Category Archives: Guyana

Mind Over Medicine: Time to Renew My Prescription!

outside my wooden window. ©juliecomber.com
Beautiful Rupununi just outside my wooden window. ©juliecomber.com

I lay in bed crying, under my mosquito net, one infected knee so swollen and painful I could barely walk, my ear infections aching, small abscesses in my armpits and other places I won’t mention, my guts also feeling unmentionably icky, and covered in a dry irritated and irritating rash. Outside the closed wooden windows was sunlit savannah grass, red dirt trails, countless birds, and the nearby emerald rainforest. And my Rupununi friends. My tears were not due to the physical pain and discomfort, but my frustration of being sick, alone, inside, wondering when I would finally, really, live.

Today’s release of Dr. Lissa Rankin’s new book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself prompted me to revisit that dark time. Part of my intense frustration back then was I felt I “got it” about having the power to heal myself, and truly believed in my ability to heal. But I was still sick. Why?

It was October 2011, and I had hit rock bottom with my health. Again. Even in my beloved Guyana paradise. I was finishing up data collection for my PhD in beautiful North Rupununi communities full of beautiful Makushi Amerindian friends who were very concerned about my health. I had my laptop, and the generator happened to be on that day, and the slow satellite Internet was working. So one thing I could do in the dim indoor light was check my email. In sailed Lissa’s Newsletter. I had started following Lissa’s blog on OwnignPink.com because her posts about health really resonated with me. And then I got hooked on her “Inner Pilot Light” daily messages.

When I read the Newsletter about Lissa putting her one-on-one consults on sale, I managed to dig my credit card out of my packsack and paid up. I was an exhausted PhD Candidate out of funding, and not quite sure how I’d pay off my credit card purchase, and I didn’t care. My health was worth it. If I could have figured out on my own how to heal myself, I would have done it already. Time to get help.

I had my phone-consult once I was back in Canada and my doctor had some labwork done beforehand. It was lovely to talk with Lissa, healing vibes just emanated from the phone. I had filled out a very thorough and holistic patient intake form, and Lissa had gone through my labwork, too. It was possible that I had mild hypothyroidism, but more interesting to Lissa was this PhD thang, because it was clearly the source of much of my stress.

“Do you really have to finish your PhD, Julie?” She asked.

Wow. This was a difficult and very important question. Of course I had asked myself this very same question many times before, but there was something about Lissa asking that made me go deeper and be more attentive to my answer. I had lots of reasons why I felt I should keep at it. I felt a sense of duty towards the communities in the Rupununi that I had worked with. I was so close to finishing, how could I stop now? And I felt that the PhD would help me achieve my Dreams.

“OK,” said Lissa, “since you are determined to finish, what if you absolutely knew that for the next four or six or twelve months that it takes you to write this Thesis, you’d have these symptoms you described. And as soon as you finish, you will heal. Would you still want to work on it until you finish?”

“Yes!”

The rest of the consult focused on what to do so I would be able to finish my PhD and still be happy and healthy. The final step was for me to write my own Prescription – and act on it! So that was my introduction to The Prescription, which you can now read all about in Mind Over Medicine.

As a recovering scientist (my first MSc is in genetics; Yes, folks, I know how to wield a pipette), I appreciate Lissa’s careful and thorough review of the scientific literature on our ability to heal ourselves. As someone with chronic allergic and digestive illnesses that I knew in my bones, in my soul, could not be fixed with a pill, I appreciate her message that yes, oh yes, we can heal. From almost anything.

In the third part of Mind Over Medicine, you learn how to write your own Diagnosis by answering a series of questions. These are the same questions I filled out in my patient intake form for my one-on-one with Lissa. Then, you write your Prescription. While your Prescription may include following your doctor’s conventional medical prescriptions, it will likely include holistic changes that will bring about the relaxation response, which will allow your body to heal. A key thing is to have unshakable belief you can heal, just like Algonquin Elder Albert Dumont had when he healed his paralyzed arm (Albert is a poster boy for self-healing!).

