting there causing you no problem whatsoever and then if you have enough cellular dysfunction (caused by the lack of proper nutrients and the presence of toxins, including those the body creates during times of stress), those DNA switches that are turned off can easily be turned on . The simple flip of a genetic switch. You can not only stop that switch from being turned on, you can actually reverse cell damage. Terry Wahls and countless other patients are living proof. My goal is to be part of that growing (and healing) body of evidence!

What is The Wahls Diet?

The development of the Wahls Diet did not happen all at once. As Dr. Wahls learned information from her own experience, from clinical trials and previous studies, various steps of the diet were developed. What exists today is a diet that can be customized in regards to the needs of the individual. For example, is the diet solely for the purpose of eating healthier, is it for someone already suffering from mild chronic illness or is it for the patient already in a specific disease state? Depending on the need, there are three levels,

  1. The Wahls Diet. The most basic level that kick-starts your system by infusing it with intense nutrition and removing dietary elements that could contribute to your decline.
  2. Wahls Paleo. The next level, and the level where many people choose to stay, provides more structure to further eliminate dietary elements that can compromise gut health.
  3. Wahls Paleo Plus. The most difficult level is also the most therapeutic for those with autoimmune conditions and is particularly beneficial for anyone with neurological or psychological issues, whatever the underlying disease state, as well as those with a history of cancer. (Only at this level is a state of ketosis maintained)

There is a long history of the use of various forms of ketogenic diets. Much of that history littered with outcomes that came with a price. Dating back to the early 1900’s, ketogenic diets were used for people with diabetes (people who needed to survive on a diet with no carbohydrates) and epilepsy. And to this day doctors will place children with severe epilepsy on it.

Historically, the studies were successful in stopping seizures, but most children ended up nutritionally starved and suffered from things such as kidney stones, loss of vitamin C, too much uric acid, malnourishment and fractures. As time went on, variations of the diet included increasing fats so that more nutrient dense carbohydrates could be included. As science has learned more about nutrition, outcomes have improved significantly. Ketogenics can be highly effective with certain neurological conditions but can cause serious health issues if not implemented correctly.

Dr. Wahls version of the ketogenic diet is one that includes and is limited to the use of Medium Chain Triglyceride fats only, such as coconut oil and olive oil. When you are on a ketogenic diet, the body is in a state of ketosis. Ketosis is when there are ketones present in the blood. Ketones can replace glucose as an energy source for the cells. They are very small molecules that are soluble by water and can cross cell membranes and diffuse all through the body. Ketones can also get to places without a blood supply, so in cases of heart attack, stroke or TBI, they can help you stay alive. The are a very interesting and extremely powerful macronutrient and have huge applications for healing. They diffuse into the brain and the brain can use them for energy. The brain does not absorb fats very well from the body and relies primarily on glucose (which needs transporters to get around) for an energy source (cells need energy to function properly). Ketones can replace glucose as an energy source in the brain. For people with conditions of the brain, this can be incredibly beneficial.

The difference between the Standard Ketogenic Diet and Dr. Wahls' Medium Chain Triglyceride(MCT) Diet has to do with how long the triglyceride is. The longer the chain the more ketones are produced, and therefore the more carbohydrates can be tolerated (making this  even more nutrient dense than the standard diet.)

At this point in my findings, I had a lot of questions. Some were answered in Terry’s book. Some were answered, but I felt those answers were tailored more towards MS.  Some sent me reading journals, studies and whatever scholarly articles I could find. For me, I need to understand the science before it makes sense to me. And this protocol makes more sense than anything I have ever researched or done. Prior to getting really sick in 2009, I had all the ingredients leading to a perfect storm. I had the hereditary factor. I had indications of chronic illness. I was under tremendous stress. I was running marathons on an almost completely carbohydrate, low nutrient diet. I was literally starving my cells of the minerals and nutrients they needed to survive. For me, knowing how to fix this at a cellular level means understanding the best I can, what cells need to do their job. What causes mitochondrial dysfunction? Literally, what happens to the DNA? What role does oxidative stress have on DNA? And more specifically in the pathology and treatment of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus.

