Aug 01 2014

Turning Sickness into Bliss

Published by under Uncategorized

Here is a guest blog post I wrote for the popular mediator and Shaman, Elizabeth Clemants.  Sometimes, healing can play out in more powerful ways if we can first learn to be truly present with sickness.  http://

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May 16 2014

Warning Sings: My Interviews with a Hidden Kogi Master

Published by under healers,Herbal Medicine


The following is a recent journal entry written from within the Sierra Nevada mountains, Colombia:(All photographs by Tad Fettig)

My first encounter with Kogi teacher Mamo Alfonso will be the deal breaker. On a filmmaking adventure, my partners and I have been granted an appointment with a high Kogi shaman named Mamo Alfonso.  This opportunity is only due to our good Colombian friends in Santa Marta who have established a rare relationship with the Kogi. The rest will be up to us.

His posture sturdy and erect like an eagle, Mamo sits up on a simple stone. He never even glances at me, but looks away at the mountain tops and patiently chews a pile of toasted coca leaf- he is clearly vetting us out.

There is a long, tense silence. Tad, the cinematographer, has his big new camera aimed at Mamo, it’s probably the only piece of technology for miles (had they even seen a cameraman before?). Tad shuffles in his stance and tries to get his 6 feet plus body to shrink behind the lense, then shoots a look at me, “Am I not supposed to film yet?”.

It’s what we came for. The whole trip, from Bogota to Santa Marta, then a humid tropical mountain hike up the Sierra Nevada (with two mules carrying our equipment), it all hinged on him granting us further access.

We are here because the Kogi have rare teachings of an authentic hidden indigenous lineage. We had heard it was an untouched sacred culture, and that they have an urgent message for those who would listen. As an acupuncturist and healer, I have been trekking the globe to continue my training from the greatest traditional healers on the planet. This was the jackpot of opportunities.


I have a piece of paper in my hand with questions on it, like I work for 60 Minutes or something. I hide it under my legs, which are crossed on top of an uncomfortable small rock, and I’m not quite sure if I am supposed to say something or present myself in some way. I have heard that a Mamo can perhaps read minds, so I try and intentionally think good thoughts, “I want to be a mouthpiece to the world for the ancient teachings you could give to us…”. But instead I keep thinking about how nauseated I feel, or how badly I had puked from a horrific tobacco snorting exercise just a few minutes beforehand (see my last blog).

He then starts speaking in Kogi, a sharp language which seems to contrast between playful and gutteral, and went on for a while. By the time it goes through from the Kogi translator to the Spanish translator to the English, all I get is, “Come back tomorrow.“….

Few people have ever heard of the Kogi of the Sierra Nevada. Even for the neighbors of the Sierra here in coastal Colombia, it is rare to have ever seen a Kogi member. Many Colombians don’t even know they exist.

Suffice to say, only a handful of outsiders have ever gotten access to the teachings of a Kogi master.
There is great reason for this. The Kogi tribe withdrew from the world some 500 years ago. They are ancestors of the Tayrona civilization, a historically gentle ancient empire that once inhabited what is now northern Colombia. When the Spanish conquistadors came they immediately saw the Tayrona as slave material. They took their land and forcibly babtized the youngest natives.  When the Kogi practiced non-violent resistance to the conquistadors, they then became the hunted.


The Spanish even claimed that all the Kogi men were homosexual (because they gathered for male only meetings together in small huts) and therefore needed to be exterminated. Even today in nearby Santa Marta, Catholic Churches still hold statues to the most brutal of the killers.

The Kogi left the fertile flat grounds by the Sea and were for forced to hide in the majestic and sacred Sierra Nevada. This is an extraordinary land, the highest coastal mountain range in the world.  The western half of the lower range is lush tropical rainforest and wild jungle. The eastern is mostly desert lands, and the higher elevations are sparse forests and then snowpeaks. The kogi see their mountain of refuge as a microcosm of the entire ecosystem of the planet, the sacred heart of the world.

Geographically protected, the kogi lived in secret. Some 430 years later when Colombian populations broached the range, the Kogi had an unexpected protective ally in the war on drugs. Gorilla warfare regarding marijuana and then especially the cocaine trade made the surrounding country unsafe for settlement.  The coastal lands became a warzone and became another level of protection for the Kogi.

The Kogi call themselves the elder brothers and sisters and the rest of the world the younger. They have recently come out of hiding because they feel they have a message for the world. They see drastic changes in the physical landscape of the Sierra, and they are witnessing from above the extreme weather patterns striking the planet and they are saying that we are all in trouble.

It’s the next day, and Mamo Alfonso has taken me to a sacred area where we can discuss teachings. I feel like I have been granted access to the internet of sacred kogi scripture, and despite the laborious nature of having two translators, I get the sense that he is now at ease and that he trusts me. After 500 years of exile, I don’t take it for granted.

“I’m here because I want to be a better healer, teacher, father and husband… I want to know how to heal the world and heal myself.”

It’s the best I could muster. Again, he chews…I’m imagining that the simplicity of the Kogi lifestyle-they live in straw huts without electricity, mostly sleep on a mud floor, and wear the same white threaded cloths every day, lends to a certain relaxed pace of dialogue.

And yet Mamo Alfonso is a man of many responsibilities. Mamo’s (Kogi shamans) are selected (male and female) for this important tribal role usually around the age of two. They traditionally are mostly removed from the normal clan life, and then grow up in large, dark caves. They are given secret teachings and learn at the feet of elder Mamos.

Kogi teachers say that there is an unseen reality to our world that is imprinted upon with all that we think, feel, and do. This reality, or field of awareness, records our behavior and then ripens them into a new outer form. This form appears to us as the material world. The understanding is that if the mamos are removed from conventional living (even by Kogi standards), they will gain stronger perceptions on the hidden, greater reality. They will be able to clearly see cause and effect, and therefore be able to guide men and woman who need help.

When a sick person comes to a mamo, they will be told what course of action they need to take to remedy the problem. This course of action will usually be morally focused, as the disease cause was initiated by some past moral transgression. This mistaken action could be attributed to personal or group behavior, but the patient is always advised to take responsibility.

Then a special ceremony is performed which is called a payment, or pagamentos in Spanish. A mamo will gather special objects such as seashells, beads, and yarn, and then make a prayer offering to the Earth. These ceremonies are thought of as necessary for cleansing, and are like food for the Earth. A ceremony is performed at a sacred site, a pre-designated place where the geography is usually marked in a way that only mamos can read.

“It’s good that you asked that question. First of all we address physical illness and things like that…through making the necessary pagamentos – payments to the Mother Earth –  and then sometimes they will look and reflect in order to find out what the illness is or where it’s coming from, and then we will know what herbs they need or what pagamento needs to be done.

“And at another level we are healing the earth, we are healing the wind, the air, the trees, the rivers… everything that surrounds us to bring balance and so larger disease won’t effect all of us, including younger brothers and sisters. And most of those problems that we are trying to heal in nature are coming from the misuse of younger brothers and sisters… The way they misuse the resources of the earth. Specifically in mining and also abusing the sacred places. We are very concerned —  all the pagamentos we do are to heal the earth to prevent more illnesses and disasters for all of humankind.”

But he is really not one for small talk.

“There’s already things that have been done in the past, the past actions that are evident in the world now, but then there are the things that are still happening and that will happen. The misuse of the resources and if we continue as humankind to use the earth as we have in 100 hundred years there will not be any water, there will be days when the rain comes for 20, 30 days non-stop, or the opposite, maybe many days that are dry with unbearable heat and the blood of the earth is being taken out, it will be impossible to live here, and humankind will get very sick and worse illnesses and disease will come upon people because they’re taking the blood out of the Mother Earth which is petroleum, mining … and if the community of the world doesn’t acknowledge this it will happen. But if the communities acknowledge the urgency of treating the earth with respect then there could be some hope.”

