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Belief and Philosophy Hawai'i Health Self-help

Hawai’i: Health or The Lens of Our Culture Determines Perspective

Today I listened to a podcast about proving the scientific aspects of various wellness practices and the examination of the self-help field. I was quite keen to listen to this given I appreciate all modes of inquiry. The health practice that decidedly could not register as having positive benefits was acupuncture and it was deemed to be very difficult to ascertain efficacy of studies.

I haven’t made a close study of these empirical studies. Here we get into the idea of what do we follow for medical practices?

That said, I noted that the derision of acupuncture by the podcaster, which of course is rooted in Eastern philosophical practices and perceptions of the body, was then followed by a podcaster’s pitch for Christianity.

I thought this was interesting because at its core then, potentially, was a conflict of cultural values rooted in the lens of the individual.

And I’ll make a disclaimer here myself: I’ve had acupuncturists and my great grandfather was also an herb doctor. His sons went on to be Western medical practitioners.

I think we have to remember that there are multiple approaches to longevity and health. Let’s face it, if you want to live a long healthy life you probably should be eating green apples, grains of some sort along with bark and bugs, have no stress and spend your days herding animals and horseback riding in the Urals or a remote isolated area without modern appliances like…blenders. Living in a modern cultural situation replete with cars, capital, alcohol, pollution and the intake of constant stimuli is likely to shorten your life.

I think when approaching the diversity of healthcare practices it’s probably best to understand that your own cultural background will determine your critical lens on this stuff. Maybe it’s worth borrowing or sharing. But you can be sure of this: we are in the Dark Ages when it comes to our own health and our planet’s health! Gotta rethink all of it.

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Belief and Philosophy Break Divorce Educators Health Self-help Teachers Woman. Warrior. Writer.

BREAK: Marriage and Divorce and How to View a Sculpture

How to View a Sculpture

I would like to explain a few ways that we can think about the practice of observation that might help us come to terms with the way we see ourselves within the construct of marriage and divorce.

Here’s the famous Venus de Milo (photo by tabitha turner) an ancient Greek sculpture displayed in the Louvre. She is a symbol of Western beauty. There are many tales surrounding her beauty and interpretations of her appearance. I am unaware of an Asian equivalent image of a woman that is as significant on a global scale. There’s a meta element to her existence as a sculpture that also interests me: the physical element that socially distinguishes an individual and determines personal navigation is the face, the next are one’s hands. What we move, carry, sculpt, shape, stroke, create, carve and more, determines what we do in the world. She has no arms, no hands, so we look at her body and face…but let me continue.

When I was sixteen my parents sent me to France for the summer to learn French. I stayed with an acquaintance of my father’s, a medical doctor’s family, which I did for a few weeks in their summer home in the south of France. It was eye opening for me: large meals of rabbit stew at noon, a Pink Floyd blasting grandmother, a tennis playing aunt with a deep tan wearing a bikini that displayed tufts of her pubic hair, and a bucolic estate replete with a vineyard and peacocks pecking about the front lawn. There were other teenagers, but I was an admittedly difficult teen, bookish, and easily bored and not the best social companion, and so, within a short period of time found myself alone on a train to Paris where I spent the remaining part of the summer attending classes at Alliance Francais. I was terribly lonely and wanted to return to the US, but refused to do so out of pride. Determined to stay on, I decided to be purposeful, and so I set myself the task of going to every single museum in the city. 

As anyone knows, there are countless museums in Paris, but I covered many of them, an admirable ambition and a reflection of what I recognize now, as a sometime dutiful and obedient nature. I wandered about with my guidebook and recorded my observations in French in my journal as I downed cups of hot chocolate and cut my way through pastry after pastry. One day I met an older man—I no longer remember his name or even what he really looked like, although I seem to recall dark framed glasses and hair, and a leather briefcase. He saw me wandering around outside the Louvre, introduced himself, and then kindly proceeded to take me on a tour of the museum, pointing out significant art, and commenting in a way, I realize now that suggested someone with an abiding passion for art. After we drank coffee in a nearby cafe and chatted about what we saw, although I politely declined an invitation to meet him again. There are all kinds of ways we can read this encounter, but suffice to say the lesson he imparted to me that day about how to look at sculpture was probably one of the most significant I learned in terms of observation, one that I have carried with me and added to, and have passed on to students throughout my life.

When we look at a sculpture face-to-face or face-to-shape a single look from one angle does not suffice. Modern life is hurried, but when we slow down and look carefully, we experience art in new ways. To take in a sculpture in a way that evokes a relational response to the art and artist, we observe the piece from multiple vantage points, address the three dimensional material object at various angles. We might walk around it, do a 360 degree stroll. We squat down and look up, as if to be a small child beholding the world above. We reach out and touch it. Lean against it, if we can, press our own body against it, feel its surface. We stand up on our tiptoes and then look down upon the object. We tilt our head sideways and maybe even upside down. Most significantly, we look at the piece of art at different times of the day to observe how the shadows change, how the light and dark are cast across the shape, and note what this does to the object. The shadows tell a story. A sculpture does not look the same at dawn as it does mid-day. We must interact with it at different times, note the miracle of how it changes, to really see what the sculptor might have been communicating.

