Category Archives: Wellness & Spirituality

Dalai Lama helps scientists understand meditation's affect on health

The Dalai Lama joins neuroscientist Richard Davidson in a public dialogue on the intersection of science, meditation and health on Sunday, May 16, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The event starts at 2:15 p.m. CST and will be webcast from the new Center for Investigating Healthy Minds on the Madison campus. (The video will be archived and viewable online after the event.)

The center will be the first translational research facility to include a brain imaging lab and meditation space under one roof.

Davidson established the center to study “healthy qualities of mind” such as compassion, altruism, love, and happiness and investigate ways to cultivate those same qualities in children and adults. He has worked with meditation practitioners to determine how meditation changed their brains to encourage happiness, compassion and kindness. “When I met the Dalai Lama in 1992, he challenged me to adapt the tools of Western science, used to study fear and depression, to the study of positive qualities, like kindness and compassion,” said Davidson, a professor of psychology and psychiatry and director of the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior.

“This center combines the basic behavioral and neuroscientific research that is necessary to move our field forward with the translational component, which is critical to extend our work beyond the walls of our laboratory,” Davidson said. “By developing and offering interventions for schools, hospitals, prisons and communities, we hope to create real change for society.”

The Dalai Lama visited Davidson’s lab in Madison once previously in 2001. He has helped Davidson and other scientists explore the convergence of neuroscience and contemplative traditions.

The center plans to apply its research in schools, prisons, medical settings and the world at large. It is already working with the Madison Metropolitan School District, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections and returning Wisconsin veterans.

The Dalai Lama has a strong interest in science and has long supported researchers interested in studying the mind’s role in healing. In 2008 he spoke to 400 doctors and nurses at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., about the healing power of compassion.

Thai diet a good step toward balanced health

Many people are aware of the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet but how many have considered the healthy aspects of the Thai diet?

The authentic Thai diet goes hand-in-hand with a spiritual lifestyle, according to restaurateur Supenn Harrison. To the Thai, diet and lifestyle are almost inseparable; both strive for balance and harmony.

Harrison, like 95 percent of native Thais, is a Buddhist of the Theravada school. Thai Buddhism is based on the religious movement founded in the sixth century B.C. by Siddhartha, later called the Buddha, who urged the world to follow the enlightened Middle Way.

She opened the first Thai restaurant in Minneapolis, Minn., (which was also the first in the Midwest) in 1979. Since then she has launched four more restaurants and remains closely involved in the day-to-day operations of two of them in Minneapolis, including purchasing all of the fresh ingredients for the Sawatdee menu.

“The practice of Buddhism has been infused into my cooking at Sawatdee and even in the way I run the business end of the restaurants,” says Harrison. “Buddhism integrates seamlessly as I go about my life as owner of a growing number of restaurants.”

When visiting one of the Minneapolis Sawatdee restaurants, it is common to see a small gathering of orange-robed monks seated in a back corner, eating, chanting or receiving alms during one of the many closely followed rituals of the Twin Cities’ small Thai Buddhist community. Harrison has for years provided space for introductory meditation classes for the public, scheduled every couple of months and taught by a monk from a nearby temple. Low attendance does not dissuade either Harrison or the monks. The idea is to have the space and opportunity available when others are ready to learn the ancient practice of relaxation and mindfulness. The mediation classes have been a catalyst in building positive relationships between the local Thai community and native Minnesotans.

Following the Buddha’s Eightfold path — Right Understanding, Right Motives, Right Speech, Right Action,  Right Livelihood, Right Endeavor, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration — appears to agree with Harrison. She’s a petite, energetic and friendly woman whose appearance belies her age by some 20 years.

Harrison came to the United States 37 years ago to attend college and teach. She taught, for a while, and also married and had two daughters, now adults. She did not adopt the American diet, however, and cooked Thai meals for family and friends. It was at their urging that she opened the first restaurant on Lake Street in Minneapolis.

Even though they were unfamiliar with strange ingredients, they came to love the unique blending of tastes that is the hallmark of Thai food.

Thai foods get their unique flavoring from balancing five different tastes: sour, sweet, salty, hot and bitter.

Sour tastes come from lemon, lime and tamarind. Sweets, used very sparingly in the Thai diet, come from palm sugar. Salty flavor is delivered through fish sauce, a Thai staple made from salt and fermented fish that is used like salt in western cooking or soy sauce in Chinese cooking. Chili peppers provide the hot and bitter comes from miniature egg plants.

In recent years Harrison began teaching how to blend three or four of these tastes in one dish. The popular classes cover the basics (fresh spring rolls and Tom Yum soup), to more involved recipes (Rama Delight, Red Curry and of course, Pad Thai) interspersed with tips for healthy living.

Medicinal herbs used in Thai cooking have preventative or  curative qualities

Harrison said along with maintaining good sleeping and exercise habits, people should look to a combination of modern treatments and herbal remedies to stay healthy. Some of the healing herbs and spices used in Thai cooking offer specific health benefits, according to Harrison.

Kaffir lime leaves help prevent colds.

Garlic helps lower blood pressure and enhances sexual function in both men and women.

Chili peppers are rich in capsaicin. Capsaicin is one of the four methods for releasing endorphins in the body. The others, says Harrison, are exercise, sexual activity and prayer or meditation.

Galangal root stimulates the release of gastric juices to aid digestion and relieve bloating.

Turmeric, a plant from the ginger family, is used fresh like ginger in Thai dishes or ground into powder. It is believed to be beneficial as an antiseptic for cuts and bruises and for treating stomach problems.  

