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Caught Pants Down

March 4th, 2019

A dear friend is the Board Chairman of a foundation that provides free dental care to the homeless and underserved, asked me if I’d deliver the invocation to open their Annual Meeting. It’s no big deal he said, just three minutes, but it is at 8 AM. I tried to get out of it by saying, it’s much too early for me, I don’t speak until an hour after I’m up, yada, yada, yada, but the real reason was that I could feel my breathing becoming more labored. Just talking about doing an opening prayer was enough to get my heart pumping. I told him I’d think about it and let him know.

Delivering a prayer is for me more anxiety provoking than delivering a one- hour Keynote Address. When I speak, I think about what I’m going to say, organize its flow, I think about it and come prepared.  A prayer is a spontaneous evocation of my soul; when I pray, I don’t think about what I’m saying and trust my words will come directly from my heart to my lips. I have faith that something will come to me without having to think about it.

I’m thinking, if my heart is beating fast just talking to a beloved friend, how much more intense could it become if I was in front of 200 people. What if the words don’t flow and I struggle, am I willing to reveal my truth so publicly? I don’t deal well with surprises anymore? My heart is already working as hard as it can just to keep up with every day activities. Any challenges that trigger an adrenaline surge, can leave me breathless.

But I also believe that telling your truth will keep you healthy in mind, body and spirit. The truth is when what you say with your words, what you feel and believe in your heart, and reveal by your actions, are all telling the same story. I’ve been telling this story for the last 50 years and I believe it, yet here I am afraid to tell my truth at this moment. I don’t want to stand up in public and if I struggle, be seen as a pale reflection of the deep-throated warbler I once was, or worse, be pitied. I loathe pity. So, after thinking about it I decided I had to be real and called my friend and said I would do it. 

That night I had an intense dream, I was at the hotel where I would be delivering the invocation. I’m in the pool cleaning the tiles, and while doing it, wondering why me and not the hotel staff? I asked to speak to the Manager, and he took me into his huge, ballroom-sized office where we sit at his desk in one corner of this enormous room. After the requisite introductions, he took a telephone call and told me he had to take care of this and left.

In his absence I explored the room, and in the corner furthest away, I see a toilet. I suddenly had the urge to use it and went over, dropped my pants and sat down. Looking straight ahead I saw glass patio doors outside of which I saw people walking up a path towards me. I got up quickly but was unable to pull up my pants and started breathing heavily. I bent over to catch my breath and at my feet saw a feather; when I picked it up my breath became less labored. 

The dream seems pretty self-explanatory; I’m caught with my pants down, completely exposed. This is my current struggle as I face growing limitations. Can I tame my ego enough to allow myself to be this vulnerable? But this dream is not just about the struggle, it is also about salvation, it provides a solution. When I pick up the feather it helps me breathe again.

I knew on awakening that I would begin my invocation with my Eagle feather; it’s a potent symbol for me, it helps me create a space where I can separate myself from ordinary time and place, open my soul and see the landscape with new eyes. I use an eagle feather, but virtually any object can be invested with this kind of power. It could be an amulet, animal, song, prayer shawl, crystal, or a teddy bear, but they have to be a symbol that reminds you are connected to something other than yourself that strengthens you and makes you feel whole(ly).

On the morning of the invocation, I sat on the stage so I wouldn’t have to walk up the steps after my introduction. When I approached the lectern, my hand was trembling, and I picked up the eagle feather and lit some sage. I waved the fragrant smoke over the audience to bless them, and as I did my hand no longer felt shaky, it simply became a wave.  I felt my anxiety lighten and had no problem after that. I spoke a little more slowly, but I’ve found that as I speak less, people listen more (wish I’d learned that sooner).

My life continues to unfold around me; I am totally engaged in the here and now, surrounded by love, and in my nakedness and trembling hands, my eyes are wide open and still entranced by the rapture of being alive. 

Come to every day with joy. I say this for All My Relations, Mi Takuye Oyasin

The Digisexuals

February 10th, 2019

My grandchildren have been educating me about my archaic view of human sexuality. They have expanded my old binary view, that boys are boys, girls are girls, and gender also determines sexuality. I have learned to add to my menu of sexual identities and understand there are many ways people express themselves sexually without viewing them as pathologic.

It doesn’t matter to me if you’re heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or transexual because they all involve human interaction. But it stretched my newfound tolerance when I read about a 35-year-old school administrator in Japan who strolled down the aisle in a white tuxedo to marry a robot.

