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Silvers of light

Clouds over the moon

It was a full moon the other night, and there were storm clouds gathering.

You know how I say it’s good to do something different? Well, I decided to try and take some photos of the moonlight…….so, I had to wait till the moon was hidden –
Moon behind storm clouds

Completely hidden –

Moonlit silver linings

Ah….now, that’s nice! See, every cloud DOES have a silver lining!

Hoopoe

July, in my twelve monthly themes, is the month of rest.

One of the things I’ve noted about several of the birds which frequent my garden, is that they often find a place to perch.

Most of the time they are flying around, or running around, looking for food, carrying it back to the nest, and so on. But from time to time, they just sit.

Usually on a post, like this Hoopoe, but other times it’s on a favourite plant pot, a TV ariel, or a telephone wire.

So, I’m wondering…..where are your favourite perches?

Where do you like to pause, or take a “time out”?

Whether it’s to just sit still for a little, in order to be better able to see the world, or whether it’s to just settle your mind and your emotions so you can slip out of reactive mode and into responsive mode, I think it’s invaluable to have these pauses in life.

If you’re not in the habit of taking them, this would be a good month to start.

bridge

When medicine is practised in a fully human way, employing all parts of the doctor’s brain, not just the thinking/analytical knowledge-based functions, then something deeper and more powerful than mere symptom-relief can occur.

As far as I know there are no “artificial healing agents” in the world. Drug companies may claim their products can cure, but it’s only the individual human organism which can cure. As a complex adaptive system, like all other life forms, we have the ability to defend ourselves, to repair damage, to recover from illness and even to adapt and grow. All of those abilities are natural and innate. If a drug, an operation, or any other medical procedure helps it does so by supporting, or better, stimulating these natural mechanisms of self-healing.

But how does that happen?

One element is what Lewis and colleagues, in “A General Theory of Love”, describe as the limbic connections between two human beings. In their book they explore three aspects of this – limbic resonance, limbic regulation and limbic revision.

Every person broadcasts information about his inner world…..If a listener quiets his neocortical chatter and allows limbic sensing to range free, melodies begin to penetrate the static of anonymity. Individual tales of reactions, hopes, expectations, and dreams resolve into themes. Stories about lovers, teachers, friends, and pets echo back and forth and coalesce into a handful of motifs. As the listener’s resonance grows, he will catch sight of what the other sees inside that personal world, start to sense what it feels like to live there.

That’s a beautiful description of what I think is necessary in any good doctor-patient consultation. It’s not so much a matter of the doctor “getting out of the way”, but of “tuning in”. Quite literally. “Getting on the same wavelength”. Why? Not just to communicate effectively but to understand more fully. In an older fashioned way of expressing it, it’s about “putting yourself in the patient’s shoes”. And from a perspective of “heart rate variability” it’s about achieving not just limbic resonance, but heart and brain resonance too.

The first part of emotional healing is being limbically known – having someone with a keen ear catch your melodic essence.

I don’t know if there has to be emotional healing for their to be bodily healing too, but I suspect that to be true. Sure, suturing a laceration may be all that is required for the skin to be restored, but why do some apparently simple lesions heal quickly, and others fester and scar? Might that have something to do with the depth or breadth of the healing?

After resonance, comes regulation.

Our neural architecture places relationships at the crux of our lives, where, blazing and warm, they have the power to stabilise…..But people do not learn emotional modulation as they do geometry or the names of state capitals. They absorb the skill from living in the presence of an external modulator, and they learn it implicitly.

There’s something about a really good consultation which involves safety, confidence and hope. However, I do think all of those qualities are more likely to emerge from a place of love, care and compassion. Maybe those are the key “regulators” which calm, soothe and stabilise the patient’s limbic system.

People who need regulation often leave therapy sessions feeling calmer, stronger, safer, more able to handle the world.

How often have I had that feedback? Very often. Perhaps because that was a conscious aim of holistic, “integrative” practice.

The third element Lewis describes is “limbic revision” –

Knowing someone is the first goal of therapy. Modulating emotionality is the second. Therapy’s last and most ambitious aim is revising the neural code that directs an emotional life.

I think what he is referring to making lasting structural changes – in his, psychotherapeutic, context that’s about changing the patterns of neural connections in the brain to change the person’s emotional life. I didn’t work as a psychotherapist, but as a general practitioner with homeopathic and integrative skills. As such I didn’t separate problems into “mental” or “physical” categories, so while I see exactly what this “limbic revision” is and agree that it is important, I think a holistic doctor, whose patients are often seeking help with problems in different parts of their bodies, it was a broader “neurobiological revision” which was required.

