Sensitivity

20 12 2008

An audience of dandelion-blowing kids gathers around to see what is so curious. They have spent part of the summer morning chasing through a field playing tag, sending dandelion umbrellas floating into the sky with a single breath, collecting ladybugs, tentatively tasting a wild berry that was not yet ripe … but now, they gathered around a new curiousity.

Stooped in the middle of the group, on center stage as it were — although the setting is in a meadow — a young girl no more than seven years old reaches out to touch the leaves of the plant she just discovered.

“Watch,” she said.

As her finger neared the leaf, the leaf quickly closed itself by folding the edges into the middle.

The other kids in the group abandoned their dandelions to look for more of the same kind of plant. Their attention did not move on to other magical bits of the day until everyone had their fill of the mysterious leaves that seemed to shrink shyly away from human contact. It was a sensitivity plant, or sensitive plant, they soon learned.

That moment had many echoes throughout the years. There was an echo when walking through a thick patch of ice plant … the polar opposite of the sensitivity plant. That was on the seashore, where the sea anenome makes a very similar gesture to the sensitivity plant as it captures food carried on the tide, closing itself upon its unsuspecting prey — as well as closing at the touch of a child’s finger. There was a strong echo of the sensitivity plant when picking a basketful of fiddle-head ferns for a salad. They had to be picked at the right season, and the right time of day, before they opened their leaves for the day. And there is a faint echo of the sensitivity plant every year as the seasons change and different facets of the natural world go into dormancy, pulling back to a protective stance.

Years later, the thread that started that day in the meadow would be revived for one of the students when he learned in a botany class that the mimosa pudica was a carnivorous plant, and when the leaves closed, the plant was hoping to enfold an insect small enough to ingest for a bit of nutrition. A magical moment of childhood resolved by finding a scientific explanation. The moment from childhood was no less magical, but the universe was one step closer to having a comfortable explanation.

Discovery seems to satisfy a deep urge in people. Something as simple as the sensitivity plant may already be known to millions of other people, but the moment when one particular child reaches out a finger for the first time and sees the plant respond to them … that is always magical, no matter when and no matter where it takes place.

That sense of wonder, that awe, is repeated in a kaleidoscope of different situations for children who are just discovering the universe on their own. The magic eventually evolves into a structured way of looking at the universe, a way of explaining away the parts that are not yet understood, or that have not yet been discovered. The world view evolves into a familiar structure, but that does not mean that there are no more surprises, no more discoveries to be made.

It just means that the way one’s mind understands the universe is sufficient at the moment. There are no overwhelming mysteries, no anomalies so obvious that they cannot be ignored.

That is not to say that there are no anomalies. It’s just that the mind has a way of ignoring what it doesn’t understand … ignoring the unknown until it is impossible to deny its existence. The proverbial “elephant in the room” that may be obvious to most people, but is invisible to anyone whose view of the universe has not yet discovered a rational explanation for elephants.





New Wheels

22 04 2008

I bought a new set of wheels this weekend … something more fuel efficient, of course.

You see, I’vebeen riding the same old Team Fuji bicycle since I bought in new back in 1986, and by now, it’s accumulated more than its fair share of road grime, rust, bearings that pop inside the crank, and various squeeks and rattles that don’t go away for more than a few miles afer a good session with a can of silicone spray. As soon as I get a chance, it will go to a neighborhood charity that refurbishes old bikes, and some young man will get himself a chance to dream of being in the Tour de France.

My new wheels are mounted to a Bianchi Volpe, a sturdy road bike made for touring. If my memory serves me properly, volpe means fox, so when I’m cruising along the road, I’ll imagine a long tail flowing in the wind (maybe my ponytail will do). In the next couple of years, I hope to find my way to retirement, then I’ll give that bike a workout like it never imagined. I’ll ship it to the Pacific Coast, then see if it will last longer than my legs do on the trip to the Atlantic. It’s got the gears to climb every mountain west of the Mississippi (and east), as well as a speed gear to accelerate when I have the prairie winds at my back.

If this one lasts as long as the last one, I’ll be looking for another new set of wheels for my 84th birthday. Meanwhile, I’ve got many a mile to go before evening. I’m just stopping by some woods on a Spring evening, then I’ll mount up and see how good the daily commute to the office (25 miles round trip) feels on the new Fox. Meanwhile, I’ll let the car gather a bit more rust and dust.





Getting Burned – The Blue Light Special

22 04 2008

I’m working from home today, in part because nobody would want to see me in my current condition. My face is bright red in spotchy patches. I cannot touch my skin, it burns so badly, and I have to be heliophobic for the next 48 hours — in other words, I have to stay out of the sun. The reason — I had photodynamic therapy (PTD) on my face yesterday.

That is the cost of growing up in a sunny climate (Colorado) with a fair complexion. After awhile, you get so many actinic keratoses (not sure if that is the right plural, but they are the pre-cancerous skin cells that the dermatologist likes to freeze off when they are few and far between) that only a more generalized treatement will work. What’s it like?

First, your skin has to be thoroughly cleansed. The clinic I went to (Straub, in Honolulu) used an acetone wipe. Then your face gets wetted down with a substance known by the trade name of Levulan, or aminolevulinic acid (ALA). Precancerous cells grow more quickly than normal cells, and they are thirsty for the amino acid that gives ALA part of its name. That will shortly lead to the downfall of the AK cells, who in this case suffer from gluttony. The first part of the PTD process takes five minutes at the most, then you get sent away for an hour and a half of “marinating.” The ALA has to soak in, and meanwhile, you have to stay out of the sun. Fortunately, it was just coming up to lunch time, so between lunch and a good book (Earth: The Sequel), 1.5 hours was easy to kill.