This new sexual minority are called “digisexuals”; these are people who find it more gratifying to have sex with robots than physical contact with real people. These robots are not just vibrators or external devices that can stimulate the penis and the vulva; these are full-bodied human simulations with textured skin, can be programmed for rudimentary conversations and whisper in your ear those words that stimulate you the most.

You can change their heads and replace them with another that has shorter hair or darker skin. The digisexual’s lover is always available, never has a headache. With virtual reality and Artificial Intelligence these are robots you can fall in love with. This dystopian worldview is already happening in popular movies like “Ex Machina” which feature a fulfilling emotional and sexual relationships with a machine.

This is just the beginning of cybersex. Future generations, raised in the digital age, will never know the distinction between their online lives and off-line. We are creating a future in which people fall in love only with their imagination. Give me a break! a sexuality that objectifies and detaches people from any sense of a relationship will sow the seeds of our dissolution as a species. 

As expanded as my view on sexual identity may be, I’m still a dinosaur when it comes to real skin and loving another human who moans with pleasure because she is all there, rather than programmed to be. Loving another human being just seems like a good way to keep going.

The groom invited his mother to the wedding ceremony insisting the wedding was a triumph of true love after years of feeling ostracized by real-life women. His mother was not among the 40 celebrants, she said “it’s not something to celebrate”. 

Have a great week, I say this for all my relations. Mi Takuye Oyasin 

Loving More Profoundly

January 21st, 2019

Since my granddaughter’s tragic death 6 weeks ago, my heartache has been unrelenting. However there are moments in which the weight of the shroud of despair have been lightened. Surrounded by the unconditional love of my family (immediate and extended) makes me feel better, sometimes even smile.

I got a call from my holy clown brother, Patch Adams, who during the conversation said he’d like to recite a poem by Pablo Neruda, but before doing so he wanted me to imagine that it was Kyah writing it to me. So, I sat back at my desk and looked up at the pictures we had taken just before the tragedy. The tears flowed as I listened to my baby talk to me. I felt her presence as if I was struck by lightning that made my whole body tingle. It was the first time I let a smile through the veil of my tears. (I’ll recite it to you at the end).

I felt that same jolt of her presence a week later when my friend, colleague, and co-author of Healing Ceremonies called to tell me to say that he was as going down to Aravaipa Canyon. Howie, goes to this riparian paradise every December on his annual solo spiritual retreat. Before going, he asked me again if I wanted him to get willows to rebuild the sweat lodge. 

I had been crippled with ambivalence about rebuilding it for the last year. Even though it was brittle, and cracking I just wasn’t sure how much longer I would be able to do this. But when Howie asked me this time, a week after Kyah’s death, and I said yes without any hesitation, because I heard her say clear as day “do it for me, and for you”.  

Participating in this ceremony sustains my spiritual life. Here, in the uncomfortable heat and darkness, a window in my mind is opened that lets me see my world in a different way. It illumines that portion of my mind that allows me to contemplate the divine mystery. This is my holy place. 

We built the lodge on December 16; took three men with a sledgehammer to make the deep holes into which the willows are set. Then they are bent almost in half to create the dome shaped structure. During this process one of them snapped in half with a jarring cracking sound, it happens sometimes even with fresh willows. When the second one snapped it really got my attention because I felt the eeriness of Kyah’s presence. When it happened an unheard of third time, I could hear her speaking Neruda’s words; I am with you in this transparent house whose walls I can pass through so you can see me. 

At the Lodge dedication ceremony before the New Year she was with me again living her heritage of joy and love. To love and be loved unconditionally is the divine message, and people are its expression. We are the language of God, and I have learned how to love more profoundly.

I say this For All My Relations, Mi Takuye Oyasin

Sonnet #94

If I die, survive me with such sheer force
that you waken the furies of the pallid and the cold,
from south to south lift your indelible eyes,
from sun to sun dream through your singing mouth.
I don’t want your laughter or your steps to waver,
I don’t want my heritage of joy to die.
Don’t call up my person. I am absent.
Live in my absence as if in a house.
Absence is a house so vast
that inside you will pass through its walls
and hang pictures on the air
Absence is a house so transparent
that I, lifeless, will see you, living,
and if you suffer, my love, I will die again.

