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Keep on Moving

November 24th, 2019

I recently read an interview with Twyla Tharp the 78-year-old internationally acclaimed dancer and choreographer who spoke about her new dance premiere “A Gathering of Ghosts”. The interviewer commented on her amazing productivity and energy at her age, and she said “age is not the enemy, stagnation is”.

Reminded me of a woman who was about her age when I met her 40 years ago in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She approached me, neatly dressed and coiffed, wearing a veiled pillbox hat, came up to my bellybutton and asked me for the time.  I looked at my watch and said it’s 2 o’clock and then she proceeded to speak to me uninterruptedly. She told me she had a 2 o’clock appointment with friends who had not yet arrived, this was her first time here in the Michael Rockefeller Memorial Collection of Primitive Art , knew nothing about these cultures, was interested in flowers, worked as a docent at the Bronx botanical Gardens, and on and on.

I’m listening, but not really there; I’m looking around at the “spirit canoes” carved by Asmat Natives along the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea. These supernatural vessels are intricately carved with mythological creatures who carry the dead to the spirit world and transport boys into manhood. 

In the midst of my reverie I hear her say “I think that’s the secret of life”, which immediately brought me back to her, knowing I had clearly missed something. “What’s the secret of life” I asked, and she replied “sneakers are the secret of life” I look down at her feet and see she’s wearing sneakers. I looked at her with wide-eyed incredulity and asked, “how are sneakers the secret of life?” and she said they’re only comfortable if you keep moving.

I think about these two wise old women now that I too am an old man. I’m moving more slowly, but not stagnating. Moving is not just about shuffling your feet, it’s transporting your mind and spirit to a place that fills you with joy, and totally engaged in every moment. 

This is the Thanksgiving season, say thank you for all that sustains us, and 

let’s move forward together to eliminate inequality, corruption, and save our planet from extinction.


The Holy Box

October 29th, 2019

The most precious gift I received in my work with Native people has been the awakening of my spiritual life. Their openness in sharing wisdom, traditions and ceremonial life have spoken deeply to me and opened me up to how many ways there are to learn beyond rational thought.

For 40 years I have been a participant in the Native American Church. Sitting in those meetings opened me to those unfamiliar and unexplainable ways of knowing. As a participant I have accumulated the ritual paraphernalia and sacred objects feathers, fans, drums, tobacco, cedar wood are all carried in a box. It’s often toolbox with trays to fit everything in, but sometimes they’re handcrafted.

I keep mine in a wooden box that was made for me by my physician friend, colleague, co-author, Dr. Howie Silverman…he also happens to be a talented carpenter. I gave him the dimensions and he crafted a one-of-a-kind masterpiece out of a reddish African hardwood called Paduak (King Solomon chose this wood for the pillars of his Temple in 10 BC.), the interior of the box is lined with Red Cedar.

That box and its sacred contents (including my prayer shawl) have accompanied me to meetings all over this country; those potent symbols have been held, caressed, ingested, and filled with the songs and blessings of many tribal people. I no longer sit up at these all-night meetings, and for these totemic objects to retain their power they need to be used and their stories told. Over the last year I have given away my fans, feathers, drums, rattles, drumsticks, tobacco and cedar pouches to Native relatives who I know will use them.

The last thing to give away was the box, and at a Sweat Lodge ceremony a couple of weeks ago I gave it back to Howie. Inside the box was a small Torah scroll, he now has a small traveling Ark to carry his sacred objects. He will fill it with his songs and prayers, others will hold the instruments and add their voices to thousands of others whose blessings he also carries.

Prayer is the universal language of an open heart, and we need to be blessing each other more.

Getting Cancelled

September 27th, 2019

I was scheduled to speak to a large multispecialty medical group in early Spring 2020. They were looking for someone who could educate, entertain, tell stories, and inspire doctors to sustain their healing spirit in these rapidly changing times in healthcare delivery. This is my arena of expertise and I was looking forward to addressing 1000 of their clinical and executive leadership.

A conference call was set up with the planning committee, the Chairperson, (an ER doc) introduced herself, told me about the organization, and then asked me to tell the group a little about myself.

I started speaking, and within 30 seconds started getting short of breath. I managed to get out that I needed a moment to catch my breath… but it was more than a moment and after 30 seconds she asked me if I was OK? I mumbled yes, and when I began again acknowledged that I had a chronic heart condition and sometimes needed to take a momentary pause, then blithely moved on uninterruptedly.

Before the call ended however, the Chairperson asked me more about my heart condition, and I probably said more than I should have because an hour after we hung up my agent called to tell me they wanted to cancel my engagement. She never spoke with me directly, but it was clear that my condition scared her sufficiently that she didn’t want to take the risk of my crumbling on stage. 

