Wednesday, 26 May 2010

The unbearable present

Last night I enjoyed being with about thirty five others in an evening of contemplation and meditation.
Many people present had never tried this approach to life - which is quite counter-cultural for Britain - and some helpful suggestions were offered for people who want to start.
One point made was that we have to try it for just a few minutes to begin with - we may very quickly struggle with things like pins-and-needles distracting us, or our mind being bombarded with thoughts, or we may simply be unable to sit still like that without feeling emotionally or physically uncomfortable with the situation.

The advice was to practice (in a way we individually find suitable) and persist, slowly increasing the amount of time we stay in contemplation.
We were advised to surrender to the difficult things that arise and then let them float past, allowing ourselves to be who we have been created to be, not who our hyperactive minds often tell us we must be.

Surrendering to the present moment, and persisting in spite of the surrounding thoughts and circumstances are two important principles to consider when you have a chronic illness. This is something I have learned spiritually and physically over the last few years.

We all have certain levels of long term pain that we feel we can (or can't) deal with - our memories of pain from the past can be one factor in how we respond. And sometimes it is the associated mental or emotional pain involved in living with chronic conditions that can be the hardest.
I have found that accepting the present moment, through meditation, can help me more than if I mentally fight back or try to cover over the physical pain (don't get me wrong; I do need some painkillers!).
Unfortunately in Europe and America we often have a very modern Westernised Christian approach to pain as soon as it appears - O God, please take it away! While there will always need to be some medications for serious pain, our heart's desire seems to be to rid ourselves of all painful aspects of life.

Well - in the famous opening words of M. Scott Peck's book The Road Less Travelled: "Life is difficult". Surrendering to that fact is hard, especially when the pain is really bad. But surrendering is necessary. It may make it a tiny bit easier if we believe we are surrendering to a loving creator (but not always. The individual will is strong!).

Whether we are dealing with a sudden overwhelming cough or itch in the middle of meditating, or with severe pain levels in a bad flare up of our condition, persistence is also necessary. We have to choose to continue.

My experience is that things can become totally unbearable, worsening to a point we feel we simply cannot live with. But when that moment has passed, without intervening, then a time follows fairly soon afterwards. Our spirit breathes a sigh of relief. We are still alive. We have passed through it. And if we have persisted once, then we realise the gracious possibility that we could do so again.

These are only a few words on a tough issue - I don't believe that dealing with pain involves some trite thoughts popularised as "mind over matter". On the contrary, this is just the "tip of the iceberg" of our being - our whole bodies, mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical, in all their wonderfully complex physiological detail.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Coalition thinking

Wow, what a week it's been for the English! Our first exciting experience of creating a real political coalition.
For it to continue, and work effectively, I believe we will have to change ourthinking. Maybe in the same way that microbiology experts have had to change their thinking recently about the human body and why it gets ill.
For so long we have talked of a sealed and protected physical body that has to wage war against any pathogens that threaten to infect us from the outside.
At the same time people have started to understand now that there are a lot of friendly bacteria on the inside (mainly because of that advert for a certain mini-drink).

So here we have a model depicting two tribes of bacteria, which suits our traditional way of thinking:there are these friendly, helpful bacteria that understand the needs of the human body; and there are those BAD bacteria (boo!) that we must never allow to have control over our body.
Suddenly we have a new third set of bacteria being mentioned and people are starting to say "D'you know, I never realised that they could look like that, or how they work exactly?" A bit like Nick Clegg.

Some microbiologists have named these bacteria existing inside our bodies pathobionts - a combination of pathogen and symbiont. A symbiont is a helpful organism which works in perfect synergy with its host.
Other experts are describing the human body now as a "superorganism" and conclude that the newly discovered microbes provide "metabolic functions far beyond the scope of our own physiological capabilities".
So how can we be sure if these pathobionts are going to work well together for our good, or if they might harm us instead?

We simply can't be sure.
That's right, we just have to try to get along with them.
We have to provide the right structure to work together in our body (a healthy immune system, well exercised muscles).
We have to limit the jobs that they do in our body to the ones we want them quietly to get on with (by not overfeeding them with any processed foods).
And we have to promise that we won't suddenly attack their tribal group (antibiotics are a dangerous weapon).

We are going to have to learn to live and work together with our pathobionts, otherwise we will see an even greater increase in chronic illness than we have already.
If you think my analogy is a bit far fetched then have a look at this scientific article (which focuses particularly on fungal infections like candida). University of North Carolina microbiologist William E. Goldman says that the infections are "not very good at causing disease in normal hosts with normal immune systems".
"But a growing population of people have not-so normal immune systems. Fungal infections are so deadly in part because most patients who become seriously ill are already weakened by AIDS, cancer, transplants or medications that handicap the body’s ability to mount a strong defense.
"More and more of these patients have taken high doses of anti biotics to prevent other infections, fundamentally changing the body’s ecology and allowing unnatural fungal growths to take over. More patients are also undergoing medical procedures that breach normal immune barriers with catheters and other devices."
He mentions catheters because we all have three parts to our immune system: the largest organ in our body, our skin; then our innate immune system which provides 24/7 security guards; and our adaptive system which attacks when danger is identified.
In these interesting times please give the microbial coalition a chance - a strong and stable agreement is the best option for your body's long term health.