Living your fullest life: Clear Eyes + Full Hearts = Can't Lose

By Erikka

If you haven't seen Friday Night Lights, you're missing out. I mean, a small-town high school football drama in Texas is appealing to everyone, right??

...alright, even if high school football drama isn't your cup of tea, the show's mantra is on point:

clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose.

I've watched the series to completion - twice now - and each time it's stuck me powerfully. When I read it, I internalize it a bit differently. It's not just a mantra, it's an actual equation. An A + B = C type of thing.

When I remove the football theme (which is tough, guys: I could talk Riggins vs. Saracen all day) and think about what it means outside of a television drama, I'm instantly inspired: mood lift, wanting to shout it from a mountain, Ron Burgundy style. (But I don't have a mountain, I have a blog, so I'm writing about it here!)

What does clear eyes even mean? It my opinion, it means this:

LIFE WITHOUT EXPECTATION.

It means being present and in the moment so you get to experience the beauty that is your life. An expectation, and I quote, is "a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future, or a belief that someone will or should achieve something."

Living with expectations means you've created an alternate universe wherein you're the writer, producer, and director of your own show. And that's not to say you should live without dreams or aspirations: we need those, keep those going! But that's not what this is. The players in the alternate reality are not your dreams or aspirations, they are real people, separate from you.

Let's get crazy and call them individuals. 

They are the same people who exist in your real life, but with expectation they are saddled with a script and thus, fictionalized. So when the real life players go "off script" - and boy, DO they - you are left feeling disappointed, angry, and sad. Essentially, you've removed the joy of interacting with those around you. 

I've battled with the expectation game for a large part of my life, so I know well the flip side of having clear eyes. 

I was constantly disappointed in my career and my relationships. I was always thinking "when X happens, I'll be happy." Well, X happened. And sure, I was happy, and then the disappointment would eventually set in because I was waiting for the next X to make me happy again.

That's exhausting: not only for me, but for all my players. Can you imagine how frustrating it is to be held to a standard you didn't know existed?

It's basically living the nightmare where you walk into math class not knowing there was a test - or that you were even taking a math class. 

I've learned a lot about how to reprogram how I view the world, simply by being a fur-parent and being around kids. I love hanging out with the small humans and the non-human furries because they live in the moment and with such open hearts and honest enthusiasm. You never know what you're gonna hear out of a kids mouth and if you need proof of this, go ask a random 5 year old if she likes your outfit. 

Just like with animals, I never know when I'm going to come home to the contents of my recycling bin emptied onto the floor and a very guilty black Lab sitting amongst his treasures. 


Like any change you want to stick, you have to practice, engage, and exercise it. 

The being present muscle is no different. 


Acupuncture 

Getting regular acupuncture treatments not only helps you obtain emotional health but will drastically improve your physical health as well. Acupuncture works like this: you’ve traveled to foreign country where you don’t know the language and you want to experience everything you can while you’re there. You could just wing it and wander around and you’d probably see some amazing stuff but you’re likely to miss out on some really cool experiences. Acupuncture is your tour guide, it’s going to get you to places you didn’t think possible by a more direct route.  Less fumbling about and more “ooohs” and “ahhhhs”!

Becoming an acupuncturist was the impetus for me to clear my eyes. I saw the value of treatment in my patients every day and decided to use my time on the table as “therapy” with myself. It was my quiet time where I was able to delve in and process my feelings and emotions which created a cascade of healthy benefits; learning to meditate, time to analyze my thoughts and feelings, and the ability to perform internal emotional check-ups.


Meditation

I enjoy doing self-guided imagery meditations. I got to my favorite safe spot - usually a field with a large willow tree in the middle for me, but it can be anywhere for anyone. I sit underneath the tree and relax into her. I feel my feet, the backs of my legs, and my bum on the grassy ground. It's solid, unmovable, and it tickles a little. Then I feel the big willow behind me, holding up while I sink into her bark. I'm fully able to relax into her might. I listen to her branches sway in the breeze. I smell the air; it's crisp and clean. All my senses are engaged. And then I allow myself to hang out... with myself. Sometimes I'm alone, and sometimes I'm hanging out with me at different ages. 

This practice is not only relaxing, there's the potential for it to be hugely transformative and healing. Regardless of your background, we all have some form of trauma and/or unmet needs. This is your time to give yourself what you needed at that time in your life, and thus, what you need in your life now. 

So what should you do? You can start with my guided imagery, or you can completely ignore it! It's meant to be a guide to show that this imagery exercise allows you time with yourself in a safe, relaxing, and comfortable space. 


Emotional Analysis

Getting into the nitty gritty of what you're feeling and why you're feeling it allows you the space to evaluate the situation from all angles. Did you have an expectation that didn't get met? Did someone treat you or act differently from what you pictured? 

This can be done by internal dialogue, journaling, video-journaling... it doesn't really matter, as long as it feels good to you and it's work you do for yourself, and on your own.


Get Yourself a Sounding Board

This can be a friend, a group of friends, a family member, or anyone who will speak openly and honestly with you. The sounding board is there to hold you accountable and to help you address tough issues together. Being open, honest, vulnerable, and kind is very difficult in this process. And it's also imperative. 

The ultimate goal here is the ability to be your own sounding board. We learn to do that by surrounding ourselves with people who can help us through our own muck - people we won't and perhaps people who won't allow us to weigh them down with the stuff that we should we working through on our own. We are pack animals and we learn from each other, so learn how to be a good sounding board by being in a relationship with one. Aspire to be someone from whom others learn.