The Kogi’s view is that every action, whether it is a thought or a behavior, creates the resulting world that appears before us. In this sense, we are creator’s of our condition, and our ability to harmonize inner behavior with the externalities we seek is the life practice.

The cause for sicknesses, catastrophies, natural disasters, and such are caused by our inability to harmonize with the world. Selfishness, greed, treachery, and anger became the causes for negative impacts.

 “When we were walking here on the hill on our way here, for example, if somebody commits a fault or a sin, even if just my thinking of it, just the thought of it can have repercussions and will have a negative effect on the relationship. And he says that we’re all humans and that everybody is constantly making mistakes, and that nobody is exempt, but that they are always holding tight, always watching, always holding it together. A relationship can be broken from just a thought.”

We then hike down by the oceanside to the ancient city of Pueblito. A relic of the Tayrona civilization, Pueblito was a hub of trade and also was a sacred site for ceremonies. Stone walkways and steps encircle the trees and tropical plants. A howler monkey roars at us from above.

What must it feel like for him and his wife, and even the playful grandchild that accompanied, to look at the ruins? Maybe because so little of the Kogi way of life has changed over time,  it feels like the Spanish took this land from not just from his ancestors, but from Mamo Alfonso himself.

“Of course I feel some sadness and agitation in my heart. I give the example of you having a relative that you love, a daughter or son, a partner that’s taken away from you. They’re locked and put in chains and put somewhere where you can never see this person again. And that’s what we feel – like someone precious to us has been taken away and is locked behind bars and we have no way to connect with this being that they love (the land itself). And that causes me pain. It’s in my heart. Sadness, and sometimes resentment too, because I don’t understand why someone would do that.”

I have a hard time understanding the brutality as well. But even so, when I ask mamo questions, I am always concerned about how people in America will take it. Will this just be more New Age leftist propaganda to attack the capitalistic way of life? I mean, why do the Kogi have the answers, what makes them so enlightened? How did the they get to this land in the first place, surely they must have conquered some other tribe long ago, just as they were pushed out by the Spanish? Isn’t this the world as we have always known it?

“The answer for that is we have never invaded anybody. Why do you think the Mamo knows so much about where this rock comes from? Where the sacred places of pagamentos are? Or what’s the story behind a tree… or a what a river is telling? We were given that information from the beginning, and that’s why we’re called the older brothers and sisters. We have been here the longest. And when the younger brothers and sisters come it’s not that they’re not intelligent, it’s that they have been here less time. The Kogi are the eldest. The rocks are considered the most ancient thing on this planet and that’s why we can talk to them.”  

[caption wpid-img_9633.jpg

What if I bring these teaching to people at home? They say the earth always has enough, the earth will always give us more, and storms are not related to our behavior because storms were here before us, there was an Ice Age before we came, we surely didn't cause that! How to reason with these people?

"I understand that people may reply that it’s an exaggeration, and there have always been rivers and there will always be rivers, hurricanes, etc. But they need to know that isn’t something that Frank is saying, that you came up with, they need to understand that this is knowledge that came from a long time ago, from the ancestors, and that it’s a real knowledge and that it comes from a deep understanding of reality and that one has to keep their focus and concentration on that knowledge. That it is something so old and so real, that that’s where the power will come from when you explain this to people. It comes from the ancestors."

Stay tuned for more entries on my dialogue with this hidden master, including teachings on love, relationships, and even on life outside of this planet! :-)


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Oct 23 2013

Hunting for Healers, Colombia

Published by under Ayahuasca,Herbal Medicine

IMG_9293Imagine sitting on a log inside the succulent Colombian Sierra Nevada rainforest, on the bank of a pristine river. This is where I meet John, our shaman of choice in the region. John doesn’t speak English, but he really doesn’t need to.

He takes a pipe out of his white tunic. John has that understated, humble presence of a man with estimable wisdom and strength of character. He doesn’t make many sounds; his body awareness is feline-like. With a welcoming yet wry grin and a hand gesture, John nominates me to participate with the pipe.

In South American indigenous shamanic practice, tobacco is often called the father of Ayuhuasca. To know the son, you have to be vetted by king tobacco. It cleans and opens the pathway for the deeper, psychotropic effects of Ayuhuasca.

John says a few prayers and whispers some things in Spanish to his pipe. He then turns to Tad, our cinematographer and director, and tells him to turn off the camera.

Interestingly, the jungle, which was teaming with life up until this point, gets very quiet. All I hear is the rolling river’s current and I see John lift his hands above my head. Was I about to be baptized?

He then sticks a long pipe into my right nostril and quickly blows the tobacco into my inner sanctum. Don’t get the idea that the powder hovered in my nose like some saline nasal wash. This was a direct and uncomfortable penetration into the hemispheres of my brain. I just found another chapter of Dante’s inferno, and it’s John blowing tobacco through my cranium.

Before I can run away, John blows into my left nostril. I feel like my head is full of sawdust and he just propelled a bit of brain into my nose. Everything seems reverted. He starts tapping on my forehead while feverishly reciting prayers. I get the sense that something has gone drastically wrong and that this tapping/praying exercise is a last ditch effort to restore cognition before it is too late….

Dazed and yellow, I wander out into the river. Time has slowed and I move into a hyper focused state. I have many thoughts but they seem as far away as New York City, my home. It’s as if my thoughts are somebody else’s; they really don’t concern me.

My gut starts retching and, shortly after, the morning oatmeal comes flying out. After a full-minute vomiting spasm, I feel spacey. I am floating waist level, meditating on the dissolving shapes of oatmeal as we move down stream.

I look back at John the Baptist and he’s smiling sheepishly at me. He lifts up his pipe to see if I want another go. He’s joking, right? And this is just the prelude to Ayuhuasca!

“He said you look 20 years younger”, Ana Maria exclaims from underneath a banana tree. That’s me, the adolescent American who can’t handle his tobacco. Luckily, I’m in the company of Tad, who is floating in sickness, and our partner Tommy, my brother-in-law from Ireland. He’s the sturdy type and a construction company owner. However, while Tad and I had an instinct to get away and dissolve ourselves into the river, Tommy anchored himself on the log and broke into a cold sweat. John grabbed his hand and they sat together in communion.

Despite our altered states (and queasy color), we had survived the gateway herb.


Call me a purist, but I am not easily attracted to the idea of handing my mind over to a drug or herb to induce psychedelic states. To me, getting “high” is caused, in part, by steady and measurable efforts of practiced mindfulness. That progress would be threatened by attaching my ascension to fleeting external triggers. To reach enlightening states of consciousness, it is safer to rely on tested internal methods like meditation.

When the opportunity to experience a hallucinatory Ayahuasca ceremony in the middle of a wild Colombian rainforest arose, I was a little tight in the chest at the thought. I would have to come off my Island. Would my 15 years of slow and gradual mind training be harmed? And what about the 37 years of human development? Would I damage my body? Tourists have recently died taking this.

But underneath my mortal concern, I was ready to experiment. I had always thought that if I ever got the chance to use a hallucinating agent in is proper context, I would do it. I had just never been in that context! Rather than seeing the experience as just a shortcut to feeling good, I could practice in a way that could illuminate me to things I have never been open enough to see about myself, and about life.

I wanted to practice Ayuhuasca as a teacher, as a guide, and as a medicinal. I trusted, perhaps foolishly, that my intention would endear myself to the plant. That somehow my desire to become a better herbalist and better healer was my own little version of life insurance. We all want to escape pain and find happiness. But I was betting on context, purpose, a bit of knowledge, and the immense value of guidance as good starting points for learning.

And before I drown in good intention, I have to admit that I enjoy a bit of mischief. I was super excited to explore where my mind could take me. I had always firmly believed that I didn’t need drugs, and I don’t. But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy making love with a psychotropic plant, even just for the hell of it. For the first time in a long time, I could take a risk and send myself into orbit. It may not be everyone’s idea of a wild night out, but, for me, it was my type of party. Yea Baby, Ayuhuasca!

