Roots to Thrive Founder

A Personal Account by Margaret Huml, an inspired human who provides excellent company in liminal spaces~

I have crossed the threshold and even in moments when I think I want to go back I cannot. I am in a space between…. A waiting space. Here I sit in this waiting space – not the life I was living, left wondering when I will immerge on the ‘other side’ (whatever that means). I feel glimpses of anger, resentment, sadness…. Sometimes they pull me in deep…. And I want to go back to the discomfort of the way things were before, ironically that felt more comfortable and somehow appealing.

When I look outside of myself, I see all that I perceive needs to be different, needs to change, decisions that need to be made…. And a wave of overwhelm washes over me entirely. I have been trained that if I am not making a decision, than I am indecisive, that if I am not DOING than I am not enough………… so what then happens now, in this space between, in this waiting….. where nothing seems to be moving as quickly as I am used to.

I breathe. I tap into my Being. And here I can see with new eyes. I can see that the healing timeline is a lie…. There is no finish line, no decisions to be forced into existence. The path to healing is through…. And how do I get through my noisy mind asks…… sit and breathe my heart responds.

So I sit as best as I am able, for as long as I am able. Even when I want to run, I sit. I sit and breathe into the discomfort, into the ugliness, into the unraveling, into the stillness, I notice. And when I reach my maximum, I pause, I breathe again, I take a break (no shame) and come back to my BEing when I am able.

Maybe this liminal space, this space between, this waiting room…..maybe, just maybe, it is beautiful. Yes it is wonderfully slow (according to societal standards) and it is unknown. I am grateful for the space of curiosity that is accessible here, so I tend to myself with gentleness, with compassion, with love. From a state of BEing.

Inevitably my noisy mind becomes restless and prodding and I come to a moment when I can no longer notice with curiosity….. so I move with it. I wander in nature. I breathe. My chaotic mind tells me this walking is gluttonous…. Yet my body knows it is healing. Wandering in the woods, I am with it, the space between.

In this waiting space I search for anchors – anchors in nature – anchors in community – anchors in unconditional positive regard. So I show up here. Even when I feel messy. Even when I feel weary. Sad. Ugly. I show up without the “right” words, without knowing the way. And I wait. There is beauty in the waiting. Even when it can feel excruciating.

Expansion and contraction are equally valuable. Even though I prefer expansion – simply because my DOING mind justifies my existence here…. For me, expansion ticks the box of “I’m doing it right” or “I am winning” and yet contraction is the feeling in my body that represents a depth of meaning – can I meet myself where I am at, in this moment even when (especially when) I am not fond of this moment, this experience, this feeling….. there is meaning here, so I wait. I cultivate self-compassion, because I need a load more of that.

I am grateful for this community where I am held in love. Where you hold me able to sit in uncomfortable spaces that I have not allowed myself to before. And rather than greeting this space with tolerance (my typical grin & bear it approach), I am sitting, waiting to meet this space with compassion. I remind myself sometimes the significant thing is to breathe. To sit. To wait. Healing is a process not a destination. This space that we have created is a healing field – it is a sacred space that has been provided to me so that I may recognize what is whispering to be heard, to acknowledge it, to be with it, to tend to it and possibly to befriend it. This space is a gift, and although it feels turbulent at times, that’s ok. Here in this space I am not lost I am found. I am connected with source. I am connected with my Being. I am connected with community.

I see that my impatience to get to the other side is a manifestation of my noisy Doing mind – when I can hear my heart it reminds me that a life wandering a healing path is a life well LIVED. And clearly it is a beautiful journey because it has gifted me each of you.

As I am in the middle of it and you are in the middle of it and the WORLD is in the middle of it, our healing ripples out to our community and throughout the world~ (Huml, 2021)

Written by Gail Peekeekoot RN, DMin, a living example a woman who cultivates community~

Nothing I say will be new to you… and it comes after years of consideration, longing, and lots of reading. The book that pulled it together most recently for me is by a writer called Charles Eisenstein.  It’s called “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible”. Just hearing that title gives me relief.

I want to start by inviting you to imagine the faces of the people in your life… We all belong.

Some of us trust this or believe it more than others. And yet, here we all are.

We each found our way to this journey because we knew there just had to be a better way for us to live and work in a world in which we can express our most authentic being.

Truth be told… just being more comfortable in our skin and happier is a good starting place. I’ll take it.

Before we get to talking more about community, I want to touch into story. “Finally!” you might think.

It’s strange and sometimes uncomfortable to be in this Roots to Thrive community where we really don’t know much about each other!  And yes…our stories brought each of us to this place, but it’s not the details of those stories that matter here.

What matters is how we come back into relationship with our body and our Inner Being when jumped from behind by our painful stories or the chaos of the world.

Since we are going to finally talk about story on our way to talking about community, I’m going to tell you just the beginning words of three possible Creation stories.

As you hear each of them…think about where the story would go from there and how that would shape the lives of the people who hear them.