Understanding the “limbic” aspect of medicine, is, however, an excellent place to start.

heart in the keystone

It strikes me that the practice of Medicine (I’m specifically referring to the world of Medicine for humans here), begins and ends with a relationship between human beings.

I’ll just focus on the doctor-patient relationship here, because that’s how I spent my working life. But I suspect that much of what is relevant to this relationship is also true for other health care workers, and perhaps even in other areas of human life.

When I say the practice of Medicine begins and ends with a relationship between human beings, I mean that the whole, unique person who is the patient has to be understood, cared about and attended to, by the whole unique person who is the doctor. Both individuals are important. I think this is partly why there are no doctors who are the best doctors for everyone, and I think it explains how in a group General Practice, each of the doctors in the partnership will have a specific loyal cohort of patients who always seek a consultation with that one particular doctor.

I also think this means that the whole person must always be considered. Anything less is reduced, and anything reduced is less than human.

In this context, I recently read “A General Theory of Love”, by Drs Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon. [ISBN 978-0-375-70922-7]. This book describes the model of the triune brain, which you might have come across elsewhere. (My introduction to that model was Dan Seigel, and later, Rick Hanson). It’s the observation that we have three brain regions – the brain stem, which is responsible for survival, and is found even in reptiles (henceforth to be known as the “reptilian brain”), the limbic system, which is responsible for memory processing and emotions (called the “mammalian brain”, because all mammals have this part), and the neocortex, which is massively developed in humans and seems to give us the capacities for abstract thought, conscious decision making and rational analysis.

In “A General Theory of Love”, Thomas Lewis and his colleagues focus on the limbic system – they describe in detail how this part of the brain helps us to “feel” other people’s feelings. It’s the kind of phenomenon that others call “heart feelings”. Without this part we’d have the reptilian survival strategies or the cold, analytic distancing of the neocortex. Let me be really clear here – this is a simplification and human beings are a lot more complicated than that. But this is a useful simplification which clarifies certain truths about what it is to be a human being.

In this post, I want to just bring to your attention some of the points the authors make when taking this perspective on the practice of Medicine, because I think health care is in a dire and degenerating situation in the world.

The last century saw a two-part transformation in the practice of medicine. First, an illness beset the relationship between doctor and patient, then radical restructuring attached the residual integrity of that attenuated tie.

I think the illness and the radical restructuring they refer to developed from a general reductive de-humanising of health care. Iain McGilchrist has shown how a “left hemisphere approach” has come to dominate society and I find that explanation helpful. Lewis says

American medicine has come to rely on intellect as the agency of cure. The neocortical brain has enjoyed a meteoric ascendancy within medicine even as the limbic star has fallen into disfavour.

Whilst this focus is a little different, the basic point is actually the same. By coming to rely on data, figures, statistics and techniques, we have reduced the human-ness of medicine. We’ve increasingly denigrated the patient’s narrative, the individual’s subjective experience, and the place of heart felt caring.

The limbic brain has a crucial role to play in attachment, and Lewis describes attachment theory along with the physical and social consequences of disordered attachment incredibly clearly. And here’s one of the most important points in this book – the physical reality and hence importance of relationships, emotions and attachment –

Medicine has lost sight of this truth: attachment is physiology

The radical restructuring they refer to is seen throughout Western Medicine – its the rise of bureaucracy. We see it in the proliferation of protocols and guidelines, of the prioritisation of measurement – what others have referred to as “Taylorism 2.0″ (the modern equivalent of Taylor’s “scientific management”) – at the expense of what cannot be measured – the lived experiences of the patients and the health care workers.

Good physicians have always known that the relationship heals. Indeed good doctors existed before any modern therapeutic instruments did…

For many years, the medical community hasn’t believed that anything substantive travels between doctor and patient unless it goes down a tube or through a syringe.

They neatly sum up their thesis with

medicine was once mammalian and is now reptilian

Corporations and organisations have taken the high ground imposing their limits, their rules and regulations on those who try to care.

A corporation has customers, not patients; it has fiscal relationships not limbic ones.

The use of terms “customers”, “clients” and “consumers” in the area of health care has always disturbed me. Now I think I understand more clearly why!

I concur with this conclusion –

Before it is safe to go back to the doctor, a mammal will have to be in charge. And before that can happen, our physicians will have to recapture their belief in the substantive nature of emotional life and the determination to fight for it.

I’m not sure I’ve heard any politician, manager or profession leader say this so clearly – the problems facing health care are not ones of efficiency, targets and “better” guidelines. The problem is we need to make health care more human.

We need Medicine based on love, care and attention….where the heart is the keystone.