Surrounding yourself with head-nodders and yes-men feels great, but those people don't call you on your shit. For growth, we need accountability, vulnerability, and light.


Check-Ups

Over time, it becomes easier to stay in the moment and be present, but there will always be times you need a check-up. Worrying excessively? Check in with yourself. What's upsetting? What's unnerving? Have you done everything you can in this moment to solve this problem? Is it even a problem? Is it something solvable, and within your control? 

If not, what can you do? I recommend deep breathing, first and foremost. Maybe a few minutes of meditation to help me sink into what I'm feeling, stick with being present, and ultimately work through the issue. 


I look at staying present like I imagine childbirth:

You HAVE to stay present and get through it

you do not have a choice

There is only one way through

Growth is tough. Stay with it. 

 

Tips for Dealing with Holiday Stress

By Chryssa

Oh, winter solstice.

How your time of year unwittingly bring so much tension to the bodies of millions each year. 

The holiday season can be really hard on people. As an acupuncturist, I can't take away your stress (though when you're on the table, it might feel like it!). 

what I can do is help you deal with stress, anxiety, and negativity in a way that is more conducive to health and ease within the structure of your body.

Once you (as a whole: body and mind!) learn to more effectively deal with everyday stressors, minor and major traumas, and the overstimulation of our every day lives:

things will start to get better.

i promise.

Acupuncture Makes You More Human

By Chryssa

I’m pretty big on humanity.

embodying it

embracing it

accepting it

The precept that we're not perfect and so of course we strive to be better is thematic in human civilization: it's seen in art and heard in music; it's in the trajectory of human relationships and exemplified in major world religions.

I'd like to go a step further than that, though, or perhaps I just want to be a bit more nuanced:

we are not perfect, of course! 

Let's start there. Why in the world would we assume ourselves to be? Seriously. Have we met ourselves? Perfect doesn't come to mind. Beautiful, messy, true - these words describe humans, and they sound pretty dynamic. Health is about the movement of energy and beauty and mess and truth are all alive with it.

Perfect, though? Nah.

Striving for better isn't about becoming perfect; it's because of our imperfection that we are wholly human. Perfect doesn't have anything to do with it because perfect is staid and done with. Perfect doesn't have spirit, and life without spirit is actually a source of pain. 

The betterment, then, isn't a quest for shiny perfectness. It's really a seeking of whole humanity.

Don't mind Puck in the background. He thinks cameras steal his soul.

Don't mind Puck in the background. He thinks cameras steal his soul.

 

Be not just good; be good for something.
-Thoreau

Here's a fun fact: my best friend and I wear matching bracelets that have BADFHB stamped on them. It stands for Be A Decent Fucking Human Being: because we always need a reminder that life is a practice; because the point of life is to add goodness into the world; because when you're a grown-ass woman why wouldn’t you want a custom bracelet with your bestie??


BECAUSE IT'S A REMINDER THAT LIFE IS ALIVE, LIFE IS A GROWTH SYSTEM, LIFE IS GOODNESS AND DECENCY.

And that, my friends, is what being human is all about.


Acupuncture is good for a lot of things: 

making babies, letting you sleep, easing depression, helping with the grip of anxiety, practicing the art of dealing with stress, reducing the pain and debilitation that comes with arthritis, reducing the frequency of migraines, eliminating the signs and symptoms of GERD, stopping sciatica in its tracks... the list goes on. Prevention Magazine has a great infographic that I've added below: 

But maybe the biggest thing is this:

Acupuncture makes you more human.

Bottom line. No less. No more.

When aches and pains, psychological and degenerative diseases, or broken and unusable limbs meander into our lives, they rule us. They take over. They have the power to bring us into ourselves and feel out the confines of our bodies, or push us further outside of what has become a prison. 

Even without major illness, we (Americans, at least) don't tend to live inside our bodies. The most recent example is the fact that a 3-year-old from Texas was just diagnosed with Type II Diabetes. Three. 3 years old. Metabolic Syndrome. In only three years of life.

Sugar and heart-clogging oils don't just pad our bodies with layers of fat and cushion our internal organs with absurd levels of adipose tissue; they literally disconnect us from ourselves.

In Chinese medicine, the pattern Damp Accumulation can have a zombie-like effect on the brain. And exactly my point, reader: that's the opposite of making you more human! (An example more concrete than zombies is that Alzheimer's and Dementia have roots in poor quality, damp-inducing foods.)

I don't know if food will ever cease to be Big Business, but I do think there's hope. There's a rising backlash against processed foods, people are going green, and there's an overall increase in awareness about consumption and waste.

And now,  a recent study talks about how "electro-acupuncture improves the social interaction behavior of rats," which I get means that it makes rats more ratty, but the human implications are there. Take out the brain fog and add in some acupuncture?? Sounds like a match made in hippy heaven.

It's no wonder that acupuncture helps children and adults on the spectrum:

The study found that "electro-acupuncture led to region-specific up-regulation of oxytocin and arginine-vasopressin mRNA levels in the hypothalamus."

Oxytocin and arginine-vasopressin are neuropeptides that are involved in the social behaviors of mammals.

"Low socially interacting rats that underwent repeated electro-acupuncture showed significant improvement of social behavior characterized by spending more time investigating the strange rats in three-chamber sociability test. The improved sociability was accompanied by an up-regulation of mRNA and the peptide levels of oxytocin or arginine-vasopressin in the hypothalamus as well as a significant increase of serum level of arginine-vasopressin."

