2,800 million people living with less than US$2 a day – Could you call it progress?

Progress is defined as a concept including the improvement of human condition, “the development of an individual or society in a directpoverty_146592980ion considered more beneficial than and superior to the previous level” (Thedictionary.com). However, many people equates progress with modernization. That is why construction, road projects and in general, technological advances plus a wider access to such advances are used to measure the “progress” of a group, region or nation. But I consider this is a limited view of what  true progress is.

A holistic concept of progress should include not just the material but the immaterial aspects of life. I would see it as progress if I saw more joyful people on the streets, fewer anxious people, less rush. I would believe it is progress when more people had access to preventative physical and mental health. When fewer people had the need for consuming alcohol and other substances as prescription for fun… or to relax. When there was more compassion and real team work and cooperation; more of a sense of collectivism and less individualism; less greed and more detachment.

But when we look around we find that in the midst of astounding advances there are still homeless people in the streets (only 18 states reported decreases in the number of people living in unsheltered locations): on one end of the spectrum we find a little more than a handful of billionaires, while on the other end about 1,200 million people live in extreme poverty, trying to survive with a fixed income of a dollar a day (according to the WB) and lacking shelter, food, access to health or education. The World Bank calculates close to 2,800 million people living with less than US$2 a day. And when we look at this reality, could we really talk about progress?

To calculate progress, statisticians use comparatives, like, “How did people live two centuries ago?” “How does the quality of live in different countries or regions compare?” The first thing we find is that social inequality has grown exponentially. The gap is enormous. By the beginning of the 20th century, the statistics show, the difference in the per capita rent between rich and poor countries was 10 to 1. Today it is 60 to 1. The concentration of wealth shows us there is a large section of the world population left behind when a few others are becoming extremely rich.

And the above numbers refer only to income. Add to that picture a lack of access to clean sources of water, education or health services.

And, could we truly talk about progress when depression and anxiety multiply as mental health symptoms of unhappiness? About 75 per cent of Americans have taken antidepressants and/or meds for anxiety sometime in their lifetime. Some of them unnecessarily, just because they were feeling sad or anxious, not necessarily depressed.

How could we talk about progress when the number of suicides in a country considered the kingdom of opportunity, one of the most industrialized countries, with a commitment to the “pursuit of happiness)” with no wars in its territory, increased a 25 percent in the past 15 years (according to CDC)?

When preventable conditions have skyrocketed, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes, could we claim we’re progressing? I don’t think so; these conditions clearly point to a deterioration of our lifestyle… as we move away from nature, our diets are less organic, more artificial; our air and water are contaminated; our exposure to electromagnetic fields and x-rays increases with the risk of illnesses.

It cannot be progress when the percentage of deaths due to opioids and codeine have tripled in the past 15 years. But the most telling symptom against the idea that we are progressing is that we live in an era where terrorism is rampant and racism and discrimination are starting to bloom again.

Maybe we should include among our New Year resolutions to adopt healthier lifestyles, waste less and be more compassionate, empathetic and friendly.

Happy holidays!

 

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Let’s stop terror with love

These are of course, days to reflect on the recent tragic events.

News have identified  Tunician Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel as the driver who drove a truck into people celebrating Bastille Day July 15, in Nice, killing at least 84 people.

After Nice, as it was after last June’s Orlando killings, or after any massacre perpetrated anywhere in the world, I feel confused, terrified, pondering how can a human being become so insensitive to human life. I strive to understand what intense pain, fear, anger or desperation existed in the heart of the assassins that led to planning and executing these barbaric killings.

Terrorists only purpose is to dominate by planting fear, that’s their real weapon. Terror expands compromising everybody’s health, safety, trust and lives in general. We’re collectively traumatized, we don’t feel safe any longer. Even silence and apparent indifference could be the result of terror… It’s more comfortable to hide, ignore, distract the pain with trivial endeavors, or adopting new addictions to stop mulling about what happened. However, I feel, something breaks inside… we’re left broken and incomplete. Our faith in humanity is shaken. What’d be the future of this planet?

While people who blindly support bigots and tyrants, might feel these tragedies are one more reason to hate, repress, build walls, divide, I feel, and wish that those who are not so blind will also see, tragedy is only one more reason to love. Love is the only thing that can heal and save the world.