Ayahuasca, or Yage, is the indigenous ceremonial brew used in parts of the Amazonian rain forest (especially within the Peruvian shamanic practices) to induce healing. The plant (Banisteriopsis caapi) translates to ‘vine of the soul’ but is also often called the ‘little death’ because of its transformational effects on the patient. It is most often combined with the Psychotria specious, which contain the psychedelic chemical DMT. The secrets of how the plant is prepared and cultivated is said to come from the wisdom of the plant itself, which is considered as a sentient and conscious force.

As a practicing traditional Chinese herbalist, I’m quite accustomed to the healing power of Mother Nature. But I also know that the needs of each herbal patient vary greatly, and that the difference between a poison and medicinal agent is in the dose. Who would prescribe, cook, and dose our psychotropic expedition? That’s where John came in.

The next day, we take a magnificent inner tube ride down the river to meet John. We had spent a week living with the amazing Kogi people that inhabit the Sierra. This is another story in itself, but it’s worth noting that John and our two other guides, Ana Maria and Diego, are all students of the Kogi elders. This is an extremely rare position of engagement, as the Kogi are among the most exclusive traditional communities in the world. Yet Ayuhuasca is not a practice of the Kogi, so when our visit with the Kogi elders had passed, we made plans with John for him to lead us in in a ceremony. His Shamanic training was done in southern Colombia, where Ayahuasca is a common indigenous custom.

As a screening process, John had only agreed to practice with us only after getting to know us. Film crews naturally raise suspicion, but the nature of our questions and probing with the Kogi seemed to relax concerns. Or maybe the plant itself had given him a sign. Who knows.

Unfortunately, not all Ayuhuasca shamans vet as carefully. The pure lineage of teachers remains the same, but overnight fake shamans have popped up everywhere in South America to take advantage of the new Turismo. Americans and the like who come down to do ecotourism are adding Ayuhuasca to the bucket list as-if they are vacationing in Amsterdam. With no previous mind training and no clue of what to expect in a shaman, it becomes a dangerous recipe. The one self-regulating mechanism is that Ayuhuasca has some trying attributes. “Purging” is a big part of the experience, as frequent vomiting and/or diarrhea is required for cleansing and renunciation. This is probably the only thing that may keep the plant from making it big at Phish concerts.

We leave the tube at the bank of the river and begin to walk up to a lower mountain peak on the Sierra. This hike is narrow and steep, and reflects the sort of no return intensity of the ceremony. A ‘moloka’, broadly speaking, is a hut with a roof held by skinny pillars. There are no walls and the floor is just dirt. This is what we find at the peak. The panoramic view of the mountains and the Atlantic ocean momentarily stops my breath.


John starts taking out his materials for the ceremony. Tad and Tommy begin to get the camera equipment ready. We did not get permission to film the ceremony but plan on doing some interviews. There is a quiet, serious energy. John takes out his pipe again and I take another mandatory hit of tobacco. This time he softened the dose, buts it’s still enough to start my head spinning and I need to sit down.

A wall of heavy rain moves in on us quickly. Lightning circles around our moloka and the thunder cracks are deafening. The storm gets so intense that we huddle together and my heart is seriously pumping. It’s certainly the loudest and closest storm I’ve ever experienced. Later in the trip, the Kogi’s would tell us that this specific storm was a fierce welcoming message to us from the mountain). But for the time being, it seems ominous and I begin to focus on a little anole lizard, also getting drenched and waiting out the shower under a rock. The rain is deafening and all my sensory awareness takes refuge on the lizard. I wonder how many ceremonies he (or she) has taken part of up on this mountain.

By the time the storm heads to the Atlantic, I feel renewed and invigorated for the ceremony. We start a conversation about the role of the shaman (or more accurately called, “curandero”). I ask him about the side effects of Ayahuasca. Our translators help convey our questions and their answers.

“People don’t get addicted to Ayuhuasca. In fact I came to the plant as an addict of alcohol. It cured me. It gutted the demons out of my body. And now this is my path to give back.”

“If the plant likes you, he will help you. If he sees you are using for the right reasons. And if you are open, he will show you everything you need to see. You will be born again.”

“I never advertise, never look for patients. The right people will come. Don’t try and fight this.”

He gets out all his paraphernalia-chalices, red liquid containers with cross bones on it, strange musical instruments, and what looks like an urn.
Since I have about 4,500 very itchy mosquito bites on my body, I begin to apply a DTT jungle lotion to fight off further bites (I can just picture my mother thinking I got malaria or something or my youngest son counting the boo-boo’s.)

“You don’t need that,” John says. “When you stop wasting resources and sucking the oil from the earth then the earth will stop sucking your blood. Otherwise it won’t help.”
Karma is a bitch. This was a major theme from the Kogi teachings and John hits it home. And while I can call myself an environmentalist, the fact is that I still drive 20,000 oil sucking miles a year. At least it’s not a snake bite. 
I put the lotion away and stop fidgeting. It’s time to go inward. The sun was setting on the heavy clouds over the dark sea.
John stepped in front of me and lifted up his chalice. He appeared as a shadow figure and made no attempt to disguise the gravity of the moment. We were stepping into the twilight. I drank the brew pretty quickly and returned to my sleeping bag on the floor. I sat and waited for the nausea to kick in. I wondered if sickness would be more likely caused from the Ayuhuasca or the plumes of smoke from the camp fire we had made. It only seemed to blow in my direction.

I must say that to try now and recount the whole experience step by step would be impossible. There is a timeless aspect to working with the plant that eradicates sequential thinking. It’s also deeply contextual in that much of the value of the experience is related to very intimate narratives.

So why write about it all? I think it’s important to try and expound upon some of our realizations and perhaps inspire others to search for their own personal revelations. In the end, true art, whether it be a painting, a song, or a docu-series on healers, is about the search and rescue of truth itself. It can be said that truth cannot always be expressed in language, but it can be pointed at. At the very least we can circle around it by investigating what it’s not.

Truth is not the rambling thoughts in my head. This was my first learning. 
I was resistant to the experience at first. I could see colors and swirls of light around me, but so what? I thought about all that I had to lose, my years of meditation practice, but mostly my family. My children need me. They are my biggest mission in my life. I didn’t want to fuck it up with some exotic experiment. All my fears came to the surface.

I made an offer to the plant. “If you promise me you want hurt my mind or my family, then I will completely surrender to you.” I sat and waited for an answer. Nothing.
In the meantime the rest of the crew was going apeshit. One of our guides was running around like a jaguar, growling at the wind. Another was completely frightened, and kept asking those around him if he was dying. Tad was off in some orbit, murmuring about spaceships and monkeys. Tommy was anchored into the ground, wrapped tightly in his sheet. When one of the frightened guides wandered too close to him, he shared with them his typical brogue (and sense of humor), “Hey don’t come over with those demons! I’m doing just fine, you can go back where you came from!”

I felt distant from everyone, like they were all too self-involved or something. I walked out of the maloka and took a look at the stars. I missed my wife, my children. I had left them to come here, and now I wondered why.
Then I heard Tad spewing his guts down a cliff off the side of the maloka. I had almost forgotten about the purging, and now I wondered if I was next. Before the thought finished, my stomach began churning in knots.

We had not eaten all day so what came out of seemed like primal gunk. Ayahuasca is often given as a remedy for parasites, probably because of its purging nature. It almost felt pleasant to vomit everything out, like an attachment to something that didn’t serve me was finally able to let go of me. Or I of it. I wasn’t sure. Anyway, I was getting used to vomiting next to Tad, and I could sense an odd bond was forming, which was better than bonding with Tommy, since he was starting to get busy with the other passage way of clearance, severe diarrhea. (Regular bowel movements were awkward enough in the jungle, never mind having the runs in the dark, on a steep mountain, while under the influence).