We too must allow ourselves to understand that the way we observe, define, any object, idea, institution, state of being, or whatever we encounter as humans, depends on our vantage point and may dramatically shift throughout the course of a day, over a number of years, as we weave our way through a lifetime. This perspective is derived from where we are physically, emotionally, or in time. How we see and why we see is fluid. It changes depending on the light or dark, on our moods and priorities, on what came prior or after.

Our responsibility then is always to understand, and if writing, to record and detail what we know when we know it, forgiving ourselves for what we cannot possibly see at the time we are observing, or if we dare say, participating, responding, or dancing with the art or idea. We might be generous to ourselves, allow ourselves flexibility as we move to a new insight closer into the seeing and knowing of how and why, nurturing or answering our questions as we linger and skip. It is impossible to take in all angles at once. Maybe there is a spot where we gaze beyond the sculpture, and so the object becomes framed within the background, or the object comes forward, the background receding. We touch the shape, feel its ease, roughness, and smoothness, its temperature and crevices. This moment is all that we take from the experience of looking at the sculpture as we remember it later, trying to recall and feel again what we felt. Somehow, removed from that moment, we feel a bit differently, and we say in our hearts that the art was more expansive at that time, at that place. Maybe it was. Or not. We have to have a little faith in ourselves, that where and how we are seeing at the moment is one perspective and it is fine, we are doing our best, we are seeing what it is we are supposed to see. When we look back at the moment, we are also doing our best, recalling what we can with all that we can muster. 

Truly seeing art, understanding an idea, feeling, person, place, concept, requires us to be compassionate with ourselves. Seeing involves being seen–specifically, we must see who we were and are, and this will allow us to envision who we can be. Slow down. Take in the sculpture. Allow yourself to see. This practice of seeing will help you to see others and yourself.

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Belief and Philosophy Blog Break Divorce Hawai'i Health Self-help Woman. Warrior. Writer.

BREAK: Waves and Board Art

Inessa, my board, and Me with a lotta sunblock. The Kid told me his friends said, hey, I think I saw your mom in the water. She wears a lot of sunblock and wipes out a lot. LOL.
Symbols inspire understanding of the bigger ideas created by a writer. One of the tasks assigned to students is to seek out the symbols in a book. I’m sure you did this in English class! How do symbols emphasize what’s happening? What is the writer saying through a symbol? Is that bird in a story really a bird? Or is it about the heroine yearning for freedom?

After my divorce I began to learn to surf. I live in Hawai’i and while it was a place I came for family visits, I never learned to surf. I’m still learning. There are certain aspects of understanding this process that have come to symbolize my journey.

As a beginner, one of my challenges revolves around catching a green wave. It looks intimidating given that up close, it’s an unbroken wall of water, yet if you can get over its appearance, it can offer a smooth ride. There are different sizes of green waves, but they share that they have not been broken. In contrast, white water or foam is more approachable, but its turbulence can make for a rough unstable ride. The foam looks easier for it’s a wave that has broken, a bit tried and true, or at least less scary, but in the end, it’s choppy and can be hard to ride. Still, there’s that element of fear, to try what has never been tried.

When a friend told me the green wave is easier, I thought of how we are often afraid of what is new and untried, and our timidity and sense of caution urges us to the white water because it seems safer, already broken, only to find ourselves tossed upside down in the water by the chaos simply because we feared trying something new.

I ride a lot of white foam. But I’ve started to try to catch green waves. I want to try to catch what hasn’t been broken. They don’t have to be big ones, but I know that allow myself to go beyond what is familiar is how I learn.

Divorce is going for the green wave.

I met Inessa Love right before my divorce process began. She too had divorced and had a teenager and it was reassuring to me to see another woman who had undergone this journey and who had thrived and made an incredible powerful new life. We first hiked together and now we surf and catch some yoga classes. I always admire how Inessa engages with life.

As a young woman she immigrated from the Ukraine and truly manifested an incredible life. In addition to being a top economist and professor who hikes and surfs, she paints and gardens, writes poetry and plays pickleball, does acroyoga (that’s right, that upside down turnaround yoga stuff!), teaches tai-chi, and now, she paints surfboards!

Check out  @aumakua_board_art on IG. I asked her to paint a wave on my board. I love it! I can even wax the board so it curves along the paint of the wave. Sometimes I look down at my board when I’m out in the water and it makes me happy to see it. I think of waves and the Pacific as where I have come to understand the privilege of what it means to be alive and a part of the natural world.

