Name not Blame

The above refrain, I have heard as almost a cliche in psychology but it occurred to me that it pertains to many aspects of your overall health as well. Weight loss information and products often use the common marketing tool of taking blame away from the person with the marketing copy of “It’s not your fault.” We might realize that this is not only unhelpful, but also causes there to be the un-necessary additional issue that the person feels the need to contend with another problem. Now they have to deal with larger issues beyond themselves and now they need the help of a product or service to deal with.

The radical truth is that while there are larger societal forces that we have no control over some of which we sometimes struggle to understand, the overwhelming majority of significant factors in your health can be named and identified. As I have stated before from my teachers, this pursuit of health is a pursuit of wholeness. In becoming whole you can start by naming the pieces of the puzzle and this you are fully capable of doing for yourself.

So what about blaming something when you identify it as a stumbling block in your health? This next statement also feels like a cliche, but what you blame you give power to and the same goes in your pursuit of optimal health. It’s of course much worse that that because it can become a never ending pursuit of blame for some folks. They start to see everything from mass media to corporations to sometimes government all doing things that are hurting your health. They see a never-ending battle.

Let me offer you another option. We live in a material world, a world create by man. That man made world assesses you by standards and ideals. The real world where no two people are alike holds little sway in the material, man-made world. While civilization is amazing for its culture and technology and ability to organize and advance the material aspects of life, let’s remember that the biblical ideal was the life of the shepherd who existed outside of cities and was more consumed with compassion and contemplation such as was afforded by the life of the shepherd.

The material world by its nature does not recognize you as possessing a soul, a piece of the Divine. As such it is never going to be able to provide you with wholeness and when the pursuit is something less than wholeness, well, there is sickness and the need for healing. How can you blame the man-made material world? That is its nature and every spiritual and healing tradition of antiquity recognized this without assigning blame. They concentrated more on naming it and trying to teach people to recognize its nature.

So, coming back to your situation in regards to optimizing your health. Well, obviously, I am not suggesting you leave civilization and become a shepherd 🙂 What I am suggesting is that some of the things you may blame for your predicament, might in fact just be their nature, and you are much better off focusing on those things that are in your control which with education are vast and infinite.

It’s all cliche in psychology books but when you don’t blame but concentrate on naming it and focusing on things you do have a control of, you empower yourself and instead of seeing a world stacked against you, you see options and paths for improvement, learning, and the path to wholeness.

Think Big or Don't Think!

A very good friend who is also a Rabbi sends me some great words of wisdom on the weekly Torah portion each week. I suggested he start a blog. I think I have convinced him. Ultimately, it is a great way to hone your writing skills and to have a place to look back on how your thoughts have evolved, like a journal does. I was quite interested in an interview I heard last week between Penn Jillete and Tim Ferriss. Penn Jillete, the magician that is part of Penn and Teller, has kept a journal for many years and when he writes an entry he looks back at what he wrote 10 years ago on the same day to see where his mind was and how his thoughts have evolved.

When I explained that I thought eventually he would need a full website and newsletter, he said, “Wow, you think big.” I said spontaneously “Think big or don’t think.” Time is precious but one thing is certain, in keeping with Hillel “If I am not for myself, who will be for me, if I am only for myself, what am I, if not now, when?” Now is the time to refine your thinking through writing because this makes you a more functional human being capable for helping others, especially if that involves imparting education.

The main challenge is finding your unique voice. People spend a lifetime trying to mimic others who they see as great. But, as my teacher, of blessed memory, Gerald Epstein, MD taught me, to do so, is a form of idolatry. Find and use the TOOLS of others to help you, but to see another as greater than you when you are made in the image of God and serve a unique purpose on this earth is to become an idolater, by placing something you think greater than you between you and God.

Authenticity is the way to go. In fact for most of us, I think, our life is about finding out our unique contribution. A lesson can be learned from the saint / tzaddik Reb Zusha of Anapoli. As it is recorded in HaAchim HaKedoshim: Reb Zusha was laying on his deathbed surrounded by his disciples. He was crying and no one could comfort him. One student asked his Rebbe, “Why do you cry? You were almost as wise as Moses and as kind as Abraham.” Reb Zusha answered, “When I pass from this world and appear before the Heavenly Tribunal, they won’t ask me, ‘Zusha, why weren’t you as wise as Moses or as kind as Abraham,’ rather, they will ask me, ‘Zusha, why weren’t you Zusha?’ Why didn’t I fulfill my potential, why didn’t I follow the path that could have been mine.