 I get it, and even see the dark humor; 1,000 doctors coming to Vegas to get away and play, and instead get treated to just another day at the office… probably not the best way to set the tone for a meeting. But I’m thinking what a wasted opportunity, I can’t think of a better way to demonstrate the importance of living your truth, owning your strengths and your vulnerabilities, and be joyfully engaged wherever you are in the moment.

The cancellation was a bit of a blow, but what bothered me far more was the prognostication about the imminence of my demise. Doctors may know a lot about diseases, but not a lot about how long somebody can live with it. We are abysmally poor at such predictions, and we ought to stop doing it. Such pronouncements tend to immobilize patients, they get frozen by somebody else’s sense of who they are and what they will become. Don’t let somebody else tell your life’s story, it diminishes you. Live your life every day enraptured in the here and now.

I got cancelled and this week confirmed another engagement.

The Will to Live

September 4th, 2019

It’s been 10 months since my 21-year-old granddaughter, Kyah Rayne Cohen died from a fatal allergic reaction. There are no words, no explanations, that can describe such a loss, the most profound I have ever experienced.

Not a day goes by that I don’t lament the loss; nor does one go by that I don’t look at her picture above my desk and see her smiling at me. There are times she talks to me; in my dreams, in the sweat lodge, in the voices of others whose words remind me of her precocious wisdom……I hear her saying, It’s OK to slow up and catch your breath Papa; laugh, love, dance.

She died in her mother’s arms, a heartbreak no one should have to endure. My daughter Lisa has survived day to day, sometimes hour by hour, and has found the will to live through the establishment of the Kyah Rayne Foundation (KRF). The KRF mission is to provide emergency allergy treatment programs, promote food allergy legislation, create online educational training programs, support families living with food allergies and educating communities about such preventable tragedies.

Go to the ( kyahraynefoundation.org ) and help us address this national food allergy epidemic. Your tax-deductible donations will ensure that communities have the tools they need so that other families will never have to live through such horror.  

Our goal is big, please help us sustain this vision (donate here

I Speak Freely, Not Fluently

August 19th, 2019

Last week I went to lunch with my daughter, and after being seated by the Hostess our server came over, introduced herself and then asked what we like to drink, when she got to the word drink she began stuttering severely.

There is that awkward moment when you don’t know whether to jump in and say the anticipated word or just wait. When she finished her sentence, I asked her what she preferred, and she said with people she didn’t know she preferred them not to speak for her. With her friends however they bantered back and forth easily.

I said I didn’t need a drink but asked if it was possible to turn the music down because I could hardly hear our conversation. She laughed and said I get that, you’re hard of hearing and I’m hard of speaking. She said indeed there was a private dining room in the back, and it wouldn’t be a problem serving us back there. It was the perfect place, and for the next hour and 1/2 we listened to each other’s stories.

Paige is 22 years old, from a small town in Oklahoma, and had just come to Phoenix eight weeks ago, without a job, place to live, family or friends. In the last 2 months, she found a place to live, and got a job where she had to talk to strangers and face her challenge every day. She acknowledged that some people were insensitive, occasionally even mean-spirited, and if that happened, she’d flash them her tattoo. She raised her forearm to show it to me, on it was tattooed “I speak freely not fluently”. I’m a stutterer she tells them but that’s not all I am; here I am, deal with it.

This beautiful young woman comes to me at this extraordinary time in my life when I need reminders to live joyfully engaged in every moment. Paige is living her truth every day, facing her struggles, and growing in all those ways she dared to imagine. She comes to everyday joyfully, engaged in what she’s doing, and I am reminded that I talk that talk, but walking it is not always easy.

I want to tell my story with Paige’s courage; I want to come from that place where I don’t hide my vulnerabilities but am also not defined by them… Here I am, let’s deal with it.

We discovered each other just at the right time in our lives, and it always happens when you need it most. Every act of creativity/insight is the result of a prepared mind and a serendipitous moment; you find yourself in the right place, at the right time, with the right people, and you learn something you need to know.

First thing I did when I got home was to look her up on YouTube where she told me she had made several videos. She blew me away again, watching and listening to her brought tears to my eyes and courage to my soul.

I asked about her dreams for the future and she said, “I want to be a public speaker.” It just so happens I know something about that and can help her. The right person, in the right place, at the right time and it changes your world.  

Still Punching My Time Card

July 27th, 2019

I’ve been vacationing in the Pacific Northwest over the last several weeks, and in the midst of family joys got this additional great news. A drug specifically designed to treat my type of cardiomyopathy, has just been released on the market.

Tafamidis (Vyndaqel) prevents the continued accumulation of amyloid in the heart muscle. It doesn’t undo the damage already done but it seems to stop its continued production. Like most new drugs for serious diseases this one is also prohibitively expensive ($250,000 a year). 

