I consider Dr. Claudia Welch to be one of my primary teachers on this path of being an Integrative Medicine Practitioner. While I surely spent many, many more classroom hours with many other teachers, my short but sweet time with her has grounded me in my principle of practice.
Today, August 16th, 2017, she sent out one of her relatively infrequent newsletters -the infrequency of which makes them all the more anticipated. It was such important information – and also very relevant to my own experience – I wanted to share it here with anyone who might stumble upon this seldom-updated blog page. If you connect with what you read below, and I hope you do, please visit Dr. Welch’s site to learn more about her offerings.
Hi. I hope you are navigating life with well-founded aplomb, and any assistance you might require.
I’m awfully close to turning 50…
I was thinking to share some of the physical, spiritual and energetic changes I’ve encountered in my forties, and how things are going. I’m doing this for a couple reasons. The first is to give a heads up to younger women. Another is to share experience with sisters in the roughly the same age ball-park, so we can learn from each other (I’d love to hear from you, and did hear from many of you with such interesting experiences and observations on the Dr. Claudia Welch fb page). And, I suppose, to share with anyone else who might be interested in musings on this transition phase of a woman’s life.
Let me start with the physical and get progressively more esoteric. You know, just to ease us into The Weird.
When I was, oh, about 43, I was driving on Interstate 40, heading east in Albuquerque, NM. I was asking myself, “am I going insane?” I considered going to an MD to just check that nothing horrible was going on. I was panicking a little.
I took some deep breaths, disciplined my thoughts and asked myself, “is this discomfort physical or energetic? What is my actual experience?” I named it with something like, “I I feel like I am seeing things differently, and that is freaking me out.” Naming my experiences was a good start at addressing them. So, I thought, let us attend first to the freaking out part, and then go from there. Since I often like to treat energetic problems with energetic medicine, and freaking out lands in the, “energetic” category, I went to have an energetic, polarity-ish treatment with a gifted friend, Dr. Don Cornwell. Afterwards I felt good. I knew nothing was wrong physically. Though something was indeed changing physically. And it was exactly what I’d named. I was seeing differently. My vision was different.
Honestly, from the time my vision started changing, it took me a couple years—years (!) to realize it was the reading glasses thing. The change wasn’t—and still isn’t—drastic. But my vision has changed, and it doesn’t only affect reading—though that is the obvious change. When vision changes, we see the world differently, even if only subtly so. And this is a big deal. In Ayurveda, when we look at manovāhasrotas –the channel system of the mind, we see that the two vessels associated with the two eyes are two of the ten, “vessels” that hold considerable sway over the mind. When vision changes, the mind is altered. When the mind is altered, we perceive things differently. If we don’t roll with that, we feel like the ground is shifting and might even wonder, “Am I going insane?” But no. Our world view is just shifting.
Since then, I have progressively less and less enjoyed things that strain my eyes. And I have come to feel that there is a natural wisdom in gradual depletion of the sense organs’ acuity (leave aside for the moment that there are Ayurvedic—and other—approaches to dealing with this such that the vision may not change or can be restored).
I feel I am being invited to look inwards more and focus outward less. Going with that has taken a bit of courage, even though (or maybe because) it is a direction I’ve always wanted. When I have an urge to research or read but my eyes feel tired with that effort, find it feels right to do something else that feels natural, easy and good. Sometimes that is nothing.
For someone practiced at looking for the Big in life, in my younger years, surrendering ambition at the altar of Reality has been a call that began in my early 30s. In my late 40s, surrendering my desires to research, read and scrutinize as much as I used to, to the apparent limitations of my vision is another manifestation of that surrender. It nudges me to choose to do nothing more often.
There are tons of other physical changes worth discussing. I go into some in Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life, and in my in-person women’s health workshops and online Healthier Hormones course. Today I just picked the vision thing and its role in doing less, or nothing, more often, because it is one of the more interesting facets of physical change, to me.