We also know that with mitochondrial dysfunction there is an inability to rid the body of toxins. In other words, our antioxidant enzyme systems are not working properly and therefore not protecting the body against radical induced cell damage. How do I improve this? These enzymes require cofactors such as selenium, iron, copper, zinc, and manganese for optimum catalytic activity. It has been suggested that a diet lacking in these minerals may compromise the effectiveness of these antioxidant defense mechanisms. So, what if I increase those foods as Dr. Wahls has suggested? And a subject I have not even touched on, but has a lot to do with this protocol is the benefit of fasting. There are studies with proven data on the effectiveness of Diet Mimicking Fasting and how it promotes regeneration and reduces autoimmunity. So many questions I can’t even begin to write them all down. Well, I can, but I’m fairly certain I have lost just about every reader by this time! The moral to this paragraph is this - the more I peel the layers of the onion back, the more I answer my own questions, the more a MCT Nutrient Dense Ketogenic Diet makes sense for me. At least in the short run.

In fact, I will mention before my science/medical friends fall off the deep end, this is not a permanent solution. At this point, there are no studies concluding how long the human body can be in ketosis. Right now, there are huge short term gains with possible long term side effects. Dr. Wahls was in ketosis for two years before she dropped down to a lesser degree of the diet. Now she is in and out of ketosis more consistent with her cultural heritage. (ie, Eskimos are known to be in ketosis more often than Europeans due to climate and the inability to get carbohydrates)

My plan, under the supervision of my doctors is to be in ketosis for seven months and then drop down to the next level for five months, an MCT nutrient dense paleo version. At a minimum I have improved my diet immensely, knocked out all processed foods and sugars and no longer consume gluten or dairy in any form. I am also working hard to rid my life of toxins as well as STRESS. Both which play a big role in epigenetics.

So far...really good! That’s my motto! I am showing consistent improvement every day. Is this a cure? Nope, not yet. There is no research to say anything of the sort. But there is all kinds of good stuff out there from simply reducing pain and fatigue to actually reversing cell damage and increasing cell mitochondria. Yes, healing! Not just taking a pill to cover up a symptom!

Please let me know if you would like more information. I am thrilled to pass on studies, answer questions, send links, let you borrow my book! Whatever I can do, it would be my pleasure. For me, taking control of my health is incredibly empowering. In fact, the placebo effect from that alone is most likely off the charts. But hey, whatever it takes. Thanks for sticking with me and I hope to hear from some of you.


Terry Wahls, M.D.

Terry Wahls, M.D. TEDx Talk, Minding Your Mitochondria


Ketogenic diets, mitochondria, and neurological diseases

A Diet Mimicking Fasting Promotes Regeneration and Reduces Autoimmunity and Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms.

Defective DNA Repair and Chromatin Organization in Patients with Quiescent Systemic Lupus Erythematosus.

The Therapeutic Potential of the Ketogenic Diet in Treating Progressive Multiple Sclerosis

Oxidative Stress and its Biomarkers in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Oxidative Stress In the Pathology and Treatment of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Repair of Oxidative DNA Damage: Mechanisms and Functions.

Role for Oxidized Mitochondrial DNA in Lupus Revealed

Oxidized Mitochondrial DNA Advances Lupus Pathogenesis

Baylor Study Reveals Role for Oxidized Mitochondrial DNA in Lupus

How Can NRF2 Benefit You?

The Nrf2-Antioxidant Response Element Signaling Pathway and Its Activation by Oxidative Stress

The role of antioxidant supplement in immune system, neoplastic, and neurodegenerative disorders: a point of view for an assessment of the risk/benefit profile

Ketogenic Diets as an Adjuvant Cancer Therapy: History and Potential Mechanism

Thursday, January 28, 2016

You Get What You Give

Photo by David Ralph Johnson
We don't want to believe it. But it's true. We don't want to believe it because life is hard. It's hard and it's generally not fair. So when someone throws out a platitude like, "You get what you give", we believe it with cautious hesitation at best. Or we don't believe it at all, because we try so damn hard and the bad stuff just keeps on happening. So why try at all?

It doesn't matter who you are or what your particular situation is, we have all had this feeling at some point in our lives. It could be a relationship issue, it could be a career issue, it could be a financial issue, it could be a health issue, it could be a self-esteem issue...however many unfortunate circumstances there are in the world, there are just as many people who can't seem to get a break from them, no matter how hard they try. In fact, some people seem to have no luck at all.

