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.

Longevity Madness: The Missing Piece

Image from an Intro to Zoology Textbook from 1889. Tortoise is one of the longest living creatures on earth,

The tech giants are investing in research labs that are focusing on finding novel new treatments to extend life. You have a new set of billionaires who want to live forever. I don’t blame them. Given optimal health, most of us would choose to extend our lives if we could. I know I would.

Besides this fact, the science is really fascinating. I am aligned very much with the founder of the Life Extension Foundation when he says that there are diseases of aging and if that is the case, isn’t biological aging a type of disease? I know how this sounds to some of you, like one is trying to reverse the natural order in some kind of perverse egotistical direction.

But let’s think about that for a moment. Just from a financial perspective, there are changes, like the loss of muscle called sarcopenia, that if that one thing were delayed would have enormous savings to our medical system. Obviously exercise is helpful but if other biological factors are identified that contribute to this wouldn’t it behoove us to treat that to prevent the enormous cost of broken hips and its subsequent sequelae. The same can be said for many different pathways in the body that start to go awry as we age, why must it go awry? Is it even ethical to allow to do so if we have treatments or lifestyle interventions that would help and would obviously lessen suffering?

Let’s just hope that along with the advancements and extension of life that come that along with the blessing of long life, that we have a corresponding increase in wisdom and people we can call sages. The last thing we need is 150 year olds who just want to be teenagers forever. A balanced approach would seek to not just work on the body but to correspondingly work on growing the depth and wisdom of the mind. Those teachings have been with us all along and they wait for the person who wishes to learn them. A blessing of greater life would give us more time to immerse ourselves in those teachings and to teach others, that to me would be an extended life worth living.

The “Man-Made” World of Medicine

Drawing above by Jason and Mary Hunt of Orlando.

Dr. Robert “Rhondell” Gibson explains that the “real world” is a world where no two people are alike and no standards can be held against anyone. It is the free association of people without expectation, standards, fully accepting that each of us is unique.

The “Man-Made” world is the world of institutions and games with rules (even traffic is a game in this definition and I would say the rules are valuable here). I will go further in depth into this in another post but suffice it to say, that when I see someone in my office as a patient, they come in through the man-made world, but the second the exam door closes and we are interacting, it is my aim to make sure the real-world holds sway.

I don’t recall if I mentioned on this new blog but as of now, I still do free phone consultations for people. The conversations range from guidance on nutrition, fasting strategies, weight loss, psoriasis, lupus, and of late, conversations on the use of mental imagery for healing trauma of the past that was taught to me from my teacher of blessed memory, Gerald Epstein, MD.

Yesterday, I spoke to a woman who contacted me on my FB page and set up a call with me. She was suffering from pain related to ovarian cysts. In the small town she lived in, she had very few consultations with specialists but she saw who was available.

In these situations, knowledge of the “man-made world” of modern medicine can help. After taking a full medical history, I explained to her a referral to the closest university hospital, about 80 miles from her, would be the next logical step. I explained to her why a university hospital setting could help her and gave her the exact wording to use to ask her doctor in such a way to elicit a referral. These words would tell him or her that she means business and understands fully her need for more opinions.

How often do we get caught up in the man-made world and forget the real world? There are so many things to remember to stay awake in our hypnotic society and here is another question to ask yourself as the day goes by : To what extent have I identified the man-made world I am working in and am I allowing it to dictate my behavior and thoughts? Am I capable of recognizing that the person in front of me is a real person of which no two are alike, completely unique?

It’s a cliche but nowhere is the following paraphrased quote more apropos that your aim might be “To be in the man-made world, but not of it” In other words, you might physically be in the man-made world most of the time, but your substance, your true essence is not of that world.

The path of Western spirituality is that we engage the man-made world fully but constantly remind ourselves to be awake and cognizant of who we really are. In this case, your knowledge of the man-made world can be of assistance to the people you associate with in the real world 🙂 Avoiding the man-made world for spiritual bliss and non-disturbance prevents you from making significant contributions to the lives of those around you and it is in those contributions that lies the greatest happiness.