Curcumin spice, a derivative of turmeric, is an antioxidant known in Thailand for having anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. According to Thai herbalists, curcumin also helps wounds heal faster, reduces cholesterol, relieves arthritis and constipation, and provides relief for sore throats and coughs.

Cilantro not only cleans the breath after a spicy meal, but helps prevent cancer, says Harrison.

From one Thai restaurant to 50

Thirty years ago, the first Thai restaurant opened in the Twin Cities. Today, a search through the phone book lists more than 50. Are people simply crazy for Pad Thai or is something else afoot?

In a recent cooking class, Harrison pointed out that Thai food has gained in popularity as Americans recognize their health is in decline due to poor nutritional habits. “Over time, unhealthy eating catches up with people,” says Harrison. Too much reliance on processed and packaged foods has led to obesity, heart disease and increased rates of cancer, she added.

Fried, preserved and processed foods take longer to digest and eliminate, she said, and leave toxins that accumulate in the body. Thai food breaks down into smaller molecules much faster so the nutrients can be absorbed into the blood and carried to cells throughout the body.

The Thai diet relies on, for the most part, unprocessed foods including rice noodles, vegetables, roots, leaves and stocks. The exceptions are the fish sauce, pastes and curries that are imported from Thailand or India and used as flavorings. Meats, such as chicken, pork and beef, are used sparingly compared to American standards, if at all, or replaced with tofu.

It’s not that Thais don’t love food, says Harrison. In fact, their lives revolve around meals. They eat six or seven times a day but portions are very small.

“In the U.S., people eat very big meals. If I served a little serving of Pad Thai, people would never come back,” she says, referring to how her restaurant has adjusted serving sizes for American expectations.

Harrison is publishing a new cook book, her third, this fall. “Awaken to Thai Cooking” promises to be more than a cook book; it includes insights into Harrison’s Buddhist belief that life, like cooking, is best when done in harmony and balance.

Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu honored for modeling compassion

“Given the political and social climate in the United States and around the world, a little more compassion and forgiveness could go a long way to help us to get beyond what divides us and renew efforts for a better day,” said Ashley Gorby of the Fetzer Institute.

With that goal in mind, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu were each awarded a prize for modeling love, forgiveness and compassion in a world fraught with wars and economic upheaval by the Fetzer Institute, a non-profit, private foundation at the 2009 Peace Summit held in Vancouver, Sept. 27-29. Each received a $100,000 monetary prize to support their work. A webcast of the program is on the Fetzer website.

“The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu are renowned, revered, respected and loved the world over,” said Tom Beech, president and CEO of the institute. “In giving this award, the Fetzer Institute celebrates their humanity and the consistency with which their lives stand for compassion in the face of isolation, love in the face of fear and forgiveness in the face of violence.”

The Dalai Lama spoke at the summit; Tutu was unable to attend the ceremony because of a recent back injury. His daughter,  Rev. Mpho Tutu, accepted the award on his behalf.

The Fetzer Institute is based in Kalamazoo, Mich.


Boundryless Energy

Boundryless Energy

Warren Grossman


Look at the “white space” surrounding an image.
See background, not picture.

When others have pain or despair,
See beyond symptoms.
See the whole person.

Symptoms exist in a much larger system
         of disorganized energy.
Pain is communication about an entire person

A greater context, even yet, exists.
That greater white space is nature.

There is no realistic separation between self,
the earth where one stands,
and the air in one’s lungs.
Nature is life.

Expand from attending to symptoms,
to symptoms in the context of a body,
to embodied symptoms,
in its environmental context.

Only background makes sense out of foreground.


Warren Grossman, PhD, is an energy healer. He practiced conventional psychotherapy until 1987, when a trip to Brazil left him desperately ill. His illness did not respond to conventional therapy and he was languishing when he discovered the healing power of nature. He drew upon it to fully recover. Today he teaches others the process he used to access the earth’s energy to bring physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. His book, “To Be Healed by the Earth,” is a guide to reconnecting with the natural world and opening your heart to love and healing.

Beyond the Campfire

By making us stop for a moment, poetry gives us an opportunity to think about ourselves as human beings on this planet and what we mean to each other.

-Rita Dove, former U.S. Poet Laureate

Jack Coulehan, physician and poet, founder of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics, who has done so much to raise awareness of literature related to medical humanities, wrote a poem that takes a risk.

Also read: Heal your body by giving voice to your soul: An interview with John Fox

My Machine

If I had a machine to use

in a case like yours, I’d use it

on the nucleus that makes

my feelings, to deepen them.


I’d take a long time, like a monk

at morning prayer, before I spoke

and turned each word into a sign

of passion.  When I told you,


Yes, the damage is more

than anyone knew, I’d hold you

in my arms, desperately close

like death.  I’d throw off the sham


of working in a reasoned way

to find the answers to your pain.

Instead, I’d use an archaic

neural poem and feel the pull


of healing, skin to skin, instead of

acting neither man nor woman

and doing the decent thing.  The ache

would be a price worth paying.

- Jack Coulehan, M.D.

The poem projects cool sensibility. It’s ironic, absurd. He wants to dispel the chasm between physician and patient. Constrained by medical formulations and technical words, he struggles to find a more visceral language for love and connection. Under the surface, the tension feels volcanic.  He goes way “over the line.” He wants to be human. How can a doctor communicate compassion and genuine concern in a depersonalized medical world?  Especially when death is at our right shoulder?