I'm not hear to disagree with the fact that life isn't fair. Because it isn't. Stuff just happens. What I'm here to write about is what we do with that unfair stuff. How do we process it and in the end, how do we react to it. Because, quite frankly, sometimes we forget. Sometimes I forget.

I'm on year seven of fighting Lupus, Sjogren's, RA and a host of other health problems that popped up and tacked on along the way. The beginning was extremely tough. Life threatening tough. The middle was full of ups and downs with lessons learned in between. Currently, I'm not in a good space health-wise at all. I had a flare last September that threw my body into a tailspin and I am fighting desperately to climb back up. Many complications, old and new. Some neurological symptoms that are quite frightening and we are still trying to figure out. Which means lots of trips to the hospital and lots of tests, many which are not very pleasant. And if you know anything about lupus, stress of any kind only exacerbates the problem.

How have I been handling this recent phase? Not very well at all. I feel as though this is probably the lowest I have ever been. And my doctors know it because each one of them has asked me if I think about suicide. Even the doctors in my most recent hospitalization questioned me. I just can't stop crying.

Let me stop the worrying here. I never, never think about suicide. Ever.

Would it be wrong for me to think about suicide. Well, it wouldn't be helpful...but I don't believe it would be wrong. It's a perfectly normal feeling like joy and sadness and worry and fear and all the rest. It just demands a very different action on the part of myself and of those around me. But I do think about not trying. I have a phrase that will get stuck in my head in times like these and it's, "I can't do this anymore." I find that when I'm crying, these are the words that I repeat over and over and over again. Sometimes out loud when my sweet husband holds me in his arms. This is how I felt when I went into the hospital last week. This is how I felt when I went to the hospital yesterday.

And then this happened...

I was a bit worried about my state of mental health the last time I visited my doctors. I knew I needed to kind of "get things under control". Not in a fake way. In a good way. For me and for them. Too much emotion can distract both me and the doctors from the real issues. And I was confident this needed to be about my diseases and not my mental health. So I decided to be as positive as I could and as pleasant as I could to everyone I came into contact with. It was odd, in a way. I felt a little bit like I had lost control of everything and the only thing I had left was to be kind. A bit like giving up in a good way. Maybe that doesn't make sense, but it did to me. So I just smiled.

At each one of my doctor appointments I was met with exceptionally thoughtful nurses. Each one of my doctors spent an unusually extended amount of time with me in which they were not only incredibly compassionate, but went overboard in accommodating me and making themselves available to me when I left their offices (giving me phone numbers and emails...) I even had a doctor walk me down the hall, take my coat and pull the chair out for me when I sat down to schedule my next appointment.

I had an hour or so to spare in between appointments so I visited the hospital gift shop. In there I had the most lovely conversation with three women. Found a great sweater that I bought for myself, tried it on and had everyone in the shop complimenting me. I left the store with the biggest smile on my face only to be greeted in the hallway by someone offering me free coffee - which I needed desperately. I walked down the hallway and toward the pharmacy, which is where I met this man...

Meet Thanh-Tran.

I first saw him as I was walking to get on the elevator. I could hear all this commotion down the hallway and I looked to make sure everything was okay. Noticing that people were all laughing and smiling, I proceeded into the elevator. Just as the doors were about to close, I saw a shadow coming toward me so I put my hand in between the doors to prevent them from closing. As they opened back up, there he stood. About a foot from me with the absolute hugest grin on his face. He was about to step in when he realized the elevator was full. Without hesitation, he put his fingers up to his lips and blew me a kiss and waved good-bye. Without hesitation, I blew him a kiss back and the doors closed. There I stood, my back to about five other people, wondering if anyone else noticed I just blew a kiss to a perfect stranger! All I could do was smile.

I got off the elevator, walked to the pharmacy and found my place in line. Within seconds the man in the bright red beret, red scarf and the American flag tie had entered the room. No, let me clarify. His high pitched, sing-songy, full of life and laughter, Vietnamese infused voice entered the room about ten seconds before he did. Not one person remained unaffected. He shook hands, gave kisses, did little dances, raised his arms in celebration, jiggled his tie and repeated, "America intelligent! Good people! Good doctors! Good life!" he pointed out those he knew across the room with a "Hey! Long time no see!", and those he didn't with a "Hey! You beautiful today!" and walked right over to me.