I don’t personally know anyone who can afford even the co-pay, that insurance doesn’t cover. Fortunately, there are myriad Foundations established to assist patients, and with their help, I just started taking it. Who knows how much longer it will allow me to live, but longevity is less important to me than the quality of my life still remaining. My heart is failing, but I’m coming to every day engaged in the moment, and for the most part joyful. 

A friend said to me, that I seemed to be handling my situation with aplomb. I don’t hear that word used much anymore), it means to be poised, collected and composed. I’m not sure that’s the right adjective to describe my current status; I mean there are surely times when I’m collected and composed, but there are also times when I am filled with uncertainty, and the awareness of my gradual losses. I don’t hang on to those lamentations, not because I’m cool and/or self-assured, it’s more because I’m growing reconciled with my fate, and moving down a path I was always meant to follow.

I am writing, learning, teaching, and playing, and surrounded by a loving family and community who keep me grounded in the present. I got this pink slip, but I’m still punching my time card every day.

Summer Camp Capitalists

June 10th, 2019

The New York Times Styles Section (May 26, 2019) featured this lead article entitled Starting Them Young with Capitalism. It reported that parents are sending their children to summer camps that are specifically designed to stimulate their entrepreneurial mindset. Kids as young as 8, are taught howto monetize their hobbies, create a personal brand, and write a business plan. 

Tell me I’m not the only one who thinks there’s something wrong with this picture?  Summer camps used to be about getting away from doing what you ordinarily do and get exposed to something you haven’t done or even imagined before.

I went to Scout Camp for the first time when I was 11, it was a life changing experience. I learned how to escape from an overturned canoe and felt like a hero when I’d accomplished it; and how to find my way out of the deep woods at night using only a compass; how to listen to stories sitting around the campfire. hypnotized by the flickering flames, listening to the wood crackle and watching the sparks exploding into the night sky… I was a NYC boy, raised in a tenement and had never seen the sky so brilliantly illuminated before. 

My troop leader was a WW II tank commander and when he told campfire stories, they were replete with sounds, gestures and actions that could make me tremble. It is where I first learned about the power of story, rituals and ceremonies in launching the imagination…of course it was long before the IPhone, Internet, even TV were invented.

I may be an old hippie romantic, but I think instead of sending kids to camp and teaching them how to better use technology to acquire wealth, we send them to camps that teach them how to live happier and healthier lives. A life more in balance, where the heart and spirit are opened to exploring the depth of one’s humanity. The pursuit of capital gains as life’s purpose, breeds a culture that makes greed and corruption tolerated, even socially acceptable. 

Our children are exposed to it every day; send your kids instead to a camp that will expand their repertoire of what else their purpose and passion might be. There are lots of camps that still do this and do it well; camps where kids leave their computers and internet connections behind and discover new ways of experiencing joy. Among these are places like Camp Winnarainbow founded by another old hippie, it teaches kids circus and theatrical acts, songwriting, poetry, ecology, crafts, and taking new risks in an atmosphere of mutual encouragement and respect.

Before we make our kids titans of industry, let’s teach them that there is more to life than monetizing it. If we can teach them loving kindness, we can change the course of history. 

Tears and Laughter

May 28th, 2019

This last month has been a roller coaster ride of celebration and sorrow. My 80th birthday party was an epic Roast that featured a hilarious stage show in which I was grilled, fried, and par-boiled by family and friends… and never felt more loved. 

Last week my family attended my recently deceased granddaughters’ graduation from the University of Arizona. The University awarded Kyah her degree posthumously, and reserved seats for us in the front row of the McKale Center. The graduates were sitting directly in front of us, and as they marched by, I saw the light of anticipation in their eyes. 

Here they were, at the beginning of their adulthood, the richness of the rest of their lives ahead of them, and all I could see was my granddaughter who would know nothing other than the life behind her. My tears welled but did not fall. 

When her department was called up Kyah’s name appeared on the big screen with the date of her birth and death, and underneath the words …Love, Live, and Dance. Her brother, wearing her gown, walked across the stage to accept her diploma, I wept and sobbed openly, maybe for the first time bin public.

Afterwards, we had dinner with a group of her close friends, drank pitchers of margaritas while wearing her treasured Grateful Dead T-shirts, and remembered her sparkle. Emotionally exhausted, we decided to spend the night in Tucson with two of our daughters where we got the last room in the city. We squeezed into two queen sized beds, not particularly comfortable for two tall people but it turned out to be the highlight of a long, draining day. 

