Emily’s Quest

June 11, 2009

A Great, Big, Philosophical “Wheeeee!”

What has travelling taught you?

When I first arrived, I acted like a tourist.  I was attracted to the beautiful landscape.  I took tons of pictures and wrote my dairy every day.  Later, I found that life is just the same no matter where I am.  It is always the people I meet that make the difference.

~ Shuk Fan Ip (quoted in TNT backpackers magazine, Issue 524)

 “Life is just the same no matter where I am”.  I cannot think of a more perfect sentence to sum up where I find myself in life at the moment.

So I embarked on my travel adventure last month, at the last minute actually landing in Brisbane rather than Sydney.  I had decided – with the blank slate of life before me and truly nothing written on it, total freedom in my backpack and very little else (besides a change of undies or two) – that I was just going to follow my whim in every decision.  I was travelling utterly alone and unencumbered and nothing mattered but what I felt the pull to do next.

I had a friend once, a blocked creative working in an office job, who told me about how he had one day gone for a walk through town and decided that he was just going to follow wherever the urge or pull took him.  Along the path of this walk, he came across an independent magazine which he ended up finding creative outlet in, by doing a lot of design and illustration for them, and I think was an important step on his path to being more true to the voice inside himself.

This was exactly the approach I decided to adopt to my travel plans, just on a slightly grander scale – not “which street shall I turn down next, soul?” but rather “what city shall I travel to next?  What shall I do there?”.  I truly had no idea where I would end up or what I would end up doing.

Shortly after arriving in Brisbane, my good friend was in Cairns for a conference, so I took a train up and met her there, and had an absolute blast.  After that, my whim took me to Darwin, down to Alice Springs, then on a camping trip via Uluru and the Outback to Adelaide.  The plan had been to continue on to Perth, where I would get a job and settle for a bit.

All this happened in the space of about 3 weeks, but I learned an important lesson in amongst it all very quickly: Life is just the same no matter where I am, or in other, oft-quoted words: “wherever I go, there I am” – something everyone knows to be true but really is best learned through experience.  No matter where you go, you are still who you are and you still have to do something with yourself and your life.  Life is not suspended or changed because you are in another country or city.  Life is still sitting there saying: How are you going to use me?  What do you believe in and are you living those beliefs and values in the actions of your life?

I also learned another very important lesson, between being alone in Brisbane, to partying and chatting and hanging out in Cairns with my good friend, to setting off alone again once she went home and I continued on.  I have said this in a very old post once before and I learned the truth of it again: life exists most significantly in the interaction between the self and another.  Cairns was one of the most fun times of my life, not because of the town itself but because of the company I shared and the fun we were able to create together.  The tours and experiences, the memory of which I cherish the most, are those I shared with other people, whether it was my good friend or new found friends.  People are what make life what it is, sharing your experiences and your self with other people is what makes an adventure fun, memorable, meaningful.  The freedom of solitude and independence is a small price to pay for the deeper contentment of interaction and sharing with another person, especially one you care about – even if that sometimes means compromise.

Feeling the truth of these two lessons to the core of my bones, there was another thing adding to my experience of my trip.  I had a cold/flu the entire time.  I arrived with it and it never quite left me.  By the time I arrived in Adelaide, I was feeling very sick, I was running out of money and didn’t feel up to job hunting in my condition.  So, trusting the voice as I had been the whole trip to guide me to the next step, I flew home to Wellington.

So did I come home because I was sick?  It would be a convenient excuse – it certainly was at the time.  But if I dig deep and am really, truthfully honest with myself… no, I don’t believe that is truly why I came home.  I believe I came home because, running out of money, I was also running out of the luxury of ‘running’ – I was going to have to stop and get a ‘pay-the-bills’ job.  I was going to have to stop and re-enter the real world and face life and either answer or continue to try to avoid its eternal questions.  No matter how long I kept running or filling my days with filing and reading, I realised that Life was always there, just beyond my point of focus, asking: How are you going to use me?  What do you believe in and are you living those beliefs and values in the actions of your life? 

The thing with office jobs (or really any job that isn’t your true calling) is that they require just enough concentration to be able to block out that silent whisper much of the time or at least silence it to a dull, irritating background noise.  But they can also be mindless enough (or not engaging enough of your true interest) that every now and then, and far more often than is comfortable, that little voice of Life starts nudging its way into your awareness, tap tap tapping at the edges of your self in ways that make you squirm and desperately seek out something else to file or another spreadsheet that needs updating, as if you could somehow fit Life between cells A1 and D12, insert formula, done.  Ctrl-alt-delete and start again.