I got out of line and the two of us sat down together. I had no idea what I was doing.

Within moments I was talking to Thanh-Tran, Vietnam veteran, highly decorated, Vietnam lawyer ranked number one in a class of 3000, married to a retired nurse, father of four, grandfather of seventeen, disseminator of all things positive. In between his little bits of wisdom and snippets of life history, he would would turn his hand palm side up, gently place it under my chin and randomly interject, "You so beautiful. You so intelligent. You so lovely my daughter" and then pick up where he left off. Just like that.

I learned about his love for our country. I learned about his life in Vietnam. I learned about the importance of staying active every day (which was accompanied by a dance befitting some sort of Irish jig). I learned about how important it is to have good friends. I learned about how we have to be thankful for good doctors. I learned about what the pins and metals meant that decorated the front of his beret. I saw pictures of when he was young and living in Vietnam. I saw a picture of his wife and of the little plastic document that seemed to verify it all.

I wanted desperately to capture this moment so I asked him if I could take his picture. He immediately responded with, "You take picture. You. Me." I pulled my phone out of my bag, stood up next to this tiny little man and tried...yes tried to take our picture. Just when I would be ready to take the picture, he would turn his face away from the camera and kiss me on the cheek.

And just like that... He was gone.

But never from my heart. This man changed my world. In the blink of an eye, in the breath of a laugh, in the touch of a hand...he changed my world.

He taught me what I had seemed to forget. "You get what you give." And no one knows this more than Thanh-Tran. You see, you have to put it out there friends. When life isn't fair, when you absolutely need it most, you have to put it out there. You can't lock yourself in that little room of hopelessness and despair. You have to give up the fight. Yes, I said give up the fight. You have to realize you are not in control. Keeping the illusion of control only only keeps us armed and protected and or defenses up. We have to let go. Be vulnerable. Be authentic. And give.

If you're feeling hopeless, give hope to someone. If you're feeling scared, give comfort to someone. If you're feeling sad, give happiness to someone. If you're not feeling loved, love someone. If you're feeling angry, be kind to someone. If you're feeling frustrated, be patient with some one. If you're feeling too tired to care, give compassion to someone. Do something. No matter how small. Give it all up and be human with someone. Relate. Understand. Be vulnerable. You see, you get what you give - and you get it when you need it most.

I believe Thanh-Tran needed a kiss when that elevator started to close. And you know what. I gave it to him. Without thinking. Without hesitation, I blew a perfect stranger
a kiss.



Friday, December 2, 2011

From This Place

This picture hangs above our fireplace right now. I say "right now" because when your husband is a photographer, things like this change from time to time. For the most part, I am pleased with the transitions. But this one, the one he calls Snowy Oak, is different. I may just keep this one up for a very long time.

BWCA 2007
Nature heals me. More specifically...the woods. I am never so close to the divine as I am when I am laying stretched out on some huge stone or back side up with my head to the clouds, capturing pieces of sky beyond tree tops and quivering leaves or laying face down in the moist mossy earth.

I remember feeling this way as a child in the arms of my father. Safe, warm, connected to something so much bigger than me. I can smell his fresh t-shirt as I pressed my cheek to his chest. I can hear his heart beating as if it somehow were my own, carrying me within the gentle cadence of his strength.  

I don't get out into the woods much any more. Conditions have to be just right - for me and for the woods. But I try not to grieve any longer for what I don't have. It's a pretty useless way to expend energy. What I do try to do, is to draw from within, those many experiences I HAVE had. That's what Snowy Oak does for me. I can stand in front of our fireplace and become completely lost in the twisted, gnarled, snow covered branches that fill my wall. My breathing slows as I am drawn into the motion of each flake, to the wrenched rhythm of each brittle twig. I can smell the frozen air. I can feel the cragged meandering bark as I run my bare hand down her trunk. Wrinkled crows-feet worn like the badges of an old women. If I were a fortune teller of oak...Oh, the stories I could tell!

This is most holy.

When I sat down to write to you today, I was filled with a sort of melancholy. I'm not really "feeling" the whole Christmas thing this year - at least, not in the traditional sense of things. Which, I am finding, is actually a good thing. At first the temptation was to wonder what's wrong with me. But as I look inward, what I am realizing is that I am filled with a deep sense of longing. Longing not for the brightly covered busy-ness of the perfectly decorated Fraser Fir or Scotch Pine. Longing not for the hubbub of city streets or the thrill of finding just the right deal or even the display of  holiday lights. What I'm longing for this holiday season is this...


