It’s Never Too Late (Parashat Lech Lecha)

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu laasok b’divrei Torah.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with mitzvot, commanding us to engage with words of Torah.

It’s Never Too Late to Change

It may be surprising to some, but the vast majority of coaching clients I’ve worked with are in their sixties or seventies. Sometimes their life has taken an unexpected and dramatic turn. They come to me more or less in free-fall through economic or health related struggles. In other situations, they are facing down a more existential crisis–a realization that their life has stalled, and that they want to be doing something else, something more.

These folks and others like them share something in common with the central figure in this week’s Torah portion, Abraham. Now, reflecting back at what we know about the world’s major religions, Abraham’s importance cannot be understated. Islam, Christianity, and Judaism alike all trace their lineage to this figure.

Yet, Abraham doesn’t make his appearance in the Torah until he is 75 years old!

If ever there was an example of the axiom “it’s never too late to start!” this is it. Abraham embodies that truth. His covenant with G-d, one of–if not the–central themes to the remainder of the Torah, isn’t even formulated until he is 99.

But sure, this is the stuff of legend, right? In scripture, people live well past several centuries, women (including Abraham’s wife, Sarah) give birth very late in life, snakes talk, people get turned into pillars of salt, and all sorts of extraordinary things happen. How’s that supposed to help a modern day American already living beyond his life expectancy?

Fair enough.

This week’s Torah portion doesn’t just say “it’s never too late” and leave it at that though. No, the passage actually opens by describing some rough terrain ahead. Abraham is commanded to go from his land, his birthplace, and from his father’s house, to somewhere he has not even been shown yet.

Let’s sit with the weight of that challenge for a moment. Abraham is being called to a life that is beyond everything familiar to him in the seven and a half decades prior to our story–and there is no guarantee of a future for him if he answers that call.

Like lifelong workers replaced by automation, outsourcing, or new technical skills difficult to acquire, Abraham is being called into a future where the skills he has mastered may no longer be relevant. Like those of us whose hearts long for adventure, Abraham is being called to a place where he will be the stranger. Like those of us realizing the diets and lifestyle choices we were raised on will not support a healthy life for us, Abraham is being called to step out from the patterns and traditions that previously guided him.

And all along the way there are conflicts, plagues, deception, and drama. “It’s never too late to change your life” might as well mean “it’s never too late to willfully pursue stressful and potentially life-threatening situations.”

Despite both those apparent and unanticipated obstacles though, Abraham goes forward. Perhaps that foolhardiness informs why some Kabbalists and Chassids consider the intellect the father of man; Abraham literally goes forth from his intellect.

For Abraham, this decision has little to do with recklessness or even having a clear destination in mind. Recall, at the start of the passage, G-d has not even revealed where Abraham is to go, only that he is to go. In Abraham’s heart, this is a choice that he must make–consequences, potential death, hardship, and failure be damned! He must leave the familiar behind and answer the call within him.

In coaching, we understand that this is the crucial component to anyone’s attempts at changing the course of their lives. There has to be that internal necessity for change. Otherwise, why bother? Isn’t the familiar much more comfortable? 

Whether our journeys are incited by messages from G-d, pink slips from our employer, or test results ordered by a doctor, it’s up to us as individuals to choose whether and how we will answer their call.

Perhaps then there is another “go forth from” Abraham is challenged by in this passage–himself. Where are we in life? Are we happy there? Are we content? What needs to change? And, most importantly, how far are we willing to go to change it?

If Abraham’s journey is any indicator of what we might expect, the path ahead is dangerous. Yet there’s something rewarding at a soul level when we say yes, when we refuse to accept complacency, and when we choose to go forth anyway.

That kind of journey, that kind of reward, that kind of positive consequence–it’s never too late for us to pursue.

Lessons on Surviving the Deluge (Parashat Noach)

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu laasok b’divrei Torah.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with mitzvot, commanding us to engage with words of Torah.

I can still remember the rain that fell right at the start of the pandemic lockdowns. I’d made the decision long before then to cut out cable and internet news from my life, so the shellshocked look in the eyes of the venue owners I visited that day felt out of place. In my mind, I was just pushing my classes out by two weeks. It was a simple enough correction to make on the flyers themselves. After that, everything would be back to normal.

Already though, clients and colleagues alike were frantically scrambling for new forms of work. People (myself included) were suddenly remembering our passions for photography, for writing, and for anything else that could be made at home and sold online. Maybe this would be an exciting opportunity to reconnect with a truer part of ourselves, I mused.

The gravity of what was happening didn’t really hit me until a coaching client, a schoolteacher, asked me pointblank if she should take another job while the schools were shutdown. Normally, questions like that aren’t in my job description. I help people explore hows and whys. I don’t deal in shoulds. But in that moment, the only question I could think of–what happens if the school system takes longer than two weeks to get back up and running?–led us both to a glimpse of the reality that was coming, and the only answers we should be considering while we still had time to adapt.