"It is concluded that activation of these neuropeptide systems may be associated with the pro-social effect caused by electro-acupuncture stimulation."

Acupuncture has a profound effect on the mind. It incites change in the body, in the mind, and in the spirit. I see it in my patients, and this study supports  my individual case-study findings:

consistent acupuncture over time strengthens the brain. It reinforces healthy habits, it helps to break bad habits, and really: it brings you back to you. 

so of course it makes you happy, healthy, and overall, more human. 

More you. 

so you wanna know how I got into acupuncture.

By Chryssa

Do you know what a 'Country Song Phase' is?

If you don't, that's ok. I'm pretty sure I made it up. 

I did my reiki training in early 2008. I needed something because I was lost. Being lost in your mid-twenties is apparently not a huge thing, but when you're in your mid-twenties and you're just trying to be alive, you are unaware of such truisms afforded by hindsight. 

It was the followup to a time in my life that I refer to as my "Country Song" phase: I'd just broken up with my boyfriend and was wildly confused about how I could love someone so much and also know we weren't good for each other; the day after that, I put the dog flea medication on the (way tinier) cat (hint: seizures); around that time I was also rejected from an MFA program at a prestigious school (the only one I applied to - walked right into that one); I worked for the family business (which also housed me) and it was sold - so with that went my home and my job (but lucky to have fallen into that); and finally, my grandmother died (she was 90 and had lived a long and beautiful life). The cherry on top was that on the same day that Yiayia died, my dad's beloved dog was fatally hit by a car after he'd left for the hospital to tend to his mother's death. 

All of this for a gal who already had control issues. 

Cue precocious kid.

Cue precocious kid.

These things are most certainly not the end of the world. I also understood that taken singly, each occurrence was ostensibly super handle-able. But at 25, I didn't have the emotional wherewithal to handle it. I was one of those precocious kids who seemed to have it all under control; I was that kid who helped the adults through the hard times. I was a Peer Mediator, for goodness sake! Within that paradigm, I was also privy to a contentious divorce which, for all intents and purposes, I handled very well. Kids are so resilient, right? Some of them are, definitely. Those are the kids with the longer chromosomal alleles  - I just wasn't one of those kids.


That's actually part of my passion for working with children: we adults can be remiss in the credit we give kids for their level of complex understanding of the life that goes on around them. 

Even if a child's understanding is not registered cognitively, it's oftentimes still taken in on a cellular level.

Cellular memory for events can have significant emotional ramifications later in life. 

 


Roundabout 15 years later, my body still wasn't equipped to handle even one of these Country Song events. The sum total kinda sank me.

But you know what? Bodies are kind of incredible. You can have diabetes and be hypertensive and you still remain alive, and yet a signal within the heart could misfire in an otherwise healthy person and that individual life could end. Bottom line, energy in the body needs to move, and movement equals life.

Hooray! That sounds pretty great! 

We can just, you know... move. And stuff.

There's a flip-side to that, though, and that is that sometimes energy gets stuck. It's just another part of life: we have energy, it should move, and sometimes it necessarily can't because we impose (most likely emotional) blocks on it. 

Like a river lacking the water or force to move detritus, personal energy, too, gets clogs and stagnates. 

That's really what pain is: stuck energy.

My first reiki treatment was so relaxing that I had the thought that maybe there was a way through this. The relaxation felt like literal, actual, to-my-core healing. I knew I was stressed out and I knew I was depressed, but I didn't figure that engaging in a practice that touched neither mind nor body could actually spur a transformation for both.

Thankfully I was wrong and thankfully, the reiki made me worse. Yeah, that's right: I said thankfully the reiki made me worse! I honestly needed something powerful to make me "believe" (I like to say that Chinese Medicine is not a Faith-Based medicine, and it's not: but how does a skeptic get involved in self-health if they're not forcefully shown, one way or the other, than it has an effect on them?).

Long story short, I had this old college injury that was irritated by the reiki (and by old college injury I mean tendonitis of the elbow, since I was an English major who typed a lot). The writing process is emotionally evocative but it never crossed my mind that the physical and emotional aspects of the tendonitis could be parsed out - what is from physical repetition and what is from emotional repetition? - and suddenly, typing-free but depressed and in a state of heightened emotions, the elbow pain was back. At first it fueled the depressive mindset of "why me?", furthering my self-fulfilling prophesy that I wasn't in control of my life and why oh why. Oh why oh why oh why.

See, I was a victim. 

and See, I was the one victimizing myself.

But it also piqued my interest into something far less solipsistic and something far more interesting: a personal experience of the mind/body connection. Thankfully, I wanted out of my depressed hum-drum and thankfully, the physical pain induced was at a level where I needed to seek professional help. 

I was referred to my first acupuncturist and from there, life changed.

My main pain point was literally an acupuncture point: Heart 3.

It's a point that congests due to unrest and turbulence. It's indicated for exhaustion and when Water doesn't control Fire. The previous few months had blown my Fire element out of control and being out of control and unrooted, my Fire, my zest for life, my animation, extinguished.

Poof. Gone.

Water, generally so calming and rooting, didn't have a chance to be helpful. Water couldn't circulate, Water couldn't be energized, so Water got mucky and boy, did I sit in it. (You know: the whole "why oh why" thing.)

I took it all personally, which is a chicken/egg situation with the Fire element: taking something personally can injure your Fire, but in its weakness an injured Fire element is also prone to playing the victim. 

Taking things personally when they are not personal de-regulates the line between self and other, and not having a clearly delineated self allows the Fire element to run rampant. 