This kind of Quiet...

It is from this place, from the quiet dead of winter, that I want to venture out from.

It is from this place, from the barren fields of snow, that I want to adorn my home for the gatherings.
It is from this place, from the lifeless empty branches, that I want to give the gifts of my heart.

It is from this place, from seemingly endless nights of December, that I want to discover my joy.

It is from this place, this quiet, very still place, that I find home.

May we all come home for the holidays.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Picture This

                                           Photo by David Ralph Johnson

One of the wonderful things about having a husband as a photographer is all the beautiful art that surrounds our home and fills our computers. Sometimes I forget. I take things for granted. Beauty becomes commonplace. 

While sifting through some of his work on facebook, I happened upon this picture. One of our friends had commented on it saying, "When you can get people to pause and try to figure out what's going on or imagine a dialog, you've got a good picture." I have heard the same idea stated by another photographer friend of ours when he says, "A good picture asks more questions than it tells". 

This is a good picture.

I won't ever know the dialog was that filled this moment, I can only imagine. But one word resonates - pain. Emotional pain.

We are not without suffering in this life; it's a given fact. Despite even our best attempts at understanding or coping - or our attainment of complete consciousness - disease, loss, death... these things find their way into all of our lives and bring with them very real suffering. They come without warning and without choice. 

Emotional pain - the kind I imagine in this picture - is inevitable as long as we remain identified with our minds. As long as we are unconscious, spiritually speaking. Being "unconscious" means not living aware of the present moment. Instead, we live caught up in the pain of our past or the worry of our future. This type of living is consumed with thought. When we are consumed with thought we can not, at the same time, be aware of what is truly happening right now. And when the unobserved mind runs our lives, we create our own pain.
As long as we are unwilling to accept Now, we resist what Is. As long as we resist what Is, we will continue to suffer. Acceptance means freedom. And freedom means peace. 

One of the biggest problems with emotional suffering is that we project our pain onto others. If I am without joy, I will project my discontentment with life onto all those I come into contact with. And sadly, as is human nature, I will do so much more with the people that I love.  

When we project our own pain onto people, we can not see them for who they really are. 

Let me give you a real life example of this. My husband is a photographer. There are two main aspects to being a photographer (in my mind). There's the part about going out and taking pictures. And then there's the part about sitting at the computer...downloading, organizing, filing, working the pictures up, posting them to the web or online gallery... it's a big part. This can take hours. And hours. And hours. You get the picture - figuratively and literally. 

If I am suffering, in any way, the second aspect  can create an irritability in me that feels nothing short of toxic. After hours of self-talk (consumed with thought) I can feel slighted, jealous, angry, hurt, mad, self-righteous, vengeful, irritated, unhappy, discontent... Oh, the list could go on. And in passive-aggressive form, I will eventually make some sort of hurtful comment. Yep, that really can be me.  

If I am not suffering, the situation can be quite different. Lets say I am physically feeling on top of my game. Because of this, I make plans to be with my girlfriends - who completely fill my cup. Maybe it's an afternoon away, or maybe I am fortunate enough to spend a weekend at Clare's Well. Maybe I even spend a little money on myself. I feel good. How do you suppose I react now, to the hours and hours my husband has been on the computer? You guessed it. No problem! In fact, I may even feel joy in knowing that he was happy while I was gone and not preoccupied with loneliness or upset that he had to make his own supper!

What's changed? 


The second aspect of photography remains the same. It is my resistance to what Is, my preoccupation with the past and worry of the future - my very own pain - that  keeps me from experiencing peace. Or joy. Or happiness.  

When we find ourselves emotionally unpleasant towards others, it's a good indication that we need to pay attention to our own pain. 

Be still. Sit with it. Listen to it. 

Picture this ~
In accepting what is
we can transform the moment,
and become awakened to the beauty 
that surrounds us 
and lies


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Emma Jane

Photo by David Johnson

       Emma Jane

I love my children.  Each of them so different from the other, none lacking in any way to the next.  But, let me tell you….no two are more different than the twins, Emma Jane and Sara Jane.  For those of you old enough to remember The Odd Couple (dating myself here), Emma would be Oscar.  Always just going about her business, moving in and out of our days with interesting random facts and very dry humor.  Not much bothers Emma – or so we think.

