Zoöpolis Is Where It’s At

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A thriving coexistence: cultivating Zoöpolis.

Zoöpolis is a new word for me. Maybe you already know it? It has a z and an umlaut, so I already liked it, before I knew what it meant. Jennifer Wolch, a geographer coined this term.

Definition: The place where the polis meets the zoo, an overlap of human and animal geographies. A zoöpolis happens when we create landscapes in which humans and animals coexist, or even thrive alongside each other. I saw this word in Crow Planet, Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness, by Lyanda Lynn Haupt.

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I like to make signs. So it came to be: zoöpolis holds its place in my homemade trellis. It was there for one day when I saw a pair of crows carefully choosing old dry plant skeletons for their nest build. They looked like a couple at home depot choosing fence boards. Did they read my sign? I mean, they ARE smart. I’ve seen crows in my yard before, picking at things, strolling about. But, with the sign blessing their presence, everything looked different, more unified, more alive and thriving.

Resources are meant to be shared. I suggest making a yard that provides offerings, both for human and animal. For me, this means plants for pleasure, and harvest. Many options provide both, for example, patches of sunflowers are visually sensational, while serving as pollinators. Bees buzz over them in the warm sun, heavy with thick pollen panniers. After a few weeks, the dried sunflowers become feeding stations to chickadee, golden finch, and squirrels.

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You must throw in some art somewhere. I have twig structures. They are great to hang bird feeders from. People also like points of interest that move. I have a palomino. It is not a real horse, but a small replica. It is in a constant grazing pose. Every few days, when I’m out working in the yard, I’ll move it around. People are wild for this, often commenting that they enjoy looking for it. This little horse has stolen the show, and it’s the least amount of work for me to maintain.

Nest material can be fluffed with little effort. Crows mate for life and both the male and female collect nest materials and put it together. They look for pieces of straw, twigs, stripped bark, and feathers. If you want to offer some additional materials, put out yarn, brushed out animal fur, or bits of twine. Don’t put out dryer lint. It’s soft but can be an irritant to young birds.

Zoöpolis: It’s got something for everyone.

 

Stand up and paddle Alton Baker Canal

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A lovely 4-mile paddle!

This is an easy protected canal paddle, good for getting out and enjoying a calm route with water and birds. The water is fairly shallow for most of this paddle.

To get there, go to Autzen stadium. Just across from the stadium, a bit east of the dog park, is the gravel parking lot on the right. You will see a sign near the water that says, “canoe launch.” That’s the spot. Super easy launch. Nice parking lot. Don’t go there during a duck football game.

I picked a cloudy gloomy day to go. I was feeling a bit gloomy anyway, so I decided to immerse myself in the elements. Some rain fell on the canal surface like soft tears. Luckily it was not cold, and super luckily, I did not fall in. I am falling rarely now, but it would not be fun as the water is too cold and the sun is not out, and I am not wearing a wet suit. However, this paddle is so short that I am confident I would just be a little miserable if I fell in, temporarily. More character building than life threatening.

Geese

Paddle away from Autzen Stadium and toward the roar of I-5. The paddle ends just before the freeway. There is a concrete area to get off, otherwise you will have to morph into a salmon to jump up and over a small cascading waterfall. I wandered under the bridge to have a look. Artful images of Native Americans in canoes are carved out in the concrete below. There is also a nicely designed rock garden. Too bad it’s all under a whizzing freeway bridge.

On your paddle out, you will be going against a small current. I also had the breeze going against me, but it was still easy to paddle. There are a lot of ducks and geese and red-wing blackbirds. the blackbirds were irritated by my presence and let me know by making some close and noisy fly-overs. If you paddle quietly and smoothly, you can often avoid disturbing wildlife. I saw evidence of beavers, but saw no beavers. You will see runners plodding along on Pre’s Trail, which borders the waterway.

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The return trip is swift as you have the current. This is a fine time to sit on your board and chill if you are inclined. I was. Otherwise, paddle back and feel magnificently fast. Getting out is as easy as it was to get in. There is lots of grass around and it’s clean except for some random goose poop.

This is a great way to get some nature in, right in town!