I believe physical illness is an outer symptom of a deeper dis-ease, something that manifests when there is a gap between what we are currently doing and who we are being in life, versus who we truly are and want to be and what we truly want do – when there is dis-ease between our soul and our actions, our outer circumstances.  So I don’t believe I was the pitiful victim of a nasty flu.  I believe I subconsciously created the circumstances that would require me to face up to myself and to what I actually want from life – in fact, not just want I want from life, but what I want to give in life.

I know to some, especially to worshipers at the alter of science, these beliefs sound airy-fairy, written off as new agey, esoterical nonsense.  But the more I get in touch with myself and with life, the more I believe and see evidence of them, and the less ashamed I am to admit to them.  I like to explore all of life, all of its nooks and crannies, I am not content to just sit on the surface of it, and yes, that means exploring spirituality and being open to all the possibilities.  Spirituality has become a dirty word these days and I think that is sad.  Even science is just part of the unquenchable human need and quest to understand life and all its mysteries.  Erwin Chargaff, the biochemist who discovered base pairing in DNA, said of biology: “No other science deals in its very name with a subject that it cannot define.”

What is life?  And how are we best to live it?  That is all any of us are trying to figure out.

So I came home, which was just the next step in the subconscious path I was following; I came home for a few moments of solitude, that I may hear the voice waiting for me in the silence.

I believe that when you are following your true path, things will tend to all just slide into place.  I believe that your true path is like a river and when you surrender to it, it will naturally sweep you along to places you had barely even imagined, and the best thing you can do is just let go of the oars and enjoy the ride.

That is kind of what seems to be happening in my life right now.  Anyone who knows me knows I have always been interested in health and medicine.  I sought my path in allopathic medicine, in doctoring and nursing.  As my ideas and beliefs have developed, I have become increasily interested in natural health and traditional approaches to holistic health and wellbeing.  I have long been drawn to a natural therapies college in Auckland called Wellpark.  I admire their integrative and forward thinking philosophy – they have a vision in which allopathic and complementary medicine work hand in hand, rather than in battle as they seem to be currently.  This is where I truly see the future of medicine and healing to lie – I believe all forms of medicine have important things to contribute and we would do well to work together and learn from each other, so that a more holistic form of medical treatment can arise, one that unites both the art and science of healing.  They are also the first institution in New Zealand to introduce a degree level Bachelors of Naturopathy, to begin next year (2010).

So I made a couple of enquiries and before I knew it, life was sweeping me along.  For the second semester of this year, beginning the last week of July, I will be doing a Certificate of Aromatherapy at Wellpark College in Grey Lynn, Auckland.  I think doing this 6 month certificate will give me enough of a taste of the field of natural therapies to decide whether I want to pursue the study of Naturopathy and Herbal Medicine ongoing – and if that makes me a crazy, tree-hugging, hippy new ager, then I take the title happily :P.  And I am making the move this Tuesday coming!  As I say – life is sweeping me along.  I’m just throwing up the oars and going “Wheeeeeeee!”

I wrote these words in the last post on this blog before I left on my trip, and they are as appropriate to this next step in my journey as they were to that last one:

Emily’s Quest is about living and loving the questions in the faith, hope and trust that I will somehow live my way into the answer.  And so I am going to embrace the unknown and keep asking the question into the darkness, in the faith that one day I will look around and realise I am living the answer already and always have been.

I haven’t stopped asking – I have realised I can’t, no matter how hard and far I run.  So I’m sitting inside the question now, and keep living answer after answer until finally something fits.

It is enough that one surrenders oneself. Surrender is to give oneself up to the original cause of one’s being. Do not delude yourself by imagining such a source to be some God outside of you. One’s source is within oneself.

~ Ramana Maharishi


June 9, 2009

Placebo? – The Proof is in the Puppies

acupunctureAcupuncture is a well known and increasingly widespread form of alternative healing therapy, most commonly used for pain but with a wide range of applications.  To be honest, I don’t know that much about it and need to do some more reading on it myself.  But I found a fascinating and hard to refute piece of evidence as to its effectiveness.

There has long been a question mark in Western minds over the objective effectiveness of acupuncture.  Sure there is plenty of hearsay and anecdotes, but does it really have any effect beyond placebo?  In other words, many people may think that it works purely because people think it will work – the actual effect is actually ‘all in their mind’ or brought about by their own body.