Thankfully, acupuncture put me back in me. Acupuncture reminded me of my sense of self. Acupuncture opened my eyes. Acupuncture allowed me to begin to heal me.

Acupuncture made me more human. 

So, that's the story of how I got into acupuncture. I actually worked in a laboratory that researched the connection between allele length and resilience in children in the time between starting acupuncture treatments and beginning the masters program to become a licensed acupuncturist.
I am so grateful for the ability to combine my academic and professional backgrounds; doing so has further reinforced the power of positivity in creating a worthwhile life. I think, just maybe, my alleles are growing :) 

Breath, Spirit, the Fall... and oh, yeah: (Emotional) Hoarding.

By Chryssa

If you think of the seasons fitting into a single day, then Chinese medicine considers Autumn to be the time when the sun is moving towards the horizon after a long, sunny day. It's a kind of a twilight, an interim season, with Spring functioning as the flip side of that: the dawn of a new day. Deep Winter is considered the darkest part of night - the time we're lost in dreams that delve down into our psyches - and Summer, of course, would be high noon. 

The energetic of each season is different and as such, the Chinese medical correspondences vary between them as well.

This medicine is incredibly mindful of the entire human system. It considers the mind (thoughts) and the body (actions) as one.

The element associated with Autumn is Metal.

The corresponding Metal organs are the Lung and the Large Intestine.

Viscerally, what do these two organs have in common?

They both take in and they both release: peristaltic movement is the lifeforce of both. 

Both ancient Greek and Chinese cultures believe the spirit to be imbued into a person upon their first breath. Religiously, the Greek word ‘pneuma’ means spirit and physically, the word means ‘breath.’ In Chinese medical theory, the spirit for the Lung, the Po, comes alive with our first breath and it leaves the body with our last. It is a corporeal spirit, one that is specific to this particular life and yet interestingly enough, for all of its physicality, the Metal element is the closest to the Heavens. 

Breathing is a gift and an ethereal experience, making Metal the most spiritual of the elements.

The emotion associated with the Metal element is Grief.

Grief has to do with holding on to the value of something lost - allowing oneself to be imbued with the goodness of what the experience was previous to the loss - and letting go of what is no longer relevant.

Real World Example: Hoarding.

You don't often think of hoarding when it comes to grief, but this behavior can be a Metal issue when it's an outcropping of an untethered grief. Everything kept is perceived to be of value and therefore cannot be let go. (Hoarding is more commonly considered a pathology of the Earth element because of a separate pattern - more on that in a different post.) 

The really Metal thing about hoarding (and I'm not talking Metallica, guys) is that there actually are valuable things found within the fray of the situation, but the pathology comes from it being a fray. It is toxic and dangerous to hold on so deeply to things/ideas/thoughts/relationships when they no longer serve you, but an imbalance in the Metal element sometimes paves the way for just that thing to happen. When Metal is out of balance, the lens through which value is perceived is decidedly skewed. That life-force that is so particular to the health of the Metal organs - the taking in and releasing - has been thwarted. 

Negative thought patterns.

Do you ever find yourself suddenly feeling not so great about yourself? If so, welcome to being human! Chances are, there's a little dictator inside your head, spewing lies about any of the following: who you are, your level of worth, some nonsense about love or lack thereof. So the first thing I want you to do when you notice a thought process is harmful to you is to tell it, simply, that it does not serve you:

Puck, shrugging off what no longer serves him.

Puck, shrugging off what no longer serves him.

"Not useful. Hey, thought: you're not useful."

But here's where it gets tricky. Sometimes, there's actually a kernel of truth in all of that negativity. You may spiral into "I'm the most hated person at work" because you actually did screw up something at work! Let me assure you that you are not hated because of it. (And let's be perfectly honest: I will also take this time to warn you that hiding from anything is a breeding ground for shame.)

The health of the Metal element is in its ability to delineate between self and other, what is and what is not, Truth and what Obscures the Truth. The Metal element rides the fine line between the physical and the spiritual.

Within that space lies the Truth.

During this spiral. it's merely a time when you, for whatever reason, are unable to differentiate between the negativity coming from you versus the possibility of it coming from your coworkers. When Metal is out of balance, negativity gets projected onto other.

From that shame, and instead of accepting responsibility and moving on, you may find yourself suddenly hidden under an avalanche of negative self talk. (After all, if you're suffocating, taking responsibility for that one thing for which you actually should take responsibility is the least of your worries.)

From there comes the guilt, and that guilt kind of feels, dare I say it? ...good. Because deep down you know none (mostly none) of it is true so it's backwardly validating. It gives you a sense of righteousness that, within this avalanche, you're actually wearing an oxygen mask. Teasing that out and bringing reality back into it, you seemingly magically can dismantle the avalanche quite easily. You've had control of it all along. I'm not a terrible person! What was I thinking??

It's actually not magic at all.

It's seeking out the Truth and accepting it responsibly. But within a Metal-Gone-Wild situation, you actually hold on to that mental mess, reveling in the avalanche, seeking the thrill of feeling shitty about yourself, connecting the fray to the one thing that actually is true so that with that connection, the responsibility is lost.

When it all seems so ridiculous and has become one homogenous monster, surely you are no longer responsible for that one thing.

Feeling that guilt, you trick yourself into thinking that you've taken responsibility when in fact, you've obscured it.

What you've done is lie to yourself, moved further from the Truth in yourself, and denied yourself that growth. 

Accepting that Truth and being responsible for it means doing the energetic hard work that comes with grief: taking the good and accepting it as it is, and letting go of what no longer serves you. 

