Dr. Majid Ali
The First Path: Spirituality Through Silence
What Do Lions Know About Stress, I suggest some simple ways to escape the tyranny of the thinking mind—the relentless clutter of the cortical monkey. What that monkey cannot cope with is the silent energy of the spiritual. Specifically, I make two suggestions that I have found to be clinically useful: meditation with the silence of a candle flame in winter and with the silence of a stone during summer. For further details about these two methods. In essence, with these simple approaches to meditative silence, one lets either the flame of a candle or the mellow color of a stone to lead him to perceive one's essential link with the larger presence. These simple approaches are usually far more rewarding—and revealing—than an elaborate ritual. The Holy Quran puts it thusly: Paradise is nearer to you than the thongs of your sandal.
The Second Path: Spirituality Through Service
Some of my patients have taught me an important lesson: Reaching out to others can be a powerful healing influence for the sufferer himself. Again, in my book, What Do Lions Know About Stress, I suggest several ways to do so, such as helping an elderly person with ordinary chores, befriending a sick child or being kind to an animal. This path to healing is especially therapeutic for those who are very sick and have been so for long periods of time.
The reward for reaching out to someone in need is not what one receives for it but what one becomes by it.
The essence of reaching out to someone in this context is simply a matter of being with the sick or needy. Certainly, what doesn't work is telling a seriously ill or a severely depressed person to cheer up.
Sometimes I hear visitors at hospital wards ask questions that reveal a morbid curiosity about the patient's prognosis. Family members of cancer patients often tell me about the number of months or years the ill person is expected to live. Of course, they have obtained such information from the patient's doctor. It amazes me that there are physicians who are so insensitive—and ignorant—as to make predictions about who will live and for how long. As for the family members and friends, their morbid curiosity about the precise dating of death seldom remains shielded from the sick.
There is a profound irony in this. What comforts the sick and suffering most are compassion and empathy, and there is no better way to express that than with silent presence. A visitor's curiosity about the nature of the sickness may be offensive to the sick. What the ill person needs most is to be with someone who can comfort him by his presence, and who is available to be spoken to, if and when the sick person wishes to do so.
A true gift of service is the gift of presence, and the essence of that presence is listening to what goes unspoken.
The Third Path: Gratitude, Not Happiness
Happiness is an illusion. That is one reason why no two people ever agree on what constitutes happiness. No matter how one chooses to define happiness, it is an empty notion—now you have it, now you don't. Few things make people more unhappy than the search for happiness.
The best reason for practicing gratitude that I know is that it makes getting out of the bed in the morning less demanding. For others, it makes the morning hours a profoundly spiritual time.
Practicing gratitude does not require elaborate rituals or travel to exotic places. It can be practiced anywhere, at any time. It requires neither outside support nor special inner capacity. I have seen patients live with profound gratitude even as they suffer a progressive paralysis of body muscles caused by multiple sclerosis or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. I know many young people who are incarcerated at home with disabling chronic fatigue, yet they are grateful for simply being alive. I also know chronically ill and angry patients for whom the word gratitude is a cruel joke. They rage, without quite understanding why they are consumed by overwhelming resentment. For the former group, gratitude is a river that flows endlessly, neither revealing its true origin nor its destiny. For the latter, gratitude is an impenetrable wall.
How does one practice gratitude? How does one learn to know, trust and surrender to the larger presence that surrounds and permeates each of us at all times—the divinity within each human being? There are, of course, no simple prescriptions. First and foremost, one must learn to live with the essential insecurity of life. What is freedom? To the extent that human beings can be free, it is the freedom from the need to be free that sets us free. To the extent that we can feel secure, it is the recognition that there can be no complete security in life. Thus, freedom and security are the gifts we receive when we learn to trust that larger presence.