Close your eyes after you read each one.

Here’s the first one. The fires of Creation are burning.  Out of the fire steps First Man….

Here’s another. The fires of Creation are burning.  Out of the fire steps First Woman…

Here’s another. The fires of Creation are burning.  Out of the fire steps First Wolf…

All of our stories are rooted in the rich soil of the Creation Story into which we each were born.  And, until we learn differently, we think ours is the only Story that’s true for everyone.

How we live our personal stories is very much shaped by the story we inherited and were taught and absorbed in every act and word and the very energy field that surrounds us and moves through us… containing the history of our ancestors and so much more…until we see other possibilities for living our lives.

And then things start to change for us and our communities and our world.

Before there were sky scrapers and oil tankers and traffic jams…way before…we all lived in small communities in balanced relationship with the Cosmos, the Earth, ourselves, each other, our culture, our history, the Sacred and on and on. This is not a myth.  It is our heritage.

It wasn’t always easy.  People struggled and went to war for resources. We also coped with greed and cruelty and all the things that take people out of relationship.

The point is, we needed each other and the quirks and work and gifts and creativity of every person in our community. With intention, we lived in interconnectedness with All.

When Indigenous people say “All my Relations”, I hear these words as a graceful reminder of the intention to respect and sustain interconnectedness…and deep gratitude for the gift and blessing of interconnectedness.

At the human level it doesn’t happen by itself it happens by intention. At the cosmic level it comes as a gift of infinite and unfathomable, creative, unfolding design. Both.

Living in the story of interconnectedness, we knew ourselves to be part of a benevolent Universe in which we were loved and seen, and our needs would be met.

Human relationships tended to be equal not hierarchical. Power came from within and was shared for the benefit of all. People were held as worthy simply because they were alive. 

Individuals had direct personal relationship and experience of the Sacred through their Inner Being.

At some point, a new story was superimposed forcefully over the story of interconnection.  This story is one of separation.

You will recognize it. In this story, we are seen as being alone in a hostile Universe in which we have to fight to have our needs met. We must earn our worthiness and even our love.

This is how we become Human Doings. If we fail or step out of line, if we age, or get ill we can lose that hard won worth.

Power is held by those at the top of a hierarchy of wealth and influence and education who wield power over the rest of the population and the world’s resources.

Depending where you landed at birth on the hierarchy, you must work even harder to be deemed worthy and be granted resources for survival.

Perhaps the most painful part of the story of separation is that we are taught that we can only access the Sacred through one of God’s representatives on Earth who is – no surprise – at or near the top of the hierarchy.

Charles Eisenstein proposes that the increasing number of people who are experiencing anxiety and depression today is because we know in the depths of our being that we are between stories.  The one we grew up in, the story of hierarchy and separation is unsustainable and is falling apart and quickly coming down, taking the Earth with it. The story of separation contains our jobs and pensions and mortgages and our sense of who we have been in the world. 

The ancient story of interconnectedness is calling to us.  We know there is a better way of relating to ourselves, each other, and the Earth but we aren’t sure how to get there.

We may have a foot in both stories or jump back and forth.  We may not be sure about anything anymore.

Against high odds, many Indigenous peoples have served over the millennia as firekeepers of this way of interconnectedness and there have been many non-Indigenous people who have stepped away from the story of separation and created a path to the ancient story that is not yet.

So, we find ourselves in liminal space between stories as a culture and as individuals. And, because it has been painful to be in our changing world, we came together in Roots to Thrive where our snow globe has been shaken even more.

We long for community – real community where we see and are seen, where we hear and are heard. When we aren’t sure our wish for this is even possible, it is so hard to trust and stay in community and so hard to over-ride the patterns that seemed to keep us safe before.

We all want and deserve to be in healthy and balanced relationships with ourselves and each other and sometimes we just get scared. 

I was once told that there are two ways people handle fear: by being skunks or by being turtles.  When skunks get scared, they make a big stink and when the air clears…they wonder where everyone else went.  When turtles get scared, they tuck their heads in and when things settle down and they stick their heads out…they wonder where everyone else went. 

It’s good to know that going to centre is a viable third option when fear comes up.

In the past, we could have found ourselves alone having “turtled up” or after making a big stink.

Now, even if no one is there with us, we are held in a particular energy field that is growing as each person brings their unique beingness and humanness into Roots to Thrive.

We all sense the growing strength and beauty of this field as we heal together. This will continue with each cohort who join us. How does this happen?

In the story of separation, we all begin and end where our physical bodies begin and end.  In the story of interconnectedness, there is no beginning or end to any of us or anything – we are all energy beings vibrating at different frequencies in different overlapping and nested energy fields.

These fields carry our histories and stories and hopes and dreams. They carry and communicate our way of being in the world.

We have the fields of our ancestors, our families, our professions, our interests and on and on. I am shaped and am shaped by the fields of woman, mother, grandmother, wife, sister, aunt, nurse, midwife, singer, celebrant, minister, lover of trees and moons and stars, and psychedelics and on and on and on.

