Sunday, September 9, 2012

Beyond Skepticism

Years ago a colleague challenged my skepticism about the usefulness of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. “Have you studied the MBTI?” he asked. “Have you been trained in it?”  I had not, I told him. “Then perhaps you should know what you’re saying ‘No’ to.” Luckily I was open enough to see the flaw in my logic. I did take the training, if only to be able to give an informed “No.” Instead, I’ve found ways to go deeper with the MBTI than my early, negative, uninformed experience of it could have predicted.

Skepticism can be healthy. Woe to those of us who believe everything we read or are told. To the Greeks, in fact, “skepticism” meant inquiry, the essence of their position not doubt or denial or disbelief, but rather continual exploration – a willingness to keep their minds open to new possibilities.

But when skepticism reflects a closed mind instead of an inquiring mind, it becomes a defense against learning more, against possibly changing a familiar worldview. The basis for this kind of skepticism is fear. When I labeled the MBTI as “superficial” I was new to consulting, eager to defend my own training and credentials, and quick to dismiss something I knew very little about. I was afraid to change my point of view – I needed to believe I knew all I needed to know. I thought I was right; others were wrong.

The name calling itself is a cue to defensiveness. And while my describing the MBTI as “superficial” was only slightly demeaning, the attitude behind any word can color it significantly. During a recent check-up with a doctor I’m very fond of, I mentioned I’d contributed to Obama’s campaign. The immediate, sour look on his face told me he found my point of view completely unacceptable. He stepped back and said with distaste in his voice, “He’s a MUSLIM!” Aside from the fact that Obama does not pray to Allah, as far as I know, so what? Romney is a Mormon and Mormons have some beliefs that differ, I’m sure, from my doctor’s fundamental Christian upbringing. His comment about Obama was not founded in skeptical inquiry, it was based on fear of the unknown.

When I heard that some cynics were questioning the healing qualities of my qigong classes, I wanted to ask “Do you really believe that thousands of us, representing all ages and from all walks of life (students, professors, artists, Ph.D.’s, medical and other professionals) are completely deluded about benefits we directly experience?” But I’ve learned the hard way that no amount of evidence will convince someone whose mind is closed. So let me simply offer my condolences to anyone who jumps to negative conclusions and name-calling about my qigong practice, instead of following skepticism’s true intent of inquiry. If only they knew what they’re missing.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sand Mandalas

Now often demonstrated by the Dalai Lama and groups of Tibetan monks, the sand mandala ceremony begins with chants, music, prayers, and then pouring millions of grains of sand in bright colors from a metal tube called a chakpu. The finished mandala is about five by five feet in diameter, and takes three to five days to complete.

The creation process concludes with a consecration ceremony, and then... they dismantle the mandala!

Formed into traditionally prescribed Tibetan iconography that includes geometric shapes and historical Buddhist symbols, the sand mandala is a tool to consecrate and bless the earth and its inhabitants. The dismantling of the mandala symbolizes the impermanence of all existence.

Those of us who have become attached to life, and fearful of losing it, have much to learn.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Give Me Liberty, Or Give Me Death!

Chiron taught his students how to become "sacred warriors;" how to follow their quests and then go to death peacefully when the time comes. He taught his students how to access multidimensionality and balance polarization and duality. Today we might call such people shaman, -- those who have learned to walk in other dimensions, work with duality, synthesize male and female, human and animal, mind and body, life and death. M.Z. Hawkins, Chiron and the Tarot 
I had a distressing encounter with the gynecologist I'd been going to for years, when I went in for a pap smear last week. He knew I had extremely low hormone levels from the post-breast cancer medication I was taking, and was thus dry as a prune -- yet jammed the speculum into me, saying "Sorry if this is uncomfortable."

Uncomfortable? It hurt like hell. But not as much as the way he responded to my talking about alternative approaches to lowering estrogen without diminishing brain function. Our brains need some hormones to function properly, and the so-called "brain fog" side effect of my prescribed aromatase inhibitor had become such a problem I was having panic attacks. After a lengthy attempt to get him to hear me, and his saying, "With all due respect..." which you know means no respect at all, I got it. He's been programmed to believe only in magic bullets, and to postpone death as long as possible, no matter what the patient has to go through to stay alive. 

My internist, perhaps not coincidentally a woman, was completely the opposite -- she listened, asked questions, and responded that she, too, would choose quality of life over years lived.

By the way, my risk of recurrence is only one in four without any medication. Also, that statistic only refers to "women my age." It doesn't take level of activity, weight, diet, or other lifestyle factors into account. So I believe I'm more likely than most 73-year-old women to be one of the three in four who don't have a recurrence.

Nonetheless, the oncologist had convinced me that decreasing that risk to one in eight made potential side effects worthwhile, and besides, "not everyone has side effects." So I was a good sport. And I'm not chickenhearted. I handled the headaches and the joint pain. Even when my hips ached so much that every step was an effort, I still got on the treadmill every day. But eventually my thinking became so confused I couldn't get my mind around large concepts or organize my thoughts. Creative writing was out. So was painting. I had no energy for much of anything. The "me" of me was gone. Not acceptable.

After ten months on the aromatase inhibitor, I chose to stop taking it. With the support of my preventive medicine practitioner (also a respected M.D.) I'm keeping track of my estrogen level, experimenting with alternative ways to keep it low but not so low I can't think.

And from now on, I'm partnering only with wounded healers, doctors and other health workers who are in touch with and have learned from their own pain, and who don't let fear of death get in the way of responding to a vibrant woman who would rather die than lose her capacity to think clearly.

(Published in Survivor's Review, Volume No. XIV, 2013.