Value and beauty.

Value and Beauty have a lot to do with the Metal element, which makes sense in terms of grief: grief allows you to derive value and beauty out of a situation that otherwise needs to be released. 

Physically, a Large Intestine impacted with feces has not let go and will become toxic. Let's bring the energetics - that mind/body connection - into it as well: being 'emotionally constipated' is toxic, too. It prevents you from living in the moment, which means you don't experience fresh emotional nutrients. Without a fresh supply of nutrition, things fester and get nasty.

Who can relate to an emotional experience akin to that?? I know I can!

It's the same thing with the Lung: without oxygen, body tissue will die. Physically, this is a fact. Emotionally too, if you're not open and accepting of inspiration, you can feel as though all the oxygen has been taken out of your life. And that, too, feels like a physically irrefutable fact. A body without spirit, breath, inspiration, feels like a lifeless body. And from there, the Po may leave. 

Let me ask you a few questions.

Does it ever hurt to breathe? Oftentimes, it's physical. And sometimes that physical issue is due to an underlying emotional deficiency. What I'm saying is, that pain could be a spiritual pain.

Do you have persistent lung problems?

It might be a good time to check in with your acupuncturist.

The Fall is a time of introspection - both somatically and energetically. It’s a time to reevaluate how we feel about ourselves. Do I love me? Do I accept me? In a recent interview, the volleyball legend Gabby Reece said, "Let's not be afraid about what's uncomfortable and messy about life. I'm actually not interested in perfection. I don't find it interesting." For out-of-balance Metal, the lack of perfection is all you can see. But what's interesting and life-affirming about that? 

So, let's each do ourselves the favor of finding daily beauty in our everyday lives. The Metal element has to do with beauty and value precisely because perfection isn't interesting.

I'll end it with this. Jean Vanier is a theologian, philosopher, and humanitarian. He states that “we will continue to despise people until we have recognized, loved, and accepted what is despicable in ourselves.” What is 'despicable' if not another word for 'not perfect'? Out of accepted imperfection, i.e. self-acceptance, comes love.

Out of self-acceptance comes the ability to let go of what is toxic and not useful. 

Learning that skill affords you the ability to feel like you deserve, and from deserving this basic human need, you can then take in your humanity: what is fresh, what is nourishing, what is life-promoting.


life sandwich.

By Chryssa

I wrote The following essay in January of 2012. Shortly after, Lucy passed.

Recently, though, I've been thinking of the impact of an animal in a human's life. 
In Chinese medicine, the Fall season has to do with a more inward movement of energy. The emotion of the season is grief - collecting the fallen leaves, composting them for the more energetic uprising of the Spring. It's a beautiful and calming time; it is a time of self-introspection.
Light begets light, and I am a human for whom animals bring joy. And so, I will always have animals! Lucy was a pet who shed lots of light on darkness: hers, mine, other people's. Through that darkness, we found what we sought. I am on a continual journey towards more light and then after that, more light. To find that light you need contrast. You need to accept the dark. This little dog that the following words are about helped me along that path.

-

Life is weird. Not in the sense of the events that punctuate your life like solar flares, or the beautiful people you meet who change you from who you were to who you are, or the mundane things you do, peristaltically, that drive you from moment to moment, or the things that just happen whether they’re good or bad, or all the blessings or all the traumas or all the joy or all the pain; but rather, about life as a container for living. Life as boundary. Life as beginning. Life as end. Our own alpha, our own omega. Who's responsible for that, from within? From without? Especially if the life in question is that of a dog?

Lucy is sick. She’s a 5 year-old mutt from the mean streets of Staten Island, found abandoned with her biological sister who was adopted out to rural Connecticut and named, coincidentally, Lucy. My Lucy was the runt of the litter and like any good Napoleon, she bosses her adopted brothers around: Puck, a 6 year-old lab mix from Hurricane Katrina, and Myshkin, a 7 year-old Russian spy who'd defected to Southern California and in this incarnation also happens to inhabit the body of a Maine Coon mix. Lucy’s life consists of laying around a whole lot, peeing, pooping, eating, and begrudgingly taking walks around the block.

Some facts:

-A dog usually gets a diagnosis of Cushings Disease later in life – 10 is the average age. 

-The life expectancy is 2 – 3 years.

-Pharmaceuticals help with the quality of life, but do not extend the life span.

I’m not good with things like this. When I saw The Perfect Storm in theaters and the movie ended and the credits started to roll, I turned to my sister and asked her what was going to happen next. After the movie was over, surely they were going to make it back to land? She laughed at me and told me to get up. And that they died. It was based on a true story! They died in real life! And don’t forget to throw out the popcorn container.

I don’t ever seriously think about my animals dying. If I do, I joke that they’re going to live into their 20s. I extend their inevitable deaths another 20 years, so maybe when I’m nearing 50 I’ll be more equipped to handle it. My future offspring can help me through it!

But lately I’ve been wondering about my responsibility to Lucy, without the cover of comedy (gah!). Drug options include partial necrosis of the adrenal cortex (which often turns into accidentally killing off the whole adrenal cortex), or chemotherapy. Cushings is caused by a tumor on either the pituitary gland or on one of the adrenals. The tumor presses on the centers that secrete cortisol (in the pituitary) or the secretors of cortisol themselves (the adrenal glands), with  hyperadrenocorticism as the end result to both those scenarios.

