Desires and Health
“I feel that people are not regarding poor health as seriously as they should. They place their health problems secondary to all their other problems – Financial, domestic, real and invented…without health there is little That one can truly enjoy.” Bernard Jensen – Tissue Cleansing Through Bowel Management p. 63
Consequences of desire
I’m practically flying down the freeway, going sideways when I realize I’m out of control. Part of me knows this feeling, deep and ancient, almost primal. I wanted to impress my two friends following me So I got pitched, purposefully making the car Go sideways at 55mph. It had gone too far, of course. But now, my life was in another’s hands in a metal box with wheels, going end over end over… In the end, I had broken my neck. I paid the fee for desire. Desire to impress.
There are many other types or things to desire. Desire for food, sex, Money, security, and on… There is no inherent problem with desire. Where things tend to go awry is when conflicting desires meet up.
What I see after more than ten years practicing nutrition and health are many of these conflicts manifest in people. In the context of health and vitality, many people live out conditioned Patterns. The first is to override their “gut feelings.” I know. I have a PhD in
altered states from food, herb, and meditative states, despite uncomfortable symptoms because of the substance or practice.
As a young man, I began to see some unhealthy patterns of overeating and fatigue. Yet, this part of me that knew could not act. It just watched. It watched desire cause hay fever symptoms. I knew. My guts knew. But my mind/ego overrode the feelings for taste and sensory gratification. What I did not know at the time was the alcohol ferment occurring in my irritated and yeast ridden belly. The cravings must be like what an alcoholic feels. It went like this: craving >>> think or act on craving >>> initial sensory satisfaction >>> minutes to hours later >>> gurgling belly, gas, and maybe belching >>> shame, guilt, sorrow >>> feelings of tingling in head with initial sinus irritation >>> sneezing in series of one to four long >>> itchy eyes, water dripping from nose, more sneezes >>> disassociation from reality and fatigue >>> recovery >>> repeat cycle.
It happened so many times, I almost can’t believe I let it happen as long as I did. Yet it did. The symptoms were the admission price for desire.
After meditating and learning to focus on body and other sensations for over 15 years, I began to see the painful patterns arise, often suppressing them for ascetic yogic type reasons. But they were still acted upon, despite the symptoms and the ideals of austerity. I began to inquire who or what was craving. Could it be the trillions of microbes that share this body with me? What exactly was this me? Where was this awareness?
I began to see many awarenesses. One was the primal soil based awareness in my own belly. I knew one day that the sweets were fermenting in my belly, causing me to become drunk. That was why I never liked alcohol. I produced my own! Later, in a book by an MD, I saw my first confirmation of this in a special DUI case. The guy had eaten lots of sugar, but no alcohol. He tested drunk! So did I.
During this recognition, I knew the yeast and fungus and bacteria with their own agenda were using my nervous system to signal cravings. I labeled them “pathological cravings.” It took another ten years to sort out pathological from normal cravings. During those ten years, I also felt like I was braking in a horse. The horse was used to running life unquestioned. Now, the mind was no longer lost in sugar trance.
It was also during this period that I was training in herbal medicine with Michael Tierra. It was a correspondence course, but I did get to learn directly from him also. In the correspondence course booklet, he states, “toxins are desires.” I’m blown away. Some part of me awakens, cut loose from a veil long covering my eyes. I saw how toxic I was, and painfully, at spring seminar he and others hold in the Santa Cruz mountains, I had another horrendous allergy attack. I was eating too many carbs and too much in general. And I kept thinking about the quote, “toxins are desires.” IT became like a mantra, repeating when desire would arise, repeating when symptoms arose.
Expectations for life
I always had expectations for my life. One was never to live like my elders, lost in the trance of what the natives called, “the disease of the white man.” I saw how many of my teachers, family, and elders did not walk their talk. And as a blooming healer, I had vowed to live in vibrant health. I felt embarrassed about my symptoms. But I did something.
That spring, a few weeks later, I did my first enema. IT was simply warm water with salt. Two quarts and it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought, just strange. I knew I was on my own. No one I knew supported me, probably because, well, it can be embarrassing. The procedure offered insights into how much nervous tension was in my bowels, not to mention the strange colors and stuff that came out, yuck! Afterwards I felt weak, yet pleasantly light and very clear. I knew this was an ancient practice, valued by holistic healers for its ability to clear the guts of congealed mucus, unfriendly microbial overgrowths and parasites of all sorts. The ancient Essenes called unfriendly critters in our bellies, “devils.”
A part of me was seeking security, total security without effort, without any more fears and problems. I read more and more about “enlightenment” to discover I was chasing it. I wanted the powers I thought came with it, like being able to read minds, to levitate, and to be in more than one place at a time. I also wanted to be able to help the sick with these “powers.”