Unspeakable Tragedy, Unconditional Love

January 6th, 2019

You have not heard from me for the last month because an unspeakable tragedy has befallen my family. During our Thanksgiving family vacation in Mexico, my 21-year-old granddaughter, Kyah, suffered a fatal anaphylactic reaction. It is the most profound loss I have ever experienced and has left me inconsolable and immobilized. 

There are no words that can convey or diminish this horror. I will never get over this loss, and I’m just hoping I can get through it. Whatever comfort and strength I have been able to muster has come through the unconditional love of my family and friends. Such love is the manifestation of the divine, and we are the language of God.

I’m up and down, day by day (sometimes hour by hour), it’s been difficult to fully engage in my life. I have learned how to love more profoundly, and I am slowly moving from the overwhelming sorrow to remembering her laughter, humor, love of life, and wanting to manifest her legacy of joy.

When I become more fully present and re-engaged in my world, I’ll share more of the story. Until then, I thank you for your support and blessings, they help me, and my family imagine that the light at the end of this tunnel is not illusory.

P.S.  Many have asked how they can help. Plans are in the works to establish the Kyah Rayne Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. A GoFundMe campaign will be forthcoming to fuel the foundation; I will keep you in the loop and will share more details about the mission of the foundation soon. 

Living Well

November 18th, 2018

I was the closing speaker at the recent annual meeting of the Arizona Osteopathic Medical Association. I talked with my colleagues about my work as a humanitarian clown where I learned how to make healing connections with people in a short period of time.

In contemporary medical practice, physicians don’t have much time to establish relationships. Spending time and talking with patients is not reimbursable, so you have to see more people in a short time make a diagnosis, order expensive tests, procedures, pills, and do the paperwork. The industrialization of medicine is stealing our spirit as healers, and the pursuit of profitability is reducing medicine to just another industry. The practice of medicine is not an industry, it is a ministry and not spending time with patients is stealing our spirit.

Nearly half the physicians in this country say they are burned out and would rather be doing something else. Of all occupations and professions, the medical profession consistently hovers near the top of occupations with the highest risk of death by suicide. I suggested an alternative to the current demoralization and despair was to return to the time-honored principle of connecting with patients at a heartfelt level and by using clowning principles you could do that in 10 minutes. Such a relationship not only magnified our healing power but reminded us of why we came into the profession.

Before closing, I asked attendees to participate in an exercise that would give them an opportunity to personally connect with someone they didn’t know at an open-hearted, soulful level. The experience was enlightening, and at the end, I was moved to say something I had never previously shared from the platform

I told them about my chronic cardiomyopathy and my failing heart. I assured them there was no definitive expiration date, just an awakening to the fact that I had a shelf-life. I have not been secretive about my condition by the same token I don’t spend much time talking about it.

I don’t want to inspire people’s pity, condolences or distancing themselves from me because of their own difficulties with mortality.

This is my truth, but my illness doesn’t define who I am. I am still here, doing what I love to do; it gives my life meaning and completely engaged in what I am doing in the here and now.

Living well is about staying open to the experience of life.

Magical Healing Weekend

November 6th, 2018

        

For a guy loves to go fishing, it’s been a long time since I felt a fish on a tight line. Six months ago, at a Passover Seder, I made the decision to go to the promised land with two old friends. We set an inviolable date to go fishing the last weekend in October. So last weekend we went up to Roosevelt Lake for some great bass fishing; my face was wreathed in smiles the whole time.

Before returning home, we decided to go to the San Carlos Apache Reservation, which was close by. It’s a place that two of us had worked together 40 years ago. We felt this nostalgic urge to return, and that decision kept this magical trip going.

The old hospital is now boarded up behind a chain-link fence as was the staff housing.  There is a brand-new hospital now administered directly by the tribe with state-of-the-art equipment and specialists. We spoke to some nurses in the cafeteria and told them we had worked in the old hospital 40 years ago and asked about families we knew. Turns out an old friend’s family was holding a Sunrise Ceremony this weekend. She wasn’t sure if the ceremony would still be going on, but the dance grounds were close by and we decided to go.

The Sunrise Ceremony is one of the few Apache rituals that survived the government’s suppression of Native American ceremonies. It is a 4-day initiation to celebrate a young woman’s coming-of-age. It is an intense and arduous ceremony physically and spiritually. During this ceremony, the initiate becomes ‘Changing Woman’, who survived the great flood in an Abalone shell and gave birth to the Apache Tribe. During this ceremony the initiate becomes the embodiment of Changing Woman; she enters the girl’s body and ensures the perpetuation of their tribe, she restores strength and has the power to heal.

