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2018

A New Year.

2018

A time for new beginnings and resolutions.

A time for visions and grand plans for the year ahead.

With all our resolutions to exercise more, eat less, stop smoking, spend more time with family and friends and many other variations we sometimes forget to take a moment and be thankful for all that we already are and all that we already have. Instead of making resolutions we probably will never uphold it is useful to examine our current strengths, gifts and opportunities and celebrate these.

Rather than focus on those areas of our life that we think need fixing maybe we can focus on those areas that are already good. Be thankful for what we already have instead of always pushing for bigger and better.

Remember most importantly that we already have the gift of the earth and nature. The New Year, and the summer solstice, reminds us that we are part of a great cycle. The seasons pass. The old year makes way for a new one. We gradually get older and one day will die. The cycle of birth, growth and death is the cycle of the earth.

Sometimes the real magic in our lives lies hidden because we see the earth and her gifts as ordinary and everyday. Inner or spiritual work helps us to recognize the magic in the ordinary pleasures of the earth and stop searching for happiness in consumerism and gathering more stuff. In particular having just passed the summer solstice here in Australia it is time to start looking inward as the days begin to shorten again.

Inner work helps us to look at who we really are and whether we are living the life that we are meant to be living. Changing the externals through resolutions that we don’t follow is one way to avoid looking deeper. So at the start of 2018 I encourage you to take a look inside at your authentic self and its offerings; to take a look at the earth and her abundant gifts and to start living a life that does justice to both.

Travels in Peru 2

Travels in Peru 2

We arrived in Iquitos in the evening and the heat and humidity hit us like a wet blanket. The streets were clogged with motorbikes and three wheeled moto-taxis celebrating Peru’s entry into the world cup. Everyone was tooting and cheering and it was almost impossible to cross the street. Iquitos is the largest city in the world not accessible by road and with all the young people celebrating it struck me as a real frontier town. Of course it is the gateway to the Peruvian Amazon and that was where we were headed.

The next day we caught a motorboat 140 km upstream to a lodge deep in the jungle. After a quick lunch we travelled further into the jungle and began a two-hour hike to look for monkeys. It was hot and steamy and even without walking the sweat dripped from our faces. The jungle was thick with mosquitoes and other insects and seemed foreign and inhospitable. Tales of anacondas, jaguars, tarantulas and piranhas combined with the heat to make us feel like we were in another world. We come from a different place, a major city in a developed country with all the amenities. Here we were plunged into a jungle that seemed potentially full of things that could harm us and it felt very strange.

I had to wonder – is the world a friendly place or one to be feared?

Being used to a large city I am used to feeling relatively safe from the natural world. When I go bush I am aware of snakes and biting insects but because I have been brought up with these the Australian bush mostly feels like home. And the big cities hold very few fears. But the amazon jungle felt so foreign that I wondered how I would survive if I had to live there. The heat and humidity I might get used to but the unknown of the jungle and the animals and plants that inhabit such a place made me really question whether this particular world was friendly or not. As we hiked through the forest I felt like we were walking in circles and had no idea of how to get back to our boat.

We visited a local village and discovered that the houses were all built on stilts because for some months of the year the whole place was flooded. People used boats to get around. I wondered how little children were kept safe from the water. We saw young boys cutting the grass with large machetes and I thought of all the possible machete injuries. Everything seemed more dangerous than the world I knew yet these people lived within the forest and depended upon it for their survival.

More walks into the jungle revealed details of which plants were used for which ailments or which trees were used to build houses or boats. The hot humid conditions were ideal for growing food. The rivers and streams meant plenty of water and fish, easy transport and play for children and adults. We boated on the river at night and walked into the jungle. Fireflies lit our way and the stars were brilliant in the darkness of the jungle. Tarantulas proved hard to find and not at all aggressive. We fished for piranhas and discovered they aren’t as terrifying as in the movies. Over just a few days the seemingly dangerous and inhospitable jungle proved to be friendlier than I had imagined. Sometimes our fears are just about the unknown rather than based on reality.