Wherever you go, there you are

How to make it matter? I’ve been reading a couple of blogs by folks hiking the PCT from Mexico to Canada. I find it motivational; it inspired me to finally start a blog. I am inspired by people taking the time to record and  summarize each day, complete with photos and reports of their external and internal experience. The task of writing about a long hike might sound rather redundant, as in, walk, rest, eat, walk, snack, walk, sleep, and meet amazing people. It’s not terribly complicated and the goals are very concrete. I’m not saying it’s easy. It must take serious drive and focus. To support this purpose, you need to be keenly aware of water, food, where you are walking, and where you will sleep and refuel.

Building your life around a single purpose must teach focus. I wonder if this is a requirement, to be away from your regular life? To be off regularly-scheduled programming. I can see the value in this.

I don’t feel strongly enough about walking for that long, being away from my home and work.

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It has me wondering, how would I summarize my life, by the day?  How would I chart and notice things if I am not carrying a pack and walking on a mission through the wilderness. How do I track my steps, really take it a day at a time? I want to reflect and move along the metaphorical trail, to make forward progress and be present in the now. I want to focus on my goals and well-being and invite wonder into my experience.

Today I went on a run in the rain. I thought about, and sent a mental message to someone who I heard had just passed away from cancer. She was my age. We were not friends, but I wished her peace and happy travels anyway.

Later today, I am hosting a kombucha-making party. This give purpose to my day; creating something with friends.

These are two things that stood out to me because it felt like they mattered.

What gives you purpose? What makes it matter?

How can Chinese medicine add quality of life to end of life?

Hospice patients who request acupuncture roughly fall into three categories. 1) They have had it before, and found it useful. 2) They are at the stage of trying anything. 3) They have always wanted to try it, but before hospice care, had never had the opportunity. All patients are seeking relief. Mainly people are looking for pain and anxiety relief.

What has struck me the most about meeting and treating people with my skills is the immediate connection that happens when you sit with someone and put your hands on them. For my skill set, I don’t have nursing supplies. I don’t tend ports that deliver medications. Sometimes it feels naked showing up with only needles and my hands. I try to bring a calm and friendly presence. After all, it’s highly personal to land in someone’s house, and meet them in such a vulnerable state.

The story that I want to tell is about a patient struggling with constipation. This story sticks in my mind. It was on a Sunday. I had not been an active volunteer for a while, but I got a call that I was needed, and no one else was available After hearing about this woman’s situation, I felt I needed to see her right away.

It was a long drive to her house through woodsy neighborhoods that I was unfamiliar with. I finally arrived. She was able to walk around, though weak and uncomfortable. She explained that it had been about two weeks since her last bowel movement and she was mighty uncomfortable. On top of that, she was vomiting feces. I didn’t know this was a thing that could happen. I was caught off guard. I couldn’t believe anyone would have to endure this.

We talked about where she would like to be for her treatment. Once that was decided, I reached for my tools. To my horror, I quickly discovered that I had left all my needles at home. I told her this. She looked dismayed. For a split second, I felt terrible. Then I felt my hands light up with a warm and buzzing sensation, and I said, “I think I have an idea of what we can do, and I think it will be as good or better for you than acupuncture.” She brightened up.

We went to a comfortable small day bed. She didn’t have a hospital bed. I used shiatsu, which is a meridian-based form of Japanese massage. It usually involves the entire body, from head to toe. Her issues were mainly abdominal. This area was swollen, tight, and painful. It needed attention. Even though a sensitive, painful area, she found immediate relief from gentle work in that area. I wanted to wake up the intestines. I also worked out to her legs and feet, arms and hands, and head.

This session felt profound. I followed the principles of acupuncture and shiatsu, but with my hands only. She immediately became relaxed. The tension in her face softened. Her breathing was slower and deeper. She thanked me many times throughout the treatment. I have trouble putting words to the experience. All things were present and sacred during that period of time. There were no words or explanations needed. After 45 minutes or so, I stopped. Seeing her relaxed and even hopeful about a bowel movement was the best reward ever.

I heard that she was successful, and the bowels moved later that evening.