How does one become aware of that presence? Natural beauty requires no endorsement from mere mortals. Yet when we see a sun lowering behind crimson clouds, we speak of the magnificence of that scene. Then we try to do justice to that scene. But does that magnificence really need our endorsement? Does the presence in that magnificence really need us to do justice to it? We look at the snow-capped peaks of a tall mountain and excitedly talk about its stunning grandeur. We strive to do justice to it. But does the presence in that mountain really need our justice? We witness the innocent beauty of a wildflower, marvel at it, then seek words to do justice to it. Does the presence in that wildflower require any justification from us to be? How did we get so messed up? How did we get so infatuated with ourselves? And with the notion that sunsets, mountains and wildflowers need our approval for their existence?
How does one become aware of that presence? I return to the question. We cannot do so by doing justice to that presence. Rather, we need to let that presence do justice to us, approve and endorse our existence. It takes a certain innocence free from the cortical clutter to know that presence in that sunset, that mountain peak and that windflower. That is the simple way.
The energy of that presence surrounds and permeates us, just as geomagnetic fields do. We can discern the magnetic fields only when we open ourselves to them with appropriate sensors. It is a crude analogy, but to be aware of that presence we also need to open ourselves. Then we don't need stunning sunsets or lofty mountain peaks to become aware of that presence. We can do so just as well by looking at dust particles shining in the shaft of light entering a room through a window, or through the dim flame of a candle reflected in a rusty door knob. That awareness is the gratitude that sets us free. So it follows that we can receive all the freedom and security we need through the light reflected from a door knob—or, when walking on a sidewalk, by the light absorbed in a shriveled dry leaf that the wind might blow toward us.
Gratitude may be practiced anywhere, anytime, through any trivial object—for there is divinity in all trivia just as there is divinity is each of us.
We can only know as much divinity as exists within us.
The Fourth Path: Control of Metabolic Roller Coasters
Many people live on metabolic roller coasters. Some are on sugar-insulin roller coasters, while others suffer adrenaline-cholinergic roller coasters. Biology, I write earlier, is a kaleidoscopic mosaic. Sugar-insulin- adrenaline roller coasters trigger neurotransmitter roller coasters, resulting in anxiety, headaches, lightheadedness, heart palpitations and panic attacks. Many patients describe electric shocks in their muscles and skulls. Many women live with PMS, wild mood swings and hot flashes caused by estrogen-progesterone- adrenaline roller coasters. Yet others are tormented by neurotransmitter roller coasters. In my clinical work, I consider the elimination of such roller coasters a primary goal.
The Fifth Path: Preserving the Integrity of the Bowel, Blood and Other Body Ecosystems
Human antioxidant and immune defenses are plants rooted in the soil of the bowel contents. The bowel ecosystem is as diverse and delicate as any other in nature. It interfaces with the outside world on one side and with the blood ecosystem on the other. The blood ecology, in turn, integrates with liver, kidney and brain ecosystems. Human health, in essence, is a dynamic ecologic equilibrium among the various body organ ecosystems.
It is distressing to see little children who live on antibiotics. In so doing, food and mold allergies that set them up for recurrent infections go unrecognized. Their delicate bowel ecosystems are battered repeatedly with broad-spectrum antibiotics that violate their antioxidant defenses. When their oxidative metabolism causes behavior and learning difficulties, school psychologists promptly label them with hyperactivity and attention deficit disorders, or refer them to their pediatricians who readily oblige the psychologists with Ritalin prescriptions.
Many women suffering from severely battered vaginal and urinary ecosystems are prescribed one course of antibiotics after another. The symptoms caused by such ecologic disruptions are vigorously suppressed with yet additional doctors. Not infrequently, they are completely unaware of the true nature of their suffering. I discuss these subjects at length in the companion volume, RDA: Rats, Drugs and Assumptions. Attempts to resolve issues of stress with therapies based on the prevailing—and simplistic—fight-or-flight notion of stress are bound to fail, and they do.
Similarly, there are important ecologic considerations affecting home and work environments. I refer readers interested in this subject to the companion volume, The Canary and Chronic Fatigue.