#Peru, #Amazon, #wilderness

 

 

Travels in Peru 1

Travels in Peru 1

We’ve just got back from four weeks in Peru and I thought I’d share some of the experiences. The highlight was the trek along the Salkantay route to Machu Picchu, which take five days and is hard walking; steep and at altitude. The mountains are, like all wild places, very special. Our guide told us that the local people considered the mountains to be gods, resting in the earth with their hair flowing down to the valleys. Many of them looked like gentle gods but Salkantay was snow-covered and steep, towering over the pass like a protector.

The walk up to Salkantay pass was steep and at 4600 metres was at considerable altitude. I took a horse up to the pass, as I didn’t want to hold back the rest of my group. The horses were stocky little ponies urged on by their owner from the rear. We had a rope to hold onto but no reins and we were perched on an uncomfortable saddle. The track was steep and wound up the valley for seven kilometres and over the pass. The horses liked to take the outside path close to the steep drop off and without reins I felt helpless to steer them to a safer inside course. Packhorses would pass every twenty minutes pushing their way forward. We passed walkers struggling for breath in the altitude, hugging themselves to the side of the mountain.

My fear of heights was overshadowed by my wonder at being in the Andes in Peru on a horse climbing up to a mountain pass. I had to just trust that the horse would take a safe path and give up my need to control. On reaching the pass we were rewarded with fantastic views of Mount Salkantay and surrounding mountains. We built a stone cairn to honour the mountain gods and the earth and drank coca tea to help with the altitude.

The trek continued for another few days towards Machu Picchu. Each day we were surrounded by mountains and wilderness and each day brought new challenges. The altitude remained a big challenge but my sore feet and aching legs reminded me that I am no longer as young as I once was.

Machu Picchu

IMG_2881Photos of Machu Picchu capture some of the wonder of the place but don’t do justice to the location. Machu Picchu is not just a unique archaeological treasure but it is located in a very special place. This ancient site is perched on a ridge between two mountains and is surrounded on all sides by more peaks, rising out of the jungle. On one side of the site is one special peak that stands by itself, looking just like a kneeling god with flowing hair.

IMG_2935

In the ruins I tried to connect with the spiritual nature of Machu Picchu but the crowds of people swarming around sitting on the walls and taking selfies made it impossible. It was only when I found a quiet spot with a view of the surrounding mountains that I could connect with the spirit of the place. Machu Picchu is a celebration of the natural world. The ruins themselves speak to the unusual advances in engineering of the Incan civilisation but for me the real achievement was in building in a location that pays tribute to the natural world that surrounds it.

Machu Picchu was never completed and it was only occupied for 100 years or so. There is still some debate about what it represents and why the Incan peoplebuilt it, as they had no written records. Unlike most other Incan sites, the invading Spanish never discovered it, so it remains relatively intact. Whatever the reason it was built and never destroyed by the Spanish I like to think it was left for us to show us how civilisation can be in harmony with the natural world. Here is a place high in the Andes, built out of local granite and a part of the mountains, which pays homage to the earth and her spirits. If we are to learn from ancient civilisations we need to understand how they lived in harmony with the earth and her cycles and how they worshipped the connection with the spirit of the land.

#Peru, #MachuPicchu, #Salkantaytrek, #wilderness, #trekking

 

The trouble with conventional medicine

I began this blog because I was disillusioned with conventional general practice and medicine in Australia. This disillusionment was part of the reason I recently retired but is it all the fault of general practice or a more global problem of contemporary life?

After all conventional medicine saves many lives and has made great advances in the last few decades. If you have a heart attack or a stroke or serious bacterial infection, medicine can, in many cases, save your life. For many cancers now the treatments can prolong life and sometimes cure. So what do I have to complain about?

I have been a GP for over thirty years and in that time I’ve seen many changes in medical therapies yet chronic diseases continue to have a major impact on many peoples lives and mental illness seems to be at epidemic levels. Obesity, diabetes, depression, anxiety, hypertension and other chronic illness all seem to be increasing at alarming rates.