The remaining ALA is rinsed off the face, then comes a pair of yellow swim goggles and a space helmet — a U-shaped wrap-around blue-spectrum sunlamp. I had a small fan that blew in my face, and a spray bottle full of water that I could use to keep myself cool, and the radio running in the background to keep my mind off the sharp pinpricks that started erupting all over my face. For 16 minutes and 40 seconds (exactly), I sat in this contraption listing to Don Maclean sing about American Pie. And meanwhile, my face was turning into a mince-meat pie.

When the egg timer goes off, the blue-light special is done, and so am I — well done. I leave with instructions to avoid sunlight for 48 hours, use sunscreen for four months, and itching and peeling over the next several days. The first two days of that feel like a bad sunburn … can’t touch my face, can’t pucker, can hardly open my mouth wide enough to slide a bite of food past my teeth. But I must say, it’s better than the alternative.

I’ve had all sorts of people say, “You’re a naturopath, why don’t you use a natural cure? I heard about some kind of tar you put on a precancerous spot …” and so forth. Well, maybe there is some tar that works naturally. But I would have been tarred and feathered from the top of my bald head to the bottom of my chin, and then some, in order to cover all the spots. That’s the thing about natural remedies … the best ones are those that are preventative. Once something starts up, you have to weigh the alternatives. There is a ledger that balances between effectiveness and expediency, between an ideal lifestyle and the need to carry on with daily life. In this particular case, the dermatologist’s therapy came out on the positive side of the ledger, even if my face does look like hamburger for a couple of days.





Peak performance?

11 04 2008

I hate to be a spoilsport, but striving for Peak Performance is, for most people, just setting yourself up for failure. You may be able to get there (to your own definition of peak) for a few minutes (or even seconds) by psyching yourself up, but it is not sustainable for most people. The simple reason:  it is too much of a stretch.

You see, it’s a simple matter of “You can’t get there from here.” An even more appropriate saying is “A thousand mile journey begins with a single step.” You cannot, under ordinary circumstances, go directly from where you are straight to your destination. All you can do realistically is to keep your destination in mind, and take a first step in that direction. Eventually, you may get to the precise destination you envisioned, but more likely, you will get caught up in the journey, and realize after awhile that your priorities have changed, and the target has moved. Refocus, and take another step in the direction of whatever goal is most important to you.

There are no prescriptions for achieving peak performance in any aspect of one’s life. The reason — every individual is different. I wake up naturally at 5:30 am. I check my e-mail, eat breakfast, then head to work. If it’s raining or I’m tired, I’ll usually catch the bus. If I can, I bicycle the 12.5 miles to the office. When I absolutely have to, I take the car, but I always feel a bit of disappointment in myself for not having been self-sufficient, and for having made a small contribution to the congestion and over-consumption that I see on the roads every day. That is just me. I have my own motives, my own pattern of living, my own way getting through the day.

I seriously doubt that you have the same pattern of living. Maybe you don’t work. Maybe you work two jobs. Maybe you skip breakfast, take kids to school, walk to work or drive 40 miles each way along winding country roads. Maybe you have bacon and eggs for breakfast at 9:00 am, rather than having a bowl of natural cereal at 6:00 am. The details are what make you you, and me me. It does no good for Doctor Don to tell you to walk for 20 minutes a day if you spend your life in a wheelchair, or if you live in a neighborhood where you fear for your life every time you step outside the door. I can’t tell you that you should eat 1800 calories when your personal physician tells you that you need a 3000 calorie diet just to maintain your current weight.

For me, the journey towards “peak potential” means riding my bike to work one more day a week than I do right now. For you, it might mean setting your alarm 15 minutes earlier so you aren’t so rushed in the morning, or promising yourself that you will walk to the mailbox at the bottom of your driveway instead of making the journey in your car. Each person is an individual, and the first step on your thousand mile journey has to start right where you are at this moment. It cannot follow a prescription, unless it is the prescription that you give to yourself.





What am I all about?

11 04 2008

Okay, what can you expect when you tune into my blog? I can list about three or four topics that you are likely to hear about. And of course with any one of those topics, I may drill down through several eon of information until I reach some precambrian layer. What are the passions?

  • Health. People ought to take more control of their own health, rather than leaving it to the medical establishment.
  • Consciousness. Ever heard of “noetic” sciences? That covers just about anything in the realm of mind and spirit, including how we know the things we know, and what it means to truly recognize that we are all connected at a deep root level.
  • Environment and Sustainability. I put those two together because there is such overlap. Expect to hear a lot about those two topics. In fact, the overlap goes into all of the topics I’ve already mentioned. The environment is closely tied into people’s health, and when someone recognizes their shared interests and shared commonalities, it is in their self-interest to protect not just their own being, but those of all creatures (and non-creatures) great and small.
  • Writing. I’m a published poet. A published technical writer. A published writer in general. Of course I extend that interest to all of the arts, including classical music and opera. Just don’t look in here if you want to read something about American Idol or Dancing with the Stars. I prefer enduring art.

So anyway, just wanted to say hello to break the ice. More later.

Don