I lay on the ground looking at the stars. John came over to me to see if I was ok.

“How is your family, John?” This was all that was on my mind. He responded in English.

“THIS is my family….” gesturing at the same galaxy.

Then it all hit me. I was a prisoner within my own mind. I could see myself creating all these elaborate systems to define who I was and what I had to protect. I was the protagonist, the antagonist, and at the same time the witness to both of those archetypes, all at the same time. I was constructing massive defenses against threats that were spun as empty narratives. I could see the insanity of it, most especially exemplified by the fact that I was waiting for the plant to prove to me that it was safe!

It was like considering to play a basketball game by asking the ball to tell me it wouldn’t hurt me. Yes, the plant is considered sentient and conscious, but it didn’t have a seat in the roundtable of these thoughts. 
The plant had no capability to help me or hurt me on its own, separate from me. If I was going to actually make use of this journey, it was time to man up and leave my mind outside the maloka. I went back in.

“Un poco mas, por favor,” I asked. John was happy, I was all in now.

No sooner did I feel a massive shift. Instead of seeing everyone from a distance, I felt them as part me. I had a stake in their discoveries and in their struggles. They were a part of me, and I loved them. I could see John working so hard to help everyone merge with the plant, he was fanning feathers and whistling and pulling from deep reserves to help everyone through.

As an acupuncturist and reiki healer, I’m intimately familiar with the sense of struggle that I feel when trying to help people during their most vulnerable presentations of themself. There is a duel awareness of the perfection of each and every person, of every moment, as well as the alternative reality of how much people are suffering and how out of balance the world is. I felt John standing with a foot in each world.

Then he took out a flute-looking instrument and played this rhythmic mantra-like repeating tune. I began to sing with it while I gazed at dancing light colors and flashing images of Viking sailors and what looked like native North American faces.

The jungle around me turned alive and fresh. It also seemed to me to be personal and conscious. The trees, the air, the rocks, it all together seemed as familiar to me as Tommy and Tad. And even though it was dark, it was incredibly green. The night glowed in a natural fluorescence. Out of the green I kept seeing shapes shift to form the green anole from the rainstorm.

I felt free, I felt whimsical, but most of all I felt compassionate. The more I could feel connected to my own natural ease of being, which seemed like a manifestation of creativity and love, the more I was able to care for others. Rather than escaping from myself, I had located a self that seemed to vibrate at a higher frequency.

The “little death” that ayahuasca represents was the death of my resistance. I had been so religious about doing things the right way, and for good reason. I had presumed much of my success in meditation and in practicing acupuncture, to technique. Quite often my quest for technical mastery created a sense of anxiety and fear. What the plant was showing me was that I needed to surrender to something even greater then technique, to my own natural expression of being. A being-ness that changes, that flows as formless and timeless, but that seemed to me to appear as an expression of fearless presence. From that expression of being I could then use technique, but would not be bound by it.

Simply put, I needed to trust in myself.

I know, I sound like I’m about to drift off into new age stoner guy, if I haven’t arrived already. I’m the son of a New York City cop and the brother of a fireman. I watch football every Sunday and go for runs listening to classic rock and tend to spend time with my wife watching netflix movies while our children sleep. But I guess if it looks like a duck, whatever that saying is. It’s OK. I can live as new age stoner guy. As long as I can keep meeting healers like John.

A few hours later, we drifted asleep. I was wakened by the sound of heavy walking and circumnavigating around the maloka. After a while it stopped and I guess John had been listening with me. He peered over and saw I was awake and whispered, “jaguar!” Jaguars are one of the animals that are often depicted as symbolizing the Ayahuasca experience.

Upon awaking I looked at the now charred campfire. I saw some movement in the ashes, and then the little anole from the night before came scuttling out and ran between my legs, before hopping out and exiting the maloka. I thanked him for guiding me through this journey.

When everyone awoke, we went down to the river again and washed the smoke from our skin and the vomit from our mouths. John the Baptist looked at me, and eventually Diego translated.

“You are born again now. You were a joy to work with. You have a big heart.”

I told him that I would be calling on him when healing patients back in New York. He took his carnelian beaded necklace off and put it around my neck. I sensed that this was his way to connect each other outside of this singular experience.

He picked up his tobacco pipe and had a sheepish grin. He gestured to offer me another hit.

There is a famous line in the Godfather after they shoot Paulie off the causeway. Fat Clemenza walks to the car and says, “Leave the gun, take the cannoli”. Well I can take Ayahuasca, but I’ll leave the tobacco. 
No disrespect to the plant father, of course.

As for John and for Colombia, I’ll be back for sure. If the plant will have me.

All photographs by Tad Fettig, thanks to Sarah Berner for editing

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Jan 20 2013

Meditation Practice

Published by under Uncategorized

So many of my patients want to start a meditation practice but don’t know where to begin. There is a lot of attention on meditation in the media, some of it is helpful and most of it is not. Some friends of mine think meditation is just about spacing out or about focusing on the breath. I don’t think that will get anyone very far.

There are as many different versions of meditation as there are versions of music or movies or novels. We live in a universe where we don’t suffer from a lack of choices but rather from an over abundance of choices. Where do I start, who do I learn from? Like anything else, it’s probably best to learn from the best. If you want to learn piano, you want to find a great pianist. If you want to learn to become a physician, you would want an expert to teach you. So who are the experts in meditation?

Today I will pass on to you a simple but powerful meditation practice you can start using right away.

We all want to be happy, and the intent for passing this on is to help you make all your dreams come true. It is to help you become successful at business, art, parenting, and even dating. Its to give you the inner code that can help you shape the world around you. Nothing less than that is acceptable. We are New Yorkers after all, and if we are going to do something we want to do at the highest level with the most fruitful and lucrative results.

Remember, at the start, be easy with your approach: meditation is a practice that gently reveals itself to you. Like any muscle, the mind will be strengthened with practice over-time. Like when you go to the gym to get in shape. Your meditation practice will be your exercise routine for your mind-muscle. When you learn how to use your mind well your dreams can come true.

So to change your world you have to change your mind. Distractions are the biggest challenges for our mind: we multi-task nearly all of the time. How many of you can text, be on your computer, listen to music, maybe eat and have the television on all at the same time? While advances in technology have been truly remarkable, they have left us with a need for constant distraction. We exhaust ourselves with stuff and things to do…a mind full of distractions is definitely one of the best reasons to start meditating.

Maybe starting today we could try doing everything more fully: for instance, if you are listening to music – listen to music. If you are doing your homework – do your homework. If you are reading – read. If you are having a conversation with someone – fully engage, listen closely and respond. Multi-tasking is actually a lie. You can’t do it, really. The mind only focuses on one mental image at a time, and so when we think we are multi-tasking we are actually just quickly switching from one task to the other. But this means we never really do anything other than skim the surface. We dabble into this and around that, without ever fully experiencing the deep calm that can arrive when we become single pointed on our approach to what we are doing.

When we are single pointed, we loosen the grip on all the stories we are holding on to that keep us from experiencing true happiness. You don’t have the mental space to think anxious producing thoughts when your mind is single pointed on an object. That’s why we love to escape with movies and sports, alcohol and sex. It gives our minds respite from the worries and anxiety that flood our normal consciousness. But as we all know, sooner or later the sex gets duller, the movies get boring, the alcohol gets disorienting and even sickening. The escapes become ordinary, and the then we need escapes from the escapes. It’s a never ending wheel of always hoping the next thing is the thing to make us happy. The next job, the next partner, the next bite of sushi. But it all runs out and then our lives run out, and we leave much the way we came into this world-alone.