Why are we getting sicker?

Why is medicine failing to make us healthier?

Of course there are many reasons for this but the primary one is that medicine generally looks for the quick fix to treat our illnesses. Give the patient a pill or a combination of pills and that will fix things. Cut out the offending part or bombard the body with toxic drugs. Of course these treatments often work in the short term but for mental health issues and other chronic diseases they rarely make a long lasting difference. What makes us sick is often our lifestyle yet medicine has failed to address most of our lifestyle issues.

Some of these issues are related to social concerns that doctors feel powerless to address. Problems of loneliness, isolation, lack of community and too little contact with the natural world are difficult to solve. Together with poor diet, busy stressful lives and lack of activity these issues shape our health in dramatic ways. Yet many patients aren’t willing to look at these issues preferring instead the quick fix of a medication. And many doctors go along with this because there is so little time to address the core issues of why so many of us are sick.

The most significant problem is that we have not yet adapted to modern life, which leads most of us to be under chronic stress. Our diets are nutrient poor and we just don’t do enough physical activity or sleep enough. Many of us work in jobs we dislike for enough money to maintain our over consuming lifestyles. We eat too much, we do too much and we have forgotten about the importance of good relationships and community ties. We also have forgotten about our connection to the natural world and about finding joy in our lives.

So why is medicine meant to address these greater issues?

I believe that doctors should be interested in changes that lead to better health and medicating patients rarely leads to permanent change. It just greases the wheels of a huge pharmaceutical industry. Doctors need to name the problem and in many cases the problem is our addiction to our modern lifestyles. It is our contemporary lifestyles that are leading to much of our disease. There are no quick fixes but changing our lives can lead to much better health outcomes and much happier patients.

Of course people don’t need doctors to make their lives better and healthier. Everyone can make changes to their lives that will improve their health and I will write about these in a future blog. But changing medicine to help people address these issues is important. Naturopaths, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, chiropractors and other complementary practitioners do not fail to address lifestyle issues with patients yet GPs and specialists too often just pay lip service to changing lifestyles while medicating the problem. A colleague of mine has started a clinic to help people try to cure their Type 2 Diabetes. Another clinic I have worked in has long appointments and tries to address the patient’s health holistically. Yet these are the outliers; most GPs spend 10-15 minutes with a patient and this time pressure leads to many of the problems.

The issue of course is how do we change a system that is so entrenched? I think we need to try a multi pronged approach.

First, patients need to educate themselves about lifestyle issues and their importance in treating disease. They need to demand this knowledge from their doctors.

Second, patients need to stop expecting quick fixes for chronic problems; people need to take responsibility for their health and make appropriate changes.

Third, the Medicare billing system needs to change so that there is not a financial disincentive to spend more time with patients. The Royal Australian College of GPs (RACGP) could spend more of their time and energy lobbying for these changes.

Fourth, the influence of pharmaceutical companies over doctors needs to be identified and discussed by the community and the media. Further regulatory changes need to be made to counteract the influence wielded by these goliaths.

Fifth, medical education needs to focus more on the importance of lifestyle issues. Nutrition and preventative strategies needs more emphasis in both under and postgraduate medical education.

Finally we all need to examine our own lifestyle choices and acknowledge their dramatic impact on our health and wellbeing.

 

 

#medicine, #general practice, #medication, #lifestyle

Listening to the calling of our heart

Listening to the calling of our heart.

Our hearts are always calling to us. They try to get us to pay attention to longings that we often bury beneath our everyday existence. We bury such longings and ignore the callings because to listen would be to go against all we have learnt about fitting into society. For society does not pay heed to the callings of the heart. Society pays heed to the callings of the ego and the mind; to mortgages and secure jobs, to school work and university degrees; to being a good child, a good spouse, a good parent.

