Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds
No Magic Bullet is a book for anyone interested in exploring the causes of
and solutions to children’s attentional / behavioral / emotional difficulties today
In the links below there are references from the book and new emerging ideas
which could be part of the picture thus creating an ongoing conversation. Also
I encourage readers to relate their own experiences through the contact form.
by Helen Black
Are We Surrounded by Warriors in the World? (With a mental health twist)
The term Warrior in the world was made famous by Chogyam Trungpa in his bestselling book entitled Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. In this book he makes a profound statement “the key to warriorship… is not being afraid of who you are” 1. As I look around me I see that many of us carry that fear which can act to paralyse us into inaction. But there are many others who trust their basic instincts, and they follow these instincts in how they lead their lives. Often these people are dismissed as quacks, wrongheaded or even activists. Legions of these people are confidently modeling warrior behavior around us be it in alternative health, environment or business practices. Our society often encourages us to fear those who present an alternate, or activist, view. My own life experiences have led me to view warriorship and activism in a new light.
First I want to consider the term activism. This term is often being used interchangeably with the word warrior today. I have to wonder why activism is often a frightening term? Activism has to do with our actions. All of us perform actions. The Oxford dictionary gives the definition of activism as “the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change” 2. Therefore, actions which aim to lead to change are considered activism. The requirement for “vigorous campaigning” may be exaggerated. I believe an activist is someone all of us can be just by how we live our lives, even though we may not label ourselves as such. It could also be considered as acting as a warrior in the world. We are surrounded by many individuals who could be seen as being activists, or warriors, as through their daily choices they are quietly and incrementally changing our society. Whether termed an activist or warrior they are often viewed with suspicion. My own experience dealing with mental health issues has allowed me to envision activism in a broader context, and has opened my eyes to see many people acting as warriors in the world all around me.
My own fresh view of activism developed after my son became mentally ill. Our son John had been exceptionally sensitive from birth. He was born a few weeks premature at only five pounds. Although he thrived and was healthy he was colicky as a baby and fussed a lot. This continued on as he grew. John was sensitive to sounds, any change, any variation in sleep times, etc. Attending school added more strain to John’s life. My husband and I found the character of the teacher played a big role in how he behaved when he came home from school. In grade two we resorted to having a change in classroom in response to his experience dealing with a teacher who screamed a lot. After his first day in grade 3 John came home and soon began to rage so violently that his brother and I did not feel safe around him. From that day John raged, developed tics, rarely went out, etc. Something was seriously wrong.
We struggled to find professionals who might help us; visiting psychologists, psychiatrists and mental health units in hospitals. Within a year and a half we found a psychiatrist and psychologist who believed in our family and agreed to take us on. With their support and some medication our life became more tolerable but it was still horrible. John was given a range of labels reflecting behavioral, emotional and physical difficulties including Tourettes syndrome, ADHD and a few more. Our son would not go out, screamed a lot, and was exceptionally irritable.
It was heartbreaking to see what was happening to our sensitive, thoughtful and inquisitive little boy. We were afraid of what he would do next and for our safety at home. I simply could not tolerate the situation we lived in so went searching for other approaches. I read, searched the internet and talked to others. We made an appointment with a naturopath who told us food could be playing a significant role. I took time to reflect on all that we read and heard.
Then our family began to take little actions experimenting with “alternative health” ideas, starting with what we ate. We began buying grass fed beef from a farmer and including some protein in our breakfast. From there we expanded to reducing sugar, then removing wheat and dairy. With each little step our son’s difficulties, both physical and behavioral, improved incrementally. Symptoms our son experienced including tics, rashes, and some difficulty writing began to disappear. We continued to integrate other approaches including therapeutic dose of fatty acids and probiotics.
I learned gradually how food affects the body’s gut lining which directly relates to brain function. That our food supply and the mental health of our children is intimately connected. This understanding changed my world and priorities.