Lucky Come Hawai’i.

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Break Divorce Health Self-help

BREAK: Choosing a Therapist

A therapist can be an important person in your life during divorce. I’m not going to discuss why one refuses therapy. Frankly, I can’t get into that. You have to do what works for you. Therapy helped me through divorce.

While I started therapy with one person at the beginning of my divorce after 1-2 meetings, I felt a little uncomfortable, plus I was moving. I decided to search around for a new one.

I had a solid therapist who really helped me transition through divorce. Here are my suggestions and ideas:

  1. Google and do some research about the practitioners in your area. Ask for recommendations from friends.
  2. Note that psychiatrists can prescribe meds, but psychologists and counselors do not.
  3. Do you think that this person can help you as you are moving through your divorce? Remember that there are different steps. A person who is there smack in the middle of your crisis can be great for that time period, and may not work post-divorce. We turn to different people at different points. Understand and think about what you need.
  4. What is the background of the therapist—area of expertise? Perhaps the therapist is an expert in adolescent behavior or addiction, couples therapy? You have to get a handle on this.
  5. Area of knowledge/framework: Personally, I avoid Freudians. Freud was an interesting philosopher and a cocaine addict with dubious ideas about women. If you say you are a Freudian practitioner, I am going to run the hell away. Call me a downer, but yeah, my feeling is that Freud probably made a helluva lot of women feel bad about themselves. I vote for Gestalt or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) — the latter, in particular, deals in the here and now. But most practitioners do know and understand different modalities. For me, I wanted to just get through the divorce. Yes, I delved into early childhood, but in the trenches of divorce I had no bandwidth to rewind as the divorce itself was grueling week after week. I didn’t get into a huge amount of my past until later. Now, I’m ready to work with a different sort of therapist. So again, you have to figure out what you need.
  6. Do you feel comfortable talking to this person? Age, background, gender, ethnicity, political leanings? You will be meeting this person at least once a week or so, how do you feel about this person?
  7. Therapy is about emotional work and understanding people’s position in society and within the context of a certain type of patriarchal culture. I have personally never worked with a male therapist, but then again, I have seen a male gynecologist exactly once. In the past, I have also prioritized therapists who understand my position as a woman of color. I’ve had black, Asian-Chinese and Korean descent, and white women therapists. Before you run to a therapist, do some reflection about what you think you will need during this time period of the divorce process. Some people feel more comfortable working with people who are completely unlike who they are. Others not. It all is down to knowing who you need to be on your team. A therapist is on your team.
  8. If you don’t want to see a therapist or are unable to do so, make sure you can count on friends or family as you transition. Divorce is hard. We all need support!
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Belief and Philosophy Blog Break Divorce Health Self-help Woman. Warrior. Writer.

BREAK: Choosing Your Divorce Lawyer

A word to those embarking on their divorce journey: a key player on your divorce team is your lawyer. Divorce is the disruption of a business agreement. A break. It is not a time to say “Oh, I don’t really care. I feel too tired to make any decisions.” Think about it: No matter how tired you got of organizing your wedding, you were able to find the energy to figure out the logistics or style of your cake or dress. Muster the energy to get legal support. The only divorce that goes away is the completed one.

Get referrals to lawyers from friends. I interviewed a dozen lawyers both overseas and in the US. You need to be willing to give the facts. Be prepared to discuss the details and personal information. Divorce varies from state to state, nation to nation. Know some basics—google.

Your lawyer must be on your team. This is more important than any other quality or characteristic. Will the lawyer understand you more due to your gender? Ethnicity? Background? Frankly, that’s hard to say. The lawyer must understand your perspective. I had one lawyer (woman) tell me she didn’t like representing women as they were “too emotional”.

I didn’t hire her—and I would go so far as any woman would be absolutely bonkers to hire someone who is uttering such sexist statements. This woman is rooting for the patriarchy. I will bluntly state something here. You may be too (with or without knowing it), but get this women, if someone is rooting for the patriarchy, where does that leave you? In. The. Dust. Or if you prefer a metaphor from this image: smashing your head on a coral reef.

If you are in a precarious psychological state or are not versed in the financial or business implications of your split, you need to know your lawyer will look out for you. You must be able to speak truthfully to this person. If you get a bad vibe, if you can’t trust this person, do not ignore your instincts—find someone else.

One of the best pieces of advice I got from a friend was this: “Do not use your lawyer as a therapist.” Lawyers figure out your legal and financial interests. Therapists fix your emotional issues. Using your lawyer as a therapist is very costly.

Ask the following:

  • Experience with your type of case (be prepared to state in a few sentences what you have going on—kids, money, property etc…).
  • Retainer and hourly rates/estimate
  • Advice about mediation, collaborative, or standard divorce
  • Time framework and availability

Start writing your divorce story. How do you do this? You have to start changing your mind about who you are and who you were. Examine the Master Narratives that governed your life. Look at yourself with new eyes. Writing your story and sharing it with your lawyer will help move you forward, as well as center your thoughts and ideas as you head into the next chapter of your brave and beautiful life.