I listened to an interview with John Mayer the other day and he spoke about knowing that he was a musician and writer from a young age and following that calling knowing it was what he was here to do. Sometimes I wish I’d had that clarity of calling at a young age. But for most of us life gets in the way and our hearts get burdened with expectations. We expect we will follow a certain path only to find that it is not what we thought; that we do not arrive at a place where our hearts are filled with joy, love and abundance. We glimpse such places along our path – maybe when we fall in love, or have a child or begin a job that we love. Yet somehow we can’t hold onto that place within us that is trying to show us how to live.

The heart callings have a strange pull on us and sometimes if we pay attention that pull will be an irresistible force that draws us towards our life’s work. The calling changes over time but some impulses are always with us urging us to leave secure jobs and do things that society may frown upon.

Your heart may be calling you to fall in love with someone, or change your job, or have a baby, or buy a puppy. It may be calling you to stop the busyness of your life and spend time listening to its longings. Sometimes we are so busy that we don’t pay the heart and its desires any attention. Maybe it is because we don’t want to hear what the heart has to say about our current life? Or maybe it is just that we have forgotten how to live in touch with our heart centre but rather pay all our attention to the ego mind.

The ego does not want us to listen to our heart simply because to do so might put us against society’s expectations. But even the ego may fall in line eventually. When that part of us sees that the way of the heart leads to joy and fulfillment and wealth of a type not measured by money. We may struggle with listening to the calling of our heart but once we cease the struggle we can just accept that what we need is to pay our heart more attention. Maybe then we can accept that to follow our heart’s desires is not selfish but the way we can be of greatest service to the world.

Endings

About ten days ago I retired from conventional general practice. It has been a long time coming but finally I had made the decision to pursue other interests. I am still doing some work in youth mental health at headspace but my focus will be on writing.

Writing is something I feel drawn towards in a way I once felt drawn towards medicine. Being a doctor is an absolute privilege and I have learnt so much from my interactions with all my patients. I have learnt all about holistic medicine from listening to people talk about their lives, their illnesses and the myriad ways in which healing occurs.

I would like to thank all the patients and staff who have supported me over the years and with whom I have forged relationships. Many patients have shared their inner most secrets with me and I feel fortunate to have been able to listen to them and hopefully help them towards their own healing. Healing is after all a natural process and as doctors much of what we do is try to provide the right conditions for the body to heal itself. Unfortunately conventional medicine is not so good at helping soul and spirit heal. Nor is it good at nurturing the patient’s connection with their soul and spirit.

While I hope I have helped some patients gain a better understanding of the importance of listening to their inner self, conventional general practice does not encourage this type of therapy. So I am glad to be leaving the system and striking out in a new direction.

I hope to continue to do one on one work in mental health but I don’t plan to return to general practice. I will allow life to unfold and see where my clinical work takes me. For now I feel called to spend much more time writing about healing and transformation and mental health issues. So this is a thank you to all those patients who have shared their lives with me over the years. It has been a privilege to be given your trust and to be a part of your journey.

 

Snow

Snow.

Outside the window a blanket of white covers everything and there is more of the white stuff falling from the sky. The wind is blowing the snow sideways and it looks a little bleak to be going out to ski. Looking through frosty glass from the inside it is a wonderland of white and grey.

We will venture out though because the trails beckon. New snow underfoot and our cross country skis will make fresh tracks as we climb out of the village to the newly groomed trails. There’s nothing like fresh snow for peace and quiet on the trail. The steady motion of the skis in the tracks and the mind settles as if in meditation. Each stride a glide on soft snow. Each breath a mist of warm air hitting cold. When the wind dies down the silence of falling snow is a wonder. Every flake an individual, together they float to the ground in little flurries.