Since health is ecologic equilibrium, it can only be preserved with ecologic thinking. Until mainstream physicians learn to think ecologically, people who suffer chronic stress have no choice but to learn about ecologic balances in the body and how to preserve them.
The Sixth Path: Rejection of Diagnostic Labels That Tell Us Nothing About the Nature of Suffering, But Hide Much.
Every day in my clinical practice I see patients who are tortured by meaningless diagnostic labels. Their physicians use those labels to justify the use of symptom-suppressing drugs. Those diagnostic labels reveal nothing about the true cause of their suffering. Yet the patients remain trapped in stress-causing disease modes of thinking.
I see chronic fatigue sufferers tormented with yet another diagnostic label of neurally-mediated hypotension (NMH). They are prescribed steroids and drugs that affect the heart activity without any regard to the stressors that overdrive the heart. Their allergic triggers go unrecognized and unmanaged. They live on sugar-insulin-adrenaline roller coasters, but such metabolic stressors are never addressed. Their battered bowel ecosystems are further battered with antibiotics—the simmering oxidative coals in their blood continue to damage cell membranes of blood corpuscles and cook enzymes, hormones and proteins just as the white of an egg is cooked when it is boiled. The NMH gurus never bother to ask the simple question: What injures the autonomic receptors of people who suffer from NMH? They contemptuously dismiss the possibility of such injury by environmental pollutants. Or by unmitigated oxidative stress of unrelenting adrenergic overdrive. It is sad because a physician could recognize the underlying cause with a mere drop of patient's blood and some skill with a microscope.
Disruptions of urinary ecosystems occur as consequences of battered bowel ecosystems—except in uncommon cases of structural obstructive lesions of the bladder and related organs. I see little girls who suffer from repeated urinary infections and young women who are given the label of interstitial cystitis for similar problems. They are given repeated courses of antibiotics that further damage their delicate ecosystems. When that doesn't work—and why would it?—they undergo urethral dilatations in operating rooms. Their pediatricians and urologists completely ignore all issues of antibiotic abuse, food and mold allergy, overgrowth of yeast and disease-causing bacteria in the bowel, and parasitic infestations.
Hyperactivity and attention deficit disorders are almost always associated with food allergy, mold sensitivity and digestive-absorptive dysfunctions of the bowel. Such individuals crave sugar and suffer wide mood swings caused by sugar-insulin-adrenaline roller coasters. School psychologists are only too eager to provide suitable diagnostic labels and the pediatricians are prompt in dispensing Ritalin, Cylert and dexidrine. Neither the psychologists nor pediatrician seem to have any sense of the nutritional deficits that feed those disorders, nor of the relevant allergic triggers.
I see patients who are troubled by a cardiologist's diagnosis of mitral valve prolapse, while the real problem is a heart overdriven by sugar-insulin-adrenaline roller coasters. In the chapter, Lions, Hypoglycemia and Insulin Roller Coasters, I describe the true nature of mitral valve prolapse in patients without structural damage to the valve. Training in effective methods of self-regulation is too cumbersome for cardiologists. Why waste time teaching anyone breathing methods to relieve the symptoms when beta blockers can be doled out so conveniently?
Coronary heart disease is caused by oxidative injury to intima (cells lining the arteries) and connective tissue (collagen and other substances that hold intima cells together as mortar holds bricks). Cholesterol is an innocent bystander molecule in the saga of coronary disease. No one has ever described any mechanisms by which cholesterol—a weak antioxidant—can inflict oxidative injury to vessel walls. But cholesterol cats—the money men of cholesterol industry—are not troubled by such questions. They know there is much money to be made by selling cholesterol-lowering drugs. Predictably such drugs do not work. But, that doesn't matter either. Cholesterol cats have enough money to hire drug doctors and fly them everywhere singing the cholesterol songs of their drug masters. How many people suffer heart disease while worrying about their cholesterol numbers? Cholesterol cats are not interested in that question either.