 

 

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Belief and Philosophy Blog Hawai'i Health Self-help

Hawai’i: Friendship

I spent the ages of 13-17 in boarding school at Phillips Academy Andover. I say now that the only time I wasn’t competing was when I was sleeping. Andover was about performance, excellence, and achievement within the very specific parameters of the East Coast establishment.

In retrospect my journey in life has been highly influenced by the relatively short amount of time I attended that school. I lost touch with almost everyone I knew from that time, and as the years passed came to wonder if I had imagined the friendships I had cultivated there.

In the end, I concluded that the majority of the ways that we were taught to behave were in fact oppositional to how one cultivates friendship and compassion, and the relationships were primarily utilitarian. Adolescence is a difficult time, never mind if you are thrown into an environment that focuses on your believed potential. I deeply appreciated learning the profound lessons of literary analysis, and yes, the testing of one’s abilities is part of growing up.

But true friendship is rarely made of this stuff. It’s about kindness, support, and tolerance. It’s about the joys and foibles of a human relationship. Compassion. Foibles. Joys. Forgiveness. Connection of the spirit and heart. I would like to say that I developed a host of friendships from Andover, but truly, I did not. I’d say I had hundreds of acquaintances, some very close, but could rarely be myself, although what teen is herself? That’s the nature of being a teen! Figuring it out! I will say that if a true friendship was developed and survived from that time, it is likely to be real. Like many private institutions for the elite, it functioned as a place of networking.

For years in my adult life I avoided anyone having to do with the school. I questioned if I had anything in common with them, politically, emotionally, or socially. It was designed to be an environment of handpicked children who were anointed by the Admissions Office Gods as young leaders in the making. After I left, I didn’t feel I was leading in anything. Where was I supposed to lead someone? Why me? Who is leading? Can’t I follow? I’m tired! Where are we heading? This leading stuff is very not mellow! she said…in cowardice? With anxiety? When I did bother to check in on what was going on with most of the people, I noted how many of them continued to compete, and behave in a manner I deeply questioned for reasons of ethics and kindness.

 

During COVID I reconnected with my old dormmate and friend Catherine Cotins. We had seen each other once over a decade ago when I was in Boston for a conference, having found each other again on social media. We had lost touch since high school graduation and had gone on our separate paths, navigating our way through school, children, illness, deaths, work, marriage, divorce, and the long river of life with everything that it throws your way.

A few months ago Cathy Cotins came to Hawai’i. We talked, hiked, laughed, and went out stand-up paddleboarding and got tired shoulders. I met her son and she met mine. She went to dinner with mom and dad after all that time. Her son was older than she was when she had last seen my parents. She had spent the summer after senior year with my family while we toiled in my dad’s lab injecting rats with diseases (more on that later…I know how to swiftly break a rat’s neck, but uh, haven’t used that dubious skill ever since. Any science interest either one of us remotely had was dead by the end of that summer!). We couldn’t stop talking and sharing. What was both meaningful, reassuring, and exciting about meeting up with each other was knowing that I did have a true friend who knew who I was so long ago, and here we are, decades later, and we still have this connection.

 

She gave me this little book I Like You by Sandol Stoddard Warburg, illustrated by Jacqueline Chwast about friendship and inscribed these words: “…I hope we can always stay friends. We’re so different so much the same, and good compliments to each other all at the same time. We may not do that much together, but when we do something, it’s always so much fun no matter how small…The world isn’t such a bad place with friends like you in it.”

Andover was hard on both of us, an experience we wanted to forget for our own individual reasons. I’m so glad we are friends again and know I will know her the rest of my life. This is a fantastic feeling.

Cathy texted me after she returned, both of us so happy to have reconnected and said this about seeing each other, especially in the context of that hard time during school and what it did: I feel less broken.

That’s what a good friendship does—it heals and opens you through connection. It changes the future and present as it changes the memories of a place and time. By reconnecting again, the ending changed, and in this way, everything else ripples back and forth and flows with a different sense of meaning. We get better through knowing and sharing with other people. We need people to cheer us on in life, to empathize and to be compassionate with us. This friendship makes me so very happy. She’s thousands of miles away, but there are few people in life who get who you are and to know someone does! What a great feeling! I feel honored to call Cathy my friend!

This is all to say that yes, get in touch with that person you once knew, because there is a good chance that what you will find out is that you did know each other, you were friends, and that can make all the difference as you journey on discovering who you are. Because the way that someone knows you, if the person really knows you, is probably important and a reminder of possibility and dreams. You are there for each other. Connect. Reconnect. Friendship.