And now we can add being part of the energy field of the Roots to Thrive community. The healing and growth that happens in this field ripples out to the rest of our lives and the world.

In the story of separation, we are told that we need to go it alone. In the story of interconnectedness, there is no “alone”.  We are walking each other home to authenticity and the sweet rewards of living inspired and inspiring lives.

This is our intention and our joy.  We grow in community no matter how tricky it can be – maybe especially because of how tricky it can be.

The point is, we need each other and the quirks and work and gifts and creativity of every person in our community. As we grow and heal, the World grows and heals ~

Written by Dr. Crosbie Watler

What is our highest purpose? Is it our work? Our family? Or some other role, relationship, achievement in this waking dream of “my life”?

Muscling through our lives, our choices are often programmed and unconscious. We choose on the basis fear, insecurity, greed. We reflect on “What do I want?” when what we want might not be what we need.

Let’s begin our journey this evening by reflecting on the following questions:

Who am I?
What do I want—no, what do l need?
What is my purpose?

These are the so-called “soul questions.” Whether we are aware of them or not, our answer to these questions will determine whether we stumble through life in a state of fear and reactivity, or with clear purpose and calm intention.

Almost invariably, these questions provoke discomfort. We struggle with these questions, even when they are not in our awareness. They create angst, despair. We busy ourselves as a distraction, seeking just one more checkmark in doing mode to “make us happy.”
This new job will make me happy. This new partner will make me happy. Losing 10 pounds will make me happy. This move will make me happy— the geographic cure. How’s this working for you? For me? We’ve boiled the ocean in doing mode, yet here we are, with a pandemic of anxiety, depression and existential despair.

We have simply forgotten who we are and looking in the wrong place to recover it. We are human BEings, not human DOings. If there is any satisfaction in doing mode, enjoy it. It won’t last for long. The endless quest for something out there to “make” me happy. Trying to fill our bucket, but it’s never enough. There’s a hole in the bucket…

The journey is not in seeking new landscapes, but in seeing with new eyes.

What exactly do we need to see with new eyes? Ourselves. Self awareness. Everything that’s righteous flows from there. This is the foundation of the whole enterprise, without which we will never awaken to our highest purpose. We are simply blowing in the wind, at the whim of ego, conditioned mind.

We need to see ourselves—experience ourselves—as we did on the day of our birth. Awareness without boundaries. Free and clear space. The stillness of no mind. Simply “I am.” No condition. Before we drank the Kool-Aid and started telling ourselves stories about who we are:

I am a failure.
I am unlovable.
I am—or will be—alone. I am lost.
Sound familiar?

The shift begins by looking beyond the veil of form. The external “reality” that we construct at the level of the conditioned mind and the illusion of our senses. At this level of consciousness—waking consciousness—we have the subject-object split. Here I am with finite boundaries and there you are. Fertile ground for me versus you, or us versus them. The territory of Donald J Trump.

This is the waking dream and it is a primary cause of suffering. The ancient sages called it Maya—the illusion of the senses. At this level of consciousness, our senses lie to us. We see just 4% of the visible universe. We see finite boundaries—disconnection—when in fact, there is a continuous field of energy and matter where we merge with everything around us. This is the healing field where the magic happens. Connection. Within and without. Ahum Brahmasmi…I am the Universe.

Ultimate truth—there are two of you—of me—in the game of life. The doing and the being. On the day of your birth, you were totally immersed in being. The silent witness. They say we “grow up”. At the level of form we grow, we develop a cortex. Intelligence perhaps, but not much wisdom.

We confuse achievement with worth—net worth. By the time we are out of diapers, we have already steeped in doing mode. We hear “hurry up” from a parent. “Put your thinking cap on” from a teacher. Well intentioned, but unconscious.

Who we really are is hidden behind the veil of sensations, images, feelings and thoughts. The turning of the conditioned mind. The monkey mind. Like clouds blocking the sun. We succumb to the collective delusion: “I think, therefore, I am.” But, we were born into the sun. Clear, blue sky is our birthright. It was all we knew. Before we lost our way.

We might not know who we are, but we know it when we see it. We see it—feel it—when we look into a baby’s eyes. Or when a beloved pet walks into room. We love them, because we see in them the essence of who we are. Babies and small furry animals don’t say a thing, yet we feel their gravitational pull. Their healing field. Like medicine. Washing over us. Simply holding…space.

We often worry what’s the right thing to say. In truth, our

words alone carry little weight—less than 10% of human communication is the content of speech—it is where we show up from when we speak them. Or where we listen from. Are we listening deeply?

How do we hang out there more often—holding space for others? For ourselves? Our parents might not have done it for us. That ship has sailed. They did the best with the tools they had—their own awareness—or lack thereof. Forgive them—they know not what they do—they were/or are unconscious.

