Beyond Meds

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on October 07, 2022 # Lifestyle

medicationMany of us, including me, live and die by the medications we take and the operations we undergo. I’m just finishing up a regimen of an antibiotic “cocktail” to fend off a serious MRSA inflection on my right ankle. Luckily, I didn’t have to be confined to a hospital bed with an IV drip of Vancomycin to stamp out this killer bacteria. I take a slew of other pills daily just to maintain my aging body and avoid the complications of, say, a blocked femoral artery. Despite its obvious greed and the devious doings of snakes like the Sackler family, the pharmaceutical industry has repeatedly given us multiple lifelines for survival. This should not be taken for granted.

But meds with unpronounceable names and procedures like angioplasties and endarterectomies aren’t the only methods of healing. We all know about the three-headed mantra: exercise, eat right, and exercise some more. But there are many other activities that promote mind and body healing we seldom acknowledge.

An Indian-Canadian musician and music producer named Chin Injeti did a Ted Talk a while back entitled “How Music Connects Us All.” As a teenager, Chin contracted polio, and after two major surgeries, the first sound he remembers hearing after coming to was the sound of his own heartbeat. It instantly gave him a sense of hope, a sense that everything would work out. He then began to harmonize with his heartbeat, and later, his nurse came in and also added her voice to the harmonizing. “And for a few minutes there, man, we were like a choir of angels.”

“Of all the aids and all the drugs that were administered to me,” he later realized, “the most healing was music.” The rhythms he hears get him through the day. He hears them in the clacking of his crutches. And not just spiritually healing. “It taught me how to walk...and how to breath.” Music brings him joy, purpose, and as he said, hope. And it’s available to all of us, free of charge.

There’s another free source of healing: nature. As referenced in a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, the German philosopher Friedrich Schelling, way back in 1798, announced a new way of looking at the world. There is no divide between our nature and nature. “There is a secret bond connecting our mind with nature,” once the barriers we create in our own head are removed. The recent upswing in the therapeutic uses of psychedelic drugs like psilocybin makes the same point. These drugs, according to noted writer and “reluctant psychonaut” Michael Pollan, “disable, for period of time, the part of the brain where the self talks to the self.” You are temporarily free from destructive self-thinking.

Here’s where the healing comes in. Being in the natural world can shift your focus in very positive ways. The activity called for is not running or rolling five miles or learning a strenuous activity like adaptive skiing. It’s not goal-oriented or repetitive practice. You don’t do anything. The shift is in paying attention, full attention, to your natural surroundings, in the wilderness or on your block. It demands aimless walking or rolling – wandering along a forest path, getting lost in a botanical garden – where your only focus is where your eye or other senses take you. The healing comes from the escape of all those things you think you should be doing or thinking or fretting about. The unconscious experience of the bond between you and nature engenders the same kind of joy and hope that Chin’s rhythms do. Will it cure cancer? The jury is still out on that. It might have a marked effect on your depression or your dangerously high blood pressure.

Keep taking those meds and always listen to your doctors, then, at the first chance you get, go outside, listen to the rhythms around you and inside of you, roll around with absolutely no purpose or plan and exercise your senses, take two deep breaths, and call me in the morning.

SOURCES

“How Music Connects Us All,” Chin Injeti, TEDx Vancouver, Dec 2, 2015, available on YouTube.

Wuff, Andrea, “Can an Old Philosophy Help Us Solve A New Problem?,” New York Times, Sept 18, 2022.

Pollan, Michael, “How To Change Your Mind,” Penguin Press, May 15, 2018 (Also: Netflix documentary series, July 1, 2022)

Allen Rucker was born in Wichita Falls, Texas, raised in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and has an MA in Communication from Stanford University, an MA in American Culture from the University of Michigan, and a BA in English from Washington University, St. Louis.

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.