Within a couple of years of our experimenting with alternative practices the tics were gone, rashes nonexistent, he was more settled and his writing improved. The rages stopped but John was still angry. We definitely saw the merits of these changes we made in diet and lifestyle on the health of our son. Approaching our problem through changing our behaviors was far more effective than the standard pharmaceutical model. There was no single solution but all of our efforts worked together.
Not only did our son John improve, but the rest of the family experienced significant improvements in our general health. Minor ailments simply disappeared. The psychiatrist watching John’s improvement cautiously reduced John’s medication. During his year in grade 11 when we tried a new probiotic, John seemed to really recover and by the time he graduated high school he had no need for any supports of any sort. There was a complete turnaround in his prognosis and our family’s quality of life.
From our experience we learned that health, particularly mental health, is impacted by water quality, agricultural practices, chemicals found in everyday products including shampoo and detergents, allergic responses to food and nutritional deficiencies. I realize that the stress of the school environment played a significant role in the emerging of John’s difficulties but changing our diet and repairing his system brought him to a state of recovery which allows him to now thrive in our society.
The response of people around us to the changes in our lifestyle was interesting. Many were concerned with our emerging behavior. Some were afraid to invite us to events when food was involved as our diet seemed confusing. As children are often rewarded with treats containing sugar or pizza these dietary approaches were seen to pose excessive restrictions. Our family doctor told us there was no proof that the approaches we were utilizing worked, even though it was obvious our son was rapidly improving. It became apparent that our actions were frightening to some of the people around us.
A few other mothers and professionals came to ask me what we were doing as they observed our son was improving. They wondered if our experience might help someone else. When we explained our dietary and lifestyle changes we were repeatedly told “nobody could do that”. The reasons cited for the impossibility of trying our methods followed several themes; it would take too much effort, other people in their lives would not accept them, and the expense. My husband and I had felt our responsibility as parents was to offer our son the best quality of life to our children as we could. It seemed to me these families would be willing to allow their child and inevitably the rest of their family to suffer in order to conform to societal norms. I have to admit though that for us the experience was quite isolating. It took us some time to become comfortable explaining what we eat and how we would participate in events. We had needed to accept ourselves and the choices we were making in a deeper way as we began down that path. This has been, by far, the most challenging thing I have done in my life.
Our family has gone through a lifestyle change. We now support local food production, buy organic food, petition the government to label food containing genetically modified organisms, take actions to protect the quality of our drinking water, etc. We now work towards supporting our continued good health but also want to offer others the opportunity to discover the benefits we’ve experienced. By virtue of our response to our son’s difficulties, by overcoming our fears and following our insights, my husband and I have become activists or warriors in the world.
Over many years our family visited naturopaths, homeopaths, chiropractors, and compounding pharmacists discovering a range of actions which each of these professionals found to be of benefit to struggling children. All of these professionals hold some form of post secondary education, often from conventionally recognized institutions yet within the mainstream most of them were not taken seriously. We discovered that when practitioners working within conventional medicine utilize alternative approaches they are often ridiculed, ostracized and even face disciplinary action by their professional peers. We were often warned not to trust them as we watched in amazement as our son overcame his difficulties.
The professionals working in alternative health practices stand apart as they are willing to consider their subject a little bit differently. The perception held by these alternative practitioners as to the underlying factors causing children’s mental health difficulties doesn’t fit into the conventional model. We discovered that when their view did not match the conventional model these individuals did not disregard their perceptions, even intuitions, but they trusted themselves and kept going. Each of these individuals following their own path must have undergone an internal decision to not be dictated by fear but to act as warriors.
So many alternative health practitioners, today and in the past, have followed ideas and practices which make sense to them. They have not allowed economic hardship or fear of being socially ostracized restrain them. I believe they are some of the true warriors in the world.