I dug up my Prescription from January 2012, and had things like “take one day off a week for my music and writing”, “eat more veggies and diversify the kinds of veggies by juicing”… and “commit to getting my Thesis deposited by 31 August 2012.”

Ouch. Its May 2013, and guess what I am still working on?!

While it does not make me particularly happy to own up to the fact I have not kept some key commitments to myself, perhaps my story may be helpful for others to hear. I still have nagging illnesses and fatigue, and I will write more in a future post about my ongoing conversations with my immune system (AKA my Inner Warrior) and my work to re-program my subconscious mind.

For now, three tips to get the maximum benefit from Lissa’s fabulous book:

  1. Once you write your Prescription, act on it!!!
  2. Make sure your Prescription is written down and posted where you can see it.
  3. Be honest with yourself if it is not working for you. If you are still sick, did you really follow your Prescription? If you did, does it need to be revised?

The next best thing to a consult with Lissa is her book. Whether you’re sick and know you can heal, or are healthy and want to stay that way, Mind Over Medicine is the best medicine! An now, I have my own Prescription to renew…

fire danceKeep Shining Bright,
Julie.

 

You can get Mind Over Medicine online, and it was launched in bookstores on 7 May. To learn more about Dr. Lissa Rankin and her work, go to http://lissarankin.com.

Do you have stories about self-healing? What do you think about our power to heal ourselves? Please share your comments!

Flourish Youth Centre: First Investment!!!

I was supposed to be working on my Thesis. But when Lissa Rankin’s newsletter sailed into my Inbox, I couldn’t resist reading her post. The ever-inspiring Lissa’s uber-inspiring post was about what she was going to do with Chris Guillebeau’s surprise $100 investment in each of the participants at his World Domination Summit (this is Good Domination, folks, not Dark Side Domination). He asked everyone in the audience to invest the $100 he gave them in changing the World.

Lissa decided she would pay it forward and invited everyone reading her blog post to share how they would use the $100. So I patted my Thesis on the head and told her I’d be back later, and posted how the $100 could be used to help spark one of my Dreams: to found Flourish Youth Centre in Georgetown, Guyana, for disadvantaged children and youth.

The idea is a youth centre that would provide a loving, inspiring, and enriching environment for youth. It will be a drop-in centre to offer supplemental programming to existing homes and orphanages in Georgetown (such as Joshua House, where I have volunteered).

Kids (& a puppy) at Joshua House who could benefit from Flourish Youth Centre. Sept 2011

There are so many kids out there who just don’t get a good start to life. Maybe they are AIDS orphans. Maybe they are abused at home. Maybe they live in grinding poverty.  Whatever the case, if they have a safe, loving, stimulating environment to go to, that can go a long way to helping them flourish, to become everything they can be. I want to be part of a place like that, in partnership with local friends who believe, like me, that things can be even better in Guyana.

Part of the mission of Flourish would be to help children and youth connect with the more-than-human-world, so with animals and plants. There is little infrastructure in Guyana to take care of unwanted animals, and I do not know of any therapeutic use of animals there (for example, caring for horses, dogs, and so many other species has been found beneficial to traumatized children and youth). There are so many possibilities to create an enriching environment for young people; I see especially animals, permaculture gardens, and lots of music and arts.

I see Flourish Youth Centre as part of a network with other similar organizations, projects and centres. For example, I am inspired by Projeto Sol and Boikarabelo (featured in documentary, Angels in the Dust), and the rural residence of the Dogo Dogo Centre I visited in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.

Today, I was supposed to be working on my Thesis. But when Lissa Rankin’s newsletter sailed into my Inbox, I couldn’t resist reading her post. And discovered Flourish Youth Centre will get one of the $100 investments generously donated by Lissa’s readers!!!

I cried. This is the first investment in Flourish. One more beautiful step towards the Dream becoming Real.

To Lissa and the generous donors inspired by her post, thank you with all my heart and soul!