Sheltering in the Ark

In this week’s Torah portion, Noah is instructed by G-d to build an ark which will shelter his family and pairs of every animal species from a devastating flood that will destroy everyone else. Flood myths like this story, or, more accurately, myths about chosen heroes surviving the deluge, can be found around the world. In India for instance, Matsya (an incarnation of Vishnu) warns Manu about an impending flood, and commands him to gather the grains and sages of the world in an ark for safety. Mesopotamian cultures likewise produced flood myths in which heroes like Atra-Hasis and Utnapishtim are warned by divine forces and tasked with preserving life from divine punishment in the form of a catastrophic flood.

While anthropologists and other scientists continue to debate the possibility of a literal flood informing all of these stories, we can take from the Torah here some fascinating insight into the nature of human resilience, essentially how to go about surviving the deluge.

The operative word to our survival, teva (the ark), is one that rabbis and Kabbalists have been exploring for centuries now. Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, for instance, expanded the dual meaning of teva as both an “ark” and a “word.” In his commentary, Kedushat Levi, the rabbi explains that the dimensions given for the ark, represented by the Hebrew letters lamed (30), shin (300), and nun (50), spell out the root of the Hebrew word lashon (tongue, or language). The height alludes to G-d’s position in creation, the width to the mutual love between G-d and creation, and the length to the journey of awareness that clarifies these relationships.

The same dimensions of the ark can be located by multiplying the values of the letters in the secret name of G-d. Hey (ה) by Vav (ו), or, 5 x 6 = 30, the height of the ark. Hey (ה) by Yud (י), or, 10 x 5 = 50, the width of the ark. And Yud, Hey, and Vav (י-ה-ו), or, 10 x 5 x 6 = 300, the length of the ark. (This particular teaching may originate with Ha’ARI Hakadosh, R. Isaac Luria, but has since become relatively diffused among many different rabbis).

R. Yitzchak Meir likewise is said to have proclaimed that “The ark of Noah is the words and letters of Torah!” In essence, we take refuge in the Torah. Surviving the deluge is a matter of entering into alignment with this testament to the perfection of G-d, who in turn is all around us, embracing and sanctifying all that we go through. In his text, Yalkut Reuveni, Rabbi Reuben ben Hoshke of Prague connects Noah entering the ark to the message of Proverbs 18:10: “The name of G-d is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” The sum of all these teachings then may help to clarify why the story of the Tower of Babel is also included in the Torah portion concerning Noah. The very dimensions of the ark carry the name of G-d, while man constructs the Tower of Babel to make a name for himself.

One last word I want to pull from teva here is “nature,” both in the sense of creation as a whole, but also in the sense of our essence as individuals within it. Nature is a testament to G-d. Here I am reminded of the quote attributed to Meister Eckhart, “Every creature is a word of G-d.” And it is in our nature to both succeed and fail at living in harmony with that truth. On a metaphysical level we are at times both Noah, weathering the nature of this world from within the ark, and at other times, we are the people who slip beneath the waves and drown or attempt to reach the heavens by our own name alone.

Though the outside world may take the story of Noah at face value as a historical reality to be proven or disproven, the metaphysical layer to the text challenges us to recall the power of language both in the act of creation and also in our resilience through its obstacles.

Surviving the Deluge

Nothing could have prepared me for all that I lost during the pandemic shutdown. And I know that I am not alone in that sense. So many of us were caught off-guard, and frustratingly found ourselves on the wrong side of often arbitrary regulations and processes that very plainly benefitted certain managerial industries and the kind of large corporations with enough savings and infrastructure to afford an unending shutdown of in-person contact.

Truth be told, I still at times feel anger about that. Resentment. And of course fear. It’s the fear that comes from being powerless in the face of destruction. Something I share with many of the folks I have been coaching since then is a recognition that we have spent more than a year now caught in a system which will very easily pull you under.

When it does, and when you look around and realize that you have very little power over determining when or how you will be able to return to work in order to support yourself, we, like Noah, find ourselves tasked with surviving the deluge. There’s this proverb I’ve heard attributed to numerous sources, essentially it teaches that a suicidal man will still fight to keep himself from drowning. What it means is that our impulse to live is incredibly strong, even in the darkest of times. If you take away a man’s means to support himself and his family, he may hurt deeply and for a very long time. But what you don’t crush is his soul. Because in that time that he is surviving the deluge, he is finding that the only power he–and he alone–has control over is his own mindset, his own attitude, and the choices he will make each day.

This is the very power of the soul.

The story of Noah is not about surviving the deluge in a birds nest of gopher wood sealed with pitch. Neither is it about the rage of G-d or mass destruction. It’s not about floods, or even historical documentation of a catastrophic event. It’s about how to survive the harsh, unforgiving, and truly unfair conditions of life we will all go through at some point or another. It’s about surviving the feeling of your whole world washing away, and having no one else to blame but an invisible force you must be too lowly to even comprehend.

This portion of the Torah gives us a blueprint for survival spelled out in the curious metaphysics of Hebrew words and their mystical associations. Take refuge in Torah. Shelter yourself in the ark of G-d’s name. Whether you believe in G-d or not, put some higher power above yourself, because if you depend solely on your own greatness, eventually you’ll crumble beneath the weight of your own insignificance.