But my body kept on complaining. Aches, pains, hay fever symptoms, digestive problems kept bringing me back to Earth. Many years later, I was to discover a deeper experience of “toxins are desires.” I was studying the gut biology, and learning that the critters that live in there can get rooted in the tissues. Despite the cleansing and enema, I was learning that these life forms can have resilience. I knew my tissues and resolve needed to be stronger to rid myself of these not so helpful critters. The question still was with me, “Were these cravings being caused by them?”
I discovered I was in a viscous cycle of desire, then indulgence, then shame and guilt and physical suffering and pain. I ate a lot of wheat products, overate delicious treats, then suffered runny nose, flu-type symptoms, and sneezing. I was still blaming someone else or a microbe for “giving them” me a cold. In reality, I caused my own pain.
What woke me up a little more was an intense period of meditating and attending silent retreats for a number of years. Just before this period, I had been experimenting with mushrooms and marijuana and altered states of consciousness. During my first ten-day silent retreat, I began to see that I was addicted to trance states and disassociating from reality. I would doze off in many of the meditations, despite having adequate sleep. My first taste got deeper ten years later when I saw the belly microbes can produce neurotoxins and other toxins to stay rooted in the gut tissue. These toxins and yeasts in my gut producing alcohol from all the sugar I had been eating for 35 years, were one of the causes of the trance states and suffering. It was hard to admit, but I said to myself that I was a junky on avoidance, sweets, and paradoxically, drama.
Mind over matter (belly and primal needs)
I have heard life called a divine comedy, a game of spirit, and many other analogies that make this world seem like an “illusion.” But it is real, until we see what is actually true for ourselves. Many play the game of life and lose horribly, based on how much they suffer. This is cause and effect (or karma) of unskillful conditioning as children. Many of our parents were not taught how to live skillfully as a human. Many people are not taught how to eat and what to eat. Many more are not given rights of passage into maturity (what is adulthood anyway?). The Native and indigenous cultures worldwide did know much more about these things than our “modern” and “civilized” cultures.
In the ancient teachings of the Vedics and certain yogic teachings, subjugating the ego through austerities, postures, and diet are ways to mature. We might say these techniques can give us glimpses of joy and truth. But in the modern world, I see most people doing the opposite, subjugating the body with the wants of the ego/mind. Many of us know the old cliché, “mind over matter.” This became clearer and clearer as I saw my uncle drinking and overeating at a Thanksgiving dinner and wondering why he had back pain, and heart and circulatory problems. “It tastes so good, just one more bite!” Meanwhile the body is crying out, No!”
Let me share a little story about ego subjugation and a yoga posture Adho Mukha Svasana (downward facing dog).
After 15 years of practicing yoga, I finally felt comfortable in downward facing dog. For those of you who have done the posture, especially as a beginner, you can see the difficulty in a tense and stiff body. But I had a teacher that said, “Don’t do the postures that are easy, do the ones you find challenging.” I hated this one at first, but some part of me kept at it. After 10,000 tries, something clicked and part of me let go. At this point I began consciously using the posture to go into deeper states of focus and letting go. I began to see how the mind labeled everything, including sensory states. Some were nice. Some were heating. Some were bad, like pain. I began to question all the stories. An inquiry arose during a five-minute downward dog, “What would it be like to not label the sensations?” My body was aching after a minute, but after the curiousity arose, the sense of release came of just resting in sensation without any judgement of good or bad, pleasure or pain. The body became the vehicle to question the trance states of the ego. When the sensations became too intense, I saw a lifelong pattern of escaping into daydreams, thoughts, and judgements very clearly. What these trance states were protecting me from is another story.
How to undercut desire
In TCM, there are emotional states associated with organ and bodily systems. There are also elemental energies associated with emotions and their organ systems. Desire stems from needs (nourishment, touch, housing/shelter) and from wants. It is the area of wants that needs to be examined if we are suffering symptoms. Especially conflicting wants. Let me give an example from my own life.
Surfing versus spirituality (peace)
Upon ending a very unsatisfying BS degree in nutrition, I began discovering the ancient elemental and energetic techniques of the Eastern cultures. I began to see the truth in what a great health teacher, Geoges Ohsawa, said about human health, “You cause your own suffering.”
AS I mentioned earlier, despite seeing how I was causing allergic symptoms through overeating and too many sweets, I was in denial. Then, I began experimenting with changes. I noticed after a year of eating a lighter vegan Macrobiotic diet that I did feel better. But the symptoms still came. And another surprise realization came.
There was an emerging paradox. I discovered the stamina and strength I had been used to, was diminished. Part of me was beginning to meditate much more, and practice more yoga. This part of me was growing while another was dying. My first love, surfing and the ocean, were being put in the backseat. This was because the diet and lifestyle, for me, was not supporting the desire to have hard physical activity, yet it was supporting looking inward, resting, and “reprogramming.”