And from that we can all learn. How much of our days is spent as someone else who we think we should be as opposed to spending the time finding our our unique contribution? When you think big, aspiring to be someone great by being someone else is the way of the material world. The way of the spirit is to learn from Reb Zusha and think big for you, for your unique contribution.

The Tyranny of Advanced Degrees and Wealth

One of things that stymies the pursuit of many of my clients and patients from becoming their own authorities in their health is the “putting on a pedestal” of people with advanced degrees and wealth.   My teacher of blessed memory, Gerald Epstein, MD would say that is like erecting an idol for yourself.  Experts with degrees are important only to the extent that they serves as resources for information and in some cases to be teachers to help you along the way.   What I tend to see happen is people tend to make those people more valuable than they are themselves.

As far as wealth goes, have you noticed how if Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk say something completely unrelated to their realm of expertise, it makes headlines?   They have money because they know how to make money through a select business or businesses.  That’s it.   Of course, some businesses do provide real value to society, but that doesn’t make the person with great wealth any more valuable than you and certainly no more qualified to make pronouncements about anything anymore than anyone else.  For some wealthy people, they just have a very narrow skill, that just happens to correlate with more money and does not relate in anyway to the level of wisdom they have in anything else.   

Additionally, many people with great “success” don’t even have great insight into why they are “successful.”   Robert Ringer makes note in his bombastically titled book “Winning by Intimidation” which should really be called “How to Win by Avoiding Being Intimidated” (though that wouldn’t sell as well) explains that one of the reasons that books on “success” are often all over the place in terms of recommendations is not only because the hard truth of “success” is often not sellable but also because many people with great “success,”  don’t actually have a lot of insight into why they are successful.

Bringing this back to health, (which as the cliche says, is actually a form of wealth), is that the whole edifice of modern medicine is structured as such a rigid hierarchy that it can often feel imposing and intimidating to people coming into it and how we ordinarily would act.   Hierarchy is after all, needed, it is required for a standard of care to be enforced but as we have spoken about elsewhere, this is the man- made world which tends to depersonalize people. When it comes to the real world of human beings no two of which are alike, there is bound to be some conflict if you insist on maintaining your freedom..   My father is also a medical doctor and taught me that my job is to serve the patient and earn their trust and respect.  The word Doctor comes from the root to teach.  Doctors are there to advise, teach, and gain your trust that they can help you while you maintain your freedom always, which is your God-given responsibility.  

I believe that a certain doctor coming into your life at a certain moment can often be a Divine intervention for your health but if anything that just means that you would be grateful to God for putting this person in your life to help you.   Your job during this process is to make sure you keep your freedom by reminding yourself that you know yourself better than anyone and not allow institutions even medical ones from taking away that uniqueness. 

In the immortal words of Hillel, which I think about often when this comes up and sums up how you should relate to yourself and others: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me, and if I am only for myself what am I, and if not now when.” 

Image above by Democracy Chronicles

American Institute for Mental Imagery (AIMI)

I am pleased to announce Rachel, the wife of my beloved teacher of blessed memory, Jerry Epstein, MD is continuing his work. You can find my recollection of learning with Jerry here.

As Rachel writes “Founded on the principles of love and truth, Dr. Jerry Epstein, M.D. created the American Institute of Mental Imagery in 1982. Through his work, Dr. Epstein sought to empower people to be their own authorities, teaching them to access their inner wisdom in order to find answers to their mental, physical, and emotional difficulties. Teaching people how to use their minds to heal, AIMI is dedicated to extending tools and techniques of self-healing and self-realization to anyone, of any age, at all times. All are welcome. Classes can generally be joined at anytime at a prorated rate.”

If the above is of interest, reach out to rachel@drjerryepstein.org for a full catalog. Or visit the AIMI site here. I can’t overestimate the value of the resources you will discover.

Image from page 32 of “The sage’s key to character at sight; special student’s course” (1919)

Clearing Your Bodily Awareness

You have a doctor inside you. For a great deal of health issues, your body is capable of telling you what is wrong and how to correct it. It is only capable of doing this however when the things that cloud your bodily awareness, your bodily perception can communicate to you through symptoms and sensations.

So what clouds your ability to “hear” the messages your body is sending you? Firstly, it is your lack of listening. In a prior post, I discussed how in North America, overwhelmingly we don’t use internal cues to stop eating. So, the first step is starting to listen and using internal cues, paying close attention to how you feel.

