Scared Straight

Maybe it’s time to turn from warring against drugs to helping people heal.

Hidden among the headlines about the Republican presidential campaign and Trayvon Martin are two seemingly dissimilar stories.

The federal government is midway through a $54 million campaign of graphically gruesome media ads aimed at scaring smokers into quitting. “We want to get 50,000 smokers to quit,” says Kathleen Sibelius, Secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
President Obama has met with heads of state from Central and South American countries that have been devastated by murderous drug cartels. Given our country’s inability to reduce its lust for illegal drugs, the President will likely now have to weigh Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia’s wish to discuss legalization as a solution against being seen as soft on drugs.

Since Prohibition didn’t work, perhaps we’ll soon see shots of cirrhotic livers on every booze bottle. Or, as obesity now equals smoking as a health risk, stapled stomachs will begin popping up on bags of potato chips.

When will we learn that declaring war on a substance can never do what’s essentially an inside job?

We are a nation of addicts. We want what we want when we want it–and we want it now. When that doesn’t happen, we are afraid, and reach for something to make us feel better.

And fear fuels addiction like gasoline on a grassfire.

I saw one of those shock ads at a friend’s home. Camille is a college professor, and has a rational person’s interest in maintaining her health—except that she smokes. We watched as a bald woman dying of throat cancer adjusted her wig at the end of the spot. “That was truly disgusting,” Camille said with a shiver, then reached for her pack and lit up.

The irony is that Camille is right on the cusp of quitting. We attend the same meditation sessions, and I know she is learning to befriend her emotions, using them as a barometer for what she needs to change about herself—not what “out there” to manipulate or control. She’s made the internal changes, but is finding it hard to take that final step.

Perhaps it would have been a better use of $54 million in tax dollars to enroll Camille and 49,999 others in cessation support groups than to fan the flames of addiction with fear.

No More New Years Resolutions

I have given up on New Year’s resolutions. The same ones keep popping back up year after year, and even when I achieve one, I am still often left feeling vaguely dissatisfied.

Self-reflection with an eye to improvement is an admirable aim, but there’s something subtly self-aggressive about serially making lists of semi-arbitrary goals and striving to wrest them into existence.

Isn’t there a way to ease into our aspirations, enlisting the support of the universe in bringing them to pass?

There is, I think.

Two years ago I was diagnosed with Stage III arthritis: the connective cushioning in my left knee was in shreds; I could no longer run, and even walking was painful at times.  It felt like being lobbed from a lifetime of agility and athleticism directly onto the slag heap of useless old age.

Following my mantra that there are natural alternatives to invasive procedures, I began a year-long yoga intensive, resolving to heal my knee.

A year later, I am an RYT (Registered Yoga Trainer) who is stronger and more flexible, more balanced mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Then (on my birthday, December 21) an X-ray showed that my knee had graduated, too– to Stage IV arthritis, bone grinding on bone. The doctor said that without joint replacement, I would face steadily sharper pain and eventual immobilization.

The Winter Solstice—the longest night of the year—was truly a dark night of the soul for me.  With the dawn, however, came a ringing reminder:  we can plan plans, but not results.  Disappointment dissipated as I realized I’d almost missed my miracle, since it had been disguised as a problem.

Showing up daily on my yoga mat did its job.  It has opened me to the present moment so that instead of wishing and working at becoming kinder, more energetic or more enlightened, I could just be that person on the inside right now—just for a moment—then let it go. Instead of striving to change myself, I could just be conscious in my own aliveness—without attaching some woe-is-me story to it.

My knee will need surgery, but there’s no rush. And there are newer, less-invasive, biologically-based joint replacements available nowadays—in different time and economic zones from my own at present.

But that could change. I’ve relaxed into a space in which all things are possible.

In the roominess of that space, I am no longer imprisoned at the center of my own universe. When I’m in pain, I am at one with everyone else who hurts. When I’m exulting in the strength and range-of-motion I continue to build on my mat, I share that aliveness with all sentient beings. I can connect with that energy on the spot—not in some fuzzy future. And by expanding my field of yearning to include all that is, I am building a bridge to better destinations—a mojo that multiplies the power of my wishes.