I see patients who have been prescribed antianxiety drugs for stress without any attempt to understand the underlying cause. I see patients given drugs for gastritis and irritable bowel syndrome without any consideration to the issues of disrupted gastric and bowel ecology. The list of such symptom-suppressing labels is a long one.
I see people for whom the diagnostic labels are more tormenting than their violated bowel and gastric ecosystems. The same happens for sufferers of sinusitis, chronic headaches, PMS, chronic fatigue and many other ailments.
I provide detailed explanations of the energetic-molecular events that create specific stress patterns in various chapters of this volume. I suggest the reader consider a second reading of selected chapters to feel comfortable with the scientific underpinnings of the health-disease (dis-ease) continuum that I address in this book. For this purpose, I recommend the following chapters in my book What Do Lions Know About Stress? 1) Stress and the Fourth-of-July Chemistry; 2) Lions, Hypoglycemia and Insulin Roller Coasters; 3) Adrenergic Hypervigilance, Mitral Valve Prolapse, Dysautonomia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; and 4) Anxiety, Lactic Acid and Limbic Lions.
The Seventh Path: Optimal Hydration, and Nutrient and Herbal Support of Body Ecosystems.
When injured tissues heal, they heal with nutrients not with drugs. This is self-evident and holds true for all the ecologic disruptions I refer to in this volume.
I introduce the subjects of optimal hydration and supplemental nutrient and herbal support at the end of this chapter for a specific reason. For many people, popping vitamin and herbal pills seem to be an easy remedy for stress. But it doesn't work that way.
Buckets of water are not sufficient for saving a house on fire. Similarly, a tablet or two of multivitamins and herbal pills cannot extinguish the leaping oxidative flames of a Fourth-of-July chemistry. What is needed is a deep visceral-intuitive stillness that lifts one to higher spiritual states.
With that cautionary note, I include below brief comments about the optimal state of hydration and lists of vitamins, minerals, essential amino and fatty acids and herbs that I have found to be of special value in the management of chronic stress and anxiety. Again, I prescribe nutrients to prevent metabolic roller coasters that feed other stress responses. I provide detailed information about the mechanisms of action of most of these agents in the companion volumes, The Butterfly and Life Span Nutrition and The Canary and Chronic Fatigue. I refer the professional reader to Nutritional Medicine Part I: Intramuscular and Intravenous Therapies.
STATE OF OPTIMAL HYDRATION
My patients who lead stressful lives frequently complain that they need to drink large quantities of fluids to take their prescribed nutrients and herbs. I tell them that is good news. If nutrient protocols force them to increase their water intake, so much the better!
Water is an essential macronutrient. Water is nature's best diuretic. It is the most efficient detoxifying agent in the human metabolism. Water is the simplest solution to acidotic overload in conditions of stress. Water can significantly reduce the stress of allergic and sensitivity reactions. Water is the cheapest diluent for environmental pollutants. Need we search for more reasons to benefit from an ample intake of water—the miracle substance of all life?
The simplest and most effective practical measure for reducing the excessive acidotic—and oxidative—stress on biology in chronic stress is to dilute and eliminate the acidotic—and oxidative—molecules with increased fluid intake. Parenthetically, one of the fundamental changes of the general aging process is cellular aging. Aged cells are shrunken and dehydrated. Chronic stress is clearly a state of accelerated molecular and cellular aging. A state of overhydration is not only desirable, but necessary. One-third of kidney disease in the United States is considered to be iatrogenic—caused by prescription drugs. Three major culprits are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory painkillers, antibiotics such as aminoglycosides and contrast media used for scans and x-rays. The simplest safeguard against such kidney damage when taking drugs is optimal hydration.
I recommend a six-ounce glass of suitable fluid every three hours. Frequent urination is a very small price to pay for upregulated energy enzymes. I refer the reader interested in further information about this critical subject to the companion volume The Butterfly and Life Span Nutrition.