Falling Together, or Falling Apart

It can be difficult to tell the difference between when things are falling apart and when they are falling together. A closer look often reveals that the difference, curiously, is a matter of perspective and stance.Ever find yourself in the middle of making a leap in learning, understanding or ability? That usually is the result of work, study and practice. It involves a certain kind of attentiveness to life or the unfolding of a particular process, and it can be obstructed by the comfort of fluency with your current perceptual frame or mindset that leads you to think you already understand. 

You might be familiar with the phrase “What got you to here, won’t get you to there.”  It’s true.

Change requires a softening of whatever competence and stability we have crafted with our habits or perceptions. Change also requires that we disengage the gears and cogs of our current thinking, or perhaps even fall completely apart, if we are to reconstitute ourselves at a higher level of integration or functioning.

I found this when first studying Chinese, I’d work my ass off writing characters until my hand knew the strokes, and run  through tone drills until my tongue was swollen and numb. Rarely did any of that make a difference in my ability to comprehend or speak. It was like the movie “Groundhog Day.” The same mistakes, the same cotton-eared inability to pull understanding out of sound, and a glacially slow acquisition of vocabulary.

And then it would all fall apart.

What hard-won language ability I did have would fall away. It was as though weeks or months of effort simply evaporated. Things went from bad to worse, and they’d stay that way for a few days, sometimes a week.

Then suddenly everything would snap to grid.

My vocabulary got a download. Tones would be spot on and I could viscerally feel the rightness of them. What had been the rat-a-tat of Mandarin would actually bloom meaning into my ears. Things would fall apart, only to come back together at a more coherent and higher level of ability.

This was not a linear progression. It was a disruptive phase change.

It’s so easy to think that learning or change happens in a linear, step-by-step progression. And indeed we can break down processes in that way, and it often works — to some degree.

But learn music, language, any skill that requires mindful attention, anything based on relationship, and the disruption of phase change is bound to show up. And it will be damned uncomfortable.

Because whatever is holding us in our current state of stability prevents us from accessing a higher level of ability. And so things fall apart, just as they are falling together.



To the Max, Letters from our Readers


In this section of the newsletter we entertain questions of all kinds from our readers and our community. Today’s question comes from a discussion at the clinic.

Question: Do you believe in conventional medicine?

Would I use chemo if I had cancer? Would I take antibiotics if I had an infection? These are good questions. We all balance and consider what to use to treat a medical condition. And while some people think that acupuncturists are not supposed to get sick, the truth is we are people and subject to the suffering and ills that all humans experience, including a racing mind that  dreams up imaginary scenarios of medical crises with which to torture ourselves.

As to belief, I don’t rely on it so much. Too often belief can run you into a brick wall, or have you confuse imagination, fearful ruminations, hope and reality. I’m much more interested in seeing what is present and then attempting to intervene with skillful means from which ever sources I think will best help.

Sometimes the most useful treatment for a raging bacterial infection is a course of antibiotics. These  medications can be profoundly helpful for that  condition. But don’t use them for viral infections such as  the common cold. They simply don’t work.

I think  the job of a medical practitioner is to help a patient get the right treatment at the time he or she needs it.

Sometimes what a person needs is surgery. Sometimes it is a lifestyle change that over time dramatically changes the trajectory of an illness. It might be that a person simply needs a restful night’s sleep so their natural ability to heal and restore has an opportunity to work.

Most medical practitioners are in the business of selling what we do. But really our job is to have enough vision, knowledge and clarity to know when we can help, when someone else should help or whether the patient needs coaching and practice in helping themselves.

Rather than believing that any particular treatment will help, it is better to keep an open mind and pay attention to the results you get. If the results take you in the direction you want to go, then continue. If they do not, then keep looking for a solution. Ideally, your medical practitioner can help you track how things are going, and make suggestions if another approach might be better suited to you.

If we question our worth by ways in which we feel inadequate, we diminish ourselves and erode our own connection to our core.

“What if I’m not the right person to do this job?” you might wonder.

But what if you are? What then?





Germs are dirty! And dangerous too.

That is what we’ve been taught. A more inclusive view shows us that while some microbes make us sick, or even kill us, plenty more are of benefit to us.

We live in a microbial work and that is never going to change. While advertisers sell us on “getting rid of germs,” in truth we need to find ways to not only get along with germs but also to foster our relationship with those microbes that benefit us.

Why? Because there are 10 times more of them in our gut than there are cells in  he human body.

You read that right. There are 10 times more bacteria in our gut than there are human cells in our body. Wow!

Recently scientists (microbioneers?) have discovered that our gut flora not only works with us symbiotically to digest and extract essential nutrients from our food, but gut flora also plays a significant role in our immune response. Microbes also are connected to the amount of body fat we carry; they regulate our moods, and they help determine what foods we crave or dislike.

How do you feed and care for those symbionts in the gut?

One thing to avoid is antibiotics. This means don’t take them unless you really need them, and avoid non-organic meats that are saturated with antibiotics that the animals were fed.

Also, increase your intake of fermented foods. Sauerkraut, yogurt (plain, without sugar), pickles, kimchee, and other foods filled with live beneficial bacterial all help to seed your gut and help these colonies of microbes to get established in your intestinal ecosystem. Quick note: Don’t buy the pasteurized versions of these useful foods, as the bacteria you want will have  been killed off. Better yet, make your own!

What about probiotics? They go through your gut, but they don’t necessarily colonize in the gut and stay there. Plus, most just have a few strains of bacteria, unlike the ecosystem in the crock of sauerkraut cooking away in the corner of your kitchen. Are probiotics helpful? The jury might still be out on that one.

How about prebiotics? Prebiotics are fibrous foods that can make their way to your large intestine and feed the microbial community there. Beans feed the beneficial bacteria in your belly, as do broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, asparagus, garlic, onions and raw dandelion greens.

Want to know more about the various populations in your gut?

A cool new company called uBiome is researching the influence of gut bacteria on human health and well-being, but also provides a service to help you better understand your personal microbe populations.

This information can be helpful if you have digestive, mood or weight issues, because you can see if your particular mix of microbes might be contributing to the problem.

Here is a discount code for 10% if you would like to use their services to better understand how your personal biome is affecting your health. At the very least, check their website. Some good stuff is on the blog!

I want to know
if you are prepared to live in the world
with its harsh need
to change you. If you can look back
with firm eyes
saying this is where I stand. I want to know
if you know
how to melt into that fierce heat of living
falling toward
the center of your longing.

David Whyte, Self Portrait