Keep Shining,

Julie

Working horses in Georgetown, Guyana, could also benefit from linking youth with the more-than-human-world through Flourish Youth Centre.

puppy rescue

I only find two of four puppies when I get home at 4:30pm. I need to get some work done, but the front yard is not puppy-proof in my opinion, so instead I start searching.  The mother, Sheba, finally leads me to one, well hidden in the underbrush of the front yard plants.  But still one missing.  I keep searching, and notice that there is a small opening in the drain/trench next to the wall, at the front right corner of the cement fence.  “Hope its not there,” I think, in what seemed like a dead end old sewage canal, covered with a 2 inch think slab of concrete along its length.  It seemed unlikely since the puppy would have had to get over a few obstacles.  But they were all getting around a lot, so it is possible.

Then I hear the cries.

I can just fit my hand and then my arm up to my elbow into the opening.  Although I really don’t want to put my hand in there, no telling what nasty stuff is down there besides the puppy! 

Its damp mud, snail shells, I can feel the wall on either side.  No telling quite how far into the puppy has crawled, but he sounds close to the entrance.   I can hear him, but can’t touch him.

Unless the puppy crawls back within reach, how else to get him out?  I figure a sledgehammer could make the opening bigger so I can reach further back.

I go rouse my landlord from the breezy balcony.  He can’t think of much else.  He calls the chairman of the Guyana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to animals, but getting anyone to help on a Sunday afternoon in Georgetown was unlikely.  He can’t think of anyone with a Sledgehammer.

So I bend a coat hanger to see if I could touch the puppy, maybe pull him out.  Manage to scratch my arm up, but not even sure if touched the puppy.  It makes me think its like I’m doing some back-alley abortion with a coat hanger in a mucky smelly womb.  But in this case, trying to save a life.

I don’t know why the puppy won’t come within grabbing range.  Frightened? Stuck?

The puppies’ eyes are still closed (one wek old), ears seem to be, too.  I figure the only way to attract him is by smell.  hoping the puppy can move, I milk the mother so my fingers will smell of her milk.   I wait, my arm wedged into the rough crevice, muck under my fingers, sweaty, neck at an impossible angle.  I get poor Sheba back to milk her more and get in on a rag to place near entrance, hoping the smell will attract the puppy.

My Landlady brings home an iron rod to try to break open the hole more.  She and I manage to knock off some chunks, but in the end it just makes the hole smoother and less likely to cut me.  There is a rod sticking out of the wall that I manage to bash my eyebrow into.  She tells me to take care of it, but I’d rather concentrate on the task at hand.  I draw a heart with my blood on a tree while she takes a turn bashing the concrete.

I keep going back and forth, trying with the coat hanger. And keep asking my landlords about a sledgehammer.

An hour and a half later, its 6pm and getting dark., so now mosquitoes and darkness to add to the discomfort.  I’m wedged in place again.  The puppy had not been crying for a while, I’m wondering about euthanasia options, but they seem even less likely than a rescue.  Text messages are coming from a fan, the whole situation seems surreal.  Or maybe I’m just lightheaded.

He starts yelping again.  I wonder why I have to notice these things.  Life would be easier if I didn’t notice things like missing puppies.  I know his cries will haunt me if I don’t save him.  Forehead against rough stone wall, I’m pretty close to tears.  Why notice suffering and distress if I can’t help?  I think of the Beaver Pond Forest, and other times I’ve fought for things and lost.   Will this be the same?

Back inside racking my brain, power goes out.  Finally, my landlord says the neighbors might have a sledgehammer.  They do.

We get it, in a few minutes, he has managed to make the hole much bigger.

I reach in…and touch the puppy!  Very wedged in, so could not have crawled back to the entrance.   I realize they can’t backup at this age, so they can crawl into trouble and not be able to back out of it.  The small furry legs are warm and limp, no sound. I wonder if the sledgehammering crushed him.

But then there’s movement and yelping.  And slowly slowly, I manage to pull him out, like a second birth for this pup, a breach birth out of a very different womb than the one he exited the first time.

Besides some stinky muck, the puppy appears to be fine. It takes a bit to convince Mom to nurse, which the pup desperately needs.

It took two frustrating, hot, sweaty, bloody hours.  But its great to see him and his siblings all nursing off Mom.