Let’s become better friends, but not only Facebook-kind of friends. Let’s truly care, connect and express concern for each other. Let loved ones know that we stand there for them.

Let’s learn better ways to supporting each other, to come closer together, to understand each other, to forgive each other. Let’s remember that we’re all made of the same (stardust) stuff, we share the same essence; that when we are saying “we’re one” it is not just a snobbish slogan. Let’s make room again for poetry and laughter and joy.

But more than anything, let’s take responsibility for what’s going on in the world, by leading meaningful lives and not just this silliness infused by consumerism. Let’s appreciate life above stuff; let’s honor the planet and respect our bodies; let’s stop bigotry and hatemongering, which on the long run lead to these tragedies.

Let’s unite to stop terror.

The intelligent immune system

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Living healthy can prevent almost any illness. Healthy environment, diet and stress reduction strategies are key to health.

Fifty years ago, we knew little about the immune system. Back then, only a handful of illnesses were classified as autoimmune conditions where the immune system doesn’t recognize proteins normally present in the body and attacks its own cells. Today, researchers have found that autoimmune responses explain about at least 10 percent of the diseases that affect the planet’s population; among them, diabetes (type I), lupus, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, to name only the most common ones. But other conditions such as ulcerative colitis and even schizophrenia are possibly linked to autoimmune responses. Furthermore, coronary disease has been related to the efficiency of the immune system in clearing up plaque deposits in the arteries of the heart.

By the end of the 19th century, when vaccines were invented, Louis Pasteur discovered germs as the cause of many illnesses and later bodily reactions to specific microorganisms, like the tuberculosis Koch’s bacillus, were identified, confirming the existence within the body of the immune system. Initially, immunity was conceptualized as a defense army in charge of destroying an enemy, concept that reflects a predominantly martial mentality in society. Mainstream western medicine still holds this concept. However, a holistic approach will more accurately reflect the amazing immune system.

Researchers Koch and Pasteur inaugurated a craze where most illnesses started to be explained as caused by germs. In the early 1940s, viruses were found capable of generating illness, and the sixties and seventies saw a great boom in virology, when researchers tried to establish a causal relationship between viral infections and cancer. This causal relationship has however not been confirmed. In some cases, like the infection by papilloma virus (HPV) there seems to exist a strong correlation to cervical cancer in women. However, scientific evidence points to chronic inflammation (not the viral infection) as the precursor of cancer. Take into account that inflammation is modulated by the immune system and that our inflammatory response depends on our lifestyle.

Science has advanced  a great deal. Studies have established that human bodies continuously produce cancer cells but thanks to an immune system capable of recognizing misbehaving cells, cancer can be prevented. By isolating, reeducating and/or destroying those crazy cells, the immune system can keep us cancer free. A clear relationship between cancer and the immune system has thus been established. When the immune system is not working optimally, cancerous cell growth might go out of control.

Since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, investigators have plunged into studying what exhausts the immune system, contributing very interesting insights into its multiple functions.

Beyond this concept of the immune system as an army that chases, confronts and destroys invaders, the immune system is a self-governing network that participates in the body’s learning process, and is responsible for both its molecular identity and the biochemical communication between organs. That’s why author Fritjov Capra deems it our second brain.

Different from other bodily systems, which are confined to a precise anatomic location, the immune network penetrates each tissue of the body. It is made of a number of tissues and organs (lymphatic organs) and specialized cells (lymphocytes and macrophages or white blood cells) that swim back and forth along the circulatory system during surveillance missions, gathering data to ensure the organism’s accurate functioning.

This extraordinary system learns and evolves with experience! From the moment we are born, the immune system learns how to react to unfamiliar agents. It learns to discriminate which molecular features typify bacteria that are usually not present in mammals. It also recognizes the body’s idiosyncratic proteins. Vaccines are developed based on the immune system’s capacity to memorize how to react to alien proteins.

There is also a kind of natural selection taking place in the thymus, where only T-cells (a specific kind of immune cells) that have learned to unite harmoniously with other cells in the organism can survive.

The thymus is one of the most important organs of the immune system. It is a small gland situated behind the breastbone (sternum) and is fundamental in shaping the way in which the body responds to infections. Half of the white blood cells, which originate in the bone marrow, go directly to the blood stream and interstitial fluids. But the rest of them have to go through the thymus where they become T-cells. These have three main roles: to stimulate the production of antibodies and other lymphocytes, to stimulate the growth and function of phagocytes that ingest and digest viruses and bacteria, and to identify foreign or abnormal proteins.