Jack risks the question: who is it that cares and who is being cared for?  He writes in Academic Medicine:

The usual formulation of the physician-patient relationship contains a paradox. Medical education encourages an attitude called “detached concern” toward patients. But this term contains a nascent contradiction: if you are truly detached, then how can you be concerned? Caring or concern implies a connection. If physicians care for their patients, they experience them as subjects rather than as objects; in other words, they form an empathic connection with them.”

If we intend to set in motion lasting change and move from sickness care to health care, it is essential we look not only at what we do and how we do it regarding medicine — but ask the question who is served and who offers treatment.

In addition to lowering cost and increasing access, lessening bureaucracy and paperwork, we must do what we can together to create healing environments that empower and cherish a whole person.

A poem, one made of healing words, makes it possible for patients and those dedicated to their care to creatively voice the unique facets of truth that each of them brings along in the journey of healing.

It’s people who cherish and empower, not buildings or technology.  When a family member is depressed or a patient is facing a major change in body image because of a medical intervention, it is you and I who care, or not.

John Wright, before he retired as director of medical education at the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, began to write poetry. In the following poem he wants his psychiatrist to know it was more than pharmacology and biology that helped him out of depression:


to Phillip


You attribute my recovery

to nor trip tyline -

its effects on neurotransmitters,

on the a myg dala.


You barely nod towards your worth -

insisting on blood levels,

on a therapeutic dose.


While I credit half our success

to pear trees blossoming white

beyond your left shoulder,


to the wisteria -

its pink flowers hanging

lush and fragrant

over the portico,


to the warmth of your hand.

- John Wright, M.D.

John knows the problem of disconnection a physician can feel.  He wants Phillip to acknowledge and remember his part in the healing process; see the place natural beauty and tenderness have in the art of healing.

Stephen and Ondrea Levine, who do so much to bring our troublesome minds into the caring heart, write:

“It is said we could look the whole world over and never find anyone more deserving of love than our selves.  Medicine Poetry is a poultice capable of drawing poisons out of our forgetfulness. It reminds us.”

It’s been my good fortune for over twenty-four years to show people in hospitals, medical schools, wellness/cancer support centers and hospice care throughout the United States, how they can connect with the evocative and expressive power of words. It’s nothing short of revelation what can happen to a person and a group.  I am often moved in ways where silence, one that honors this sacred sharing, is the only appropriate response. 

An essay I wrote, “Healing the Within,” appeared in The Healing Environment published by The Royal College of Physicians in 2003. In 2004 my work was documented in Healing Words: Poetry & Medicine, a deeply moving film that also features the inspiring Arts-in-Medicine program at Shands Hospital at the University of Florida, Gainesville. “Poetry Therapy: Reclamation of Deep Language” was published in the 3-volume Whole Person Healthcare.  

Can words heal? Can they reveal who we are and help us learn what we mean to each other?  To consider this, after Coulehan and Wright’s poem, I would like you to visit another world, one very different from the world of medicine. Kim Nelson works with incarcerated kids in gangs. She writes to them in There Is No Place Dedicated to Solitude:

It is with words we begin

to know where we are,

the details of existence

reveal our code of connection.


And there’s a light in their eyes

when the silence is burned.

They can see all around themselves

the past, the present, and future.

We all begin to know

Africa, Pajaro, the liquor store,

a basketball court, Grandmother’s house, the park

Watonsville, Antarctica, the rodeo, home

Where we live, and the lives of our minds,

our relationships to trees, animals, and buildings,

to clouds, rivers, and shootings,

to neighbors, and strangers, and war

To loneliness and oranges, to ancestors and the morning.

We learn from our stories

erasing the blind spots

that make myths of our lives

For we depend on each other, like words

saw horse, rocking horse, sea horse

I take meaning from you

near you, around me, at my side—

There’s no place dedicated to solitude.

Kim insists her kids write about details of their lives, to learn where they are and learn who they are. She says bluntly, “The alternative for them is to murder people.”   

Nearly everything she reflects upon is something that could help to create a more healing environment in hospitals. For caregiver and patient, what silence needs to be burned?  Why not use our words to see all around?  Use words to see the details of our existence, to say where we are, tell our stories, erase blind spots, depend on one another? 

We don’t need a new expensive machine for this, only paper and a pen. (For someone who can’t write, I scribe poems while they speak.) 

Again Stephen and Ondrea Levine:

Poetry is a short-cut to the subconscious.  It can in a few words turn the mind away from its forgetfulness.  Erupt in the heart with the shamanic-like power of the “hidden word” an unimaginable acceptance of healing.

People who have never written poetry in their life (or not since 4th grade!) write things that emerge raw and authentic. Even sometimes, with only a few words, much is said. They release pain on the page.  They uncover “hidden words.” They touch one another. 

You led me to a place where my own 6 lines of poetry would take me to, on the profound journey to my lost friend. For that I will forever be grateful.

- Tom Roberts, Clearwater, Fl

During the workshop, I felt something stir within that has been silent for many years and am anxious and committed to begin writing poetry again. Yes, we were few in number, but nevertheless, words touched each other.

- Shirley Gerecke, Cleveland, Ohio

When illness shakes up our lives, writing can give us the courage to listen deeply to what we don’t know.  

How Poetry Comes to Me

It comes blundering over the

Boulders at night, it stays

Frightened outside the

Range of my campfire

I go to meet it at the

Edge of the light.

- Gary Snyder

I met Sydney Long while offering a writing program at The Wellness Community in Columbus, Ohio. Sydney, writing in what turned out to be the latter stages of breast cancer, went out, as Snyder recommends, to the “edge of the light.”  She turned away from the campfire, to be with herself and her world, with the unknown that is blundering over the boulders.