I guess its not so bad that I notice things.

the once and future mouse

There are times in life when you feel like you have utterly failed. Today there was terrible suffering and I failed to prevent it, failed to alleviate it quickly enough, and failed to do anything decent and respectful afterward. Taking a hard look at yourself and your world can come from anywhere, from a tragedy, from a beautiful experience, from a conversation. For me, the spark has often been: a mouse.

I started my PhD in the hopes of studying humane education. The broader way to think of humane education is it is intended to increase empathy and compassion towards all living beings. This view encourages us to see the inextricable links between social justice, animal welfare, and a healthy environment. But I knew the setting where I wanted to do my research and eventually, to live: Guyana, South America. But I have not found any humane education programs here, and over time I made connections to an inspiring environmental education program developed and maintained by indigenous Makushi people. And so by the time I came here on this reconnaissance visit in preparation for the eventual research, I had to put aside my dreams of learning what effective humane education looks like, and focus on understanding the forms of environmental education that already exist here.

But there is a tiny corpse in the left part of my peripheral vision that must hold me to not stray too far from my dream. Because it is clear that it is suffering that I want to reduce. Anyone’s suffering.

The more I live, the more baffled I am that human beings have been given such extraordinary power over other life forms on this planet. Once we toiled to obtain our food and shelter, which came from animals and plants. I don’t want to romanticize that past, but it did involve a deep understanding and respect for these other species, these other ways of being in this world. Now, upon a whim, to satisfy wants and not needs, millions of animals suffer in factory farms, and thousands of plant & animal species have become extinct due to habitat loss and the bushmeat trade.

So much suffering is so unnecessary.

There is the inescapable truth that every human, just like every other living being, needs a certain amount of resources to survive, and ideally, to thrive. Each of us takes up a certain amount of space, and we humans can choose both the quantity and quality of that space. When it comes to the physical resources needed to sustain us, each day is full of decisions: Will I buy fruit from a local farmer who takes good care of her land, or from some nameless agribusiness? Turn off the tap while I brush my teeth or leave the water running? Refuse to buy meat produced by factory farms, or buy the cheaper fast food? Buy that cheap plastic gadget from China that will be thrown out, or the locally made handiwork? Each of these choices may seem, individually, to be trivial, of no consequence. But collectively, our individual actions have created the world the way it is now.

Are you happy with the way the world is now? I’m not. There is so much suffering, so much inequality.

But the world is also a beautiful, marvelous, and inspiring place, and so I have hope. Hope that not only can much of the suffering today be ended, but hope also that all of us can live more, can thrive and flourish. In other words, I believe it is possible to reduce suffering AND increase joy.

So let me tell you about Today’s mouse. Georgetown, Guyana, 2010. I’d been in the backyard with my host as he fed the two dogs, which included a complex array of supplements, and picked pawpaws. I ate one of the pawpaws, then settled in at the kitchen table to do some work before dinner. When finally a tiny figure caught my eye. The mouse lay on her side, fur torn out in places, covered with a sheen of glue, and with a sickening feeling, I realized what those cardboard rectangles in the kitchen were: glue traps. This must be one of the most ghastly inventions, and one of the cruelest ways possible to kill an animal. Once caught in the glue, the mouse struggles to get free, losing fur, possibly ripping of skin too, until, terrified but exhausted, the mouse is still. Based on the number of droppings behind this mouse, I could tell she had been terrified and stuck there for some time. Time slowed, the only movement was her labored breathing, as I tried to figure out what to do, while simultaneously my cell was ringing. My host returned and I showed him. He was about to leave, and said he would deal with it later. “But the mouse is still alive. Its suffering.” I considered a cervical dislocation (neck-breaking), but would need a glove for my own safety and realized I may do a bad job since the mouse was stuck in the glue. “What do you suggest?” he asked. “Blunt trauma.” A nice way to say bash the little skull in. So my host got a shoe. 