Surviving the deluge is a matter of language and words. Yes, G-d provides the direction and the structure, but we must choose to enter the ark. When all else is lost, mind the words you speak first to yourself. From the language of your mindset, your internal world is formed. The words we speak to ourselves can shelter and protect our soul where no other influence can reach. That language we build around our life can either be a great vessel that stays above the water, or a wobbling tower that leaves us scatter-brained and stranded beyond comprehension.

Parashat Bereshit (In the Beginning)

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu laasok b’divrei Torah.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with mitzvot, commanding us to engage with words of Torah.

In the beginning is G-d.

Every story in the Bible and nearly ever facet of our lives follow from this fact. It’s through creation that anything and everything that matters in our lives comes into a form that even can matter to us. It’s through creation that we are even around to find meaning and to assign importance to anything else.

In the beginning though, is G-d.

And here in this week’s Torah portion, G-d separates light from darkness. Everything else we study, experience, explore, and investigate will be done essentially in the light, or at least after this separation occurs, but there’s a little kernel of G-d’s nature hidden here too.

In the darkness is G-d.

In some ways, this truth connects the beginning of Torah to its conclusion. There, Joshua is called to replace Moses, yet all around this change in leadership are dire warnings about the fate of the Israelites when they enter the Promised Land. For all of the build-up to the honoring of this covenant between G-d and the Israelites, there’s a real cliffhanger of a conclusion to the Torah. Doom and agony following failure seem to be their fate, as a moral darkness is foretold by both Moses and G-d.

Yet here in the beginning, all that G-d will create begins in the darkness.

So often when we are struggling or when we have truly hit rock bottom in our lives, we feel incredibly alone. When tragedy strikes us, when we search our souls for where we have sinned and cannot fathom that anything we have done could have possibly caused the circumstances we are experiencing, we feel so very powerless. When everything before us seems insurmountable, and when life becomes so dark that we cannot even dream a future out of it, we feel the depth of hopelessness.

Nevertheless, this week’s Torah portion invites us to be present in these feelings as vital components to the story of creation still unfolding in our own lives. G-d’s example is laid out plainly for us. In times of hopelessness, we must seek to separate the light from the dark. We must seek out those things that renew our spirit and that fill our hearts with an eager hope. We must find the tasks which are achievable, carefully guard each and every choice we can make, and walk forward knowing that challenges, obstacles, injustices, and failures are the geography of this world, no matter our intentions or best laid plans.

Perhaps most importantly, this week’s scripture teaches us that when all of that still feels too impossible and when the darkness is everywhere and in everything, we are not alone. G-d is with us. G-d will create entire new books to our life story that render the darkness merely a footnote, so easy to overlook.

This moment may feel like the end and like a terrible fall from some former glory. Consider another perspective, however. Everything that has already happened to you (and even by your own hand) could instead be described simply as “in the beginning.” What you make of tomorrow remains your choice to make.

Diabetes and Massage Therapy: Yes, It Could Lower Your Blood Sugar

If your experience of modern medicine’s approach to diabetes was anything like mine, you were given two basic keys to managing your blood sugar shortly after your diagnosis (and neither were a pamphlet on diabetes and massage).

First, you were told that you’ll need to track your carbohydrate intake from now on. Along with that you were probably told that the expectation for adhering to any sort of diet plan is incredibly low. After all, you made it this far in your life without watching what you eat, so what are the odds you’re going to change now? 

The second key makes up for that though. It’s the promise of modern medicine. You just take a pill and go enjoy your burger and shake, no effort, no stress. After a while, you’ll up the dosage and maybe add another pill or two, or even insulin injections if those don’t work.

The likelihood of “reversing” diabetes or managing it purely through diet and lifestyle is slim. Again, the bar here is very low. Beyond a few informative packets you’ll likely toss on the way out of the office, no one really pushes you to make healthier diet choices or to find ways to maximize your physical activity like your actual health depends on it.

That’s why we have medicines.

By my reckoning the problem with this approach is twofold. First, there’s a lot we can accomplish with diet and exercise. I know because I’ve done it myself. When I was diagnosed, my blood sugars were in the 500s and my A1c mirrored it. I needed insulin and metformin to get it back down to normal. Through a years-long process of changing the way I eat and move, and much to the surprise of my doctor, I achieved remission. It’s unheard of, he assured me. And I’ve heard the same from my coaching colleagues in medical practice as well.

Even for all the focus I’ve put on my health since then, there was something in my diabetes management strategy that I missed until just last year when I experienced an uncharacteristic and alarming blood sugar spike for several months. It’s the second problem with the medicine-centered approach. It’s the key no one really talks about, not even the folks advocating for plant-based diets as a way to manage blood sugar.

I’m talking about the influence of stress on diabetes.

Diabetes and Massage Therapy

Stress relief is truly the bridge that connects diabetes and massage therapy. And that makes sense, right? I mean, if there’s anything we all associate with massage therapy, it’s relaxation. People book a massage after stressful events or as a means of managing peak stress levels.