Balanced Immersion

Yesterday evening around 6pm, I walked down to the beach and spent about an hour in the ocean. In Miami Beach, this time of year, the water is amazing. The water was so clear and there were so many fish you could see. My legs were acting like a mini-reef and I had around 15 fish around 4 – 5 inches long just hanging around my legs.

The sun was behind the clouds and it was absolutely silent and absolutely beautiful. While our souls may be altogether spiritual, we are born into these physical bodies that have resonance with the physical world that should be explored. Just like I think we are born into traditions for a reason that should be explored fully before jettisoning them for the allure of a “strange fire.”

The great physician and rationalist philosopher Maimonides believed that the Earth itself had a consciousness. In the last century, the scientist, James Lovelock introduced the Gaia hypothesis partly said something similar. BBC podcast – Discovery, one of my favorites, had a great interview with him last week. He is 100 years old.

There are so many aspects of our health to be conscious of, that I may forget the need for immersion in nature on a regular basis, hopefully it doesn’t take a rare transcendent ideal moment like yesterday to remind me. Immersion in nature on a regular basis, is after all, the balanced approach.

Processed vs Unprocessed

Just because it sounds unprocessed according to the conventional definition, doesn’t mean your body reacts to it as if it were.  

Case in point is dried fruit.   Just imagine, how likely is it for you to eat 5 plums in one sitting, but 5 prunes?  Easy!  Congratulations you just downed the sugar in 5 prunes when the natural form would have prevented you from it.   

A little honey is fine, but it is still a concentrated form of sugar. Processed from many flowers by the bee.    Fruit juice is processed even if you make it at home.  Why?  You removed all the fiber.

Conventional store bought meat and chicken?  Processed!   It’s been fed food that it was never intended to eat and turned into something different on the micro and macro nutrient level.  It just looks unprocessed, it’s not.

Farmed fish?  Same thing, processed or I should I say (altered).   Now, unfortunately, we have to be concerned with environmental alterations also.  Some wild fish potentially could have more toxins than farmed fish.   Solution, only eat the low mercury fish,(SMASH : salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring) farmed fish, no more than once per month or eat none.   Same goes with the conventional store bought meat, no more than once a month.    Most people eat way too much animal protein to begin with.   General guidelines on that in another post.

And what about the rest of the pillars : Environment, Mental State, and Movement / Mechanics?  We can discuss those another time but the analogy of processed vs unprocessed works there also.

Ancient Remedies

As a MD, I am fascinated by ancient remedies.   I am particularly interested in the writings of Maimonides (1135-1204).  I will most likely write about him in another post as he is one of the most interesting and accomplished men in the history of the world.   What I find interesting about these remedies and treatments is that by and large, they really don’t hold much value to us in modern times.  

Why is this so?  Because though we are quite the same humans, the factors that make up our health, change dramatically and I would say change a lot faster than we think, especially these days.  As discussed prior, there are 4 basic factors to our health, those being nutrition, mental state, movement / mechanics, and environmental influences.    These 4 basic factors impact our overall health and change on a daily basis.  They also change over time.   

There is a reason why in the 12th century Maimonides was highly sought after as a physician!   It was because his treatments for many things worked!   That they don’t work that effectively by and large today (though his writings on what constitutes moderation and diet are worth noting) has to do with the four pillars above.   

One could imagine an analogy here being a lump of clay on a potters wheel spinning waiting to be made into a vase that has four people’s right hands working together to create the vase.   As each one pushes and pulls against the others the shape of the final vase will change dramatically.  So it goes with our internal environment.

Our overall health and balance / homeostasis each day, century, epic, places its fingerprint on us which means that we respond to external remedies differently.   Given our environmental toxin levels and electronic stresses, we are even different than 20 years ago, I believe this is why some natural treatments that used to work don’t appear to work as they did. 