When the cardboard rectangle was moved out in the open, the mouse began to struggle again, to try to escape. The first strike was mislaid, the glue making it difficult. So was the second. The third may have cracked the skull, but it was finally the fourth that was certain, and the convulsive kicks off the hind legs confirmed death. “His life is ebbing away,” commented my host, who seemed bemused though sympathetic to my obvious distress about the glue traps and the suffering and death of this particular mouse. I learned the glue traps have become popular here. What can I do? Why aren’t the more humane snap traps being used? And why haven’t ultrasound deterrent technologies been perfected as a humane way to keep mice and rats away?

The image is so terrible, let us take a break from it.

So now let me tell you about Yesterday’s mouse. Montreal, Canada, 2002. I was just about to move out of my downtown apartment to live with my then boyfriend in Ottawa. I woke up, drifted into the kitchen without my glasses on. I noticed a brown form in the water in the sink, and, squinting at it, realized it was a mouse. “That’s sad,” I thought, “a mouse drowned in my sink.” Then she moved, and I realized the tiny creature was still alive and had survived by clinging to a yogurt container lid. I awoke my boyfriend, we put tissue in a big ice cream tub, found a glove, and I offered my gloved hand to the little soaked creature. She climbed onto my hand, and I placed her gently into the container.

We had three choices: kill her, release her to be vermin in someone else’s apartment, or keep her.

We kept her.

I learned so much from her and the tame friend we got for her, and put my prejudices aside based on real experience with her, rather than on my assumptions.

Now back to Georgetown, where I try to write with Today’s bedraggled dead mouse in view. My host’s granddaughter begins to watch Ratatouille, and I am drawn into the story, a funny and clever account of a gifted rat who longs to be a chef. I wonder if it improves viewers attitudes towards rats? The film puts them in a positive light, and the message is important: not to write anyone off, and to have an open mind. And so that same old question again: why am I researching humane or environmental education when the arts are probably our best bet to promote humane treatment of animals? Why not write anti-glue trap songs and try to become a pop star? Is it possible that exposure to a few minutes or hours of art can do more than days and months of classes?

Then Ms. E comes back with a mission: to fry bakes tonight for breakfast tomorrow. Her method is a bit different from the way I was taught, and I enjoy learning from her. Then another bedraggled mouse appears, stumbling and confused, in the brightly lit kitchen. I steer this mouse towards a closed door to the outside, and she is able to escape. But I say to Ms. E that this mouse must be sick or injured, a mouse would never come out in the light like that, and she seemed to be limping and confused.

And this leads us to Tomorrow’s mouse: will it be Ratatouille or the poor little injured sick mouse slipping out the kitchen door? Will we use our human ingenuity to work on humane ways to control nuisance animals, or continue the cruel status quo? It’s our choice.

art vs. the guyanese maternal police

No matter how I try to get lots of work done, people, joy, and glitches get in the way.  On Tuesday, my determined efforts to finish a chunk of my thesis proposal met a formidable opponent: Karl Kulle.   The Iwokrama office closes at 5pm, so if I need to use wireless internet on my netbook in the evening, I go to Herdmanston Lodge, the delightful hotel run by my hosts’ daughter, Dee, and tuck myself away on a breezy veranda.  Dee offered me a ride home, but then got delayed.  Then as we were heading out, she introduced me to a guest, Karl, she had mentioned because of his interest in art, music, and Earth.  Over an hour later, we escaped the benevolent and fascinating vortex that is Karl and his Spanish traveling companions, and I was reprimanded by both Auntie Edna AND her sister when I finally got home because they had been worried about me.  It was like being 16 again and coming home after curfew.

The Guyanese Maternal Police cracked down again the next morning, when I was sent back to iron my capris because they looked “all crushy”.  A certain beloved Guyanese woman I lost this summer probably wouldn’t have let me out of the house looking like that, either.

spoiled in Georgetown

I’m so spoiled here in Georgetown. Things are slowly coming together for my plans to go into the field, everyone at the Iwokrama Office has been so helpful. There is now a capoeira group in Georgetown, so I got to train today at this lovely breezy spot and the guys have great axe (energy). Then I come home to a feast and a lecture on Guyanese lingo and mangoes!