From my perspective, both the massage industry and diabetes research suffer from a curious desire to make themselves more complicated though. It’s as if, to some degree, we’re afraid of giving our mindset enough power to influence the physical condition of our body. So, diabetes becomes this mysteriously unmanageable monster we can only ever treat with medication. And massage therapy becomes this practice we have to justify as medically necessary for some reason other than the simple reality of stress relief.

Mind and body are connected though. Where some cultures might divide them, holistically we can even think of them as one being. After all, what is a mind but the thoughts and feelings of a brain and nervous system, themselves part of a body?

Still, the need to make massage therapy “medical” (in the sense of being more than a relaxation technique) has produced some great research on diabetes. A systematic review of scientific literature on diabetes and massage published in 2001, noted that massage might influence insulin uptake at the injection site, lower or normalize blood glucose levels, and improve certain forms of diabetic neuropathy.

Of note, the paper’s authors write:

“Additionally, massage has been shown to decrease anxiety in a variety of patient populations, including people with diabetes. These stress-reducing benefits of massage have raised the possibility that massage may be of benefit to people with diabetes by inducing the relaxation response, thereby controlling the counter-regulatory stress hormones and permitting the body to use insulin more effectively.”

A 2019 systematic review covering the previous twenty years of research on diabetes and massage noted similar effects for diabetics, including “a decrease in blood glucose, hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) levels while an improvement in neuropathic pain and diabetic foot ulcer.”

What This Means For Diabetics

The bottom line is that depending on what your symptoms are, how well your diabetes is managed, and what kind of massage you’re receiving, massage therapy could really help you with a lot of the medical concerns you have.

Beyond the coulds and cans and maybes though, I truly think we (as diabetics) can look at massage as something that helps us relax. And that’s good enough, no other medical work needed. Helping diabetics relax equals better body use of insulin. That in itself is phenomenal.

The cool thing about being as fixated on healthy eating and fitness as I have been since my diagnosis, is that I can rule out most of the usual suspects when I see my blood sugar levels spike. I know it’s not what I’m eating. And I know it’s not that I’m sitting around the house or office too much.

The thing no one prepared me for or talked to me about before I saw it though was that high levels of stress in your life can send your blood sugar high on up there too. For about a month, I was seeing numbers in the upper 200s, and even after restarting medication, there was little change. It was only after I got my stress back under control that I saw relief.

If we care about our health post-diagnosis, we can’t afford to dismiss the impact of chronic stress on our physical health. And with that in mind, making massage therapy a regular part of our lives is a great way to better manage our stress level and our long-term outcomes living with diabetes.

You’ve Come So Far (And You’re Not Done Yet)

Coaching high achievers involves a lot of realizing late into your introductory sessions that this person coming to you with low energy, low motivation, and a directionless quality to life is actually fresh off an extreme sports competition or quitting a ten-year drug habit cold turkey.

You know, the stuff that the rest of us only joke about.

But to these folks, it’s real. It’s actually so real and their lives are so intense that the ambient norm of everyday living feels like depression for some of them.

More to the point, high achievers can struggle with the lows and bounce-back periods of their lives between major achievements. In particular, this struggle is amplified for high achievers (of any age) whose earlier direction and pursuits were strongly influenced by another person.

We’ve all heard that before. Behind every great person is a great spouse, great parents, or a great community. While it’s important to emphasize that most high achievers are people with very strong willpower (potentially despite their present mood), it’s these great influences in their lives that first activate them.

It’s the parents who take us to soccer practice, run drills with us on their own time, and show up with enthusiasm at every scrimmage who activate us as athletes. It’s the English literature teacher who comments on our work, recommends extracurricular reading, and encourages us to keep writing after graduation who activates us as writers.

We might follow the footsteps of a musician or artist from our hometown, someone we relate to in another way or share something extraordinary in common with. Every high achiever I’ve worked with has one of these influences in their lives. And they set us on the path of our first major achievements.

High Achievers Need to Connect to Their Own Power

Where high achievers get derailed is in individuating themselves from these early influences. When someone guides you into something you’re passionate about, it can be a challenge to realize these passions as your own too. And in that sense, it can be difficult to differentiate your own approach from theirs, particularly if they exerted a strong influence on your start.

The high achievers I’ve coached are people who reached spectacular heights early in life when these influences were still present. As soon as their late teens or early twenties, their achievement level suddenly took a nosedive, and that’s where they got stuck. Some became too focused on following the precise footsteps of their influences, and neglected their selves in the process. Others acclimated to being directed and told what to do–they show up for coaching in hopes that I can tell them what’s next for them.

Spoiler alert: it’s not my choice to make.

The truth for every high achiever is that you’ve already come so far. You’ve already proven to yourself and to the world that you have the willpower, discipline, and personal fortitude to take on tremendous tasks, and to accomplish them. Getting that high again is never going to be your problem. That’s your norm.