Even meditation can get run out. We forget why we are doing it and slowly but surely the meditations get duller and duller until we simply have no interest anymore. It’s no different than anything else. Just another fad that we got into that collects dust on the shelf. That is why it’s so important to know why to meditate, and how to meditate. Otherwise we are just setting ourselves up to fail. So lets look a bit into some of the reasons why we would want to meditate…

1. Worldly Reasons

There was a study done recently on the value of visualization. There were three Groups of high school students. The first group practiced shooting free throws (basketball). The Second group did nothing. And the third group just visualized shooting without doing anything else. Which group do you think did the best??? While the group that practiced came in second. The group that visualized their free throws did by far the best.

Why do you think? Because the group that visualized the throws visualized them perfectly. They trained their minds to see themselves completely successful. They didn’t visualize missing shots! The second group practiced and trained but in doing so saw themselves both missing and making shots. They were training thier minds to create a certain reality for themselves.

The more you see the world as full of mental images, the more you can change it. That’s how advertising works. They know the mind stores mental images like files on a computer. Every time you see a commercial, they don’t necessarily think you are going to buy the product right there and then. They are planting seeds in your mind that will ripen at some point in the future. And not just one seed, but a concert of seeds tied together, adjacent from each other so that every time this summer you think, “I’m hot” -just maybe a seed ripens and you will want a Budweiser and just maybe you can get that with a sexy partner to come with it!

That’s not new to anyone. We know that’s how the mind works. But we seldom but it good use. We don’t realize that every time we get upset with our partner we are planting a seed to see them as less attractive in the future. Or that every time we refuse to give money instead of supporting a friend in need, we are planting a mental image in our minds that will ripen to see ourselves in need of money.

Did you ever have the experience of having a memory and not being able to recall if it was from a dream or from waking life? It doesn’t really matter. The mind doesn’t care, it just records content. So when you see your friend happy and see that you were the cause for that happiness, you will soon have a seed ripen that makes you happy. It’s very simple but it really works.

2. The deep realizations you want will come from the concentration you gain in your meditations.

All the great leaders in world history (like Martin Luther King and Gandhi) gained deep wisdom in the stillness of meditation. Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the World”. This powerful change happens first in your mind during meditation. Your mind is like pond that reflects the image of the world. How can you possibly see the image if the winds are whipping across the water, making ripples that distort reality? To see wisdom, you must still the winds (your thoughts) and focus on the image you are holding on to (the pond). Only then can you see the world clear enough to detect what is real and what is illusion. All wisdom comes from separating the real from the unreal.

I am going to pass on to you three types of meditation that work well together as one combined meditation practice.

1. Stillness Meditation:

Stillness helps create a disciplined mind. You ask your mind to sit and your mind sits. Over time we disciple ourselves not to be distracted by everything around us. We move away from the exhaustion of distractions and multi-tasking that prevent us from being present in this moment. Stillness meditation helps de-clutter the distractions from our mind, allowing us a better chance to connect with the present. Stillness is a very important breath meditation. I know people who do just 15 minutes of Stillness Meditation a day and they are highly successful in their lives because they have focus.

2. Wisdom Meditation:

We could stop there but that would be like pouring the foundation for a house and not building the house. So if stillness helps create discipline, wisdom helps create understanding. With wisdom you can look at how the world works. You see where the problem comes from and how to go straight to its source and cut it off at the root.

3. Compassion Meditation: You have to give it to someone else first!

With true discipline and understanding, contemplating compassion can radically transform your world. Working with mental images of happiness and generosity for others creates these causes for you in your world. The age-old idea of cause and effect! What goes around comes around!


So we bring all of the three principal meditations together to create one meditation practice for you. You will need stillness to change your mind, wisdom to see that your world can change and compassion to make it happen.

1/ Stillness


3/ Compassion

They are in this order because stillness gives us a foundation to work from. In stillness we can see wisdom more clearly. And you need wisdom so your compassion is effective. (You can want to donate money to someone but if you send it to the wrong place its very ineffective!)

Part 1. – Stillness Meditation.

Get yourself into a comfortable and alert sitting posture that allows you to forget about your physical self for the next 15 minutes or so (a chair is fine so long as you don’t lean back and you are sitting upright with no support. This will help keep you focused). Keep your attention on the tip of your nose. Take a few deep breaths to release any tension in your body. You are only a neutral observer so try not to control your breath. Just let it be free and easy. If you lose concentration just keep bringing your breath back to the tip of the nose.

See your thoughts. Try and see them as separate events that are not connected. Imagine your mind as a clear blue sky and your thoughts as white clouds passing across the sky without interfering. Hold this image for a few moments. Now try and drop a little further into more of a dream-state. Listen for the subtle sounds and feelings that arise, ie: like the beat of your heart. Just let yourself feel the beats of your heart…and focus on the tip of your nose.

Part 2. – Wisdom Meditation:

Gently bring to mind a particular problem you are having or have been having in your life. Bring to mind something that you would like to change or that is really bothering you. Choose only one thing at this time so you can focus completely on it.

Now ask yourself again, “Will this problem always appear to me as it appears to me today or can it change over time? Your mind wants to jump ahead, but let’s stick with it and investigate it a little further…Sit for a few minutes and just think about your particular problem. “Will this problem always be with me” Ask yourself did you always have this problem? Did you have it as a child? When you sleep?…Feel for yourself the answer.

Lets look at the problem itself. For instance, does the intensity of this problem change? Sometimes it seems big and insurmountable and other times it seems like its no big deal. So what we are really looking at is whether the problem is changing or unchanging? If you saw that it is changing then see that it can change and therefore stop. See that it can end.

Do you see that you haven’t always, an won’t always have this problem?

Part 3. – Compassion Meditation:

Now bring to mind someone else who has almost the same problem. See how it torments them. See how much they would like to be free of this torment but they don’t know how. See that they have not yet realized the wisdom and method that you have learned…and decide to help them. See that their suffering is like a black cloud in their body and that their suffering is the same as yours.

On your next inhale; start to pull this suffering out of their body and towards you. Bring this black cloud right in front of your face. Label this black cloud pain…

Now see a beautiful diamond at your heart center (representing your wisdom). This diamond sits on a beautiful wild rose (which represents your compassion). Feel the weight of the diamond in your chest.

Breathe in the scent of the rose. Make it real for you. Know because of your diamond/rose heart center that you are able to take away all pain completely.

With that knowledge breathe in the black smoke gently into your body. Breathe it down to the diamond.

See that the instant the black smoke touches the diamond and it is destroyed completely. Now understand that you are free from the suffering and so is the person you meditated for ;-) .

Now look at this person and see what they really want, happiness. Imagine what would make them happy, and then send it to them in the form of a bright white light. See them transformed into a being of perfect bliss and wisdom. See yourself getting the same thing. Now you both have this happiness. Try and stay in this state of happiness and believe you have really changed it.

Believing it has really changed is the most important step. In your mind you saw it happen…you saw it change.

Dedicate your efforts to seeing it come alive in your reality (off the cushion).

Slowly come back to the room and when you are ready, open your eyes. When you open your eyes hold this place of peace and good will. The more you see the world is full of mental images, the more you will understand you can change it.

Your meditation is now complete…

Another few things to keep in mind when you begin your meditation journey are to find meditators or teachers that you admire. If you were going to train to be a pianist you would want to find a great piano player to teach you. If you wanted to train to be a boxer you would find a great trainer. It is the same with meditation. Don’t try and do it all alone. Find someone who will help you through your process.

Just remember that when you give someone what she needs, you change your world too. If someone needs money and you give it, you are forcing your mind to see yourself as someone who has money to give. If you have enough money to give away, then you must be someone who has money! This type of thought plants the seeds in your head to see yourself as a wealthy and generous person in the future.

You have to meditate every day. The mind is stubborn so it will need a regular meditation practice to break down the habits of old mind. And what do you do off the cushion? Don’t undo all your work. See that the suffering around you appears this way to you right now but that it can and will change in the future. You have to set the seeds for positive rather than negative results.