The cold is invigorating but only the face is exposed. Cold lips and nose but the rest of the body is enveloped in wet weather gear; warm and snug in a cocoon. The gentle stride and glide becomes more of an effort as the hill looms large. Shorter steps, less glide, more energy. The breath becomes labored, the lungs and heart increase their work and muscles begin to burn. And at the top there is a rest as the skis glide effortlessly down the other side, following the tracks that have been made. If I have the courage I stay in the tracks and pick up speed. If I’m feeling some trepidation about the steeper gradient I step out of the tracks and snowplough down the hill; these skis aren’t made to turn easily.

There are large holes in the snow at the bottom of the hill where braver souls have let their skis run free; only to find themselves out of control. But this snow is deep, soft and forgiving and falling is a time of surprise and laughter. The snow welcomes the faller with a cushion of air and cold taking the breath from the lungs with the shock of impact.

The snow begins to fall more heavily and it’s hard to see as it clouds the glasses. Each step and glide becomes a moment of trust that the skis will follow the track. Out onto the snow plain and the wind picks up and the snow flurries bite into the exposed skin. Head down, into the wind and keep going, one step at a time until we reach the shelter of the snow gums now covered in white and bending with the weight. And on we go following the track, feeling the snow on our face, listening to the silence in the trees or the wind on the snow plains. Each hill a test of endurance as we climb up and a test of balance as we ski down.

There is so much joy in simply gliding through fresh snow. For some it is the exercise, for others a meditative calm and connection with nature, for me it is the wonder of the white stuff that gives and slides beneath my skis. Snow is yet another of earth’s miracles.

Changing work

Changing work.

I have been a GP for over thirty years and for much of that time I have struggled with whether or not to change and do something else. I have enjoyed some of the work yet always in the back of my mind been a little unsatisfied. I have changed jobs many times trying to find the perfect GP job and stopped work for a year once to write. But each time I change jobs I find myself back in the same place I had left. Doing work that doesn’t quite fit with who I really am.

Finally I have decided to retire from conventional general practice work and will be leaving San Remo at the end of July.

This decision has not been made easily but I finally realised that I couldn’t keep working in a system that does not support the provision of holistic health care within the GP framework. In Australia our health system is time poor and drug rich; it caters for a quick fix when there are very few quick fixes that actually work to make us healthier.

I have struggled to practice holistic medicine within the GP system and I have therefore decided to give up on that particular struggle. I am sad to leave the patients who have supported me but I feel that I should follow my heart for a change. For too long I have followed my head and justified staying in general practice through logical reasoning. In a way I am moving into my own holistic wellness by shedding a job that stops me from being truly myself.

I’m taking a bit of a leap because I can’t afford to stop working completely yet I also can’t afford to keep doing a job that doesn’t fit with my passions and interests. It is a little soul destroying to do work that is not in line with who I really am.

So where to now? I’m going to continue part time at Headspace doing some youth mental health work as their model is much more holistic than the conventional GP system. I’m going to do more writing which is my biggest passion. And I’m going to allow life to unfold. Just like I write about in my book I’m going to trust the process of life and let go of the outcome and see where life takes me. I’ve tried to control the process around work for so long that I became stuck in a system that I didn’t agree with. It’s time for yet another change and I’m excited to see where life takes me now.

 

Cradle Mountain, Tasmania

Cradle Mountain, Tasmania.

Walking up a mountain in fog and drizzle is sometimes just a process of putting one foot in front of the other. The body moves in a certain rhythm and the mind tends to become more meditative. Wreathed in protective gear with water constantly trickling down my face I begin to feel like I’m in another world; an otherworldly place. Reaching the top of each hill doesn’t seem such an achievement when all I can see is fog. I could be anywhere. We start down again but I only know it’s down because different muscles are hurting.

The mystical properties of Cradle Mountain in Tasmania reveal themselves in varied ways. Fog makes most things invisible but there is a sense of being enveloped by nature. Cocooned in the mist, cocooned in wet weather gear, trusting that the path will take you where you want to go. I notice I am paying more attention to the small things. The wet leaves, the occasional flower, the water running along the path – all draw my attention away from the mist that envelops us. I stop wondering what is beyond the fog and start to enjoy the peacefulness of walking.