Here is a fragment from a longer poem that reflects upon chemotherapy:

After a long day I felt pulverized

Like plaster dust-fine and desiccated.

Scattering on the wind preferred.

Dispersing care and burden.

Poems became a way to put one’s attention on what the poet William Carlos Williams called “the thing itself.” They enable a person to “give birth to their images” which Rainer Maria Rilke said are “the future waiting to be born.”  

Those images are where Sydney takes refuge:

The dark is palpable and soft.

It hugs me.


The Darkness-that-knows holds me

Like a mother comforting her babe,

Like a cave wintering a bear.

Outside my body is wracked with


Surgery, transfusions, needle pricks,

Ice blankets, respirators, code-blue

Until all crises pass and

I’m ejected from haven to

Join matter once more,

To mold spirit with body in the

Long, slow journey of recovery.

Dark indigo only a memory

And a deep longing for home.

Sydney makes a place in her poem — and within herself — for wild and deep rest. She makes a place for the cave wintering a bear and in that breathing wildness, a deep longing for home awakened.  Is that an awakening beyond the body?  As a woman living through breast cancer, she imagines the tender mercy of a mother holding a baby. 

These are words that heal. They help her remember her true nature.

When I was eighteen, studying creative writing at Boston University, I was faced with a heavy decision I carried during the course of my freshman year. It had crept up on me since I was four. After years of surgeries, the gradual disintegration of my lower right leg, because of a bone and nerve disorder, made the amputation of the leg inevitable. 

This experience was the blundering frightened creature outside the range of my campfire. I held out as long as I could and finally I edged out to meet it.

It was during this time I found I wanted to look beyond the literary enterprise of writing. What I had to wrestle with during this time in my life set me on the path of poetry and healing. Perhaps that’s why, after so many medical interventions to save my leg, I understand and remain startled by those lines by Jack Coulehan, “Yes the damage is more/than anyone knew….”

I’ve not shared this many times: in the early morning hours before the amputation, a nurse, or perhaps it was a nurse’s aide, appeared at my bedside. It was dark. Her blue-sweatered arms, white nurses uniform, long brown hair, her compassionate face. There was no campfire. She had stepped beyond its range to find me. I was frightened. She let down the railing, laid down in the hospital bed, and held me.


“My Machine” by Jack Coulehan, Academic Medicine. 2006; 81 (1): 48.  Reprinted by permission of the author.

“Therapy” by John Wright  The Beginning of Love (Bluestone Books 2005) © 2005.  Reprinted by permission of the author.

Quotes by Stephen and Ondrea Levine from the website, Warm Rock Tapes,

“There is No Place Dedicated to Solitude” by Kimberley Nelson appeared in Finding What You Didn’t Lose by John Fox (Tarcher, 1995) © 1995.  Reprinted by permission of Kim Nelson.

“How Poetry Comes to Me” by Gary Snyder. No Nature: New and Selected Poems (Pantheon Books, 1992)  © 1992.

“pulverized…”  “The dark is palpable and soft…” by Sydney Long,

© 2008. Published with permission of Ross Long, husband and executor of Sydney Long’s estate.

John Fox is a poet and certified poetry therapist. He is the author of Finding What You Didn’t Lose: Expressing Your Truth and Creativity through Poem-Making and Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poem-Making. He founded the Institute for Poetic Medicine in 2005. He is an adjunct faculty member of the California Institute of Integral Studies, John F. Kennedy University, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, the University of California, Santa Cruz and Holy Names University.

May 3 is the international day for laughter

Laughter is good for you. The old saying, “Laughter is the best medicine,” has now been backed up by scientific and unscientific research.

So many people ascribe to the healthy benefits of regular laughter that there are group laughing sessions scheduled in parks across the country, and internationally. In Seattle, Wash., people meet each Friday at 8 a.m. at Harborview Medical Center to share a laugh.

Laughter even has its own day. World Laughter Day is Sun., May 3. The day was launched in 1998 in Mumbai, India, by Dr. Madan Kataria, founder of Laughter Yoga. People who have discovered the benefits of laughter hope it will evolve into a worldwide “happy-demic” that will foster peace.

If it’s been a while since you laughed, you may need some help to get started before you venture out to infect others with your cheeriness. To get the pump primed, try reading Christopher Buckley’s irreverently insightful novel, “Supreme Courtship.” The book is particularly timely since there is at least one seat waiting to be filled at the real court. Or watch “Snow Dogs,” a movie starring Cuba Gooding Jr. about a Miami dentist who inherits a team of sled dogs in Alaska. Silliness can help adjust your attitude in a nurry and make it easier to laugh.

Then get out and enjoy a laughter event near you, or start your own and see if you can infect someone.

Nuns see upsurge in free health clinic visits

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet have operated St. Mary’s Health Clinics with a network of nine neighborhood clinics throughout the “twin cities” of Minneapolis and St. Paul since 1992. The clinics provide free health care to those who have no where else to go. Leaders of the clinics and its foundation say they are seeing more recently laid off workers than ever in the mission’s 17-year history.

Almost everything associated with the clinics is donated, from the space (mostly at schools and churches) to the professional care of doctors, nurses and others who donate their time to provide care. Health clinic staff have also found medical suppliers and pharmacies that are willing to donate supplies or offer them at cost. All care provided to patients, including diagnostic tests, medications and hospitalizations, are at no cost.

