Thursday, January 5, 2012

Which Medicine...

For Which Condition?

The way I look at it, anything can be medicinal or helpful, even radiation, if the right dosage is used for the right condition. When it comes to self-medicating, whether it’s with cannabis, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, intellectualizing, aspirin, heroin, antacids, television, spiritual practices, jogging, martial arts or other self-induced endorphins, this gets tricky. On the one hand no one knows me better than I do, and on the other hand, we all hide things from ourselves. My blind spots can result in over or under-dosing, or treating the wrong condition with the wrong medicine.

It's a balancing act that can have harsh consequences...and I'm not just talking about the highly addictive trouble drugs... many people die while jogging and thousands of people die each year as a consequence of using aspirin.

Any time I medicate myself I am at risk...

But any time I let doctors or gurus or alternative medical professionals medicate me, I’m still self-medicating, I’m just doing so with the advice of others. And I am still at risk...there are financial and other positives and negatives no matter what I do.

If I expand my definition of “medication” beyond substances, to include any activity that changes my experience and mood, I see that I am making treatment, dose, and cost-benefit choices almost constantly, trying to find the right dose of the right “medicine” to treat the right “condition”.

Sometimes it’s easy to figure out and sometimes it’s not.

In time though, Nature offers clear and brutally honest feedback. Walt Whitman maintained that every exaggeration has its revenge in human physiology and I tend to agree. But what’s the difference between an “exaggeration” and the “correct dose of the right medicine for the right condition”? To find out I have to live and learn.

Sometimes I apply the wrong medicine, sometimes the wrong dose, sometimes both. Sometimes I get it just right…or at least I think I do.

Take cannabis for example. Over the years, this is what I’ve learned about it. With the right dose, it can be a great way to enjoy music or a movie, kick back after work, appreciate Nature, or open my mind to creative inspiration. With the wrong dose it can dull me or make me uncomfortably sensitive to all of these things. It is also, I think, the wrong medicine for dealing with uncomfortable feelings, particularly fear and anger related to addressing basic life issues like making a living, establishing intimate relationships, living independently, and finding one’s place in the world. It is a temporary postponement at best and a long numb detour at worst. I’m sure we’ve all met people who use cannabis as a way of not dealing with some of these basic life issues. And to be clear here, I’m not saying that cannabis has anything to do with avoiding feelings or issues. I’m saying that if I’m using cannabis to avoid my feelings or issues, it won’t do the job. It's the wrong medicine, I’ll need more and more of it, and it will be more and more injurious to my physical health and vitality. For me, the best medicine for dealing with feelings is feeling them, and the best medicine for dealing with issues is dealing with them directly.

So again, which medicine is a good fit and what’s the right dose? It’s an ongoing question…

This can be applied to anything I do. Take martial arts…I have to weigh these questions whenever I decide how much to train, how hard, how long and with what goal in mind. If any of these things are "off" for very long...injury surely follows and usually with a boatful of painful lessons attached. But it's my call. I have to prioritize in life whether I want to or not. I have to decide how much of which medicines to apply to which of my conditions, including the human one.

Sometimes it's worth it to take some damage to one part of my life in order to enjoy another more fully. I’ve certainly lost a girlfriend or two along the way due to my commitment to T’ai-Chi. My health has certainly suffered at times due to my commitment to Music and staying up late communing with my muse.

My teacher’s teacher Tchoung Ta-Tchen loved to tell stories about students whose spouses had made the ultimatum: T’ai-Chi or me! and the student had chosen T’ai-Chi. He would just grin ear to ear when he got to the part where the student had chosen T’ai-Chi over a relationship. At the time, it seemed very clear that the point of the story wasn’t that he thought marriage and home weren’t important, he was a traditional Chinese man for whom these things were extremely important, the point was that any spouse who would attempt to stop such an obviously beneficial practice is not someone you should be with. He was saying basically, you need more T’ai-Chi and a less controlling spouse, which is in essence recommending one medication over another, both of which have side-effects. I have chosen T’ai-Chi over a relationship a time or two, waiting for someone with whom this choice would not be an issue. And, since I found her, there have been times when I have adjusted my training or teaching schedule to make our marriage work better. I have also changed my dose of some other medications too, in order to improve the quality of my home or work life.

I think we all have to make calls like this all the time. I just like to make them consciously, and, if possible, with some thought. I try to be as objective as I can. I try to keep an open mind. I like to treat life like an ongoing experiment, seeing which “medications”, in the larger sense that I am using the word, match which of my “conditions”.

I have found over the course of my life that one sure sign that I’m using the wrong medicine is that I’m using more and more of it. I know this should seem obvious, but if I’m attached to the effects of some medicine or another, and I don’t want to look at the truth of what I’m doing, I can just not look at it. So now, no matter what I’m doing, I try to stay conscious of this. Am I increasing my dosage over time? What are the effects on the rest of my life? Is this really working? Life is an experiment, but how much am I filtering the evidence I’m getting? Is this the right medication? Is this the right dosage? How much is too much? How little is not enough? These are the big questions no matter what medicine I’m looking at…


  1. I love this way of looking at "medicine" I dont know how often I face and relate to anything head on, untempered by a mitigating aid of some kind. Would you call simplification and generalization a medicine? at what point does something become a medicine and when is it just a mode of effective functioning? Hmmmm...

    1. To me, it's all medicine of one kind or another. Things we do that shift our internal balance or mood or awareness to something different, something we like better. What I don't like is when people assume their medicine is more "spiritual" or more "healthy" than someone else's or make the ones they don't like illegal. We all have our "stuff". I wish we'd all just own it and have a little sympathy and compassion for other people's medicines. Instead of "Yours is depraved, mine is divine." I wish they'd switch to, "Don't mess with my high. I won't mess with yours." But alas, the moral police are pretty active on this front and have a lot invested in their world views...What matters to me is not what medicine people use or how much, it's how they behave, how they treat me, and how they treat the world and the people in their lives. I won't "break up" with a friend because they drink too much. I'll break up with them because they miss appointments, break their agreements and are no fun to hang out with.

  2. Good point, Gene.
    I have friends that go way back who still use. I don't judge them, they are my friends. When someone lies to me or embellishes a story, and I see through them, I want to leave them, because it brings out a little anger and negativity that i don't need or want in my life.

    1. Thanks for reading Sam and yes, to me it's not about the use of whatever people use, but their behavior. GB