Adenomas, like most pituitary tumors in Cushings, have the propensity for growth. Really, any tumor is a physical abnormality and can disrupt homeostasis, even if it has the most honorable (or at best, neutral) of intentions. On the other hand, 50% of adrenal tumors are malignant and have a tendency to spread their wings and fly to neighboring internal organs, depositing ickies into previously healthy tissue in the process.

One of the drugs would stop the excess production of cortisol, which in turn would run the risk of her already hard-to-manage allergies flaring up to a really painful degree. The kid already chews her paws off every night because they’re itchy! The other drug would essentially poison her in order to poison the tumor. But historically, the drugs don’t stop the tumor from growing, and the tumor is really the problem. 

A chihuahua with neurological changes can have dangerously severe personality changes, so a pitbull mix with a changing brain needs to be put down at the first signs. Ethically, that is the only option. Seizures and circling aren’t reasons to put a dog down if those issues are contained, but if the etiology of those changes has the ability to grow further into  aggression? That’s the point where I have to get up, toss the popcorn, and accept the fact that not every story has a happy ending.

Lucy's life with me began when I held her, at 17 muscly little pounds, on a short walk to the shelter vet. My intention at that point was to adopt an older dog, around Puck's age. This adorable little puppy - suctioned to my heart, mother nature syncing our beats - was not the objective. My insane dog Puck needed a playmate, and Puck As Puppy was more akin to Godzilla than this delightful, sleepy little creature on my chest. My previous experience with a puppy was that when sick, puppy in question would 1) get better and 2) subsequently return to default state of insanity. To me, there was no bright side of Puppyhood. But 5 years later, here we are! Her energy level has always been more couch than straightjacket, showing me that there is more to raising a puppy than batshitcrazy, and she since our familial inception, she’s just kept right on snoozin’. 

Lucy has a happy life. Now, in the present, her life is happy. I've given her 5 very joyful years, and plan to give her more, when perhaps another owner would have been smart about it and returned the defective item (I say this, of course, with the love of someone who has cleaned up more dog pee than I ever thought was caninely possibly). She leaks (ectopic ureter) and so wears diapers (and I do a lot of laundry), limps (malformed shoulder bones), steals food off the counter (push the bread loaf all the way back, please!), and cannot be left alone, lest you want the whole building - scratch that: the whole block - to think that you're torturing your dog by ripping her toenails out one at a time. At least, that's the noise she makes when Puck and I try to go out for some endurance walking (since, as mentioned, her favorite activity includes a REM state).

Lucy and me in 2009. I'd recently broken my pinky, having tripped over her. Because she was sleeping.

Lucy and me in 2009. I'd recently broken my pinky, having tripped over her. Because she was sleeping.

So if the stuff on the inside of the boundaries of your life has brought happiness and light into this world, does the part of me that can't bear the thought of losing her just deal with it? Because an even bigger part of me cannot see her in pain. And all of me cannot - because a foreign object in her brain is pressing all the wrong buttons - allow harm to come to those she loves.

I'm spending hours a day thinking about this, compromising the meat of my life sandwich, while the meat of Lucy's is happily dreaming away in her comfy little Lucy spot. And honestly, at the end of this day, that's all that matters.

Lucy at Christmas, bossing the boys around (Puck, adopted brother; Onslo, adopted uncle). 

Lucy at Christmas, bossing the boys around (Puck, adopted brother; Onslo, adopted uncle). 

On Beauty + Connection.

By Chryssa

    There’s an article out in the Huffington Post about addiction - addiction being not about the external substance or activity in question but rather the internal substance or activity of the human in question. Societally, addiction invariably brings up judgment: the thought of who is addicted; the one-sided thought process of what happened to this person to make them this way. This way is more derogatory on the spectrum of ways you could think of a person because an addict a) can be called an addict, which blunts a human down to their actions, distancing me-the-thinker from that-person-the-addict, and b) it’s 2015, enlightenment is in, and some might even say we’re addicted to bettering ourselves. Addicts, in this view, are decidedly not enlightened.

    An addicted person has a problem, right? Harshly, an addict needs to get their shit together; softly, addiction passively happens to a person. It’s like saying someone has depression versus someone who is depressed - in this case, the semantics matter. 

    And addiction crops up in many ways. I’ll be honest: I’m addicted to sugar, and am thus subsequently unenlightened. It seems benign enough, but take the grainy white stuff away from me and a monster begins grumbling from within. Have you ever seen Ghostbusters? You know the part where Zuul via Sigourney Weaver doesn't get his way?  Yeah... I mean, I'm the first to admit that the manifestation within me is not as sultry as Ms. Weaver's, but subjectively, indulging in an addiction can make you feel more alive and I think, in the moment, more beautiful (cue my idea of what I look like eating chocolate). Inhibitions lower, dopamine spikes, and we actually have more positive self-views in these euphoric moments. (When the dopamine crashes and you realize all the chocolate is gone is a completely different story.)

© ousia arts

© ousia arts

    This brings me to beauty, because it's a tricky thing. What is beautiful to me may not be beautiful to you, and as human beings beauty is a great driving force in our lives. It drives us to connect and to grow - two very basic things that make each of us a more complete person.

    Beauty can be instantaneous: that kind of immediate high, instant gratification; the Twitter and the Instagrams and the Facebooks and the techy stuff of the 21st century. 

    And then there’s the enduring kind of beauty, those early photographs for which you had to sit hours, peppered with shades of integrity and trust; the kind of beauty that makes you a better person because the beauty is rooted in connection with another human being. The Huffington Post article strongly drives that point home, that it's not the cocaine or the sex or the gambling or the heroin, or even the sugar. These things placate and comfort when really, it's the genuine human connection that people are seeking. Dopamine is released when we're in love. Dopamine is released when we engage with these addictions. Dopamine is necessary for human brain function. Dopamine is strongly implicated with the experience of positive emotions. Positive emotions make for a better experience of life.