“There is a safety net underneath society,” says Sister Irene O’Neill, executive director of the SJC’s Ministries Foundation, and a blogging nun. O’Neill is in charge of fundraising for the health centers and SJC’s other community programs. Of SJC’s total program budget of about $1.5 million, just under a million goes to running the health clinics.

The funds raised last year covered care for almost 6,000 patients who visited the clinics, the largest number in its 17-year history. That also translates to 250 active clinic volunteers donating 12,744 hours of time. The health clinic network includes three clinics in St. Paul, two in Minneapolis and four in the suburbs. Through a partnership with Park Nicollett, an additional 5,000 patients received free health care at Park Nicollett clinic sites.

The clinics aren’t intended to replace state or federally subsidized health programs, or other non-profit services such as those offered by Planned Parenthood. They are a safety net to catch the growing numbers of people who can’t access care for one of many reasons, such as those recently laid off and unable to afford COBRA (the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act which gave laid off workers the right to purchase group health insurance through their employer’s plan), working in a low wage job that doesn’t provide coverage, or between jobs and waiting for health coverage to kick in.

Most patients find the clinics through word of mouth and referrals from counties, churches and non-profit food shelves, says Barbara Dickie, executive director of St. Mary’s Health Clinics. Billboard advertising was tried but it was found that awareness building campaigns don’t fit the free clinic model. People tend to use the clinics when they can no longer put off a doctor visit. “The people we see don’t call until they are really sick,” adds Dickie.

Historically, patients have tended to be low income working people between ages 25 and 45, according to Dickie. But now she’s noticing “a disturbing new trend” with more families coming in after both parents have been laid off from jobs. They are also seeing more patients in their 50s who have lost their jobs and either can’t afford COBRA or can’t buy insurance because they have a preexisting condition. On average, COBRA coverage consumes about 84 percent of unemployment benefits, according to a new Families USA report.

Dickie said whenever SJC opens a new clinic it quickly fills to capacity. SJC could potentially be in for an even bigger influx of patients. Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s proposed budget, released before the federal stimulus package was passed, would reduce funding for MinnesotaCare, the insurance subsidy for working poor, and Medicaid. The stimulus plan includes one-time funding for many social programs, including health care, and may delay funding cuts to health care programs. Under Pawlenty’s proposal, about 41,650 Minnesotans would lose coverage, and of those, about 10,000 would qualify for General Medical Assistance. The rest would be on their own to go to hospital emergency rooms, or find St. Mary’s Health Clinics and other local programs operating on a shoestring, if they exist.

The sisters of SJC have a long history of launching and managing health care infrastructure outside the mainstream. Back in 1853, the sisters opened St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul during a cholera epidemic. The fact that they were all teachers didn’t dissuade them or make St. Joseph’s any less successful. St. Joseph’s was sold to HealthEast in 1992 and the sisters immediately re-focused their efforts on bringing a new health care mission into the streets and neighborhoods.

SJC works year ’round to raise funds and keep the right ratio of volunteer professionals to patients. Cash is always needed. O’Neill says the foundation starts each fiscal year at zero and works throughout the year at fundraising. Almost a third of the budget is generated at an annual “Carondelet Gala” held each spring.

“No gift is too small,” adds O’Neill. SJC also relies on licensed medical volunteers to see patients, and others with skills to schedule appointments, serve as interpreters, or lend a hand with mailings and help spread the word about the clinics in their communities.

“We got your back,” O’Neill says about SJC’s commitment to the community. “The sisters are watching,” she says. “They want to prevent people from slipping through the cracks.”

Public embraces holistic healing, conventional medicine follows

Ruth Ann Plourde suddenly interrupted the workshop as her class was trying to recreate the graceful but agonizingly slow T’ai Chi forms she’d taught moments before. “How’s the monkey chatter now?” she asked. “Are you feeling in the present?”

No doubt about that. It took all one’s concentration to put the right foot out in front, lean into it, and simultaneously do the choo-choo move with the arms. No one was thinking about irritations at work, the price of gas, or picking up the kids. At the end of the class participants said they felt focused and relaxed.

Ruth Ann Plourde, an assistant professor in the Holistic Health Studies Program at the University of St. Catherine, demonstrates T’ai Chi at Restore, a holistic health conference held in Minneapolis. Photo: K Stone

An assistant professor of holistic health at the University of St. Catherine, Plourde teaches T’ai Chi and Qigong classes and brings the exercises into the workplace through her company, “Innergize.”  

She was one of more than 30 holistic health teachers giving hour-long introductory workshops and presentations at “Restore,” a conference held recently at the Aveda Institute in Minneapolis attended by several hundred women and a handful of men.

Warren King, a licensed acupuncturist and specialist in auricular medicine (based on taking cues from the energy emanating from a patient’s ears to detect and treat illness) focused much of his talk on environmental toxins and how they affect our health. “You might be taking your neighbor’s drugs,” he offered, underlining the revelation that scientists have found traces of prescription drugs in drinking water tested around the country. King believes many common illnesses can be traced to arsenic in chicken, mercury fillings in our teeth, rocket fuel in tap water, and the prevalence of parasites, particularly among travelers to the tropics. Coupled with a diet of unprocessed and simple foods, “80 to 90 percent of the time herbs or homeopathic medicine can kill off” the toxins or parasites that are causing chronic fatigue, nausea or PMS, said King.

Several healing touch practitioners volunteered to give 15-minute sessions throughout the day, including Aimee Prasek, an organizer of the event and alum of the holistic health studies program at the University of St. Catherine. Healing touch is an energy therapy that uses gentle hand techniques, on or off the body, that are thought to open the patient’s energy field and get the energy moving to accelerate healing of the body, mind and spirit.