If you have any questions, or even suggestions :-) , just email me at Or you may call me at 646-584-3870. I dedicate this passing of wisdom to my holy and wise teachers, Dr. Lisette Garcia and James Connor. You can read more about the current three year retreat they are in, .


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Jun 23 2011

Fertility, Acupuncture, Soho, Piermont, NY

Published by under fertility

It does not matter that there are 6 billion people in the world. Never mind that there are 18 million people in the New York metropolitan area. For the hopeful parents that visit my clinics, the conception of new life is truly miraculous. It would be wonderful if every child in the world could be valued the way these little embryos are valued. These are lucky parents and very lucky babies to be.

Therefore, it is a rewarding practice for me to work with fertility patients. Moreover, I am inclined to report that it has been a successful endeavor. Over the past few months, I have treated 17 patients for infertility (usually defined as the inability to get pregnant naturally after 12 months or more of sexual intercourse). Of those 17, 2 patients have discontinued treatment without known pregnancy, two patients are continuing treatment without known pregnancy, and 13 of those patients are now pregnant.

The cause of infertility for these patients varies widely. Eight of the patients have no known cause for infertility. These patients range in age from 28-40. Three of the patients have PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Disease), while four of the males carry a diagnosis of either low sperm counts or low sperm motility. In two of the cases, both the male and female parents have fertility complications. Of the 17, two of the women are above the age of 40, and two of the women have had previous children. Of the 17, 12 patients are using acupuncture singly as the only medical modality for the infertility, and five patients are using ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology). Of those five patients, four are using IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) along with the acupuncture.

The duration of treatment for infertility in my clinic varies. For female infertility, I usually suggest that a patient go through three full menstrual cycles with acupuncture treatment (and usually herbal therapy). This gives the body a good opportunity to make shifts that increase fertility. I will ask the patient to take their daily temperatures with a BBT thermometer (Basal Body Temperature). Using the temperature read outs, we can tell where a patient is ovulating which will direct treatment strategy and the timing of sexual intercourse. The temperature readings also give valuable information to me about possible imbalances that could increase or decrease the proper balances needed for fertility.

Breaking TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) theory into very simplistic terms, low temperatures indicate a lack of Yang (the heating component, similar to progesterone), while high temperatures either indicate a lack of Yin (cooling, similar to estrogen), or an increase of toxic heat. The consistency or fluctuations of the temperatures can indicate how smooth the blood and qi (loosely translated as energy) of the body are circulating. This often relates to stress levels but also the manner in which the blood is flowing in the uterus. While the biomedical diagnosis is important for guidance (i.e. endometriosis), it is the TCM diagnosis that I will use to create my treatment strategy. The findings from the BBT chart will greatly influence this diagnosis.

For the treatment, I will choose from over 2000 acupuncture points and from over 10,000 herbs or substances. Usually, I will insert anywhere from 2-12 needles. After I gently insert the needles, I often use Reiki therapy to help relax the patient and help smoothly circulate the qi and blood in the body. My herbal formulas usually consist of anywhere from 4-20 herbs. I will send the herbal formulas to a pharmacy in Chinatown where they will be prepared and precooked for the patient’s convenience.

Lifestyle changes will be an important part of the fertility treatment. This usually includes stress management, diet, and exercise. Depending on the receptivity of the patient, I will give simple meditations and breathing exercises that work to lower stress levels. Diet changes usually consist of finding problematic foods that may be hampering fertility. For instance, many patients who have the diagnosis of PCOS have diets that are rich in fats and/or dairy. Studies have shown that in nation where dairy consumption is very high (United States, Ireland, England, France, and Australia), female fertility at age 30-40 is much lower than non-dairy consuming nations (American Journal of Epidemiology, 1994, 139(3):282-289). So naturally, we will alter the suggested dairy intake for these patients.

The most common lifestyle suggestion I have for fertility couples is to remind them that conceiving a child should be pleasurable! Too often patients get lost in the medical aspect of conception and lose one of the most important parts-which is that conception should be born out of love. Even if a couple is using IVF, spending quality time making love or even just spending time together can be more important than any treatment. To create life, we must create health. To create health, we must create the conditions for happiness. A happy and well-rested couple has a much better chance to conceive than a stressed out and depleted set of parents. This also holds true for a single parent desiring to use acupuncture alongside ART.

If you have any questions about fertility or about the clinic, please call the office anytime.

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Jan 19 2009


Published by under Uncategorized

An idea that has helped me is to remember that judgment and discrimination are self-fulfilling prophecies.  If we choose to judge something or someone as being such and such, our egos will build a case that proves it true.  For instance, let us pretend I decide that my brother is selfish.  Now every time I encounter my brother my mind will work very hard to prove that right.  I become prejudiced against my brother.  Imagine that he in turn decides that I am overly critical.  His ego will then interpret events in a way that proves him right.  Everything we think internally we manifest externally.

For instance, let us assume I decide that woman cannot drive well.  The next day I am driving and a person cuts me off.  I call him an arsehole and move on.  The world is OK except for that driver who is an arsehole.  Soon after a woman driver stops short on the road for what I decide is no good reason.  Not only is she an ass, but all woman drivers suck.  I have selected the man as an example of one bad apple.  Yet the woman driver I have used as proof in my thesis that woman cannot drive.  It is selective reasoning.

Recent studies have shown that 90% of our current perception is created by past events.  If I look at my brother, I will categorize that experience based on old neurological patterns that are predetermined.  90% of my brain neurons are acting in a pattern that has nothing to do with the present moment.  Only 10% of my brain is available for reacting to new inputs from the interaction with my sibling.  Now these studies are done assuming everyone’s brain works in the same way.  However, I wonder if you studied the mind of an experienced Zen monk.   What of percent of their mind could be available?   What percent would be conditioned?

“When you are fully and intensely in the moment, your essential being can be felt, but can never be completely understood mentally. The single most vital step of the journey is to dis-indentify from the mind. To become aware of a silent but powerful sense of presence is to regain awareness of your true Being. The measure of your success is the degree of peace that you feel within” - (The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle)

I think so much of our suffering is exaggerated because of the labels we put on it.  We judge it and categorize it, and then our mind works to prove it true.  We then see doctors and therapists who confirm our diagnosis that something is wrong with us and prove us right.   Now obviously I believe in the value of a therapist.  Only if the therapist can cut through the delusion and witness to the patient how healthy and strong they truly are.

Now life is about balance.  I am not saying it is not important to become aware of darker sides.  It is important to express and understand our suffering as a method of releasing.  Too many times, we are stuck in our heads about it.  If I decide, I am a confused person my brain will work hard to prove just how confused I am.  If instead I choose to allow whatever confusion I may feel and just experience it without identifying it with myself, it will eventually pass.

Therefore, we are all experiencing varying amounts of emotions and negativity, but we can still stay empty about it. Perhaps see yourself as an empty canvas.  What colors, shapes, and textures would you create?

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Jun 10 2008

A Meditation Begins

Published by under breath

Rising in the dark morning, he begins to lift his chest.  The day is a new born flash, the breath is new and alive.  The sun has yet to kiss his face, the chores and explorations of the day have not begun.  He doesn’t live in New York, he doesn’t live in America, he has no name.  It is the time of the morning before knowing.  The time before the mind splits into the ten thousand directions. 

Like an eagle, she rises early and soars above the day with piercing vision.   Darting down she catches her prey by the neck, lifting it into the air.  She intends to hunt down the ten thousand thoughts before they sliver away.  But instead of a sharp claw and a hard beak, she hunts with breath and posture. 

“This is a simple meditation”, he says.  He gets a mat and a pillow and sits on the floor so his knees sit below his hips.  Sometimes he crosses his legs in front with the pillow under his sits bones.  His back is upright and determined, but not rigid.  His chest is lifted and open, but not proud.  His head is lifted to the ceiling by a string.  His chin drops and feels relaxed.  The shoulders slide back and down, like a cascading stream. His eyes are either closed or just very soft.  This is posture.