Dopamine, in short (and in the correct balance), is a good, healthy thing.

    In Chinese medicine, dopamine would be seen as part of the Fire element. Connection and love are deeply rooted in this upward moving element. Everyone has Fire, and our Fire imbues us with the ability to connect, to experience joy, to responsibly have fun in a purely hedonistic sense.

     In balance, the Fire element also helps us think clearly and sort through information to discern what is needed and what can be discarded. 

© ousia arts

© ousia arts

Fire has to do with sex, love, connection, clarity, and compassion.

    In his book Nourishing Destiny, Lonny Jarrett explains that "it is the concentration of our Shen that brings intention into the world in a way that fulfills destiny." 

    In Chinese medicine, Shen is consciousness. Shen is the light in your eyes; Shen is the light that connects all living beings to one another, and clear Shen allows for compassion.

    "If habitual reactions to the emotions of sorrow or joy perpetuate a dysfunctional relationship...the Shen will not be focused in a way that promotes connection to life's purpose."

    So now, let's bring this back to 2015 and take a look at how our world can very easily throw our Fire elements out of balance. The internet makes it near impossible to truly sort through options and discern what is good for you and what is not: confusion ensues. Modern technology and our fast-paced lives make it so that connection is more of a luxury than a necessity: that, too, falls by the wayside. Without the ability to think clearly and without the ability to connect, the genuine experience of feeling true joy doesn't often happen. Sex and love get confused. There's no place for compassion when there's no clarity or ability to connect. 

    In sum, everyone is left wanting more, disconnected from their life's purpose, and our dopamine receptors, or Fire elements, are primed to find comforting substitutes in the ways that actually are available to us. That is the message of Johann Hari's piece on addiction: we are actually seeking connection at the bottom of the bottle, inside the syringe, through the gentle mucosa of the nasal passage, in those extra pounds we carry around.

     One way I like to describe acupuncture is that it kind of forces you to connect with your body. It's this mind/body medicine and yet, even speaking of it in that way is acknowledging the divide that we struggle with - that divide between mind and body. Consciously, we are aware of the separation: my mind is different from my body, obviously; but our subconscious generally has ulterior motives because that obviously is a very modern device. Take the myriad of issues that can arise when you're stressed out: your head hurts, your stomach hurts, your bowel movements change, you're retaining urine, you're bloated, you're retaining water, you're crying for no reason, you have a migraine, you suddenly can't digest gluten/dairy, your lower back starts hurting, the muscles along your shoulder blades start hurting, your irritation makes you want to kick things... should I go on? And I know, your feet are sore, too. All that standing around, waiting for the F train.

     And don't get me started on the knees. 

     In this technologically connecting but physically disconnecting time we live in, the road back to connection starts within you, and a way to self-connect is through regular acupuncture treatments. Not only is it an hour of your day where introspection is demanded of you, but it's also time you get to relax. Both of these things are important for you, the patient. Both of these things make you an active participant in your treatment. Acupuncture is medicine with cumulative effects - meaning, it builds on itself. And it's building on how you interact with it. This is important because acupuncture helps to set you back on your path to your life's purpose.

     Those cumulative effects of acupuncture exist in empirical literature in pain relief and in stress management. Acupuncture can help to rebalance your elements - all five of them, not just your Fire. But most likely - with sleep problems, with relationship problems, with eating disorders and psychological problems - your Fire element is in need of some serious tender, loving, and connected care. 

    A recent piece in The New York Times describes this recipe: ask a potential partner 36 particular questions + look in each others' eyes for 4 minutes = love. It's a fascinating read and is probably as much an antidote to heroin or chocolate as any because quite frankly, it seems pretty terrifying to do. "The idea is that mutual vulnerability fosters closeness. To quote the study’s authors, 'One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure.' Allowing oneself to be vulnerable with another person can be exceedingly difficult, so this exercise forces the issue."

© ousia arts

© ousia arts

     Regina Spektor sings that “I’ve got a perfect body, ‘cause my eyelashes catch my sweat.” This is simple, and to me this is beautiful, and this primes us for connection: the beauty of the human body as a machine that works with itself is an avenue to connect with and foster love for all human bodies. Maybe it's so beautiful to me because it's juxtaposed against #duckfaceselfie- a phenomenon of a beauty standard that by definition is saying, "I am cultivating a look and thus not being myself and as such, I don't actually have a desire to connect with another human being." There's a vapidity that is inherent to the quickness that we all engage in as members of this First World and that quickness necessarily cuts into our ability to truly connect with ourselves, and in turn, with other human beings.

     Tonight, someone I love wanted to Skype with me but I really wanted to get this idea out on paper, so instead of connecting as truly as I technologically could, I wrote this piece, alone while drinking a beer and eating chocolate. Talk about being a hypocrite! (For the record, this post is meant as musing, not as advice - clearly I'm not fit to give it, beer swig).