Kathy Kerber demonstrates "healing touch" at a holistic health conference. A nurse with a master’s degree in holistic health studies, Kerber uses energy healing in her practice at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. Photo: K Stone

While some people feel no sensation under healing touch, others describe a sensation of flowing energy, relaxation, feeling supported or nurtured, and they may sense images and colors. Some patients may feel an emotional release or have a sudden insight into their lives. And some might elicit an unexpected stomach gurgling or need to cough during an energy session. “That’s typical,” said Prasek. “Things are opening up and moving around.”

Patients and healthy individuals have been turning to alternative healing methods such as energy work, meditation and yoga for years, and in the case of chiropractic, for decades. Now conventional Western medicine is getting on board with what it calls “complementary and alternative medicine” or “CAM.” (The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine defines CAM as "a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine.") The NCCAM estimates that 36 percent of American adults are using some form of CAM. When megavitamin therapy and prayer specifically for health reasons are included, that number rises to 62 percent. 

Conventional or not, most leading teaching hospitals and major universities in the United States now offer CAM training programs and despite tighter budgets, hospitals across the country are launching new holistic healing centers for patient care. Sponsors of Restore included the University of Minnesota, the Mayo Clinic, Abbott Northwestern, and the University of St. Catherine, among two dozen other CAM-focused organizations and businesses.

Brent Bauer, MD, director of the Mayo Clinic’s Complimentary and Integrative Medicine program, said “physicians are slowly coming around” to acknowledging the benefits of CAM. He highlighted key findings of published studies undertaken by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, Mayo Clinic, MD Anderson Cancer Center, and other giants in health care research that provide evidence that alternative health therapies like acupuncture, meditation and yoga help reduce pain, improve overall quality of life, and reduce stress.  That’s significant since stress is accepted as a leading contributor to many diseases as well as premature aging.

Most traditional medicine practitioners are unwilling to say that CAM does more than reduce stress because it’s currently next to impossible to gather evidence, measure, or quantify changes that take place during alternative healing, especially those based on moving one’s energy field.

Taking the leap of experiencing a healing modality such as healing touch, Qigong or acupuncture requires an open mind, but not a leap of faith nor a turning away from conventional medicine. In fact, many nurses and a growing number of doctors are trained in CAM therapies and offer them in their practices. Almost everyone approaches their first energy healing session with some skepticism. We’ve been programmed that illnesses and injuries are treated with surgery and drugs. There’s been little advocacy of preventative health care beyond the fundamentals of eating a healthy diet and getting adequate exercise.  

So now CAM is coming into the mainstream and conventional medicine is following the trend. Might we soon see national TV ads for FDA-approved natural herbs, 1-800 phone healings and meditations that will help you reach a state of non-thinking bliss alongside the ads for Cialis?  


Energy healer David Nelson explains Qigong to a novice

A relationship journey to wholeness

 Image: CC DerrikT 

"Relationships are work because they relate to creating a third entity and they are not about personal benefits." — Bernie Siegel MD


Pam and I have had more than 25 years together to work on the third entity described by Dr. Siegel.  From our first date we seemed to share a deep connection. At the end of that date we sat for a half hour in my car in front of her apartment, with the street light illuminating our faces. We looked deeply into each others’ eyes and there was a language of the soul occurring — a recognition. 


"Over time, however, as often happens in relationships, some of those same things that attracted me to her started to drive me crazy." 


I was attracted to Pam on many levels.  Over time, however, as often happens in relationships, some of those same things that attracted me to her started to drive me crazy.  She was so sweet and nice and agreeable, which eventually became aggravating because she wouldn’t offer a strong opinion.  I liked to make fast decisions and talk about things; she liked to keep her own council and mull things over, occasionally sharing her conclusions with me days later.  Sometimes I could have shaken her to get those words to spill out!  This was just the beginning of my education in learning patience and trust in another’s style of communication.


I came from a family that would fight about everything.  Pam’s family, on the other hand, never fought.  In fact, they were hesitant to express any strong feelings, even affection. 


As you can imagine, this made early fights between Pam and I quite interesting, with me yelling and stomping like Yosemite Sam (from the cartoons) and Pam standing there like Bugs Bunny, pretending to ignore me while she chewed a proverbial carrot. This, of course, made me even angrier.  “Come fight, show me who you are, show me you care!”  I thought that was the purpose of fighting. 


One of the first and most important things a couple needs to learn is how to fight.  We carry with us what we learned from our parents, and this third entity, the relationship, needs to develop its own way of resolving conflict.  Pam and I learned how to fight in a way that worked for both of us.  I helped Pam to demonstrate her anger. Previously she would swallow her anger, and it would come out sideways. 


As Pam learned to be passionate in her anger, I remember my shock and glee the first time she told me to ‘shove it.’  I couldn’t help but smile, which made her even angrier.  She was out of the closet!  Conversely, she helped me learn to create a pause between an event and expressing my anger, to hold my tongue and let the thunder roll in the clouds of my mind instead of reactively striking out at the people around me, often out of proportion to the event itself.  Most importantly, this helped me reduce the need to be right all the time. 


Being young when we met, we each had natural strengths as well as underdeveloped areas, and our pieces seemed to fit together well.  Eventually, I focused more on my career and ran the financial part of our relationship, and Pam, especially once the girls came, focused more on the house and kids. 