She begins to watch the breath kiss the very tip of her nose.  She can imagine the breath streaming past all her little nose hairs before entering the nasal cavity.  For a minute or two this is the meditation.  The thoughts and distractions begin already..”I’m so tired… I don’t want to go work… my neck is soo stiff!”

He observes the thoughts.  “Stop thinking! quiet!”  He observes the observation.  He observes the observation of the observation.  He is in a hall of mirrors…With patience and sure intention, he returns the focus to the breathing.

The breath dives into the throat.  The breath sinks into the chest.  The breath falls beneath the diaphragm.  “I’m bored.  I want to check my email….quiet.  concentrate…I’m so lazy…don’t judge. don’t judge…sssshhhhh…”  The breath bounces into the belly.

Every inhalation, she envisions white light streaming in.  Every exhalation, she envisions dark smoke billowing out of the body.  Every breath, he repeats a silent mantra,


Her focus is on the breath and especially on the sensation of the breath expanding and contracting her lower belly.  Her body starts to get achy.  She wants to move her legs. He wants to stretch his back. He wants to crack his neck.  He doesn’t though.  She won’t though.  She will not because she knows it will be a never ending game.  One impulse changes to another.  The minute she moves her knees she knows she will then have to move something else.  “Just one last movement?!”  But it never ends.  Knowing that a silent and still body is a fine temple for a quiet mind, they remain still. 

Yesterday she sat for ten minutes. Today he sits for twenty. Next month she sits for an hour.  Lately they have been using alarm clocks, in time they will just ‘know’ when the meditation is finished.  Sometimes they may light candles and incense,  or put meditation music on, but usually it is just silent.  They do not depend on anything outside for help.  Nor do they try to push away the outside noises.  The firetruck is part of the meditation.  The crying baby is not a distraction.  The meowing cat is no excuse for self dialogue.  The meditation is about becoming one with all things through concentration.  This is not a selective process. 

Some days his meditation is smooth and peaceful.  Some days his brain is like a young buck that will not be tamed.  So he becomes the brain whisperer.  Gently and softly, he nudges the brain, encouraging the release of the thoughts and dialogue.  He never scolds, he never accuses.  He just directs.

She finishes the session with a bow to her inner self.  With her mind now quiet, she takes the opportunity to set some intentions for the day…”May I be happy today..may I feel calm today…may I be compassionate towards others…and may I get that new job!” Most of all she is thankful.  Thankful to herself for getting up early. Thankful to herself for sticking with the meditation.  Thankful to herself for being alive…

They will do this again tomorrow.  Will you join them? :-)

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Jan 28 2008

A Dash of Hope

Published by under breath

Suffering, in all its variations, is a part of the human experience.  We suffer when we are in physical pain, when we don’t feel appreciated by a loved one, when we don’t like the way we look in the mirror.  We suffer from the inability to feel relaxed within body and mind.  We suffer with regret from the past and hold anxiety in anticipation of the future.  We feel we often don’t measure up to standards we set for ourselves.  We long for the company of deceased loved ones and suffer from confusion about what to make of their deaths.  All in all, so much to suffer with.

I truly wish I could relieve the suffering of every individual.  I believe most people share this desire.  So how do we face this task?  How do we as individuals who are suffering help relieve those around us who are suffering?  Is this a foolish endeavor?  Does the desire to end suffering actually cause more suffering?  How many times in this post do I have to mention the word ‘suffering’ ?!

Well, if someone was reading this thinking I had the absolute answers to these questions, sorry to disappoint. But perhaps there are some shared truths that may at least point us in the direction of having answers.  And if not answers, then maybe new ways of percieving suffering that may change how we relate to it.

Lets try and stay away from the ‘what is the meaning of suffering’ type of thinking and bring things down to a more tangible level.  Basically, how do we feel joy and peace in this present moment?  What is preventing tranquility and freedom in our lives at this moment?  Why am I suffering right now and how do I fix it?

Like a tree, suffering is rooted in deep issues that grow and branch out and blossom into our every day life.  For example, maybe the root issues revolve around our inability to love ourselves unconditionally (just maybe?!).   The branches of that issue may manifest into something self defeating such as anorexia or even smoking.  I like to think that the leaves that stem from the branches are like the little thoughts and worries that shade our mind from the sunlight of joy (aww…).  Now we can spend all of our time cutting leaves and branches, but if the roots of suffering are still firmly planted it will be a useless endeavor. 

So, how do we get to the root of suffering and fix it right now in the present moment?  After all, we have people to text, projects to finish, people to flirt with, gossip to spew! We don’t have time to get to the root of suffering!  Can’t we just download into our souls cessationofsuffering.doc ?  Can’t we get an acupuncture needle that fixes suffering once and for all?

There is one truth and many paths.  The path I have taken has lead me time and again, especially in my darkest hours, to transcendence.  I have learned that I can find inspiration and healing when I surrender my suffering to that which is greater than me.  Greater than the little world I often choose to live in inside my head. A world that is obsessed with my perspective and my needs and my grieving and my shame.   A greatness experienced by every living being who has felt the roar of the ocean and sun rise in the morning.  The feeling of smallness one feels when staring softly into the sky at night when the stars are abundant.  The feeling of wonder when watching a new born enter the world or the feeling of connection and mindlessness one has when making love…This is the very greatness I speak of. 

Some people chase wonderful experiences around as a vocation.  Having experienced the joy of a hitting a home run in baseball or the blissful freedom of skydiving, they spend their time in pursuit of the transcendental experiences.  Sex, drugs, rock and roll, and throw in your child getting into an ivy league school.  We seek happy experiences to overcome the pain we feel at other times. 

But this is not the transcendence that is sustainable.  It is too fleeting, too short.  It is not enough to lift us from the muck and mire.  The transcendence I speak of never runs out.  It is eternal and all encompassing.  It heals the wounded and uplifts the tired.  It is always available and always enough.  It is perfection realized.

And this perfection is within every individual.  Through my own suffering I have been gifted the opportunity to open the door to this inner transcendence.  The keys I have used are as simple as can be.  They include prayer, aspiration, and meditation.  Of course the idea of prayer is very awkward sounding to most modern city dwellers.    But I would define prayer as the song that comes from deep within that in some capacity, in some language says, “Take this pain away from me!”.  It starts from our desire to end our suffering and is directed towards a greater source that we hope can help us.   This greatness can be perceived as an all knowing and personal God or even a peaceful silence within our own being.  It can be a universal shared energy or it can even be a change in perspective that just says,  “look how small I am next to the vastness of the universe.”  It is a cry for help to something beyond and within, something experienced and imagined, personal and universal.  In the words of Master Yoda, “It is the Force you speak of!”

Prayer heals in part because it affords the one praying to step outside the fixed perception of the world.  It adjusts the focus of the individual from the misery of disease and injustice and opens the possibility of an alternative focus.  The time spent in prayer loosens the rigid state of perception that we are in a fixed state of suffering and replaces it with hope.  Hope that our deepest desires for healing and peace can manifest here and now.  Soon that hope turns into faith, a state where change is not only hoped for but is actually anticipated.  With faith, things that seem impossible or unattainable break loose and our perception opens into a new awakening.

Another tool that has helped me and so many of my patients is meditation.  Meditation can be described as any practice that brings one to a greater state of peace and inner tranquility, usually by means of a repetitive or continual breathing focus.  The practioner can use a mantra or physical point of focus that grounds the breath and quiets the mind.  The practioner makes a point to notice when the mind does get distracted and then may choose to gently refocus the mind and let go of the distraction.  This will happen over and over again and becomes the very practice itself.