Many immune system organs function as gatekeepers. This is the case of the lymph nodes (in the neck, armpit and groin), the tonsils and the Peyer’s patches in the intestine. The lymphatic fluid, or lymph, goes through these customs checkpoints where lymphocytes capture particulate matter and microorganisms and decide if they should be granted admission to the system or not. Another lymphatic organ, the spleen, is in charge of recycling old and dysfunctional cells.

This amazing system only uses its defensive resources when facing a massive invasion of foreign agents.

Recent research shows that the brain, the endocrine glands and the immune system cooperate and share functions. Moreover, the borders that science had delineated between these systems start to blur, bringing opportunities for new understandings of the body’s functioning. Candace Pert used the term net to describe these systems, because their function encompasses a constant exchange, processing and storage of information. Most substances in charge of transmitting information in the body are peptides, and recent research has shown they are multifunctional; they accomplish different functions for different systems.

For example, the brain produces neuropeptides that are antibacterial precursors; the immune system has perceptual functions, and the endocrine system produces substances that work as neurotransmitters. Initially deemed exclusive to the nervous system, the neurotransmitters have also been found in the bone marrow, where the immune system cells are produced.

The three systems are thus, multifunctional. They form a network that exchanges, stores and passes on information, using peptide molecules as messengers. But, also, our physiology is modulated by emotions. Popular wisdom, which results from observations transmitted from generation to generation, has always correlated emotional stress with vulnerability to illness, and science has proven that our thoughts, mood and emotions influence the functioning of the nervous, endocrine and immune systems.

In a nutshell, science is telling us that we can regulate the production and efficiency of our inner messengers (peptides) by adopting healthy lifestyles. It’s telling us to eat healthy, have fun (to reduce stress) and exercise.

Moving from the perspective of the ego to that of the soul

We’re multidimensional beings and as such, always spiritual… However, our consciousness resides or focego and souluses on this or another dimension. So, we say a truly spiritual person is that person who privileges the perspective of the soul over the perspective of the ego. (No, the ego cannot be eliminated… it has a purpose, it regulates our physical dimension, but sets us in fear when disconnected from the soul).

So here is what I think the differences are between the perspectives of the soul and the perspectives of the ego. In my view, if  the ego is kept on check, the soul will lead us to a life that is a lot more peaceful and fulfilling, with less drama.

TIME FRAME:

Being eternal, the soul has no sense of time and therefore is in no rush to experience or accomplish something. Since, it lives in the present, life is an adventure where every experience is welcome. Joy is the natural state of the soul. Love is the soul’s North.
Being vulnerable and finite, the ego rushes through life and has trouble living in the present moment. Being here, it wants to be there. The ego gives us the experience of  fear because it lacks faith in own capacity to create and survive hurdles.

SENSE OF SELF:

Being boundless and unattached, the soul has no sense of roots and property… therefore, for the soul, sharing is not an issue. Being alone is not an issue. Change is not an issue. Asserting needs and standing ground are just natural things to do to maintain healthy relationships. When the individual lives, sees life from the perspective of the soul, life is good. For the soul (and I think many people has it wrong) it’s okay to use the pronoun ‘I”… to share experiences, to teach, to support others. The soul uses it to say, “this is what has worked for me, you may want to try too” and not to say, “this is the way you should be doing things because I know better.”

For the ego, property is of the essence, as are boundaries. Owning “stuff” provides the ego with a sense of security.  I own, therefore I’m okay. 

The essence of the soul is freedom. Instead, possessiveness is not uncommon for the ego and it extends to ownership of land, water, animals and people… which the soul would never consider owning. The ego swings between extreme defensiveness and privacy to extreme fusion, dependency and symbiosis. From depression to grandiosity. An ego that is disconnected from the soul, experiences fear of losing what it has the illusion of possessing. For the ego, nothing is safe, we’re not enough, we don’t have enough.

SENSE OF RIGHT AND WRONG:

The soul can very well discern right from wrong but makes no judgment, condemns not. Understands that inhabiting the body makes individuals susceptible of making mistakes. Errors are mere stumbling stones, learning opportunities, moments that demand changes. Everyone deserves a second, a third and a fourth chance. Taking responsibility is not an issue for the soul. It’s ready to own its actions and consequences.