In Chinese medicine, we consider a human being a conduit between heaven and earth: the upright human’s head reaches towards the heavens and feet are grounded in the earth. The heavens represent the immaterial, the earth the material. The heavens the spirit, the earth the corporeal. The heavens the subtle connection to ethereal concepts and thought, the earth facility with flesh and bone.
For a human being to effectively be a conduit between heaven and earth, we need adequate circulation of prāṇa or qi (same thing—the life force or energy of the mind/body). Qi from the earth needs to rise, and qi from the heavens needs to descend; the qi and the qualities it carries need to circulate throughout our organisms.
While qi needs to reach and nourish every cell of our body, it concentrates where our attention is focused.
One phenomenon I often see, is that our attention is often coopted by our senses: smelling, tasting, seeing, hearing, and touching. Since most of our sensory organs are situated in our heads, and we easily indulge in excessive thinking, worry, scheming and planning, we can tend to keep our attention focused in our heads, without allowing sensory impressions, observations and thoughts deeper into our organisms, to digest, assimilate and circulate, or connect with the earth energy. if our attention stays in our head, qi follows, and stagnates there. Stagnation causes discomfort, so we can get headache, eye strain, insomnia and worry.
One thing acupuncture does very well is to move qi. When I was in private practice, I noticed that, if I released qi that was stuck somewhere in the body, the liberated qi would simply rush to the head, if the patient’s focus was in their head. This would cause them a headache. For these patients, before I could address other issues, I would first have to stimulate some strong distal points on the hands and feet, to pull the qi down from the head. That way the qi liberated by the needles would circulate instead of beelining for the head.
In practice, I clearly learned and experienced more times than I could count that, if you have a headache, you want to move qi down, out of the head. Ground it to the hands, feet, lower body. To the earth. Get it away from the head—and the heavens—and it will start circulating and the headache will resolve.
But there’s another possibility. One I didn’t think too much about until recently.
About a year ago, I was at the tail end of teaching a two-week intensive—a process whereby I felt a palpable connection to the heavens, but was also managing a lot of details of earthy affairs. All was going well (save the only sinus infection I’ve ever had in my life).
And then, on the last day of the two weeks, I felt like my head might explode (despite the fact that said sinus infection had resolved). I felt energy was stagnating in my head. My previous experience led me to think grounding it would be the right medicine. I kept trying, and it didn’t help. So I asked my friend and colleague, Emily Glaser, if she would give me a cranio-sacral treatment, to assist me in this process. She agreed.
As I was laying down and Glaser was working, my eyes were closed. I felt a clear wave of qi move from my feet, and begin to move up through my body, towards my head. I thought, “No, that’s not right. The qi should be moving down.” But, gratefully, awareness vetoed thoughts. It felt right and healing, whatever the qi was doing. I let the wave move up. It moved up and straight out the top of my head. Like it blasted a hole in the top of my head, and allowed all the qi stuck there to move out—towards the heavens. The qi was no longer stagnant. And the headache was gone.
This was a healing moment for me. And a tremendous education. I realized that grounding and circulating qi are possible ways to release stagnation. Another way is to allow it to move up. In different circumstances, different strategies are called for.
My recent experience doesn’t change my previous strong experiences of the value of grounding qi, but I am more curious now, when qi is stuck, about which way it is wanting or needing to move to relieve the stagnation in the most cooperative, natural way.
In India, we talk about four roughly consecutive stages of life, that can sometimes overlap. If we look at these in connection with the Daoist ideas of heaven and earth, we might say that that the first two stages—roughly the first 50 years of life—are more related to earth and earthly matters. The second two stages more with the heavens, as we move closer to returning to the ethereal.
These thoughts have made me consider whether, as broad generalization from which to experiment, when we are stuck in our heads if, in the first half of life it might be more effective to draw the energy down to the earth and, in the second half, support its liberation to the heavens. Naturally there are considerations other than life stage, including how the person is spending their time, or which way the qi naturally wants to move, but this new awareness has made an impression on me and refined the way I understand stagnation.