I began to see the conflict. “Can I eat the meat and still meditate too?” I was finding the clear head, the calmer nerves, and the lighter feeling was much more preferred to the uptight, stiff, and reactive self I used to be. Yet, the conflicting desire to surf, to work out, and to push myself physically was not being acted upon. The peace I used to feel in the water was fading. There were deeper states of peace in yoga, meditation, and fasting, I was discovering. The conflict nearly tore me apart a year later. I was learning the art of resting in paradox, and living more simply. The reprogramming was accelerating.
A suggestion from a macrobiotic cookbook and my meditations were merging into a strange new technique. I began using inquiry into bodily needs, separating actual needs from pathological desires like candy. I began asking my body what it wanted. I began asking my body what was causing its pain. Answers came slowly, yet steadily. I found the Five-phase and elemental system of Macrobiotics and Traditional Chinese medicine very effective at mapping out where I was weak and strong. It is a circle, like life, never ending. We will begin with some key words about the elements and how the circle proceeds:
Water element = the beginning of the cycle of dreaming things into reality, ability to relax and be nurtured, quiet and still time (or seeing and living what is always quiet and still), the will to begin the making the dream, and fear of failure, pain, and death, putting problems “behind us,” fear of feeling (getting lost in it), desire to escape, trust, awe, resolution, apprehension
Water feeds wood and controls fire
Wood element = courage to act on dreams, building plans into reality, clear decisions, and anger impatience frustration, rash decisions, over control of feelings, will to become, responsibility, assertiveness
Wood feeds fire and controls earth (think of retaining walls)
Fire element = discernment, joy, and bipolar mood swings (manic to depressive), building from the details and practical, irritable exhaustion, lack of energy for activity, restless anxiety, responsibility burdens, self-confidence, shock
Fire feeds earth (via sunlight) and controls metal (by melting it)
Earth element = centered grounded, finishing what we started, harvesting the results, indigestion on all levels, anxiety, reclusiveness, collecting junk, not deserving nourishment, sympathy, empathy, houses “thought”, storage of ideas
Earth feeds metal (contracted earth is very dense, like metal) and controls water (via gravity water runs around earth)
Metal element = Letting go of what we built, letting go with each breath, taking in what we need and eliminating the waste, constipation (mental, emotional, physical), emotional inhibition, defensive pride, restraint of crying, openness to the present moment
Metal feeds water (ending of cycle becomes new forms and dreams) and controls wood (like a saw cutting wood)
Observing where I was weak and strong made inquiry easier. I now realized I could fine-tune the curiousity. I could use awareness like a laser to dissect old defeating patterns I learned as a child. Layers peel away, leaving more energy and joy. Where did it end, I wondered? I discovered it did not, and this is the dance of life.
The questions below can be used to inquire into your own health, through your own direct experience. Who lives in your body, you, or the doctor? We know ourselves best. Let’s use that inner knowing and not project our healing onto the doctor.
*Where do I stand in health?
*Is peace already here?
*What does ?____________? (body part) need?
*When did I begin to feel lack of ease today? Was it because of an outer circumstance?
*Is satisfaction already present? Do I really NEED this _________?
Clinical Observations of Root Imbalances
What follows are some observations about people’s root causes of their health “problems.” The most subtle are the suppressive drugs that do help us to feel “better,” but what exactly is better? The liver and kidneys must process these medications, but the side-effects are not noticeable for years sometimes. An example is antacids to suppress “heartburn.” But what is causing the heartburn? Could the mucus producing cells have stopped working (that protect the delicate lining)? When we suppress stomach acid, medical studies show a higher correlation of hip fractures and less bone density. This takes years to manifest. I would challenge medical thinking that heartburn has less to do with stomach acid and more to do with the upper stomach valve, and a chronic overeating late in the day. Then going horizontal (sleep) too soon after can cause the stomach contents to “leak.” That is why we eat while we are vertical and more active.
The List of Root Habits causing “dis-ease”
*Quick fix with no thought of consequences (pain killers, surgery, drugs)
*Eating for pleasure, not nourishment
*Habit patterns like coffee drinking first thing AM
*Not questioning doctors orders
*Refined foods – flour (gummy), salt (irritating and electrical activity screwed up), sugar (bipolar, adrenal emergency, hot fire to cold and drained), oils (hormonal imbalances, cellular signals, clogged lymph)
*Eating late in the day chronically
*Chronic lack of activity
*Chronic sitting too long
* Chronic straining (eyes, neck, shoulders, arms, hands)
*Resisting what is happening (misunderstanding from childhood – poor programming)
= tense muscles and fascia
*Trusting large companies to provide us with nourishment (implicit)
*Lack of sleep >>> ties to lack of activity