I was never called again to go out to see her. I have thought of that day often. I hope that I helped her; I know that she helped me. I am grateful for the experience.

Does acupuncture hurt?

Acupuncture, does it hurt? What does it feel like?

The following is a list of real-life comparisons, levels of possible feelings.

Light:

A gentle breeze

A parakeet landing on your finger

Water splashing on your skin 

Medium:

A high-five

Pressure from a normal handshake

A grasp or pinch of skin

Feet hitting the pavement while running

A mild ache 

Strong:

A very firm handshake

A puppy play bite

Kitten claws

A small sticker weed poke 

Acupuncture is nothing like:

Falling into a large patch of blackberries

Tripping into a hive of bees

 Quotes from real patients:

“What? You put a needle in? I don’t feel it!”

“It hurt a little bit… but, whatever. It felt like a swirling pressure.”

Meditation. Try this!

“Try not to think. Quiet your mind.”

Meditation can sound daunting, mysterious. What is quiet? What is empty? It’s not completely understood. Much interest and information surrounds meditation, yet it remains elusive to many.

The main stumbling block is attaining inner quiet. “I can’t shut my brain off” is a common defeated observation.

How do you shut the brain off? Don’t try so hard. You can lead the brain down the path of peace by giving it a little something to do. You must engage your brain to soften your mind. If you give the brain a simple task, it can get on board with a zen state of mind. Think of your engine being on, but in neutral instead of drive—there is no need to force intention.

Learning to slow down and be still is helpful for each of us. Even five to 10 minutes of meditation makes a difference. Brief or imperfect meditation is better than no meditation.

There are hundreds of ways to meditate—the method I am advocating here is just one way. Inspired by yoga, qigong, human anatomy, and the natural underwater world, this meditation connects you with your internal organs. It is a scan of your vital organs—a way to say “hi” and appreciate and support the work they do for you. The overall intent is to generate kindness, calmness, wellness, and thoughtfulness.

This technique uses imagery. The imagery is your own body, internal organs, and ocean life. By using imagery, you invite your brain to be involved gently. It’s a way to touch base with your insides.

Hang in there, it isn’t that weird.

The meditation: an explanation, and a run-through

The organs of focus are the heart, spleen, lungs, kidney, and liver, in that order.

These are considered the yin organs in Chinese medicine. Each organ has a color, a positive nature, and an element that relates to it.

The yin contains our reserves. It supports and supplies our outer strength (yang).

Find a comfortable position. This can be sitting, standing, or lying down. Your eyes can be closed, or partially closed. Breathe comfortably. Don’t force any pattern of breathing.

Heart

Start with the heart: Picture where your heart is in your body. Feel it and sense its position.

With each breath, picture the heart gracefully expanding and contracting. Imagine it has the fluid movement of an undersea plant or animal that interacts and pulses with the currents to gather nutrients. Inhale/exhale, expand/contract.

Focus on this for 30 seconds to one minute. The image of the heart (as well as the other organs) is your choice. It can be anatomically correct or an artistic version that you create.

The heart element is fire. The color is red. Positive nature: joy.

Apply these attributes as you like. Picture the element, color, and nature. Simply saying it in your mind helps to bring up the visual.

Feel the breath, the expansion and contraction, both physically and emotionally.

Spleen

Heart transforms to spleen.

Connect to your spleen. Inhale/exhale, expand/contract. It’s OK if you just have a vague idea (or no idea) where it is. Just focus on it.

Its color is yellow. Its element is earth. Positive nature: truthfulness, sincerity.

Lungs

Spleen transforms to lungs.

Inhale/exhale, expand/contract. Use silver or white for the color. The lung element is metal.

Visualize and feel the full capacity of your lungs. Remember the flowing nature of sea plants. Make your lungs be that graceful. Make your breaths grounded, solid, comfortable.

Positive nature: generosity and integrity.

Kidneys

Lungs transform to kidneys.

Inhale/exhale, expand/contract. The kidney element is water. The color is dark blue. Think about the ocean at night.

Positive nature: wisdom, clear perception.

Liver

Kidneys transform to liver.