What remains constant throughout the centuries?  Simply this, that you take a look at the 4 pillars we discuss and understand how they interact in your life.   You must take account of all 4.

Everyone wants to be a superman

There is a certain perniciousness that comes with the quotes that people post on their social media.   Most of these quotes are like mind viruses, memes so to speak, that people swallow and they become in a sense like an ideology that speaks in place of the person, because they have not critically evaluated or experimented with these quotes.

One of the most pernicious meme’s is that everyone is a genius in something, that we need to find that part of our lives we are geniuses at.   While I think this is true, that we all have talents that remain undiscovered, they often remain undiscovered because of the definition of genius.   

Our society worships the uber-mensch, the superman as described by Nietzche,   But make no mistake, as Valentin Tomberg wrote “The world is divided.   There are those who worship the gibbor, the strong hero – Nietzsche manifested with force and talent that this is so – and there are those who love the tzaddik, the righteous man.”

It is not the tzaddik that these meme’s are talking about.  They are talking about the superman.   The person with unusual skills that make him a “success.”  It includes the superman Stoic philosophers or to quote Tomberg again, also “the superman of India plunged in contemplation of eternity”   Earning a livelihood and a career does not require you to find out what you are a genius in!  It just requires you to have a practical mind and to use your common sense to determine your strengths.  Many a young person is led astray with dreams of being a superman when good paying jobs are available but are not ones that are associated with this ideal.

 And what about the righteous man?   What about the people in this world who strive for perfecting their moral life?  There are geniuses in kindness, geniuses in patience, and geniuses in charity to name just a few traits of the moral life.   Each is a perfected skill some born with innate talent that has been honed.   Those are not considered supermen by the world, yet those are what the world most desperately needs.   Next time you get caught in the worship of the superman, remember that there is an alternative.

In Memory of My Teacher, Gerald Epstein, MD

I posted this on FB in March, but wanted it here : In 2004, I had a life-threatening illness. It was during those times that each day I woke up seemed precious given the uncertainty of my future. I was so thankful to God for giving me another day. It was as Charles Dickens said, the best of times and the worst of times. Everything seemed to sparkle though, my dreams were otherworldly and filled with messages, and I was appreciative and expressive more than ever of the love of my family and those who cared for me. As I got through that illness by the grace of God, my life changed for the better, I had a better appreciation of illness, was more thankful for the love of those around me but as life came back to normal the sparkle of those days seemed to fade, where my connection to the Source of all Life was palpable.

I knew deep in my soul, that I had been given a precious gift, and that sparkle of life was there for each of us. In my case, God needed to get my attention with an illness to see it, for each us, we are given an opportunity just the same but as Winston Churchill said “Men occasionally stumble over truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.” As this sparkle faded, I knew that I needed to find a teacher and mentor.

Along with this experience, in which I had decided to go against some of the suggestions of my doctors, I started learning more about natural healing. I came across a program called The Natural Laws of Self-Healing by Dr. Gerald Epstein, MD of blessed memory. After listening to this program, I reached out to Dr. Epstein, something I have never done with any book or program I have ever consumed. In a very brief call, he asked me very matter of factly, how he could help me, I said, I just came through an illness and the sparkle that I experienced seemed to fade, I thought maybe you could help me regain it. He said ”Not maybe, I can help you” just like you would expect from a confident guy who grew up tough on the streets of Brooklyn. I said I was going to be in NY and made an appointment to see him.