Unfortunately, most people have behaviors and ingest toxins that don’t allow them to sense what is going on in their bodies. A whole book could be written on this topic, especially how various cultures have tackled this subject. There is a deep wisdom in the body that is open to all of us to reclaim.

Alcohol, drugs, sugar, lack of proper sleep and rest, abnormal exposure to light, emotional stress, dehydration and even abnormal preoccupation with the past or some future event are just some of the factors that cloud your perception of what is going on in your body.

You task is to avoid getting bogged down in the details of science and learn to listen to the wisdom of the body. The Taoists have remarkable exercises where you actually work on each of the organs of your body and through work can learn to understand the signals of your organs. When it comes to longevity and learning how to listen to your body, the Taoist writings on health are by far the most advanced..

But you don’t need to be a Taoist master to learn to start listening. Just start listening. Pay attention to your body, your posture, how you feel, where you feel it, and what your body is telling you. Acknowledge that your body has an intelligence of its own, an amazing ability to adapt and try to achieve balance. It’s a miraculous creation. Most of what we complain about is an adaptation to some imbalance. In that knowledge, you can realize what your body wants for optimal health, balance. Now go and listen.

Image above by Benjamin Balázs

An Untapped Source of Strength

Whether you like it or not, you are probably 2-3 generations from someone of great faith. It could be your grandparents or great-grandparents who likely had a simple faith in God and derived incredible strength from that. In most ways, they had a much tougher life than we do these days. That is not to say that we don’t all have our difficulties, in fact as mentioned in a prior post, the quote “Be Kind for everyone is fighting a great fight” holds for all people at all time. It just reflects the nature of our lives on Earth.

You, possibly, may know more “things” but that doesn’t make you smarter than your ancestors. Popular culture loves to denigrate the beliefs of people just a generation or 2 ago. They judge people based on their knowledge and not their wisdom. The ancient Hebrew prophets and sages and the ancient Greek philosophers, had profound wisdom and trained in how to use their minds to probe eternal truths. There were many who toiled in having a simple faith and relationship with Divinity, they did this with a brilliance that is hard to find these days.

Which brings me back to the title of this post. You should know that besides the genetic inheritance of your ancestors, you possess a lot more. If you choose to access this, spend some time contemplating that there are great people behind you who survived and thrived who while no longer here in the physical remain connected to you. Thinking about them gives me great strength and motivation to face each day squarely. It also helps me stay on a balanced path in a crazy world.

Image above from from page 45 of “Religious emblems : being a series of engravings on wood, executed by the first artists of that line, from designs drawn on the blocks themselves” (1809)

Principles over Knowledge Any Day

“Beware; making many books has no end, and studying much is a weariness of the flesh.” Ecclesiastes 12:12 Translation: chabad.org.

Nowhere is this more evident than on the internet.   Content creators just keep on creating.   New television shows on more stations, producing more and more content, on and on.   How much is wisdom over knowledge?   How much is principles over details?   How many options for diversion from reality?  A small amount of that is valuable art, but it is a very small amount as it always has been.  

The structures that exist in society largely don’t change.   The principles of wisdom have been with us for ages untold.  Yet, the value in the evolution of society is that there is always an opportunity to use what exists in the moment to teach wisdom, through analogy and parable.

And what about health and medicine?   It does progress and detail is important, for the experts, but often times you will find studies done that have the wrong premise to them, that there was a lack of wisdom in their construction.   It takes the real wise scientists to formulate general principles from the detailed knowledge that is published and to design studies where the right questions have been asked.

In my internship in Internal Medicine at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital and Princeton Hospital, we had several senior residents and attending physicians that had photographic memories.   It was astounding to interact with someone who could tell you the page in Harrison’s Textbook of Medicine that he just recited almost word for word pertaining to the diagnosis of the patient in front of us.   These doctors were, however, not the best doctors.  The best doctors were the one that could “see the forest for the trees” and would often have to look up details and supporting information.

In terms of your health, I often encounter people on my phone consultations that know much knowledge but lack wisdom in applying the knowledge in a balanced way to their health.   Often times, just using an analogy can bring many aha moments that put things into perspective.   The answer is rarely found by acquiring more knowledge. Knowing much is easy, it just takes time, acquiring wisdom and understanding principles comes through real toil.  

Details can be interesting, can be fun, but often times become distractions for learning what really matters in health which in its simplest description is learning the art of balance. 

Image above from the British Museum: in the public domain.