Inhale/exhale, expand/contract. The liver element is wood. Picture a tree or a piece of firewood. The color is spring green.

Positive nature: kindness and patience.

Focus on each organ for 30 seconds to one minute. Try to do it one to two times through the first time. Remember, just practicing it is a form of meditation—you will customize how many times through you need, or have time for.

It’s a great thing to practice when you are awake at night and can’t go back to sleep.

Linking the elements and the organs

It is a basic rotation of the five elements (fire, earth, metal, water, and wood) and five yin organs (heart, spleen, lungs, kidneys, and liver). Remember to link the breath and focus to each organ. Visualize and feel the expanding and contracting movement of each organ.

Overall, approach this meditation with a light intention; soft focus; gentle grounding; and a little humor.

And lastly, relax. After all, that’s the goal!

How does acupuncture work?

Restoring harmony

Acupuncture inspires a lot of questions.

  • What does it do?
  • How does it work?
  • Why would I have it done?

People want to connect the dots of its function.

As an acupuncturist, I get these questions every day. My favorite explanation was in a recent newspaper article, which simply stated, “we don’t know how it works.”  Honesty at last!

We don’t know how to really explain it in a way that does it justice. We mention the common sound bites, such as – “It increases circulation; stimulates the release of endorphins; blocks pain signals to the brain; and increases T-cell counts, which stimulate the immune system.”

The Mayo clinic has used acupuncture since the 1970s. In the Mayo Clinic Guide to Alternative Medicine, its states that “scientists don’t fully understand how it works.” They do say that acupuncture studies suggest that it does provide health benefits, from reducing pain to helping manage chemotherapy-induced nausea. The Mayo clinic has licensed acupuncturists on staff.

Acupuncture is not hooked up to a machine, or medical device, and there are no pharmaceutical tie-ins, so we don’t know how to express the bio-mechanisms at play.

So, let’s not. This blog is dedicated to expressing what the goal of acupuncture is, in a good old-fashioned way. It is simple. There isn’t space to regurgitate the several volumes of complicated texts that does explain, in great detail, how it works. Even those do not help the classic western mind because they are old, and again, not tied to the language or products of modern medicine.

The ancient basis for Chinese medicine is Taoism (For more info: http://www.adishakti.org/forum/taoism_religion_or_hilosophy_3-20-2007.htm)

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To live with the Tao is to live in harmony with one’s self, others, and the environment. Living in harmony with nature was a big emphasis.

Things like:

  • getting up with the sun.
  • resting with the darkness.
  • being restorative during the winter, like a seed in the soil, waiting for months to burst open when the time is right.

The concept is this: If you live in harmony and in balance, everything runs a lot smoother.

In a balanced state, humans gracefully hold their space between heaven and earth. As a functioning 3-way conduit, the human, the earth, and the sky hum along in a sort of cosmic teamwork. The earth and sky have a natural ability to do this, most of the time. The heavens, the earth, and the organic transient being (that would be you, the human) join together in a harmonic connection. It’s a big picture thing.

Much before I took an interest in acupuncture or Taoism, I saved a caption from an old Cathy cartoon, in which Cathy proclaimed, “When people feel disconnected from their life source, they get weird! When they get weird, all the trouble begins!” She made a good point.

The body, mind, and spirit, in Chinese medicine, are also seen as needing to be connected. Well, they are connected. But injury, stress, emotional distress, disease, poor health habits, can throw the balance off.

It can begin like this:

First a little unbalance, then a lot, and before you know it, you’ve got full-on disharmony. This manifests as:

  • pain
  • poor sleep
  • anxiety
  • illnesses of all sorts

It means things are not as they should be.

As it happens, people get bummed out about this. It is inconvenient and a bummer and uncomfortable. However, in Chinese medicine, we are seen as an ecosystem, an ever-changing landscape. Nothing stays the same, good or bad. We are a variety of moving patterns, not unlike the weather around us.

And what does this have to do with acupuncture?

Each point has been designated to nudge the patient toward balance, wholeness, and health. The acupuncture points have specific functions. These functions interact with internal organs, as well as all parts of the body, from head to toe.