What you’re learning is that what’s next is not decided already. In fact, the older and more independent you get, the less direction you’ll receive from others about what comes next. The future is truly up to you to decide.

Sometimes you’re going to fail, and fail spectacularly. In every direction you choose, you will struggle and encounter obstacles that challenge you. It’s your turn now to be the influence that guided you earlier in your life. Only this time, it’s your own success story you can go back to whenever and as often as you need it.

You’ve come so far already. But you’re nowhere near finished yet.

Just Because It’s Difficult Doesn’t Mean You Ought Not Do It.

Losing weight. Changing careers at fifty-five. Changing careers at any point in your life. Starting a business. Beating diabetes. Beating addiction.

I’ve worked with clients tackling all of these things. And there’s one obvious commonality they all share. They’re all incredibly difficult things to accomplish.

If losing weight were simple, there’d be no multi-billion dollar diet and fitness industries. If changing careers or starting a business were easy, people wouldn’t reach eighty and regret not taking more chances earlier in their life. 

Diabetes and addiction, while different beasts to each other, are most often daily battles. Rarely is there a moment where one is restored to their original health. Our bodies don’t come with reset buttons. The impact of dis-ease lasts a lifetime. And every morning, peace must be re-negotiated. 

Each of these struggles challenge us to push the limits of what is possible for the individual human being. Certainly they challenge the expectations of us. 

A common refrain I’ve heard from clients changing careers is that their bosses don’t expect them to actually quit and succeed. To be fair, these guys are financially invested in us showing up to work again on Monday.

Most doctors likewise don’t expect either diabetics or addicts to ever change. Of course, if you did, they’d lose a patient, a source of income, and a source of validity in their own work. 

This was the fact that surprised me most during an international health coach call I participated in a couple years ago. Colleague after colleague of mine from the medical field lamented the fact that none of their diabetic patients were interested in adopting any sort of lifestyle change. 

While they came at health coaching from the direction of wanting to motivate these patients, I come to this field from the perspective of someone who is managing their blood glucose levels without pharmaceutical intervention through holistic nutrition, fitness, and other lifestyle-based strategies. 

I surprised the room when my own experience was the exact opposite of theirs. I’ve seen countless diabetics already implementing lifestyle changes with success. These same clients reported that it was their doctors, not themselves who were strongly against exploring lifestyle changes for beating diabetes. 

Could both be true?

What I took away from that call at first was a hot-headed reaction to the typical medical establishment. Of course doctors don’t want their patients to change, I reassured myself. That would defeat their whole business model.

The truth though is that I do the exact same thing. I want my clients to be successful because that’s my model. 

Ethics and philosophy aside for a moment, where myself and my colleagues in medicine share common ground is in creating a framework of expectations for the people we work with. It’s in everything we do, from the way we discuss diagnoses and terms to the strategies we share with our clients; it’s the entire vibe of our work. 

Doctors tend to catch people at the end of the line whose bodies have broken down in one emergency or another, or over the slow course of a thousand different not-so-great choices. Their go-to strategy is the prescription pad because most people don’t have the time or willpower to change their lives and experiment with eating better or getting outside and running everyday. 

On the other end of the spectrum, I also pick up folks on the other side of emergencies and slow breakdowns. But the folks I get are the ones who at least in part, generally want to change. I can create space for them to explore what change will look like for them, what obstacles they anticipate facing, and how they will overcome them because that’s the path they have the interest and willpower in taking.

Having Willpower Isn’t Enough Though

The harsh reality is that entertaining our desire to tackle a big life change like beating diabetes is itself not enough to push us through. As I said before, all big life changes are extraordinarily difficult tasks to accomplish. 

In my own journey, I have faced numerous setbacks including relapse into needing medication after a period of remission. No health journey I have witnessed yet as a coach is as straightforward as choosing a direction and simply realizing it.

If I may be permitted one last barb directed at the medical industry, it is exactly the over-reliance on medication my colleagues complained about seeing in their patients that exemplifies the misconception that health struggles will be simple. When our dominant idea of healing is that it is as easy as taking a pill, we are thoroughly unprepared for the reality of a more difficult journey replete with setbacks, utter failure, periods of cluelessness, and disappointment.

Big life changes like beating diabetes are difficult. But that does not mean we ought not attempt them anyway.

On the other side of difficulty is not just the goal we set our sights on, but a new version of ourselves made capable of achieving at that level. Beating diabetes is undeniably a remarkable feat. Becoming the kind of person who gets to ask themselves “what next?” after doing so is a change in self-image we’ve likely never even imagined possible.

Changing Your Life Will Destroy Everything

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” (Winston Churchill)

The popular quote misattributed to Churchill, seems to actually derive from Victor Hugo who gave it a bit more of a poetic handling:

“You have enemies? Why, it is the story of every man who has done a great deed or created a new idea. It is the cloud which thunders around everything that shines. Fame must have enemies, as light must have gnats. Do not bother yourself about it; disdain. Keep your mind serene as you keep your life clear.”