After our first daughter arrived, Pam attempted to go back to work full-time teaching German and being a housemaster at a boarding high school.  Both our jobs required long days and carried a lot of stress, and it quickly became apparent that we were all miserable.  One morning as I dropped our four-month-old daughter off at day care, I saw the fear in her eyes as we headed inside. And my heart said, ‘This must end.’  My brain’s concern about financial stability was overruled and we chose to leap into a new family dynamic.  Pam resigned the next day, only staying until they could find a replacement.  We even took the leap of buying our first house, a huge financial commitment, at the same time we would lose Pam’s income. 


As often happens when we make tough decisions for the right reasons, Pam loved being a stay-at-home mom, our daughters thrived for having her home with them, and I quickly was promoted and made more money than we had ever made combined.  


Yet, we were still not whole in and of ourselves because we depended on the other with attachment, expecting each other to fulfill our assigned societal roles in certain ways.  Pam and I each took on responsibility for things that the other felt less inclined to do, or perhaps felt inadequate to do.  So if the children were sick, Pam would be the one to stay up with them all night because I had to head off to work the next morning, and frankly, I was glad for this excuse.  


As our girls grew older, Pam became a life coach, and moved in new directions beyond home and family.  A large part of my identity had been tied up in being a professional money manager, which I loved, and yet the time came when I knew it was time for me to leave that role.  Despite the significant ramifications this had for our lifestyle, Pam whole heartedly supported this life-change.  As a life coach who advocated trusting one’s inner guidance and following one’s heart, she trusted that things would indeed work out, even though it wasn’t obvious just how at that point.  Yet she also supported this in part because she no longer wanted to be married to "an empty suit" - even if it was hand-tailored and fit the societal norms.  


From that point forward, our journey toward wholeness accelerated.  We’ve reconsidered who does what from a pragmatic view, and have shifted what society might define as roles for husbands and wives.  I do healing work, lead workshops, and drive the children to school and on field trips, while doing more of the domestic chores.  Pam is a business coach and earns the majority of the money that supports our family.  She now handles all of our financial matters, from paying bills to doing taxes.  This is what our relationship offered us, the opportunity to reclaim aspects of ourselves that had not previously been tapped. This greater access to expanded definitions of who we are and what is possible created more balance inside each of us and within the relationship — a richer expression of the potential in all three entities. 


Ironically, as we become more whole, we need each other less, yet want each other more. Our relationship isn’t based on attachment or fear, but on co-creation.  We are mirrors for each other, reflecting back what is inside of us.


David Nelson is a Reiki and Qigong practitioner and wellness coach based in Minneapolis, MN. 

Heal your body by giving voice to your soul: An interview with John Fox

John Fox is a certified poetry therapist, an adjunct associate professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, and author of two books on poetry and healing. He founded the Institute for Poetic Medicine in 2005 after two decades of engaging people with poetry as a healing tool. He has led poetic medicine workshops in seven countries for both general and special audiences. Fox says poetry therapy is "the intentional use of poetry and other forms of literature for healing and personal growth."


What is the Institute for Poetic Medicine?


It’s a nonprofit I founded three years ago. It’s an outgrowth of my work over the past 20 to 25 years of working with people using poetry as a healing path, a healing modality.  Over the years I’ve seen the value that poetry has to help people dealing with a range of issues — cancer, loss, veterans dealing with trauma, and for people in the medical profession to help them stay connected to the human side of what healing is meant to be about, the pastoral people who are wanting to make a genuine, authentic connection with the people they work with. But what I didn’t have in this work was a container to be able to tell these various stories, and be able to draw support from others who could be involved in it. There are many people doing this kind of work in very creative ways that I am not, and so I want the Institute to be about more than me.  


How many people have gone through your workshops? 


In the course of a year — a couple thousand people.


When in Minnesota earlier this year you presented at universities and Hope Lodge, sponsored by the American Cancer Society.


Yes, I held public workshops at Macalester College and the College of St. Catherine’s. I also did a workshop for students and staff of St. Catherine’s Graduate School of Holistic Studies and Century College. We did two workshops at Hope Lodge where people stay in residence while undergoing cancer therapy.


It seems many universities now have wellness and spirituality studies. That’s a fairly new development, isn’t it?


It’s been a new phenomenon over the past five to ten years. That’s in addition to the integrative medicine and medical humanities programs in medical schools which have been around a bit longer.


Why has there been that change? Do you think people are recognizing results from spiritual healing aspects that weren’t given credence before?


It’s been in the culture for a long time, but academic institutions — partly because of research that’s been done that gives credence to these alternative methods and techniques — are becoming more open to them, along with the students and people who want these things.


As we become more technological and as healthcare becomes more of a business run by HMOs, the patient becomes secondary to the financial considerations. The response has been that there’s got to be some kind of empowerment of people so we don’t lose sight of what healing is really about. That’s true for both the holistic programs that are happening in colleges and universities and also in medical humanities where complementary programs are also being offered in the training of doctors.


It’s a difficult time right now. When there are financial difficulties holistic and complementary programs tend to be let go first. It’s important that people make it known that these are essential for the process of our healing, and these programs allow for that. 


I think you’re aware of the work of James Pennebaker in a field that he calls “expressive writing.”  Pennebaker’s clinical research has found that when people write their raw emotions down, even in a very prescribed, specific timeframe, their immune system function is enhanced.  They’ve done double-blind studies with people with asthma and their symptoms may improve as much as 17 percent through writing.


Visionary people who are working in the field of health also realize this and they’re willing to work to include these tools.


Is there an association that accredits poetry therapists?


