Saturday, August 28, 2010

OMENS: NOT JUST FOR THE GREEKS



Readers posted a couple of enlightening comments in response to this blog’s “OMENS” entry a few days ago.

Omens inhabit a dimension outside our usual consciousness, but nevertheless seem constantly to beg notice. Anxious to remain undisturbed by these existential tickles, we tend to admit them reluctantly or not at all. Yet they can be obstinate. When they need to, they knock with 2x4 force.

I’ve been socked with enough 2x4s, thank you. After some recent ones, I’ve asked myself if things might possibly go more gently, if my next awakening could occur earlier, say, with the brush of a feather. That would mean getting more sensitive to the signs that continually surround me. 

When we think about omens, we commonly recall the Greek epics, The Odyssey, perhaps, or The Iliad. The ancients’ world was far different from ours. Their gods were quite real—not only omnipotent but omnipresent. Where we consider much of our universe random, theirs was composed entirely of meaning.

What if they were right? We don’t need to worship Zeus. We can do it our style by considering that maybe we’re not just single souls confined to our own skin, but minuscule entities in and of the universe. A teacher made this point for me once by holding up her hand. 

“What do you see?” she asked.

“A hand.”

“That’s all?”

“Well, okay, an arm.”

“And…?”

Her point was that we were seeing her hand by seeing what was around it, meaning everything, period. In fact, one can’t see the hand separate from the environment that delineates it. She was trying to express the idea that we’re in lifelong dialog with the rest of the universe. Big thought, but nothing that genuine homo sapiens can’t handle. Intelligent navigation, then, means considering the fluctuations outside us along with our personal desires. In psychology that’s called “reality testing,” and it’s a necessary aspect of mental health.

In various postings here, I’ve tried to explain my notion that we don’t promote our health just by dosing ourselves with mammograms, colonoscopies and vitamin C, but by living well. Do we really need the growing body of research, the scientific confirmation, that proves the health benefits of friendship, exercise, purpose, decent diet, and avoidance of toxins, or was that self-evident all along? 

We in this culture can be so intent on busyness for its own sake that it separates from purpose. A friend from India told me, “You Westerners have a good deal of know-how but very little know-why.” One of the curious silver linings of a life-threatening diagnosis is that in certifying our now undeniable mortality, it offers us the opportunity to question how much of our behavior doesn’t express whom we truly are.

I’m fascinated by the people recently diagnosed with cancer, for example, who light up to the meaning they suddenly see all around them, all the time. One reason I do the work I do is for that skill to rub off on me.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

OMENS



It’s been a few weeks since I posted here.

Real life got in the way. The webpage to which I’d moved this blog proved useless. Then my internet connection inexplicably frayed. Then my computer crashed. Of course, I could have picked up a pencil, but at that point I was afraid it would fall apart in my hand. Then I lost my wallet.

Do you believe in omens? I see the world as a Rorschach test, an inkblot onto which we project our own thoughts and feelings. One way I learn what’s going on inside me is to look outside. This disappearance of my work and interests and even my ID cards, then, got my attention. I looked up at the moonless night sky and said, “I get it. I’m not supposed to do much now.”

So I’ve been taking it easy, gardening and hanging out with my family. My wallet turned up, and everything gradually got repaired. Now I’m starting up again. I suspect, from previous experiences, that my perspective will be slightly different, and might surprise me. 

That’s the way I operate, and I was sure most other people did, too, till I ran into my friend Tom. He’s a brilliant retired computer specialist who still does a little consulting. He told me he suddenly lost all his contracts, so he spends his time now zipping resum├ęs all over the country. He was wild-eyed and almost shaking, he was so anxious to get back to work.

I asked him, “Do you have any fantasy about why this happened?”

He gave me a look. “Just happened. What do you mean?”

“Sounds like you got hit with a two-by-four. When that happens to me, it makes me consider changes. I mean, have you just stopped for awhile to take it all in? Are you exclusively intent on getting back to your life as it was, or are you wondering about new possibilities?”

He gave me the look again. “Stuff just happens. Like you think what happened to me was meaningful?”

“Only if you do.”

“Hey, I gotta go do a bunch of xeroxing. See you later.”

So tell me: am I weird, or do others scan the universe for navigational tools, too?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

RISK FACTOR OR HEALTH REQUIREMENT?

I moved this blog a week ago, but unfortunately it hasn't worked out there, so here I am, back again with you. Please pass this news to your friends...

And I hope you have a lot of good friends, since a few days ago, the NY Times Well Blog (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/28/a-new-risk-factor-your-social-life/) related a study that found that people with strong ties to others have a fifty percent lower risk of dying over a given period of time.
 
Strangely, the piece was entitled “A New Risk Factor: Your Social Life.”
 
New risk factor? Well, the researchers did conclude that having few friends or weak community ties is as harmful to health as being an alcoholic or smoking nearly a pack of cigarettes a day, and twice as risky as being obese. But that view is through the lens of pathology, what can go wrong. The same findings could have been labeled “Finally: Real Preventive Medicine.”


It’s odd that we think of “preventive medicine” in terms of disease. There’s nothing wrong with getting periodic mammograms, colonoscopies, PSA and cholesterol monitoring and the like, but that's not preventive medicine, only early diagnosis. This study, expressed more positively, establishes that we’re less likely to get sick if we lead a full life, which includes broad and deep relationships.

I’d be surprised if that hadn’t already occurred to most of us. Do we really need studies to tell us how to live? I remember asking a friend (from the generation even older than mine) how she was. She answered, "I don't know; I don't see my doctor till next Tuesday."

One factor in longevity has to be enjoyment, having such a good time that we simply want to hang around longer. And now, finally, here’s the scientific evidence some of us require that will back that up.