Both quotations presume a dynamic about enemies wherein they are attracted, like gnats according to Hugo, towards those who stand up for something or have “done a great deed or created a new idea.”

Perhaps it is the evolution of the era, but I perceive a great deal more enemies relative to great deeds being done in the world. And I know I’m not alone in this assessment. Even within my own lifetime so far, the degree of divisiveness, pettiness, and unnecessary urgency and politicization of even the most mundane differences of perspective has created a social crisis spectacular in the frustrated inertia it foments between us.

Today we no longer need a great idea nor to perform a great deed to attract enemies, like gnats, to the light of our perspective. No. We simply need to read a different book or article, arrive at a different conclusion, or even just decline the urgency of broadcasting our ignorance when it is demanded.

Gone perhaps are the days of great men doing great things for a country greater than its constituent ideas and movements. Here are the days where greatness is simply a product of not being the other, where positions and values change in the blink of an eye, and only those who keep up, unswayed by sentimental values or attachments, will be deemed — if only for a passing moment — great.

Chasing this sort of popular greatness chips away at us. First of course it warns us against thinking for ourselves. Second it instills within us a sense of paranoia. We are all each just one unpopular thought, unpopular word, or unpopular deed away from social exile.

To be truly great in the vein of men described by Hugo and Churchill, is to free-fall into this anti-popularity. It is to find the courage and sense of place in the world to take up the defense of those people and places one loves.

No part of this spectacularly divided society prepares one for this kind of greatness. And certainly no part of this society prepares one to become this kind of great man later in life. Indeed, the very idea of changing one’s mind, that is, exhibiting personal growth as an individual and the capacity to process new information, is a faux pas.

Popular greatness fears this kind of change because to acknowledge it may lead to recognition of its own amorphous nature, which unlike the great man, lacks the battle-earned discernment of a moral compass. Popularity is based in currency, social or otherwise. Greatness is a matter of moral discipline.

To change our lives in any sense, whether to become the progenitor of great deeds and ideas or to simply become a greater man within ourselves, is necessarily in this era an act of destruction.

It is both our own old self who must be destroyed and re-made, and also our relationships to the people and places who bind us to that old self which must be severed and re-grown.

As a coach, I have observed this dynamic countless times in clients who are becoming great men in their own right. The vision we hold of our greatest selves is rarely the vision held by our friends, our bosses, our religious communities, or our social networks. Those forces, where they exist, will often seek to shame and tame us back into the self we are leaving behind.

More than physical addictions or economic challenges, this kind of social brutality is what I see triggering clients to backslide and relapse. Changing your life will destroy everything.

Without courage, without commitment and discipline to achieving the final vision, the fire will only scald, it will not forge. That is, it is easy to simply become a man with enemies. In today’s world, one hardly even needs to try.

But to become a man of great deeds and new ideas, the man of petty deeds and popular opinion must be left behind. Everything about him must be thrown to the fires and permitted to change. Only then can the great man emerge.

So We’re Just Going to Put Vaccines in Spinach Now?

There ought to be a law against medicating people without their consent. There probably already is. And it probably doesn’t matter anyway.

When I was a child, I was put on numerous medications for severe asthma, including various kinds of puberty-disrupting hormones. The side effects of these medications were, to our recollection, rarely if ever discussed with me or my parents. In large part, it seems now that they were unknown even to the doctors prescribing them at the time. Rather, we were caught up in a market-driven model. Symptoms = diagnosis = prescription (product). And the best consumers are those left in the dark about the products they consume.

New medicines weren’t prescribed on the basis that I needed an effect that they were shown to produce. No, new medicines were prescribed on the basis of being newly available.

I was the lab rat.

In the twenty years since I was subjected to these treatments, new studies have explored the damage wrought on the endocrine systems of children put on these medications. Neurological problems including suicide risk have been associated with others. And anecdotal evidence abounds among ex-patients identifying a connection between pharmaceutical intervention for asthma and onset of obesity, adult diabetes, and even gender dysphoria despite the research not catching up quite yet with what we ourselves already know.

When you come to realize that your childhood body was a sort of experimental playground for drug manufacturers and dealers licensed by the state, there’s a degree of mistrust and sensitivity you develop for future instances when say, drug use is mandated by the government or when powerful pharmaceutical interests explore their capacity to introduce medications into the food supply.

Meanwhile, even the acknowledgment of the long ancestry of indigenous wisdom all the world over regarding the use of plants and food as medicine is enough to earn the ire of the pharmaceutical industry’s apologists.

Imagine instead medicine that is freely available. Imagine natural medicine that grows wild. Imagine medicine manufactured by the sun and rain. Imagine the security of an entire ecosystem providing for your natural immunity and natural growth throughout the ages. Try to remember that this is the planet you already live on. This is your birthright.

For a wider audience, the Flint, Michigan water crisis–in which intolerable amounts of lead were found in the city drinking water–was a wake-up call to what elements of the natural living movement have been calling attention to for decades. The water supply is poisoned by agro-chemical runoff, toxic metals, and pharmaceutical traces delivered from millions upon millions of individual consumers. You are drinking antidepressants and heart medicine, birth control and testosterone.