The first thing I have to say about that is – ultimately, if it solves or ameliorates a problem for someone, who actually cares if it is technically due to the placebo effect?!  All medicine is really just helping the body to help it self – as a famous historical doctor once said (I forget who) of a wound “I dressed it, God healed it”.  Doctors and healers cannot really ‘save’ or ‘fix’ anybody – all they can do is aid the body in helping itself.  And so if someone’s chronic pain is lessened or cured via a ‘placebo’ – well, who’s to say that placebo is any less valid than a biochemically active drug or techinically accurate procedure?

Anyway, that’s a bit of a tangent.  Western medicine has for years been trying to make alternative health therapies and procedures prove themselves via Western methods – especially that Western gold standard, the Randomised Control Trial (Haaaalelujah!).  This runs into trouble with alternative, traditional and complementary therapies however, because a) they are based on very different systems of belief and different fundamental bases than Western methods and b) due to the role of the healer.

Many of these therapies attribute part of their effectiveness to the role of the healer and the energies they contribute to the patient-practitioner interaction.  So how can you design a double-blind trial of acupunture?  The healer who is not giving the real therapy will know this and their energy belief in the therapy they are giving will be altered accordingl, even if the patient has full belief/ignorance.

Such controlled trials of acupuncture have been attempted, and I will at some stage read up on them and report back with my findings.  But I stumbled across an article the other day which to me provides some pretty irrefutable evidence that acupuncture is not just due to the ‘placebo effect’ of the patient’s belief in it, but has actual objective effectiveness.

The article, on MedicineNet.com, is called Animals Respond to Acupuncture’s Healing Touch.  It describes the field of ‘veterinary acupuncture’ and the observable effect acupuncture has been seen to have on animals.

Now, animals don’t know why you’re sticking needles into them.  They don’t ‘believe’ in the effect of acupuncture.  So the fact that it also works for animals seems to pretty much rule out the placebo effect.  Any effect it has on an animal has to be a true, objective effect.

Of course, you could now start asking questions about whether it is the acupuncture itself or the effect of the actual healer that is doing the healing.  This could get hairy, and may be one to explore another day.  But for now, one thing seems clear – the effect of acupuncture is not ‘all in the mind’.  Something about the actual process of acupuncture itself has real, therapeutic effect.  Just because we cannot break it down into molecules and explain it according to the Western belief system (and yes, I do regard Western scientific method as a ‘belief system’ – but lets save that one for another day too), doesn’t mean it is not real, it does not exist, or that it cannot have significant benefit on the quality of people’s health and lives.

April 3, 2009

Sport Is Bad For Your Health

Filed under: Health and Medicine — Tags: , , , — Emily @ 9:05 pm

I knew there was a good reason I don’t run triathalons!  And it’s here.

I always have maintained that exercise is bad for you.

May 13, 2008


Filed under: Health and Medicine, Life Updates, Philosophising — Emily @ 11:55 pm

“You chose your dreams
for the journeys they inspire,
and you knew when you chose them
that there would be obstacles, dark days,
and knuckleheads who’d stand in your way.
They’re part and parcel of where you’re headed,
and they don’t just go away.

So when you face your next challenge,
welcome it.
Rise up, don’t back down.
See it as a stepping stone, not a wall;
a valley, not an abyss.
And before you know it,
as one is conquered after another,
the journey will be complete,
and the joy of manifesting your dream
will pale in comparison to the satisfaction
of your perservering, overcoming, and breaking through.

Don’t you see these are the days,
right now, mid-adventure,
that will mean the most to you once your dreams come true?


(From “Notes from the Universe” by Mike Dooley)

Med has certainly been a journey so far, and it turns out I am still climbing blind (see here). How much should one be willing to sacrifice now for an ethereal ‘later’ that may not be any better? If I was hit by a bus tomorrow, would I be happy with the way I spent today?

Today the answer to that is yes. But that is because today I did no study whatsoever – but did have some really good conversations with some really cool people. I become more and more convinced that we exist most significantly in the intersection between us and another, that life is not defined by who we are but by what we give and how we love and who we share it with. Am I prepared to live my life for a title and an ideal of what that means?

I would rather regret the things I have done than those I did not do…
But every choice leaves some things undone, so which things are more important for me to do and have done?

Maybe the Quest is bigger than I thought… do I really want the pot of gold at the end without enjoying the ride down the rainbow?

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