Lets return for a minute to the idea of suffering as a tree with roots and branches.  As a tree depends on air and water to survive, suffering depends on negative thinking and attachment to destructive emotions for its survival.  Meditation begins the process of releasing the thoughts and emotions and therefore starts to starve out the suffering tree one breath at a time.  We can spend 50 years in therapy uprooting our negative perceptions, but perhaps it is more efficient to just start removing the factors that feed our pain.  A quiet mind and body is usually a mind and body without great suffering.

The trap most people fall into with meditation practice is the idea that the meditation is a performance.  If we are unable to fall quiet and relax we regard the experience as a failure.  This often causes patients to feel that ‘they are just not the meditation type’.  But nothing could be further from the truth! If you had complete peace and silence, you would not need to meditate.  The fact that we suffer from distraction means that we are precisely the meditation type.   In part the practice is about growing our willpower to withstand the inner and outer distractions.  It is also about relinquishing our will to achieve and perform well.  You are standing strong and yet surrendering at the same time.  You are the immovable rock and the flowing stream.  This is the balance of yin and yang.

There is no reason for any person to feel that the suffering they bear is fixed.  We have tools and resources available to us that can begin to loosen the chains of suffering.  In my own journey I have borrowed wisdom directly from many traditions.  I have also read many books that I have found helpful.  here is a list of a few of them.  I hope that my humble suffering at the very least can help others and that these words may serve some of my brothers and sisters. :-)

  1. From a non religious style, It’s a Meaningful Life-it just takes practice.  By Bo Lozoff.  A fun fiction book is The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, by Dan Millman.
  2. From the Hindu and Indian tradition, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, by Deepak Chopra, and Powers Within by Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.
  3. The Daoist tradition, The Tao Teh Ching, (many versions and translations, but I like one by John C. H. Wu), The Whole Heart of Tao, John Bright-Fey, and Chuan Tze, translated by Thomas Merton.
  4. The Zen Tradition, The Eight Gates of Zen, by John Daido Loori.
  5. The Buddhist tradition, the brilliant novel Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse.
  6. From the Arab tradition, Born Again With Doctor Dahesh, by Salim Onbargi.  Also, anything By the Sufi Poet Rumi.
  7. The Christian tradition, Seeds of contemplation, by Thomas Merton, and a fiction book about a modern Jesus called Joshua, by Joseph F. Girzone
  8. The Native American tradition, The Wind is My Mother, By Bear Heart, and The Teachings of Don Juan, by Carlos Castaneda.

Peace and Love and Light!

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Jan 01 2008

How to Ground Jet Lag

Published by under Uncategorized

We live in an increasingly global world community.  The more familiar different cultures and nations become with one another the more apt people are to travel.  Yet  crossing timezones can be taxing to the subtle and vital internal rhythms that guide our functioning.

Traditional Chinese Medicine tells us that the 24 hours of the day are guided by the functioning of the 12 major organs via the 12 major channels.  These channels are the Lung, Large intestine, Stomach, Spleen, Heart, Small intestine, Urinary Bladder, Kidney, Pericardium, Triple burner (a regulatory system covering three regions of the torso that relate to temperature regulation and water circulation), Gallbladder, and Liver.  Every two hours one of these major channels becomes primary and has a greater influence on the functioning of Qi in the body.  

The Stomach, for instance, becomes primary from 7 am until 9 am(thus the importance of breakfast).  If one was going to try to treat and reinforce the functioning of the stomach, this time of day would be ideal to needle or even acupressure a point on the stomach channel.  Keeping this in mind, we can start to understand that our bodies change throughout the day.  This is why some people feel that they are ‘night owls’ or ‘morning people’.  The organs that are affected at that time of the day may be in or out of balance and therefore have a large influence on the overall well being. 

When traveling across the time zones our bodies are forced to calibrate and adjust its internal rhythms very quickly.  This can exhaust the system and use up vital qi and yin fluids (this is why it is crucial to hydrate during travel).   Yet we can assist the body in the process by stimulating significant acupuncture points that are in accord with the time zone that we are traveling  towards.  For instance, if someone is traveling from New York to Bali, and the current time in Bali is 7 am, then regardless of the time it is in New York, the indicated point on the stomach channel would be self massaged.  Below is a list that illustrates the time of day and the matching organ that is in effect during that time.  Following that is the location of the acupuncture point where the source qi of that organ can be most easily accessed.  Don’t fret if you cant get the exact location from the description, your intention and effort will go along way towards helping prepare the body.

3 am=   Lung.  The point is called Great abyss (Tai yuan).  The point is located at the wrist crease, on the lateral (thumb side) and palm side (inside).  You should feel a slight depression on the lateral side of the pulsating radial artery. This is the point. 

5 am=   Large intestine.  The helpful name is tigers mouth. (He Gu).  The point is in the depression where the index finger and thumb bone part.  You will feel a tender area and this is the best place to massage.

7 am=   Stomach.   Called surging yang (chong yang), you will have to take your shoes off!  The point is is at the slight depression at the high point of the instep, where a pulse can be felt.  Just go to the highest point on the foot and feel for a pulse,  and your close enough.

9 am=   Spleen.  The point is called supreme white (tai bai).  On the inside of the foot, the point is at the depression under and proximal to the bone of the first metatarsal (big toe).   Basically just run your finger from the bone of the big toe in just a little towards the ankle, and right away you will most likely feel a sore point.  The point is right off the bone.

11 am=   Heart.  The point, spirit gate (shen men), is on the opposite side of the lung point.  On the Palm side, it is at the depression at the end of the protuberant bone (at the head of the ulna).  Just massage the inside (pinkie) part of the wrist crease.

1 pm=  Small intestine.  Another good name, wrist bone (wan gu), this point is on the outer side of the hand, in the depression by the prominent bone in front of the wrist.  The point is between the base of the 5th metacarpal bone (pinkie side) and the hammate bone.

3 pm=  Urinary bladder.  This point, jing gu (origin bone), is the opposite of the spleen point.  It is below the tuberosity of the fifth metatarsal bone, at the junction where the skin changes color tone.  Just massage on the outer side of the foot below the bone that sticks out.

5 pm=   Kidney.  The point is called great ravine (tai xi).  �It is at the depression at the mid point between the tip of the medial malleolus (inner ankle) and the Achilles tendon.

7 pm=   Pericardium.  The point is called great mountain (da ling).  You can find this point at the middle of the wrist crease, between the tendons (palmaris longus and flexor carpi radialis).   It is between the heart and lung points.

9 pm=    Triple Burner. This point (yang pool, or yang chi) is on the other side of the wrist (dorsum).  It is in the depression lateral to the the tendon of extensor digitorum communis.   If you make a line between the third and 4th finger and trace it down to the wrist bone, you will feel this depression and it may be sore.

11 pm=   Gallbladder.  The point is called Qiuxi (hill ruins) and is located in the depression below the outer ankle bone, anterior (in front) and inferior to the bone.  In other words, you may feel a sore point below and outside the outer ankle.

1 am=   Liver.  This point, great surge (tao chong), is located at the depression on the dorsum of the foot, distal (just past) the junction between the first and second metetarsal bones.  This is a major stress point and can be easily felt when pressing between the the first two toes on top of the foot.

When massaging the points, just press either in a clockwise fashion or just press up and down on the area.  Feel free to adjust the pressure according to your desire for either hard touch or soft touch.  People who enjoy a hard massage probably should use more force when self massaging these points than a person who is more sensitive.   You can massage the point as often during the two hours as you feel, but even just 60 seconds will have a strong effect.

It may be a good idea to adjust your watch to the time of day of the time zone you are traveling towards.  This will make it easy to know what point to work and will begin to signal to your mind to switch gears.   Remember that this is intended to relax and help you, not stress you out.  So don’t feel upset if you miss out on a two hour opening (which means you may be sleeping and that is great as well) or if you are not sure where the point is.  Just try your best and know your intention is much appreciated by your body!

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