Tomorrow will there be vaccines growing in your spinach? Researchers at the University of California, Riverside are putting to use a $500,000 grant from the taxpayer-funded National Science Foundation to find out.

Whatever Happened to Natural Medicine

What if you don’t want to be exposed to chemicals that disable your reproductive capacity? What if you don’t want bipolar medication in your drinking water, or mRNA vaccines in your salad?

If those questions are still too partisan to entertain, imagine that you discover that you have an allergy to a certain kind of medicines. Or imagine your child’s body being disrupted by the side effects of a medication, new conditions developing, and the possibility of preventable disability forming in their future. Imagine how vigilant you must become in either of these situations when the trigger is so normalized and so commonplace, it could be in the water you’re drinking or the food you encounter at the store or in restaurants. Imagine being fired from your job for not consuming it.

The U.S. has decades now of evidence that few will resist either the presence of these conditions or the implementation of social control measures meant to stigmatize and ostracize those who, for whatever reason, do not consent. The question before us is not if there will be a future where the normalized coercive or stealth medication of the populace becomes untenable for any particular individual–we’re already there for many people. The question is whether it will ever matter to a sizable and powerful enough segment of the population to stop it.

In this regard, our institutions of science and medicine have long ago failed. No institution which can rationalize the kind of damage done to children through the medications I and countless others were put on in the 90s and 00s is ever going to have the kind of ethical standards a healthy society needs from its caretakers. My example is hardly unique.

Modern medicine is instead driven by the profit to be gained from triggering a lifetime of compounding sicknesses, not health. And this makes sense given that we have John D. Rockefeller to thank for its hegemony over our very understanding of medicine these days. Medical doctors are not healers. They’re the middle men in a drug market, and now responsible for the third leading cause of death in the U.S.

So uprooted from the elegance and medicine of the natural world is this entire system that it can, with a straight face, study the engineering of plants to interject its own patented creations to alter the bodies of its consumers. Worse still is the possibility that the very thing being vaccinated against is itself a creation of the same industry. Can we even rightly call this medicine anymore? So many pharmaceuticals have their ancestry in natural medicine. Metformin was once goat’s rue. Morphine was once the poppy. Aspirin came from white willow, and penicillin from a mould.

Today we rewrite the story. Modern medicine is all that is given value. Traditional natural medicine is written off as quackery and statistically indistinguishable from placebo. Health that was once wild and free is made captive, patented, engineered, and manufactured. In this upside down world, putting vaccines in spinach makes sense. The natural body and the natural medicine that sustains it is the crazy idea.

5 Studies on How Linoleic Acid is Affecting Your Health

Years ago, I attended a seminar on food-based holistic health which included a segment very quickly running through some of the speaker’s views on the different cooking oils that are on the market. For several years now, my own personal oil use has been more or less restricted to the occasional olive oil in a cast iron skillet to cook a stir fry, so I didn’t pay as close attention as I perhaps should have.

It wasn’t until a client of mine brought up eliminating oils from his diet that I decided to give the topic a deeper look. From what I can tell, as with many health-related subjects, there is a range of perspectives often regarding the same health indicators.

Holistic nutrition, while a passion of mine, is not yet something in which I am professionally trained. So, with that in mind, I’ll leave the conclusions for my readers to draw. Here below though, I’ve collected five studies I’ve found specifically on linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid in our vegetable and seed oils (think: corn, soybean, canola, sunflower, pumpkin seed, etc).

Linoleic acid seems often to be identified as the villain in these oils, however, more recent research (included below) suggests it may be more complicated than that. What do you think?

Risk of Insulin Resistance Lower with Use of Olive Oil vs. Sunflower Oil

In this 2004 study published in the European Journal of Endocrinology, researchers found that people who used olive oil for cooking alone experienced lower insulin resistance than those who used sunflower oil or a mix of the two. Insulin resistance positively correlated with oleic acid (higher in olive oil) and negatively with linoleic acid (higher in sunflower oil).

Essentially what this study observes is that the risk of higher insulin resistance–that is, the body’s failure to respond normally to insulin–was lower in people who cooked with olive oil compared to sunflower oil.

Reduction in Migraines Associated with Diet Lower in Vegetable Oils

Much more recently, a team of researchers with the National Institutes of Health and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found a 30-40% reduction in headache hours per day, severe headache hours per day, and overall headache days per month for sufferers of migraines who consumed higher levels of fatty fish and lower levels of vegetable oils (high in linoleic acid).

Importantly, this research adds to a growing body of studies demonstrating the impact of dietary changes on chronic pain. In a backhanded way, it also sheds light on the un-helpfulness of the American diet in relation to chronic pain such as migraines, given that the study group given a diet high in vegetable oils and low in fatty fish was meant to mirror the average American intake.

Soybean Oil Causes Higher Obesity and Diabetes Than Diets High in Fructose

Research by scientists at the University of California, Riverside in 2015 found that soybean oil causes higher rates of obesity and diabetes than fructose (the much-maligned sugar found in soda and many highly processed foods).