SENSE OF COMMON UNITY (or community):

Since the soul understands that we’re connected, parts of a whole, different aspects of the same universe, there is no point in competing. Adding and multiplying are better options than subtracting and dividing. The soul’s way to do things is by supporting each other, not by eliminating competitors. For the soul, there is no vertical ladder, we’re all in a horizontal path, each one standing on a different stretch of the path.

SENSE OF PRIDE:

Pride is overrated. Humility is overrated. The soul is proud of the opportunities found, of the goals reached, of the service rendered, of the impact loving actions might have on the lives of other people. Pride is not a sense of superiority because the soul has no sense of hierarchies. It’s a sense of accomplishment, fulfillment and it’s good.
Instead, for the ego, pride is grandiosity, an inflated sense of self and therefore, it is destructive. It is out of pride that bigotry, abuse, hate, despise, envy and greed are born.

On anger, indiference and indignation

chemistry-of-love-heartThere is a big difference between experiencing anger and indignation. Making out the difference between the two feelings might prove useful for people who are seriously working on a spiritual path. Many religions exhort people to prevent anger. Buddhism considers anger one of the three poisons (with greed and ignorance) that prevent us from achieving Nirvana. Christians list ire as one of the capital sins and capital sins are considered the source of all sins. Islam considers that anger prevents you from using wisdom. But the great masters didn’t call for a state of indifference towards the state of affairs in the world. Preventing anger should not alienate us from advocating for the unprivileged or taking action against injustice.

We’re probably not born with anger.  However, as human beings, anger might be an intrinsic resource that, by using the memory of having been hurt, allows us to create boundaries meant to protect us from abuse.

Anger is in many cases born from experiencing frustration or feeling that we were not taken seriously; it might be the feeling that, understandably, follows bullying. Anger is a personal thing. And still, we always have the choice of taking things personally or not. We have the choice to stand our ground, turn our back or react aggressively. We must not make others responsible for our actions.

One of my most important realization about anger came about when I finally understood that behind anger is also the realization that no matter how much I’ve worked to be a loving person there are still times when my love is not unconditional and not enough. If it were, I am sure there would be no room for anger. I would just accept the other exactly as she or he is. I think that most of the anger we experience is actually against ourselves but we might project it unto others. This is so especially if we feel we have failed in becoming the loving person we want to become.

We need to know that anger is damaging to us and we need to learn to let it go. I use to say that anger is like experiencing an earthquake, the heart is the epicenter. We damage ourselves more than anyone else when we hold on to anger.

Anger is then, related to power issues. If someone makes me feel less or I realize that I am still less than the ideal me, then I get angry.

But what about indignation? A similar emotion to anger, indignation has moved advocates, spiritual warriors and other courageous people to heroic action. Indignation stems from not accepting injustice (not when you feel your brother received a better Christmas present) but, for instance, when you see children starving to death knowing that food is wasted somewhere else. Any sign of  social injustice and oppression, if we are socially aware, causes indignation in righteous people.

We must not see spirituality as a state of indifference or mistake indifference for a peaceful stance. Emotions stemming from indignation are not “personal.” Indignation is a state of the heart that moves us to play a role as healers on a larger scale. Healing is not limited to the role of soothing the other… it often involves fighting old patterns, empowering ourselves and others, unveiling uncomfortable truths.

Mindfulness is what would tell us the difference.

 

Barriers to love

BDcard“Love is all there is,” some say. But really?

I find that we live in a society were all too often telling the truth, and I am talking about the inner truth, is not seen as an asset. I see people smiling when they feel like crying or shouting out loud in order to hide their grief or their fear. I also see people refraining from expressing their political preferences openly maybe because they are afraid of engendering discord. Especially among the so-called “spiritual communities” debate is seen as undesirable. Is like if we have built a society where only likeness could be trusted.

But in the world of duality in which we dwell we find ourselves constantly swimming between two waters.  Call it whatever you may: the law of polarity; the unity of opposites; Thanatos and Eros; destructive vs. constructive forces; yin and yang.

Our lives are driven by opposing drives or forces. One day, we love; the next, we hate. Today, we have faith; tomorrow, we worry or feel overwhelmed by doubt. We navigate through life driven by either duty or pleasure, pride or guilt and shame.