Time to do it for yourself. This is too important to outsource…looking for someone or something to “make” you happy. Make you whole. The time is now. Time to drop the stories. In doing mode you never were and never will be perfect. Get over it. At the level of being, you are already perfect.

Anchor in that awareness, with an intention to do better. But the outcomes, the roles does not define you. They will come and go, like the weather. You are not the weather. You are the witness of the weather.

Whether in the medicine, or in this waking dream, shift your attention, with intention to inner space. The pause between the in breath and the out breath. Light switch….down. Are you there now? In the healing field of spacious awareness. Catch yourself when you lose it— Why am I thinking? Is it serving any purpose, or simply filling up, space?

“It’s time. You can feel it knocking. It’s time to sit in front of the mirror where you can’t lie to yourself anymore about who you are…” Duncan Grady.

Mirroring. I see you. Now see yourself. No one else might have done it for you. Maybe they did and you lost it. The stillness of being. It is all that is truly yours—everything else is on loan to you. This role, that relationship, my body. Enjoy it, but don’t identify with it. Whether you succeed or fail at any enterprise, you are not elevated…or diminished.
This is the domain of “I don’t mind what happens.” Non attachment. Whatever the challenge, anchor in non- judgement. Spacious awareness. We can churn at the level of the mind and create a problem out of thin air, or we can do inward and access the wisdom of our being selves. The wisdom of the gut brain…the silent brain, where we feel into our bodies and make effortless, wise choices.

Coming to know, coming to trust our authentic selves. Below the neck and in the felt sense.


The challenges will come—life is not meant to be easy.

Without the challenges there is no evolution. It is not the challenge of the day that makes a “good” day, or a “bad” day. It is where we show up from when the weather gets stormy.

This will determine whether we are in flow, or in a place of judgement and resistance. In flow, we are connected with the silent witness and with everything around us. We are in the healing field of space and formlessness. A space where powerful, unseen allies will conspire to blow wind in our sails. Not in the efforting, but in the letting go. Where there is wisdom beyond our wildest dreams. In the space between our thoughts.

So full circle:
Who am I?
What do I need?
What is my purpose?

Ask any guru worth his or her salt and the answer will be the same: meditate on it. The answer to each question is the same—thoughtless, spacious awareness. Your highest purpose is to anchor there…and when you lose it, come back.

When you feel the stress response, the aching heart, the fear, the insecurity… the story. You’ve lost it. Come back. Whatever the challenge, whatever the question. It might seem “complex.” The solution is not. Get out of your head

and into your breath. Forget trying to resist the turnings of the mind, simply step out of the ring and into the healing field. The stillness of being. Your inner divinity.

This is the domain of spontaneous right choice, spontaneous right action. Where you will feel into the correct path forward. You are in yoga. Yoga—ancient Sanskrit for union. Union of body, mind and spirit. What is our most important pose in yoga? Savasana. Corpse pose. In truth, no pose. Nowhere to go. Noting to do. Just be. Attachment to nothing and full of everything. No one else and nothing else is necessary. There are things I might want, but nothing I need. I am already whole. No condition.

The sole purpose of a human life is to advance as far as possible along the path of consciousness—Eckhart Tolle. The more challenging life becomes, the more we need to walk the path and anchor in who we really are. Challenges then become rocket fuel for the evolution of consciousness.

Time to wake up. You are here not by chance. I see you. Your ancestors see you. They muse collectively—we got a live one. A rare one. A human being, self-aware and conscious, while in embodied form. They will blow wind in your sails—calling in all their benevolent allies.

And all you need to do, is get out of the way.

THIS is “signal” music. The awareness of our signal through the hallways of time. In the cracks between thought. Listen to these with light switch down…

Written by Dr. Crosbie Watler

The question is, “which self are we coming to know?”  The DOing or the BEing?  Awareness of this duality of self is the most important awareness.  Bar none.

The BEing self is our essential quality.  It was there at our birth:  The Silent Witness.  Presence…awareness consciousness…simply, “I AM.”  No condition.  Before we lost connection with source and learned to tell a story about who we are.  Stories and judgements of ourselves, others and of the world around us.  And the stories are rarely good.

The DOing self is like shifting sand.  The roles, relationships, achievements, failures, appearance, possessions…and on and on.  The doing self is the weather of your life.

If everything is going perfectly at that level, enjoy it.  It won’t last for long.  Identifying with the DOing self is the primary source of suffering.  Like outsourcing our well BEing to the weather.

We were born steeped in awareness of BEing, before we lost ourselves to the monkey mind: “I think, therefore, I am.”Before we drank the Kool Aid and succumbed to the cult of disconnected materialism.

As we “grow up,” we begin to see ourselves as split off from others and from the world around us.  The illusion of separation.  Maya—the illusion of the senses.  Our culture reinforces this illusion of disconnection. Disconnect from source.  BEing.

It is always the perfect time to come back home to rediscover our essential nature.  BEing.  Grounding in witnessing awareness, without thought, judgment, or story.  It is our birthright and our highest calling.