Mice in the study fed the high soybean oil diet were observed to experience “increased weight gain, larger fat deposits, a fatty liver with signs of injury, diabetes and insulin resistance, all of which are part of metabolic syndrome.”

Linoleic Acid Can Increase Tumor Growth

This article is less of a study and more an analysis of many different studies into the nutritional value of linoleic acid. It notes the complexity of research into linoleic acid’s impact on cardiovascular health, while also documenting the compelling connections between linoleic acid and cancer.

For instance, the article notes that “under some conditions linoleic acid can act as a promoter of tumor growth.” It also identifies connections to mammary cancer, increased incidence of cancer and cancer mortality, and “correlative data that support the idea that increases in the incidence of some cancers mirror the increase in linoleic acid consumption.”

Soybean Oil Tied to Obesity and Neurological Problems

Lastly, this new study by researchers at UC Riverside links soybean oil not just to the increased rates of obesity and diabetes as noted in the team’s 2015 study included above, but also to decreased oxytocin levels and to genetic malfunctioning which may exemplify the oil’s impact on neurological conditions including autism and Parkinson’s.

As I mentioned in the introduction, recent research complicates the idea that linoleic acid alone is responsible for these effects. In a 2017 study, the UC Riverside team showed that genetically engineering soybean oil to be lower in linoleic acid also lowered rates of obesity and insulin resistance. Nevertheless, in this study, both natural and genetically modified soybean oil showed genetic disruptions, suggesting they are not caused by linoleic acid.

Parashat Haazinu (Listen In)

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu laasok b’divrei Torah.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with mitzvot, commanding us to engage with words of Torah.

In this week’s Torah portion, we listen in to receive this song from Moses which recounts the story of the Israelites to this point. Moses recounts how G-d made a covenant with them as a people, but also how they have been (and will continue to be) unfaithful, causing G-d to hide His face from them.

In the end, Moses ascends to the top of a mountain facing the Promised Land, and dies having not set foot within it.

Haazinu is about the identity at the core of Jewishness. The song speaks of our religious covenant with G-d, but it also reveals the nature of human experience in creation. One way to look at the entire relationship described here is through the lens of sin and punishment. The Israelites (including Moses) fail to live up to the standard of their covenant with G-d. As a result, G-d is at times hidden from them. G-d may also punish them by sending other people to destroy them, enslave or send them into exile. 

However, another way to look at this passage is that this relationship between people and the covenant is one rooted in the struggles and limits of physical creation.

“Listen in you heavens, and I will speak; hear, you earth, the words of my mouth. Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants.”

(Deuteronomy 32: 1-2 NIV)

Moses’ song begins not with the story of our people, but with an appeal to heaven and earth, and a poetic metaphor engaging Torah as natural nourishment like rain or dew on tender plants. G-d is further described throughout the passage as a Rock, essentially the foundation upon which all this grows.

What is being shared here is the reality of physical creation. 

Listen In

We are each going to fail at something. Not even Moses, the great leader of the Jewish people, is exempt from this limitation. This is the nature of our story, a piece of our core identity being communicated here. It is in our nature to fail to live up to the perfect divine order of G-d. That’s what makes us people. That’s what makes us creation. That is how we are designed, how we are intended to learn, and how we are given the opportunity to grow.

Feeling shame about it is optional.

The leaders we are given to study under, Moses for instance, were flawed just as we are, but they are defined by their persistence in the face of that reality, and by their commitment to G-d despite countless opportunities to give up. Depending on our background, the passage may seem set up to describe Moses’ death as a punishment by G-d. I think a healthier way to look at this passage is to understand death and Moses’ preclusion from the Promised Land as consequences of the nature of physical creation. 

We could drive ourselves crazy debating death and punishment as a matter of worthiness, but when we understand it as a matter of reality, and the consequences of a complex calculus of different actions, we are freed again to focus on our own actions, our own choices in the face of this reality. 

G-d is at times seemingly very present in our lives. We are plugged in. We feel the presence. We feel the blessing and the favor. Everything seems to go our way, and we are hopefully grateful for that alignment. Other times, our relationship with G-d is seemingly strained and detached. It is as if G-d hides His face from us (or we are hiding ours from Him in shame). 

Both are foundational to this experience we call life. There will be highs and there will be lows. There are times we must try hard to achieve greatness, and other times we enjoy the rewards of our effort. Like Moses, we may even be blessed enough to die devoting our lives to the very mission G-d has given us. 

To some, this passage seems an invitation to just shrug. Why bother? Sin your heart out. You are doomed to fail anyway, and if this is the nature of reality, why fight it? 

For the spiritually strong and courageous it is instead an invitation to doubly commit ourselves to the path and covenant we have chosen. Surely we are each as flawed as Moses. Failure before G-d and death are certain. But what shall we make of our lives then if that is the case? What stories shall we sing to our own descendants and by what deeds shall they remember us?

Listen in. The rain rises back to the sky, even though it will fall again.