Speaking of the four stages of life, as I push 50, I am entering into the vānaprastha (forest dweller) stage of life–the stage where one begins to detach more from earthly pursuits of profession, money, position, family, stuff and affairs, and to retreat into the (literal or figurative) forest part time. It is an acknowledgment that we are closer to death and, ideally, a time to cooperate with that ultimate detachment.
In practicing this, as I mentioned above, doing nothing seems to have a real part to play.
Doing nothing is quite a thing. For someone who has historically done a lot (and often enjoyed it), I have felt increasingly that the courage it takes to do nothing is a courage worth mustering. And it has taken courage. In doing nothing, I am not actively pursuing bookish knowledge, I am not increasing my fame or fortune, my facebook following, or my knowledge of current affairs. And that, from a certain perspective, could be downright humiliating.
Those of you who have known me or followed my work over the last couple decades know that slowing down, stopping, taking time to do nothing is not a small part of my prescription for a hurried, worried, spent world. I have filled that prescription for myself on many occasions. But there has often been a motivation akin to, “okay, I’m tired. I’ll stop now, so I can keep going later.” I’ll stop so I can start again.
Increasingly for me, the stopping is becoming longer and it is not a medicine to take to fuel the continued pursuit of my endeavors. It is more of an end in itself. Stopping to stop. And I’ve consciously both taken steps towards Nothing and cooperated with the natural shifts in my body and energy, that are requesting more of Nothing.
I had Big plans for Nothing. The resulting space in my life was to be an invitation to Grace. And Grace would rush in to accept the invitation. And Grace would feel Big.
As I did more nothing, space did start to open up.
And, lo, I felt empty.
At moments, I wondered if I was just marking time until I die. I found this confusing because, while I saw evidence of Grace everywhere in my life, I didn’t feel it.
At one point, I was walking with a friend and I shared, “Sometimes I ask myself: Am I sacrificing everything for Nothing.” Because, while I’d hoped to sacrifice everything—professional ambition and projects and personal material gain, etc.– in order to make an invitation for Grace, I felt nothing. I didn’t feel grace.
Until I did. Sometimes.
I don’t always feel it. When I do, it’s rarely flashy or BIg. And I realize that the efforts in my life thus far to curb my ambitions or tendencies toward Big may well apply to a new life stage. Assuming or expecting Grace to feel Big all the time may be as foolish as chasing the Big in other forms in other life stages. I’m only just embarking more fully in a new phase of life. This is, God willing, not the end of the story.
Recently I read something my Guru said about living a simple, humble, loving life at the feet of the Divine going a long way to creating heaven on earth. It was not exactly those words, but that was the gist.
Which rather brings us back to the idea of humans as conduits between heaven and earth. And adds the idea that a simple, loving, humble life is an aid in that ideal. (NOT that I’ve got that down, friends.)
I think nothingness is worth inviting, sacrificing for, and embracing. And that the courage it takes to do this is worth it. Just a hunch, but one I care about.
Okay, dear friends. That’s all from me for today.
If you feel comfortable sharing, I’d love to hear from any of you who are in your very late 40s or later….what did you feel in your late 40’s heading towards menopause? I don’t mean so much the nitty gritty physical changes like irregular periods and hot flashes, though you are welcome to share that if you like. I more mean the good, the hard, the different, the weird: What FEELS different about life, about God, about how energy moves…I think this will be nice for the younger women to hear, as well as curious for those of us who are older—so they know where they might be heading, and so we might become more aware of subtle changes in ourselves. What is different? Please feel free to email me your experiences, let me know if you are okay with me sharing them publicly, and I will plan to post some of them in a newsletter, for the benefit of many, God willing, in a newsletter to come.
Okay. Thank you for being there.
ps. Stuff on the horizon: One -day women’s health workshop w/ me, Nov 4 in Burlington, VT, 3-day event on sensory refinement with Dr. Robert Svoboda and me Dec 1-3 near San Jose, CA and we just added a Dec 16-17 Women’s Health weekend with me, in Albuquerque, NM. More about those on our events page. Plus there’s a free, live Q&A call for alumni of our Foundations of Ayurveda Parts I, II or Planet courses. Ask us about it if you want more info on that.