THIS is the healing field of the the psychedelic medicines.  With the mind off line, we sit in front of the mirror, where we cannot lie to ourselves anymore about who we are.  Credit to Duncan Grady, a Blackfoot elder, for that pearl.

Outside of these medicine-assisted shifts in awareness, we can learn to step out of thought with intention—as in meditation. In the space between our thoughts, we experience the stillness of being.  Well being.  It reminds us who we are.

There is a crack, a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in—Leonard Cohen.  Our authentic self resides in the crack, the space between our thoughts.  That’s how the light gets in.

Whether we succeed or fail at any enterprise, the BEing self remains the dispassionate, silent witness.  The liberating transition to detachment:  I don’t mind what happens.  Non attachment.

When you are in that place and I’m in that place, we are one.  An  individual wave, aware of the connection with the ocean.

Be the change.

Written by Dr. Crosbie Watler. A true story by an inspired man.

The wee hours.  Wide awake with no distractions.  No escape in restful slumber.  Free and clear space.  I can feel the energy in my body.  It’s stuck and I’ve been carrying it all day, maybe longer.  I sense some of it is not mine—passed down.  My body wants to tell me something.  I can stuff it, numb it, or tell myself a story about it.  Been there, done that, time to shut up and listen. 

It started early this morning after doing an urgent video psychiatry consult.  Another story of a broken spirit, filled with fear and all stuffed in the body.  I felt that in my heart, like a weighted blanket.  All through the interview and with each breath, I held an awareness of space around my heart.  Allowing me to hear the story, to empathize, but not have it stick to me.   In my work, I strive to listen and respond from clear space.  The wisdom and intuition of the felt sense.  The signal comes through the ears, but the body must feel into the meaning and context.

This is the flow state of the interview…and everything else.  I wonder how many practice it, or are even aware of it?  We are in flow when we interact with the world around us from a place of self awareness.  Authentic self—the silent witness.  Shifting attention briefly to inner space, the pause between the in breath and the out breath.  Listen from there and speak from there. This brings the being to the doing, creating a healing field that is unseen, but felt.

Park the mind and use it only when necessary.  Thinking is highly overrated.  Intellect is there, but not much wisdom.  Wisdom and intuition reside in the gut brain.  The silent brain.  Ultimate truth—trust your gut, listen to your gut.  It will not speak to you, but you feel into the right choice, what to do and what to say.  You will learn to trust it.  It won’t lie to you and what flows from you will be righteous.  Sometimes it will surprise you.  You might sense that some of what you’re saying isn’t yours as it flows out effortlessly.  At those moments of peak experience, one becomes a channel.  Park the mind and allow it to flow through. 

All was smooth sailing until the patient transitioned to describing his frustration with our system of mental health “care.”   He detailed the medicalizing of his despair, with a series of treatments doomed to fail, as if by design.  I felt his creeping sense of desperation and helplessness.  That hit me in the gut.  I managed to keep a lid on things and completed the interview with a plan that gave him hope.  Then I signed off. 

That’s when I lost it.

What I lost was awareness of inner space.  The domain of the dispassionate witness.  I was no longer self aware, but in reactivity mode.  All the wisdom and intuition?  Summarily tossed under the bus.  The maestro has become a puppet.          

I don’t do freeze or flight.  I scorch earth.  I now know much of it is not mine.  I’ve lead a privileged life, mirrored and supported as a child.  Blessed with the love of a good woman, authentic relationships and a sense of purpose.  We think we know ourselves, but we are influenced by  unseen forces outside our usual states of awareness.  So much of what we carry is handed down to us.  The epigenetics of our ancestral experience.  Given our collective history, much of this is trauma.  In states of deep meditation—or otherwise altered states of consciousness—we feel our ancestors knocking.  Mine are part slave warrior and it explains everything.

I know in my bones that my ancestors were fierce.  They had to be, or perish.  Many did.  And here I am.  Last man standing.  They hand me the torch and ask, “What are you going to do with it?”  This uncomfortable gift of an easy life does not sit well with me.  I will make it hard.  I need the struggle.  Now I know why.  My ancestors have been pushing boulders uphill forever, in the face of impossible odds.  And here I am.  Last man standing.  Righteous struggle is in my DNA.  I seek it out in ways that leave many—me at times—gobsmacked.  In truth, I sense some of my ancestors might not have been so righteous, but I’m selective about whose torch I choose to carry.

All of this at 8:15 on a Saturday morning in the present day…at the mercy of unseen influences and swirling emotions.  On seeing the harm that comes from the medicalizing of psychiatry, the heaviness in my heart had given way to rage in my gut.  Yet another victim of the medical-pharmaceutical complex.  Patients have become commodities—their distress labelled as disease, or worse, disorder.  Failed medical treatments for wounds of the heart.  And it pisses me off.  Slave warrior gene is on.  Like right now. 