I think here of Abram Hoffer, a Canadian psychiatrist, who bravely brought forward ideas of progressive mental health.3 Dr. Hoffer began his career studying agriculture and brought the role of food quality and nutrient deficiency forward in his work with mental illness. Connecting this fundamental understanding Dr. Hoffer found success treating some forms of schizophrenia with mega doses of vitamins, particularly niacin. Although his practices led to many successful outcomes he was ostracized by the mainstream medical community as they moved to a pharmaceutical model. Even though he was sidelined by mainstream medicine many people came to visit him from all over the world seeking his wisdom. This view of medical treatment developed by Dr. Hoffer and like minded physicians became known as “orthomolecular medicine”. It is defined as “system of medicine which depends heavily on the therapeutic use of natural substances which are normally present in the human body.” Dr. Hoffer fearlessly persevered forming the International Schizophrenia Association, an organization with an international following, then developing an annual conference in Canada drawing mainstream and alternative researchers, practitioners and lay people to learn from each other of advances in this field. He found creative and respectful ways to support others in discovering the merit of this view. Abram Hoffer’s life was an example of a compassionate warrior as he cared about helping others find answers to their mental health concerns until the day he died.
There are no placards or protests carried out by the present day followers of orthomolecular medicine but there is continuous effort to create a more inclusive view in medicine. Most communities in the western nations contain individuals bringing forward these alternate views quietly. Each year there are increased numbers of people looking for medical help who are finding answers in the alternative sector. This lesser known sector is there because there have been brave warriors willing to step away from the norm and follow the path which makes sense to them. Similar examples of “warrior behavior” could be found with individuals working in renewable energy, organic farming, etc.
My experience has taught me to see the world with fresh eyes. I am learning to pause when discovering that another’s view or action differs from what I have “known” to be true. I can no longer accept at face value the perceptions I am surrounded by. I discovered there are many ways to view the world and I have some freedom of choice, even if my choices are sometimes isolating. Each of our lives is a continuous stream of choices. Trusting your thoughts, feelings and intuitions is a valid thing to do, but when you act upon your inner wisdom; you often find the most satisfying outcomes. I believe it is fear of the response of those around us when we behave in unexpected ways which scares us most. It most certainly scares me. In response I am continually learning how to overcome this fear. I am finding through my involvement with Shambhala meditation and it’s teachings I am gaining tools to overcome this fear. In particular there are teachings on “fearlessness” which do not suggest one would not experience fear but are an encouragement to step forward anyway. Gradually I become more comfortable responding to my inner vision in my daily life. I am finding more coherence between my view and my behavior.
I find we have many warriors in the world, each finding a different vision or inspiration and we are beginning to observe many of these warriors step forward. There can be a feeling of isolation or impossibility to publicly stating your views when they differ from the view held by a government, company, community, etc. Like me, many of these brave individuals taking action
in the world are finding the need for spiritual support to sustain them in their actions. Trusting in your personal feelings, ideas or intuitions requires trusting your spirit. This speaks to a particular need of our time, as so many are searching for the strength to overcome their fear.
Most of us recognize that we live in a world where some change is required. Our climate is beginning to show its teeth, too many go hungry while others are satiated with wealth, excessive numbers are struggling with health issues, our children are behaving differently and a multitude of other difficulties face us. Many of us are looking for others to take the lead and take some action but there are a multitude of folks who envision actions they can perform and simply step forward. We are surrounded by these individuals, and it is such individuals that could be called warriors or activists even if they would not label themselves as such. They often are not recognized on a grand scale as the society at large does not acknowledge them. These warriors act out of respect for their own view of the world in a confident manner, like a warrior in the world. It may require getting past seeing warriorship or activism as a frightening term with associations of aggression.
In this time many of us are waking up to realize change is going to occur whether we are involved or not. Taking time to reflect on your own feelings and values may be a reasonable place to start. Then slowly take small steps in response to your inspiration. We can all be warriors in our own way.
3. International Schizophrenia Foundation, http://www.orthomed.org/index.html ,3