     And so, this is the balancing act. This is how we all must become enlightened jugglers in the 21st century: the ability to have our cake and Instagram, and also stare deeply into the eyes of those we care for and tell them we love them, too. 

on kissing, stability and the merits acupuncture.

by Chryssa

As an acupuncturist, I’m often asked what acupuncture can do for a person. The guy at the Apple Store was the latest optimistic skeptic with whom I crossed paths and he, like most people, was blown away that it can treat such a wide variety of symptoms and ailments. I get this question from most everyone who poses the simple inquiry on what I do for a living, and I try to respond with as much information as possible - because even though acupuncture is gaining popularity, many conventionally-minded folk still consider it decidedly "fringe," and fringe can lead to the very instinctual idea of "other." The idea of other is rooted in biology but in our modern world - a world that generally lacks the requisite animal predators and physical dangers of our predecessors - it can often just lead to irrational fear. And though fear can be a very healthy response in some life-or-death situations, it is a total, total shame in this one. 

Because, acupuncture works. Because acupuncture leads to health.

Because acupuncture clears your path to receptivity and as a predictive medicine, it can help stave off serious illness.

Because acupuncture has the propensity to change a person's life. 

“I’m an acupuncturist,” is usually followed by “oh, does it work?” and since the sarcastic side of me has been hog-tied and thrown in a corner for moments like this, I answer sincerely: “Yes, it sure does!” (And then I invariably launch into a long-winded explanation of why that is so, generally to the chagrin of my unwitting audience. Whoops.)

So speaking of launching into something long-winded! I get pretty excited about nerdy things, or more appropriately I nerdify things that are decidedly un-nerdy. Like the biology of what we humans perceive as love, and some of the weird things that bring us to that place.

For example: kissing. I mean - objectively speaking, say as an alien outsider - it’s kinda weird, right? Let’s smush our lips together and then touch tongues. REPEATEDLY. FOR AN EXTENDED PERIOD OF TIME. 

Growing up, I had a friend who was super squeamish about saliva: sharing a drink and using the same utensils - that kinda thing just pushed her over the edge. I'd asked her how she'd managed to kiss anyone ever and she answered definitively (and quickly) that that was different - kind of like, why would I even ask that question because what does kissing have to do with saliva? 

Turns out, kind of everything! 

And I tried to reason with her that it was actually a culmination of all that she had perceived as negative about saliva - at least, the way she had described her bacterial misgivings on the topic. But, biology (and my friend) wins again - she's married and with toddler to the man she had been kissing at the time! And she was right: It was different. It is different.

So why do we kiss? According to this video, we kiss because of science. We kiss to do recon on the person we’re kissing. We kiss to let our bodies do their very real chemistry tests. What is his or her biological makeup? How does it mingle with mine?

Has anyone ever had the experience of a really bad kiss? It’s can be offensive in a weirdly personal way. Personal not because you realized you no longer wanted to be swappin’ spit with this person, but because primally and unconsciously you knew that this person was not indeed a potential mate - which of course came across consciously as, “I don’t know! It was just weird!”

And what does this have to do with acupuncture, anyway? What does it have to do with something that is weird, and primal, and personal, and connects with a deeper part of ourselves that we normally don't have access to? Consider this quote from the YouTube link above: 

Uncertainty, psychologically, can lead to some of the greatest feelings of attachment and dependence…. But investigating uncertainty - conquering it, so as to make the best decisions possible - is advantageous, so over time, life has favored activities that turn uncertainty into knowledge. Not every person out there is the best mate for you. But if it didn’t matter which one you picked, a kiss - a taste test - wouldn’t be necessary, and it wouldn’t need to feel so good, or bring us so much pleasure.
— Michael from Vsauce
© ousia arts

© ousia arts

"Over time, life has favored activities that turn uncertainty into knowledge." One of the basic tenets of acupuncture theory - and in fact of Chinese medical theory - is that of homeostasis. Homeostasis is that seeking of stability and certainty, within our own bodies, and acupuncture can be seen as the "weird" way of getting us there. The way that acupuncture works on the body fits in well with the flow of evolution, because it allows the person to become more certain in their body, a decidedly favored experience.  

A homeostatic environment in the body is a healthy environment in the body, and acupuncture can help to realign a person in order to achieve a more balanced state.

Acupuncture is not a one-size fits all kind of therapy, just like kissing one person is different from kissing another - because our bodies are different, our chemistries differ, and what is good for one person is decidedly ohmygoshnotgoodthatwasweird for another. 

Acupuncture can be helpful for one person twice a year, and it can be necessary for another person two times a week. How often do we go out of balance? How much relief do we derive from the treatment? How long has the issue been going on - because the longer the problem, the more acupuncture it will take. Some ailments require acupuncture indefinitely and that isn't a bad thing, because ultimately maintenance across all aspects of life is a huge component to optimal health. Maintaining a weekly acupuncture habit will guarantee you an endorphin release that gives positive physiological and psychological effects which last for hours post-treatment, and the more acupuncture you get, the stronger you make that mind-body connection. 

We kiss to suss out information and we continue to kiss because it is fiercely passionate. But underneath that fire we kiss for real connection, and we connect for real stability. Acupuncture can stir up some pretty intense emotions and once those pass and transform into something more positively enduring, a truer homeostasis returns - most likely, one unmarred by the uncertainty that had been clouding perception before. Stability returns, and there is clarity. People are reminded once again where their core is, and they actually connect with it, sink into it, and feel themselves again.

Puck has a Fire constitution and is constantly seeking connection. Click on the photo to learn more about a local veterinary acupuncturist.

Puck has a Fire constitution and is constantly seeking connection. Click on the photo to learn more about a local veterinary acupuncturist.

It’s a beautiful thing, that there is medicine out there in this world to connect us to our biology in a manner so similar to something that is so basic and expressive to us, like kissing.  

It's a beautiful thing,

this humanity of ours.