Can I please have something to vanquish?  A wild beast threatening my family, perhaps? Or enemy warriors sneaking into the village.  How about a serving of slave owner for dessert?  No such luck.  It’s 2021 and I’m living a life of privilege in the tranquility of Maple Bay, British Columbia.  I feel paralyzed by the heaviness in my heart and the rage in my belly—swirling, building, with no clear outlet.  That’s when it get’s messy.  Listening from space?  Yeah, right.

I should have done the work sooner.  It’s 3:30 on Sunday morning.  The karmic debt of procrastination.  There is no free lunch.  Do the work, or pay the price.  What the mind won’t acknowledge, the body knows.  You can stuff it for a while—maybe the righteous rage felt good.  It’s in my bloodline and it had purpose.  It was adaptive, but it no longer serves me.  It depletes me and everyone around me.  That awareness is enough.  There was no space for it earlier in the day, or maybe I did not want to make space. 

Making space is hard sometimes.  Keeping the monkey mind at bay is hard work.  I do it all day at my day job and sometimes I just want to let my guard down, to rest.  That’s when it sneaks up on me, the alpha predator.  The present day enemy is no person or beast, it’s the conditioned mind and its unconscious patterns of reactivity.  This stuff will consume you from the inside out, play you like a fiddle and dance on your grave.

So, here I sit in spacious awareness.  The wee hours when quiet contemplation is best.  It’s easier now—nothing to do, nowhere to go, just be. Presence, awareness, silence within and without.  Space within and without.  Where everything that was stuck in my body is washed away.  The radiant light of presence has cleared the skeletons out of the closet.  Presence slays dragons.  It is our super power.

Cultivate the healing field of presence, knowing you will lose it.  When you lose it, have compassion for yourself.  There are so many seen and unseen influences wanting to play you like a puppet.  In truth, presence can never be truly lost.  Presence is our birthright.  Sometimes we just get distracted.

Given these times, navigating chaos is now more important than ever…

Like the rest of the natural world, embodied BEing as opposed to disembodied DOing requires a delicate balance of chaos and order.  When BEing authentic, we lack self-consciousness (the insecurity that fuels incongruent displays), enabling inspired doing to flow from abundance.  We know we are in this abundant BEing state when the reward overshadows the effort.  Many refer to this BEing state as natural flow. This is us as human BEings. 

Relating to resiliency, with deeper personal roots, we feel secure, trusting that our environmental and relational contexts are adequate to navigate passing challenges.  Because we are securely planted, we have a strong sense of place in the world.  We interweave with others, giving in times of abundance and receiving in times of need. We have an abundance of fruits and foliage to navigate the external conditions and more than enough to happily contribute to those with fewer resources.  

Too much order happens when we predominantly act out of the left side of the brain.  From here, we fall into frustrated perfectionism, losing our power to a set of idealistic rules that we feel beholden to.  From this state of disconnected attachment to external conditions, we fixate on DOing. When we prioritize the opinions of others over our needs and values, we lack creativity, adaptability, and heartfelt meaning.  As a result of this growing incongruence, we carry shame, causing a chronic form of stress that fuels ‘freezing’ and ‘fleeing.’ From this place of fear and scarcity growth is limited, and we become prone to stagnation. 

Too much chaos happens when we predominantly act out of the right side of the brain.  From here, we lose control as we frantically and fearfully move from one moment to the next, lost in a state of unconscious reacting to the fires of the moment.  The space we need to drop into the inner world to stay grounded is chewed up by a barrage of distracting external stimuli.  When in extreme chaos, we lose the felt sense of our grounding and security in the world, causing the nervous system to divert our energy to ‘fight’ for our life.  From this place of fear and scarcity, growth is very limited (if not impossible), and we become prone to emotional and nervous system breakdown. 

Living in complexity, a natural state of flow, happens when we find our unique balance of order and chaos.  BEing human requires a certain degree of security in one’s inner and outer resources, which enables us to trust in the various interacting parts of life, all synchronizing in an ordered fashion.  It requires a trust in the natural order that unfolds when we act congruently in the world.  We develop this trust by practicing authentic self-expression in relationships that can provide compassionate witnessing (unconditional positive regard).  In this state of complexity, how we feel and what is important to us manifests in the world through this authentic expression.  Because we are not self-conscious or tending to incongruent display we think others need from us, our days roll by relatively effortlessly, fuelled with heartfelt meaning and connection.  From this place of abundance, growth is maximized as we naturally synchronize with our environment.

Depending on our nature and the nervous system’s window of tolerance for uncertainty, preferences will vary.  Some prefer living on the edge of chaos, leaning into the inspiration that flows from this freer way of being.  Others prefer living with more order, finding pleasure in consistent routines that provide frequent grounding opportunities and clearer direction.  We find our place on the order-chaos spectrum by paying attention to the expansion and contractions of the body.  When we are out of balance, the body gets activated, which acts as our internal alert system.    This is our cue!  When alerted, we have an opportunity to get curious.  When we engage curiosity, we become an objective observer because the very thing we are observer is now a distinct ‘other.’ With this space between the observer and the felt sense, the intense threat lessens, enabling the root emotion to be felt and tended to.  