If we could at least honestly acknowledge the inevitable truth of our dual nature, we would not carry on pretending to be loving people when deep inside we are maybe despising others or pulling them out of our lives on the grounds that, for example, they are not as evolved, knowledgeable or spiritual as we are…

Loving those who are different could be a challenge. And there is no doubt that those people who are difficult to love are usually the ones needing love the most.

Friendship, partnership… any meaningful relationship for that matter… must be built on love, that’s true. But love is not of the very mushy nature depicted in novels and movies! True love is strong and veritable, long-lasting and loyal. And I am not referring solely to personal love. Unconditional love might also be strong and bumpy.

When we invest love on others, it’s better not to hold expectations that they would behave or feel or talk in a certain way. Love is based on acceptance. I love you for who you are not for what I want you to become. Another thing is that we could of course deliberately choose who to love based on our preferences and we need to set proper barriers to shield us from bullies. But often it’s love that chooses us. We’re tied to our family and we didn’t choose it. We’re tied to our peers, etc.

I think that if we’re constantly comparing our object of love against some ideal that we set up early in live, we’re likely to be disappointed more often than not. Expectation often comes from our unconscious desire for perfection. Perfectionism comes from growing in an environment that required perfection as a requisite to be accepted and loved.

If we don’t pay attention…

natural remediesFor years, I have repeated as a mantra, once and again, that we need to regain body wisdom. I even wrote a book on this topic, the English translation of which is entitled, precisely, REGAINING BODY WISDOM. I truly believe that our health, physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, depends on staying connected with our Source and with all that is. I have learned that when we’re not connected we worry, experience fear and uncertainty and the body starts giving symptoms of dis-ease.

It took me 17 plus years of practicing as a medical doctor until I realized that I was not paying attention to my body. I confess it… I was a totally inconsistent healthcare practitioner. I prescribed diets and lifestyles that I considered were only for the sick and not for us, the healthy people… In the process, and while I was a family and a community practitioner, I learned a good deal about nutrition. Even though I was familiar with the diets that needed to be prescribed to the people suffering from cardiovascular, renal or digestive diseases, I knew very little about how to promote the intelligence of the body with sound nutrition, exercise or contemplative practices.

I owe the mothers of the little children that came for consultation who were always asking about the best way to feed their babies and who encouraged me to go beyond what I had learned at the medical school. I enjoyed researching the topic. Nutrition became one of my specialties.

But it wasn’t until a few years after I quit medicine to become a psychotherapist that I had my quantum leap. I had a healer lay hands on me. I knew very little about energy healing, I didn’t believe in hands-on healing, but I was curious. Interestingly, at that time, I was clueless about why I was feeling so exhausted even though I was a heavy smoker, drank many cups of coffee a day, didn’t exercise, ate poorly and worked too much.

Why couldn’t I connect the dots?

When I visited  this medical doctor, who was also practicing some form of energy medicine, my motivation to introduce some changes in my lifestyle was high. Nobody changes without true motivation. And even though it was curiosity, more than anything else, what took me to consult with him, I was at that time concerned about the deleterious effects of smoking and tired of the tiredness.

Well, suddenly, just a few hours after he laid hands on me, my cravings for cigarettes were gone! In just a few days, I had also become a vegetarian and was exercising daily.

I went from being totally oblivious of my body to loving it. In just three months, I felt – and looked – like a different person, happier, healthier, full of energy. And to this day, 21 years later, I continue to follow a healthy lifestyle, but most importantly, I have become aware of the signals released by my body and, usually, I respond to them.

When I say body, I mean the whole multidimensional body-mind-spirit complex that we are. And when I mean aware, I signify not only experiencing, feeling, noticing symptoms or discomfort but also being conscious of how stress, worries and fear go along with being disconnected from our Source.

I can’t say that in the past 20 some years I have been free of accidents or symptoms. But I have certainly not used any medications at all. I have become very wary of putting any chemicals into my body. Colorants and preservatives in the food, prescription medicines and even supplements can affect the functioning of our intelligent physical body. Medications should only be used when strictly necessary.

We age though. Our bodies wear and tear with the pass of time. We are not immortal and would not become immortal no matter how good is the care we provide to the body. However, it’s worth to make our best effort to arrive to old age as whole as possible.