The day before seeing Dr. Epstein, I visited the burial site of holy saint, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, with one request to God, that I find a teacher to help me to grow spiritually, to find a teacher as it says in Ethics of the Fathers “ Make yourself a teacher, find yourself a friend, and judge everyone person on the positive side.” The next day I saw Dr. Epstein in his office. We discussed my experience with illness and that I felt a calling to grow spiritually and that this sparkle I experienced was directly associated with my connection to God. He re-affirmed this and led me through what is called a ‘waking dream’ that was meant to trigger a vivid dream which we would review the following day. As this was happening, I felt that I was being initiated into a tradition of healing and growth, and I felt deeply that I was in the right place. That night, I had an intensely vivid dream as he had said, and I returned to his office where I had another waking dream experience, going back into this dream and as I would learn, using imagination, as tool of perception to discover things about myself I never could in a strictly rational sense.

After the experience, which Jerry could tell was deeply profound for me and brought me to levels of consciousness I have never experienced before, Jerry invited me to sit into a class called “Becoming Your Own Authority.” That one class changed forever the way I interact with my patients. As a doctor, I learned it is my responsibility to teach my patients to become their own authorities over their illnesses. I am to be a guide and resource for peoples healing.

After the class, Jerry called me over and introduced me to Fran and handed me a book and said for the next 48 weeks Fran and I would be discussing this book with him week by week. Here I am, I just met Jerry the day before and now for the next 48 weeks without charging me a penny, I was instructed in a course that forever changed me for the better and helped me to regain that sparkle. In fact, the sparkle I was seeking, was really only the beginning. How do you thank someone who devoted this amount of time to you to help you to find both happiness and meaning in your life in ways that you never expected were even possible?

Fran and I both had a life changing year discussing these teachings with Jerry. Thus began my learning from Jerry which continued until his passing. Jerry was always there for me when I had a difficult decision to make that I couldn’t seem to find an answer for. I visited him from time to time in person when I was in NY and each time, I came away with a life-changing insight some of which weren’t pleasant but then truth, sometimes isn’t so pretty. He was blunt and to the point as a teacher who loves his students must be and you always knew his allegiance was to compassion and Truth with a capital T. It was clearing away illusions and unearthing the truth that leads to freedom.

Rachel, his wife, in an email I had with her shortly after his passing said to me “adaptability and bearing loss well was at the heart of his teachings.” I know that he would want us to re-affirm that it is the teachings that are important and not the container that held them even though he loved living and would want to be here. It doesn’t even need to be said that he would expect me to share what I have understood even though I feel like I only learned a small percentage of what was possible to have learned from him.

The last time I spoke to Jerry in depth was during a live class I attended around a year ago in NY. There was one part of the class that I was having trouble with and I stayed around after to discuss it further. He said to me, “Your job is to report the Truth, don’t interfere and try to correct others in their journey by placating or hiding the Truth, your job is to be awake to it and report it, don’t shy away from that.” Jerry got me back my sparkle and gave me a good shake to wake me up if that was required. What he taught me and continues to teach me from the volumes of audios and written material left behind will continue to inspire and guide me.

He was always available by phone if you needed him for everyone as I learned from interacting with his other students. Now it falls on all of his students and his family to continue onward. My thoughts go to his wife Rachel as she finishes editing his last magnum opus which will certainly be life changing and to his children who surely know that their father was a great light to his many students and patients. After I finished 48 weeks of study with him, I thanked him for what he did for me, not knowing at the time that that was only the beginning.

In one of the books that he often quoted it talked about how developing a spiritual life allows the transition from this life to the next to proceed smoothly like a gentle curve on a graph instead of a sharp abrupt, traumatic right angle for those immersed to heavily in the physical. In the Talmud it describes, the ease of transition for saintly individuals already attuned to the spiritual world as transition being as easy as a hair being plucked from a glass of milk. I know that his transition was easy and he is now immersed in the eternal reward he deserves for the intense light he shared with everyone. I miss him greatly.

Saints and Sages of the Healing World

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks  describes these so eloquently :  The sage follows the “golden mean,” the “middle way.” The moral life is a matter of moderation and balance, charting a course between too much and too little. Courage, for example, lies midway between cowardice and recklessness. Generosity lies between profligacy and miserliness. The saint, by contrast, does not follow the middle way. He or she tends to extremes, fasting rather than simply eating in moderation, embracing poverty rather than acquiring modest wealth, and so on.”  