One felt moment at a time, one compassionate act at a time, we find our way back to balance. 

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude” (Maya Angelou). 

When we operate with a higher sense of coherence we are feeling into our agency (confidence in who we are and what we have), making us more able to optimistically re-orient ourselves, so we can navigate challenges from an inspired, creative, and embodied state of being.  Those that tend to this empowered form of optimism have significantly less stress than those who do not (Troy, 2015).   When we strategically use optimism to reframe our situation, we reduce our stress levels and lower our risk of developing a host of chronic health conditions (Aldao, et al., 2010). People who are more optimistic tend to live 11 to 15% longer than those who aren’t (Lee et al., 2019).   

Strategic optimism is not helpful if it causes us to accept painful circumstances that are in our power to change or if we use it to avoid feeling difficult emotions.  In fact, if we use optimism in this way, we may miss opportunities to tend to a wound that needs healing or to make changes that would benefit ourselves and others.   Using the R.A.I.N acronym (Brach, 2013), recognizing, allowing, investigating, and nurturing difficult emotions is the first step. Recognizing our emotions and perception(s) of the situation allows us to gain awareness of our reaction. Allowance engages the self-compassion required to make a space to feel (because we are worthy of such expression!).  From this compassionate space, we lean in with curiosity, eager to investigate, to learn more. Part of investigating is determining what we can change and control.  After tending to necessary emotions, it is then most helpful to take a significant action, which acts as the release port, relieving us of the suffering that flows from feeling incongruence.   By doing the significant thing, we build trust with ourselves as our spirit tends to the signals of the body, demonstrating to ourselves that we are worthy of such a significant effort.  In this way, we are prioritizing our wants and needs over those prescribed onto us by others.  Eventually, as we continue to do the significant thing, we deepen into secure attachment, which promotes a greater sense of coherence and congruence. If we cannot make a change to reduce our suffering, this is the time to accept, grieve the loss and optimistically resource and re-orient ourselves to the situation.  

The significant thing is different for every person and dependant on the situation and the unresolved wounds that it intertwines with.  Awareness of the significant thing comes from an embodied way of knowing (intuition), rather than the ‘figuring it out’ mind. It is the thing that takes the most self-compassion and courage, which requires the meaning of the significant action to overshadow the fear of taking it.  While we may fear doing to do the significant thing, often desperately trying to compensate by doing several other things in its place, ultimately, we will continue to feel out of tune until we act.  Finally, the significant thing if often subtle and may not directly involve others at all. It may involve writing a letter and then burning it.  It may mean making a phone call to make something right, enabling us to tune back into our sense of self-integrity after a violation (to self or others) occurs. 

The Significant Thing & Common Attachment Antidotes 

For those who tend toward avoidance as a reactionary (not intentional) coping strategy, the antidote to clear the incongruent feeling, typically manifesting as anxiety, is often a ‘reaching out.’ For those who tend toward anxious attachment to others as a coping strategy, the antidote often involves ‘reaching in.’ 

Working with our Negative Bias  

Optimism does not happen by merely thinking positive thoughts.  For it to be effective, we must intentionally immerse in a positive emotional state that enables us to shift our trajectory.  Once we embody a more positive state of being, we interrupt the fear and powerlessness associated with the stress response, which enables us to keep things in a more optimistic perspective.   

Most humans tend toward a negative bias, which means that when negative things happen, they have a greater impact on us and linger longer in our memory than positive ones (Gollan et al., 2016). While negative bias may help us when we are in danger, it is not so helpful when faced with day to day challenges.  To manage and even counter our tendency toward the negative, we need to consciously cultivate a more optimistic orientation.  To develop optimism, it requires a conscious effort to recognize when positive events happen and to take the time to immerse ourselves in the felt sense of them.  In time and with some effort, we can retrain our brains to automatically take notice of positive happenings in our day, balancing out our tendency toward the negative.    

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us” (Helen Keller, 1929). 

One moment at a time, one significant thing at a time, this is how we heal… 

By S.Dames and K.Hunter

They came upon the Cedar tree. It showed them the breadth of their centre and the strength and limitations of their shallow root systems.  While their resources span widely on the surface, when the drought and winds come, they feel fragile, wondering if they’re enough, if they have what it takes to survive the elements.

They came upon the Arbutus tree. It showed them their whimsical nature and the power of their magic.  Sprouting up like a fairy amid a forest of sameness. This is how they learned to embrace their uniqueness.  That a sprinkle of magic is exactly the medicine to transform their grief and shame.

They came upon the Maple tree. The fairy of the forest swayed before them, its tentacles reach joyfully to the sky, wrapped in an elegant moss jacket and bursting with foliage. This is how they learned to embrace their lightness, enabling them to dance with the fluidity of life. 

They came upon the Fir tree.  It struck them with its plainness. Its long thin trunk moving efficiently to the sky, wasting no time expanding on the surface.  This is a being that knows who it is, deeply rooted and resilient with nothing to prove.