I crawled into bed and the ladies talked into the night. I rolled over on my side with my good ear on the pillow but couldn’t fall asleep because I could hear them cackling even with my deaf ear. I raised my head and pleaded that surely, they could babble more softly. They laughed until they cried shouting It’s a miracle, it’s a miracle! He can hear in his deaf ear! I joined in the hysteria and laughed and fell asleep smiling.

“Remember me with smiles and laughter, for that is how I will remember you. If you can only remember me with tears, then don’t remember me at all”.   

Laura Ingalls Wilder

My Handicapped Permit

April 14th, 2019

I have a handicapped permit; it comes in handy when I have to park far away from my destination. Last week I parked in a handicapped space, put the placard on my rearview mirror, and went to a meeting. When I returned 2 hours later it was gone

I had left the car open and somebody reached in and took it. Initially, I stood in wide-mouthed disbelief and then I got angry (not good for my heart which starts beating faster with any adrenaline rush, and leaves me short of breath), thinking how much lower can you go than stealing a handicapped persons parking permit.

Not everybody was as flabbergasted and outraged as I was. When I told my grandkids about it they thought it was funny, and my son the lawyer said “what did you expect, you left the car open, somebody saw it as a free pass at concert venues and crowded parking lots, and they know you can get it replaced”. I looked at him incredulously and said you wouldn’t do that and said he wouldn’t but assured me that lots of people would and find a way to justify it to themselves. 

Am I missing something here? It’s wrong to steal a handicapped persons disabled parking permit. Alas, in our culture what’s right and wrong is determined by what you can get away with. This is true at the highest levels of government, business, and is sadly becoming the common thread line that binds us together as a civilization. You can say/do/take whatever you want, because if you don’t somebody else will. 

When it comes to the point that where any means can justify your desired end then as a culture, we have subordinated morality to expediency; that’s pretty much where we are as a society at the moment. I understand that greed, violence, and exploitation have been with us since recorded history, but we have always had an understanding about shared values that inspire our humanity and remind us of the nobility of the human spirit.

One of the most important decisions one has to make in life, is what kind of society do you want to help create. How are we going to raise the bar for acceptable behaviors instead of continuing to find ways to lower it? We must have some sort of moral contract that reminds us of our best selves.

This is an old story, and one that hasn’t been improved upon; do onto others as you want them to do to you; respect everything and everyone that walks alongside you on this earth; remember there is an end to this life and we will not be taking anything with us,_the really important things are those we leave behind.

Tell this story around the family dinner table, at tribal gatherings, in Courts, and legislatures, and let us live it in our daily lives.  We must continue to make our voices heard because if we cannot learn how to behave in society, we will all become handicapped.

Kraft, Kamala, and Other April Fool’s

April 1st, 2019

The NFL owners met in Phoenix last week and reporters peppered them about the Kraft affair. Unless you’ve been in meditative seclusion, there isn’t anyone in America who’s unaware that Robert Kraft, the 77-year-old billionaire and owner of the New England Patriots was arrested for soliciting prostitution in a Florida massage parlor. The massage parlor, unbeknownst to him, was under investigation as a front in the sex trafficking trade.

Kraft, who by all accounts is a caring, kind, generous man, and respectful of women, was married for 50 years to his childhood sweetheart who died in 2011 of ovarian cancer. Kraft apologized for the hurt, and disappointment to his family, friends, co-workers and said he should rightfully be held to a higher standard.

 But, is he a criminal? The real crime here is the criminalization of prostitution, which encourages pimping and human trafficking, and for that there is an answer. Kamala Harris, the U.S. senator from California, has announced her candidacy for the Presidency. Among other things I like about her, in addition to spending more on education and not accepting donations from corporate PAC’s, is that she is an advocate for the decriminalization of prostitution. What a great idea; get rid of the pimps, traffickers, and make an honest business of the world’s oldest profession. 

I say, let’s expand the availability of prostitutes as a preventive health measure. There are lots of people, men and women, who’d feel better if they had easier access to sexual satisfaction. Think about the people in old age homes and institutions for the chronically mentally ill where acting out behaviors are common and solely treated by mind-numbing medications that render residents virtually unconscious. 

Instead of punishing unacceptable behaviors through chemically straightjacketing, why not give people an incentive for good behaviors? If you conduct yourself appropriately, you get to cash in your goody points at the snack bar for a massage with a happy ending. 

The entrepreneurial possibilities are endless, if there is no available space in the institution these healthy, self-employed working girls, would staff a mobile trailer. For those who would prefer no human contact there is the option of the new, robotic, life-sized dolls. And once it’s legal the government can collect taxes that could be used to pay teachers a living wage.

Kraft has been publicly shamed and will carry it with him, but he is still an ordinary man with ordinary needs. Lighten up, it’s April Fool’s Day, and we are all fools.

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.