The next day the weather clears and I see where I have been and I am a little stunned. The fog had shrouded not only the visual beauty of the place but also the dangers – the steep inclines and cliffs, the scree and boulder fields. Places I had trudged the previous day with my head down now demand my focused attention. With the fog cleared away the mountains and lakes are revealed and the bigger picture of where I had walked clicks into awareness. There are trees of different shades and types, cliffs reflected in the mirrors of lakes and clouds now far overhead. I feel like I had visited a different place the previous day.

The moods of wild places are part of their mystical charm. The weather can change in an instant and suddenly the blue skies turn grey and snow begins to fall. We have no control over the weather but when we live in cities and towns we think we are insulated from the wildness of nature. When we venture out to the wilderness we rediscover our lack of control over the elements. We are like a small speck in a foreign landscape. Yet it has not always been so. Once we lived with the land instead of simply on her. Once we knew her moods and respected her changes. Once we lived as part of the whole rather than as individuals. We looked after the earth because we knew we needed her to look after us.

Sometimes we need to go back to nature to remind ourselves who we really are. We are not just individuals but part of a much larger system and we want to feel connected to the larger system. When we feel our feet rooted to the muddy path we know that we belong to the earth. The mystical properties of the wilderness lift our spirits as we climb mountains and marvel at the beauty but they also help sink our roots into the ground. Wild places help us connect our spirit to the earth. And we need to find that connection now more than ever.

Transformation 5 – Allowing

Transformation 5 – Allowing.

I have spent the last year writing a book about transformation and this week I discovered that everything I had been doing in order to transform was related to the physical aspects. I thought if I transformed my physical environment and my physical body and mind that I would be on the path to greater transformation of the spiritual kind. I tried to incorporate spiritual practices into my life and believed that by doing these practices I would be able to transform myself into someone who was more authentic and more aligned with their spiritual inner self.

This week I discovered I had been approaching the whole thing from the wrong direction. So I deleted most of the book I had written and began again. I have learnt much in the past year but not what I planned. I started out with so much purpose and direction; I planned out the book and assigned chapter headings and tried to make the transformation something logical and rational and physical. Yet what I intended was to become more authentic and more aligned with spirit; to have my inner self manifest physically. My planning and logical thinking got in the way again. I allowed myself to try to control the process instead of allowing the process to unfold.

I discovered that I need to be more allowing of the natural process of life. It cannot be forced. Of course we can try to force it, we can plan and plan but what that generally brings us is more of the same. My more of the same is more dissatisfaction with conventional medicine and my general practice work. I have gone in circles with this and each time I planned a change that might make a difference and each time I came full circle back to the same place.

Now I know that my path is to find a more joyful existence where I can live my passions and help people. I’m not sure what that exactly entails and that’s where I’ve got stuck before. Trying to plan my way out, using my brain to find alternatives. Never succeeding, rather I only find more of the same. Now I see that to transform my life and myself I need to allow it to happen. This means not forcing, not searching, not grasping at alternatives. It means allowing life to unfold in its own way. It means paying attention to signs and synchronicities that show me the path to take to my future. This allowing means making peace with the present and finding joy in the life I have now but knowing that change is coming. I can feel it.

The temptation is to plan and force and work out where the path will lead me so that I know how to get there by dint of will and logic. That is the way we have learnt, the way of control. Allowing is the opposite of control. It is giving up control to a higher force that lives inside us all. This force connects us all and unless we pay attention we might miss the signposts that show the way. The signs are always there but I sometimes fail to pay them enough attention.

Why is it that for years I have been dissatisfied with my work? It’s a sign that I should be doing something different. I always knew this yet I resisted the knowing. What else can I do? How can I make a living? What if I fail? I let the negative control my life. I still feel like most of my path has been on course; that I have needed to learn certain things through my work in conventional medicine. But now I know that I need to be doing something else. I just don’t know what it is yet. I need to allow that to unfold and that’s my new plan. Allow life to unfold.