Here you can see two version of living and two versions of recommendations for healing as well.   There are times when you need take on the both of these versions of living.   My teacher of blessed memory, Gerald Epstein, MD (Jerry) would often recommend people adopt the complete opposite behavior for a period of time to correct a character trait, in this case, adopting an extreme in order to correct an extreme so that you can then become a sage for yourself.   There are also those, like Jordan Peterson who to heal his body has adopted the behavior of the saint in adopting an all meat diet.    I explained these extremes in another post where I discussed raw vegans and those who choose the 100% carnivore diet.    

What we have here are two ways of being for those embarking on a path of self-mastery, a life of your own making, where you become your own authority.   You can’t blame people who wish to gain control over their lives to choose the way of the saint, in a way it is the easiest to understand and is a bold way of proclaiming your intentions to the world and to yourself.    The sage, on the other hand, which is what I advocate for the long run is done by learning balance which is much harder, but as stated in a previous post is the “long shorter way.”  

Those who choose neither for themselves are constantly as my teacher Jerry used to say “laying themselves down on the alter of another’s desires or the desires of the man-made world.”   What I love about the distinction above is that it presents for the one that is looking to gain mastery of their life and health a very distinct and understandable choice, the choice between saint and sage.   The way of the saint might be worth it to correct excesses of the past but for your own health, it’s really the task of most of us to become our own sage, understanding the middle road.   

Palate Rehabilition

Unless you live in the woods, grow and hunt for your own food, your palate, your ability to appreciate natural foods has been damaged.  As discussed previously, your palate is like a thermostat.    Give it artificially sweetened foods and the set point, like the temperature setting on your thermostat is raised.   What this means is that the pleasure you could be getting from natural fruits like blueberries is diminished.    It’s really quite simple, just give your palate a rest from overly sweet foods for a couple of weeks and you will see that your appreciation for mother natures bounty is increased.  You will be healthier as well.   Many artificial sweeteners are toxic.

This doesn’t just pertain to sweetness, it’s also important for salt.   One anecdote that really comes to mind.  I had a patient that I saw for a drug reaction in the hospital.  He was in the hospital for malignant hypertension.  After he was discharged, he came back to see me to follow up on the rash and he said to me that he needed to stop eating so much salt but nothing tasted good without salt.  I explained this principle to him and understanding it, had the motivation to stop for two weeks, as I told him “Your palate will wake up in a couple weeks, and you will start appreciating foods without so much salt.”    He came back ecstatic, the principle worked for him and he now knows he has more control over himself than before.

As an aside, there seems to be a lot of misinformation on the internet now stating that salt is not dangerous at all.   Well, for some it isn’t as dangerous as once thought but if you have a specific variant of the ACE gene which many have, your risk for high blood pressure is greatly increased with increased sodium intake.

As you can imagine, this thermostat like function of your palate is also impacted with fatty foods as well.    In this case there is also a genetic variant here as well, called the CD36 gene.    On top of this is the brain effects of the combination of excessively fatty, sugary, salty foods that cause your brain to release dopamine and experience pleasure, when it is bad for your body.    

My point discussing these is to show you that with only a little knowledge, you can see you have quite a bit of control over this and you don’t need more than a couple of weeks to prove it to yourself.    Cut out all artificial sweeteners for 2 – 3 weeks, then take a bite of an apple or have some berries, and you will taste the difference.   While sodium is a required nutrient, try reducing your sodium for a few weeks, and taste some celery and you will note how naturally salty it tastes.   

This experiment is easy and is only a few weeks long but the knowledge you have for your body and the reserve of motivation you have will be well worth it.   Become your own authority, you are your own best doctor.

If you are interested in testing your gene’s or have done 23andme and would like a review of your results, just contact me.