Each point is about restoring harmony; restoring function to dysfunction.

Acupuncture’s main goal is to assist and correct disharmony (pain, illness, injury) by getting the energy (think internal chemical reactions), blood, and fluids all flowing smoothly.

When harmony is restored, balance is restored, illness fades, pain lessons, contentment can be felt again.

Boom! You’re back in business! A western phrase, which makes it all perfectly clear.

why bring Chinese medicine to a hospice patient?

Hospice and traditional Chinese medicine- How do they go together?

I treat patients receiving hospice care. Most are near the end of their life. Some have six months to live; others have a few days to live.

I use acupuncture and acupressure (same points, no needles, just pressure).

Pain, discomfort, and anxiety are the main symptoms that I am asked to help with.

The top concerns often involve stress and anxiety reduction. My main goal with each patient is to bring relief and comfort. My hope for treatment is that by the end of the session, around 20-35 minutes, the patient feels like they experienced relief. Most often, that is the feedback. They say things like, “ I feel more relaxed,” “oh, that was nice,” and “when are you coming back?”

If they are close to death, my goal is to ease their transition.

If death is not imminent, my goal is to improve their quality of life.

Some people are relatively comfortable toward the end of their life. Others are not. My mission is to leave each person better off than when I arrived. Most of the time, that is accomplished, and we are both happy about that.

For hospice patients, I use acupoints that associate with the gentle support of organ function; stomach calming; mental calming; and gentle circulation.

Does acupuncture work?

I get asked this question a lot: “Does acupuncture work?” Based on my experiences and observations of patients receiving acupuncture, as well as many positive research studies, I say, “yes.”

Does it always work, every time, for everything? No. I used to feel bad about this. Then I shadowed physicians on the job. This was fascinating and eye opening. I got to observe each patient interaction and treatment. The treatments didn’t always work.

The patients had the common things: headaches, neck aches, backaches, and body aches. Some had cancer pain.

The most common treatment for these patients was some sort of drug therapy. Do the drug therapies work? Yes. No. Sometimes.

My point is, nothing works all the time for everybody.

Acupuncture, or traditional Chinese medicine, is the longest continuous form of medicine. It started about 3,000 years ago and remains relevant today.

“Can acupuncture fix me in one treatment?” Sometimes. But don’t expect it. It takes more than one dose of a drug to work. One physical therapy session doesn’t usually resolve all issues. Counseling sessions typically involve a number of appointments.

It depends on the issue, but I recommend trying at least five, to possibly ten treatments. I usually see a patient once a week. If a situation is really intense, for example, terrible headaches, twice a week is better.

 

So you want to be a bodhisattva?

One time I listened to a lot of CDs about how to be a bodhisattva. It was from an ancient Indian text and sort of explained by Pema Chodron. But this is not the point of the story.

Bodhisattvas come in all forms
Bodhisattvas come in all forms

The point is how do you become one? And what is one? One definition: a person who is able to reach nirvana but delays doing so out of compassion in order to save suffering beings. The superstar bodhisattvas are people like Buddha and Jesus. They had it down. But, it turns out, we can all be bodhisattvas.

I went to a poetry reading last month and one person said that to support each others’ work was one form of being a bodhisattva. To be supportive is one way to reduce the suffering of others.

Today, I had a great discussion with two wise friends. One shared a story about something her father did for her mother. Her mother had to live in a mental institution for years. Her father visited every Sunday. Sometimes he would bake a chicken to bring to her. He would heat rocks in the oven and then store them under the chicken so it was warm when it arrived.

I remembered when I was a child, watching my mother wash my grandmother’s hair in the kitchen sink. She did the same with my grandfather. It struck me. I thought they could do it themselves. Maybe they could, but they needed help sometimes. I didn’t think too much about it but I felt something and I’ve always remembered it. My mom gently helped the more feeble in my family. It wasn’t heroic; it was practical.

My two friends and I talked about how caring for our loved ones in these sorts of ways are little bodhisattva acts. They are small habits of bodhisattvas.

To bring comfort is to reduce suffering.

Notice this in your own life. Start making it a habit to be a little bodhisattva.