One of the greatest gifts Lupus has given me is time. The first moments I began to realize this were the days following my “code blue” episode in the hospital almost two years ago. Time became something I paid attention to. It almost took on a three dimensional property. I felt it everywhere, yet nowhere. This all pervasive gift that no matter how hard I tried, no matter how precious, I could not hold on to it. It meant everything to me, and it meant nothing. 

Letting go of time has allowed me a place of stillness; and in this stillness, I have rediscovered my children. Hours, upon hours, upon hours, have been spent with them by my side. In hospital rooms, in bedrooms, next to my chair or sitting in the kitchen, I have been awakened to the miracle that resides within each one of them.  Some days I feel as if I am seeing them for the very first time.  I may have been a much healthier person two and a half years ago, but all the health in the world does me no good if I am missing the very thing that makes life worth living.  The people I love. 

It was during one of these moments that Emma and I were having a rather passionate discussion.  As is quite often the case in our home, we were discussing the issue of social justice; which eventually leads to topics like philosophy, politics and religion.  Yes, these can be rather deep discussions indeed! The topic de jour revolved around the concept or perception of space.  I was trying to describe the idea of interdependent origination and its affect on our actions in this world.  Simply put, cause and effect.  Taken to the smallest degree, one understands the butterfly effect.  Moreover, the responsibility we have as human beings to our world and all that is in it. 

I was trying my best to give examples of how close we are, in reality, to those that live on the other side of this globe.  I began by telling her that if someone in our immediate family was hurting we would not think twice about helping them.  I then moved out into space and spoke of her grandparents, then her friends and then the people that live in our town. I kept going until the borders reached out past the country in which we call home.  I then pointed out the dilemma this creates if we are truly all connected; if my actions really do have an impact on my friends in Africa or the glaciers in Antarctica. Just because we do not understand the consequences within our limited understanding of time, does not make it not so. Nor does it make it less important. 

I then moved on to something I thought would be easier to relate to.  The human body. Much like Jesus talks about the Body of Christ in relationship to the church, there is an obvious property of interconnectedness. Comprised of many parts, all very different, all playing different roles – yet when left alone, quite useless; and when damaged can lead to the destruction of the entire body.  At this point, I was becoming quite passionate. Lost in the enthusiasm of my feelings with regards to this subject, it took me a bit to notice the pain that had found its place within Emma. It was then that Emma spoke words that that I will never forget. 

I do not know if it was the look on her face, or the utter sadness in her voice, or the words that she spoke, that had the biggest impact on me.  Most likely, it was the collective effect of all three.  She looked directly at me, and in the quietest of voices, with a tear in her eye, she said this:

“Why can’t the world just bend down and help the wounded foot?”

I weep as I type this. The very reading of it floods my heart with emotion.  Pieces of a seemingly disconnected, chronically ill state of being, woven together in one moment.  If I had not gotten sick, my spirit would not have broke. If my spirit would not have broken, I would not have searched for a better way. If I would not have searched for a better way, I would not have found the way to peace. If I had not found peace, I would have no concept of the beauty of time. If I did not understand the impermanence of time, I would never have been in that moment. If I would have never been present in that moment, I would have never – never – heard the words so eloquent, the sound so beautiful, the message so true that flowed from the innocence and wisdom of my daughter.

But I did. 

Whether we choose to understand it or not, we are all connected in this life.  The voice I use, the food I eat, the things I buy, the time I spend, the words I write, the phone calls I make, the emails I type, the help I give, the hurt I cause… Just like the whisper of the butterfly’s delicate wings or the devastation of an earthquake, nothing is independent.  Life is a tangled web of interconnections, being constantly transformed by the choices we make. 

I guess when I found out I had lupus I was presented with choices I needed to make. I am actually thankful that I was given the opportunity.  Being present in the lives of my children is a choice I may never have understood if not for that opportunity.  To really hear them, to let go of time and space has simply melted away barriers that once took up so much energy to maintain.  I’m amazed at what came so easily from Emma’s thoughts that day.  Their impact on me personally as well as my views on social justice issues  has been great.  Written in my heart forever. 

If I had not gotten lupus…