We arrived just before the dancers were leaving, and the family was lining up to receive the congratulations of the community. I felt a tug on my arm and look around to see my friend George. We greeted and schmoozed and then he stood in line with us and introduced us to his family.

We shook hands with the family and when I came to Changing Woman, I see her in her buckskin, face painted with white clay and corn pollen, an Abalone shell on her forehead, an exquisitely beaded necklace, and felt the power of their story.

I asked her to bless my heavy heart; shyly she reaches out her hands, and with her acknowledgment bring them to my chest. I felt the same energetic jolt I did when the Medicine man pulled the fire stick out of my chest during my Native American Church healing ceremony. (Schlagbyte, 12/25/2017).

I am sensitive to these ways, they move me, but there are many ways, and they all open you to appreciating the awe and mystery of life. Find one that speaks to you. You can learn to do the healing dance if you can hear the music.

The Healing Corps

October 25th, 2018

In 2015 I co-founded a nonprofit organization called the Clown Town Healing Fest (CTHF), a community health initiative that created public events bringing a wide array of healthcare resources together to educate people in how to stay well before they got sick. This was a practical demonstration of the future of medicine which is the paradigm shift from an expensive, dysfunctional, interventional medical model to a preventive one.

We organized this weekend extravaganza that brought thousands of people from the community together to participate in hands on demonstrations that ranged from modern medical modalities to traditional healers and therapists of every description. There were panels, discussions, clowns, parades and it was enthusiastically received.

The day before the public event we conducted a daylong Clown Healing Workshop for healthcare professionals. We used clowning principles as the vehicle for establishing meaningful connections with people in short periods of time that would not only to magnify their healing power but restore their passion and enthusiasm for their work many of whom were feeling disconnected from their patients and burned out from the overwhelming strain of bureaucracy.

At the end of these workshops participants were “certified“ as “Truth Fairies, and at the Festival the following day we conducted a “Truth Clinic” where they could practice their newfound skills. It’s healing impact on both “patients” and clinicians was astounding. Many later joined us in conducting Truth Clinics in parks, fairs, homeless shelters and the results equally impactful.

Alas, the organizational demands of running such an event were taking us away from what we were doing best. So, we are now moving in a direction that allows us to expand our training programs to reach a wider range of community health workers and caregivers. We have gathered a dynamic, multigenerational Board of Directors that is opening us to a wider audience. Reflecting this change in focus we have changed our name to The Healing Corps (our tag line… Sustaining the Heart of Health).

Look us up at ( www.thehealingcorps.com ) and see what we’re doing and join us in the continuing evolution of our vision of humanizing healthcare and promoting healing. And talking about Sustaining the Heart of Health, I want to tell you that for me personally these changes have intensified my passionate involvement in the here and now and allowing me to breathe more easily.

Drowning in Bullshit

October 9th, 2018

Is there anyone who is not infuriated or disgusted by the overwhelming political bullshit that is dividing this nation? My way of dealing with this demoralizing deluge is to shut down the propaganda machines that make me sick (no more daily news) and using the time to focus on my own BS that’s also making me sick.

For the last 30 years I’ve had high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels that have been controlled by medication, a regular exercise program, meditation practice, doing work I love, and playing a lot. What I have not done is to change my diet to reduce my salt intake. I love corn beef and pastrami, pizza, bratwurst, salami, processed cheeses, sour pickles, potato chips, onion dip, creamy soups and salad dressings (add more blue cheese crumbles). I rarely go shopping and never look at the packaged ingredients.

My life’s work has been as an advocate for preventive health; to inspire people to becoming the principal agents in their own healing. My mantra, don’t wait until you get sick and then depend on doctors to prescribe pills and procedures to make you well.

So far, I have been able to get away with my dysfunctional eating habits, but now my heart is on overload and weakening. Last week, my cardiologist told me she was doing everything she could to help me, but I was not doing everything I could to help myself. She knew I was planning a family vacation over Thanksgiving and said to me if I were to be making the trip next week, she would advise against it.

It was a game changer… not make this trip, absolutely unfathomable. We have been planning it for almost a year, rented a palatial, seaside villa near Puerta Vallarta, Mexico for a week to gratefully celebrate our togetherness. I’d walk 100 miles on my knees to make this gathering happen, so changing my eating habits seemed imminently doable and now was the time.