Yes, just like there is for art or dance or drama or music or psychodrama, there’s a field with a course of study with history, research and a training program in poetry therapy.  The organization is the National Association for Poetry Therapy.  The training organization for that is a separate entity called the Federation for Biblio/Poetry Therapy. 


But I’ll add that people who are involved in healthcare, pastoral care, are doing therapeutic work, or are community activists who bring poetry into halfway houses or prisons, do fine work. I don’t think it’s an absolute requirement that somebody receive training in poetry therapy.


Poetry therapy sort of coalesced into a field in 1981 and I came along about three years later. Poetry therapy is like the younger sibling of all the creative art therapies like dance, drama, music and art. They’ve been around longer.


There’s no full course that you can attend at a university for poetry therapy, so you work with a mentor and then take courses that fit the requirements. 


Tell me about the film Healing Words: Poetry in the Art of Medicine that’s been airing on PBS stations.


Healing Words is a film made by a physician, Dr. David Watts, at the University of California-San Francisco, working with a wonderful team of filmmakers.  They followed me to Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Florida, where they’ve had a very well-developed arts and medicine program for about 16 years. Artists on the hospital staff bring dance, music, art and drama to the patients. People also do oral histories and creative writing. I’ve been bringing in poetry when I go there. Two filmmakers documented my work with patients and conversations with doctors and the patients about why poetry was helpful to them.


What led you into this type of work?


Well, a number of really strong threads were working for me in the past.  I always enjoyed writing, even when I was a child. I liked to write stories, and I liked to make things and put things together. In fifth grade I started a little newspaper called the 005 Press. This was about 1967, you know, so it was like James Bond was there.


I had reporters getting sports stories. It had jokes. Somebody wrote a little mystery. 


I loved writing and in eleventh grade decided to go to school to be a writer. I applied to Boston University because they had a good writing program. George Starbuck, former director at the University of Iowa, was there. The poet Anne Sexton was there. I didn’t know about her difficulties, but the second year that I was at BU, she had committed suicide. At the same time, the situation with my leg had gotten much more difficult, and I was faced with a decision to have my leg amputated.


It was between my freshman and sophomore years that I was faced with this, and writing became very important. I was able to write about some really difficult things. It seemed different than going to work on a poem for the craft of it or get it in a workshop. 


About five years after completing my degree in English and creative writing I met Stephen Levine who was working with people dealing with issues of death and dying and loss, and he helped me a lot with the loss of my leg. At the same time he gave me the opportunity to read some poems at some of his retreats.  At one of the retreats I met a physician who told me about this field and introduced me to a wonderful person, Joy Shieman, who worked at El Camino Hospital.


She was designated as a training mentor by the Poetry Therapy Association at that time. I worked with her for about two-and-a-half years and that focused how I wanted to work with poetry.


She gave me the tools. She gave me a sense of a way to approach it. Even though I ended up doing it in a somewhat different fashion, it was certainly a good start.

It wasn’t until later than I could fully develop my own way.  

It’s so personal, and I strove to make it authentic for myself which I think helps other people make it that way for themselves. Although I don’t do meditation when I’m doing poetry therapy, learning how to meditate made a difference in learning how to listen and not rush in to make changes or put in my two cents. I just let people discover it for themselves. 

Who do you think it can most benefit? 

It’s so useful to all kinds of people. Those who are going toward retirement and feeling that they’re not quite sure what their life is about or who they are have found it a tool. It’s most helpful to people who can experience their own writing, and listen to themselves and notice how they’re discovering something which they hadn’t really taken time for before, and also hear others in a way that brings more meaning to their lives, and they decide to keep with it.

I just got an email from a woman who’s a minister at a church here in Minneapolis. She wrote and said, “You know, the workshop really inspired me. It reminded me of 10 years ago when I was faced with a real crisis, that poetry really helped me, and now I want to bring this into my work with others.”  It helps most the people who decide to make it their own.

There’s a group of women veterans in Atlanta. A teacher who had taken one of my workshops got in touch with a psychotherapist working with them and they decided to work together on writing with the group. About a year ago I went and did a workshop with them. These are women who had been through a lot of trauma but they wanted to share with other women veterans the value that writing had brought to them. After a time they decided to form a group, called the Women Veterans Writers Collective. They were able to get some funding and to create a publication. So they made it their own and decided to do something with it.

I heard from a woman in Ontario, Canada, working with people suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia, who uses Haiku. Haiku is a short form of a poem.  It’s just 17 syllables, 3 lines. The people are making their own Haiku, and then seeing it in a published form. And it can make a difference if, even for a short while, for a moment, they get a sense of joy from having their voices heard.

I think it is especially effective for people who are dealing with illness and perhaps feeling disempowered and overwhelmed from having to go through treatments and a hospital system that would often treat them like a disease rather than a person.  

If someone will listen to you and hear what your fears are you can release it and just let go of it. You can discover things you didn’t know before you wrote and read the poem.  An insight may come. 

When Someone Deeply Listens to You

 When someone deeply listens to you

 it is like holding out a dented cup

 you’ve had since childhood

 and watching it fill up

 with cold, fresh water. 

When it balances on top of the brim, 

you are understood. 

When it overflows and touches your skin,

 you are loved. 

When someone deeply listens to you, 

the room where you stay

 starts a new life 

and the place where you wrote

 your first poem

 begins to glow in your mind’s eye. 

It is as if gold has been discovered! 

When someone deeply listens to you, 

your bare feet are on the earth

and a beloved land that seemed distant

 is now at home within you.  

— John Fox

More poems by John Fox 

Interview conducted, edited and condensed by Kathlyn Stone


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