 

 

paeony

If you look at the header of this blog page, you’ll see the byline “becoming not being”.

I was inspired by the writings of the French philosopher, Giles Deleuze, when I began this blog. He emphasised the difference between “être” and “devenir”. Here’s why –

Really everything in this universe constantly changes. It’s just that some things change more slowly than others. All living creatures, however, change quickly and unceasingly. Maybe you realise that none of the billions of cells which make up your body live as long as you do? Some of your cells only live a few days, whilst others have a life expectancy of a few years. The biological truth is that your body now contains very few cells which were there ten years ago.

We are more than our physical bodies. Our thoughts, feelings and sensations are in constant motion and we process all that information unceasingly. Hopefully, we mature, develop and grow through our lives. Discovering more talents, learning more skills, developing our behaviour and maturing our personalities.

We are more than single beings in isolation as well. We are incredibly social creatures. We live our days in constant exchange with other humans, with other animals and with the wider natural environment in which we live. It’s difficult, indeed I’d say impossible, to understand a person in isolation. We have to see each individual in the contexts within which they live.

How do we hold all these changes together and have some sense of stability? How do I still recognise myself in the flux of all these changes?

Well, partly, we do that by telling stories. Each of us is a narrative self. When you meet someone, you introduce yourself by telling where you came from, where you are now, and maybe also, where you hope to go. In other words, you tell a simple story with a beginning, a middle, and, if not an end, then at least a potential plot direction!

All living organisms are like this. It’s just that we have evolved to a greater level of complexity than other creatures and we, we humans, are the storytelling species.

So, if we focus on “to be” (on “être”) then we reduce the subject to an object. We pin down just part of a person to a particular place and time and we then try to label and categorise them on the basis of a small set of features or characteristics.

I find it so much more satisfying to focus on “becoming” (on “devenir”). It’s slippier, it’s more complex, but it’s more alive. And, fundamentally, it’s a much better reflection of reality.

Try it for yourself – try focusing on becoming instead of being…..

Yearning

To the sea again

I’ve reached “Y” again in my “A to Z of Becoming”, and the first “becoming” verb I thought of for the letter “y”, was “yearn”.

This is a tricky one, because yearning has a bit of a bad press. It’s often associated with wanting what you don’t have, or, in other words, with dissatisfaction. But I think it emerges from something very positive and creative.

When we yearn for something there is the possibility that we are getting in touch with our heart’s desire. The French philosopher, Deleuze, whose writings were the original spark for this blog, talked of “lines of flight” – and interesting metaphor to change the way we think about things. When we look up at the sky and see a plane flying past the moon
Flying past the moon

, we can see a bit of a trail. We can see something of where it’s come from and what direction it’s heading in. It’s an image like that which came to my mind when I read about the “lines of flight” and for me it’s an encouragement to see something in its context – the context of where it’s come from and where it’s going.

When I think of yearning from this perspective, it seems to me that yearning arises from our heart felt desires, from our deepest longings. So, one of the benefits of yearning is to become aware of what our heart’s true desires are.

As K D Lang sang in “Constant Craving”

Maybe a great magnet pulls
All souls to what’s true

Do these heart desires push us forward from within, or are they magnets pulling us towards something, somebody, some place?

When you stop and reflect and wonder about what stirs your longings, your yearnings, you have at the chance to get in touch with some of your most heart felt desires.

There’s something else about yearning – it pulls us out of balance.

I know people talk a lot about balance as a good thing, but it isn’t everything. All living creatures are “complex adaptive systems” and one of the main ways that such systems grow and develop is by tending towards the “far from equilibrium” points. At those places the system can fall to pieces, tipping into chaos, or it can transform to a whole new level, as we see in “dissipative systems“. The “far from equilibrium” points are where our yearnings take us.

So, there’s something potentially enormously creative about yearning. It can pull us towards the new and the heart-felt.

Remember John Masefield’s poem?

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
                                                          And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

zen seascape

Outcomes

one petal left

Starting from here, this photo above, we can move to either here –
poppy seeds

or here –
meconopsis

What comes first?

The seed or the flower?

What comes last?

The seed or the flower?

Looked at one way, the seed comes first, grows into the plant which unfurls its petals and reveals its new seeds, attracts the pollinators, then drops the petals, then disperses the seeds to start new plants. Looked at another way, we can start with the flower…..

So, what’s the plant doing? Seeding? Or flowering?

We know, of course, that the plant would not be the plant at all unless it was seeding AND flowering.

Gandhi was once asked “What’s your message?” and he replied

My life is my message

That’s true of all lives isn’t it? Every plant, every animal, every person…..

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