Yesterday, I went to my favorite kosher delicatessen for brunch and instead of smoked white fish on a garlic bagel, ordered low-salt cheese blintzes. You don’t have to wait until your drowning in your own bullshit to be able to make healthful life changes. It’s never too late to participate in the healing dance.

Football Makes America Great

September 11th, 2018

If you don’t recognize the name Colin Kaepernick you are neither a sports fan or watch TV commercials. Kaepernick is a professional football player, the former star quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. Two years ago, he drew the attention of the nation when he got down on one knee and raised his fist to the right hand during the playing of the national anthem during the pregame ceremonies. This action angered a lot of people who called him everything from unpatriotic to treasonous (and other far more hurtful things). The NFL blackballed him, and he hasn’t played since.

I admit I too felt saddened, Sunday football is an All-American ritual, a day we get together in community to cheer our team. In football stadiums around the Country, people of every color and creed embrace one another in a sense of joyful unity and shared purpose. But such momentary game day camaraderie is well planned marketing effort that sells an image of mutual respect that is rarely demonstrated when we return home. In our communities we are still fighting social injustice and inequality.

What Kaepernick did was publicly address those inequities and make us face the need of becoming a Nation whose ideals we actually live every day. I think his action is a statement about what makes America great. This is just a manifestation of this generation’s civil rights activism. The demonstrations of the 60’s were also wildly unpopular in the beginning, but are now seen as essential in the ongoing struggle for racial equality in this country.

Last week, Nike, one of the world’s largest conglomerate and trendsetters chose Colin Kaepernick to become a company spokesperson. They made a commercial showing the infamous kneeling clips to which they added this tagline “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything”.

The public’s reaction was again one of outrage… Nikes stock fell, people marched in the streets and burned their products, but I think what they succeeded in doing was to make Colin’s story into a hero’s journey. In America we stand up to fight injustice even if it means enduring enormous sacrifice because that’s what makes America great.

A Schmuck in the Waves

August 28th, 2018

Just got back from a lovely, relaxing week in Huntington Beach, reading, hanging out with friends and going to the beach. Swimming and body surfing in the ocean are among my favorite things to do. Looking at the vibrant beach scene, I decide that the next time I’m here, I’ll bring along a boogie board.

Southern California beaches are home to some of the finest surfers in the world, the waves are big, the current is strong, and the undertow can be powerful. I’m a good swimmer, do laps in an Olympic size pool and have for many years; this is my element. My wife takes a picture of me holding the Boogie board before I plunge into the ocean. I’m looking confident (maybe even with a bit of a swagger) and from a distance I’m still looking pretty good for an old dude; get closer and you can hear my sometimes-labored breathing.

I paddle out, feeling free and frolicking in the waves as the strong current carries me far down the beach and I ride the waves into shore. When I get off the board, I’m standing in ankle-deep water, the crashing waves behind me and the returning undertow in front of me create a cloudy turbulence causing my heels to dig into the sand. Unable to see my feet in the churning waters I get a little out of balance and drop my boogie board to regain my equilibrium. When I stand up I can’t easily pick up the board because it too is being sucked into the sand. Having difficulty extricating my feet and boogie-board simultaneously I’m getting shorter and shorter of breath.

I managed to extricate myself but by the time I get out I’m breathing so heavily I just crash on the beach. My old certainties and confidence not only illusory but perhaps delusional.  I have always functioned under the impression that with intelligence, effort and commitment you can overcome whatever your limitations and hardships. Turns out that such certainty is only a tribute to the arrogance of the ego.

Aging is nature’s way of taming the ego, add any physical limitations and it intensifies the process. The ego is the manager of our lives, it was never intended to be the boss. Lying supine and breathless on the beach I feel like a bit of a schmuck. Surely, I can negotiate these new ego-taming waters and ask for a little help from my friends without feeling minimized because of it.

I want to be truthfully present in the here and now, loving life and appreciating every moment.

Have a great week Relatives… reach out and touch someone’s heart today

I say this for all my relations, Mi Takuye Oyasin

Dr. Carl A. Hammerschlag, M.D., CPAE is a psychiatrist, author, and professional keynote speaker. He is an authority in the science of psychoneuroimmunology mind, body, spirit medicine and speaks about health and wellness, healing, leadership and authenticity . He has delivered motivational keynote speeches to corporate and business clients around the world.