They came upon the oak tree, all gnarled and alone, sending out seeds on the wind, trusting that only by falling to the darkness below could they sprout and live anew. 

They came upon the fallen tree, decaying and covered in moss, reverent at being the source from which new life will come.

And so they’ve come to learn that they too can feel messy, magic, stable, powerful, complex, basic and boring, carved out and teaming with life. That when embraced, they are the compost encouraging deeper roots and the seed from which new life springs…

I’m on this path. I’ve experienced this bliss. I know it’s possible…

When adversities from the past are emotionally unresolved, they remain with us, emerging as what we now call ‘trauma.’ When we heal these wounds, we remove the emotional charge from the associated people and events.  Without the emotional charge, the experience is simply a learning opportunity that cultivates depth, insight, and wisdom.  

Like a storm encourages deeper tree roots, when on a healing path, so too do past adversities encourage a more resilient constitution on the other side. Healing is the redemptive path, the re-writing of an old (and often painful) story from a place of genuine abundance.
 
Those of us who have spent a lifetime carrying around heavy emotional loads (trauma) experience great bliss when we develop the choice to lay it down (a product of healing).  This bliss carries us through the minor annoyances of life. It is the gift awaiting those who’ve spent a lifetime carrying a heavy load. This experience is so powerful that without any efforting at all, it accelerates the healing of others who continue to suffer beneath the weight of past adversities, and to a more conscious and compassionate human race. 
 
Let’s help each other put the loads down.  It serves everyone and it’s well worth the journey.

This mental health crisis is real and the stakes are higher than ever. By the age of 40, half of us resonate with a mental health diagnosis. Only 20% of those suffering from mental distress see any meaningful improvement with traditional biomedical treatment methods. 80% continue to suffer. It’s time to heed the evidence and shift beyond the outdated belief systems that keep us mired in ineffective mental health treatment methods. Dr. Crosbie Watler, a thought leader with decades of experience as a psychiatrist and mental health advocate, issues a call to action!

The Failed Promise of Modern Psychiatry

by Dr. Crosbie Watler, MD, FRCPC

The last decade of the twentieth century was a heady time for modern psychiatry.  Fluoxetine was released in the in the mid 80’s and many other so-called anti-depressants followed on its heels.  Though never proven, we touted the neurotransmitter deficit model for depression and truly believed that we were on the threshold of a major breakthrough in psychiatry and neuroscience.  In our collective excitement, we dubbed the 1990’s “The Decade of the Brain.” 

Fast forward to present day.  Despite widespread and often indiscriminate prescribing, on a per capita basis, there are far more persons off work on disability for anxiety and depressive related disorders than ever before.  The increase continues and is exponential.

There are two myths at play that serve to perpetuate the status quo.  First, is the myth of diagnosis in psychiatry.  In other areas of medicine, a diagnosis is a discrete, objectively verifiable condition.  There remain many symptom clusters that fail to meet this standard.  Lacking objective tests—much less treatments—the rest of medicine classifies these conditions as syndromes. 

Examples of common syndromes include Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  In a desperate attempt to enhance the prestige of psychiatry—and as a requirement for billing the HMO’s in the US—the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual incorporates more diagnoses with each edition.  The belief that psychiatric diagnoses are defined constructs, on par with other areas of medicine, is the myth at the core of modern psychiatric practice.  Simply calling something a disorder, does not make it real (Joel Paris).

The image of a group of endocrinologists debating whether Type 1 diabetes should be a legitimate diagnosis is laughable, yet this is precisely how psychiatric “diagnoses” are minted.  If something is objectively real, we don’t debate its existence, and what was truth does not simply become untruth with the next edition of DSM.  The DSM committee meetings provide forums for so-called experts to lobby for their pet “diagnoses”, ones they feel comfortable treating and ones that will enhance their credibility and prestige. 

Further, if these diagnoses were real and credible, then why do psychiatrists so commonly disagree among themselves?  It is common to hear reference made to a psychiatrist’s particular “style.”  One psychiatrist’s Borderline Personality Disorder is another’s Bipolar Type 2, with entirely different treatment protocols. 

Lacking consensus on diagnosis, it is no surprise that the trajectory of psychiatric patient care is highly variable, depending on the bias of the treating psychiatrist.  Highly variable production systems operate at the expense of quality.  And who bears the cost of a highly variable system of care?  Certainly not the treating physician.  Most physicians are paid for face time, not for outcome.  This is akin to a contractor coming to your home and being paid for simply showing up. 

If strike one—so to speak—is that our diagnoses are syndromes, then strike two is that our medical treatments lack efficacy.  Given that we truly have no idea what we are treating in the first place, this should not come as a surprise!   An embarrassing and rarely mentioned statistic, is that our so-called antidepressants barely separate from placebo.  Further, we’ve since learned that many negative studies were simply mothballed (Lancet, 2012). 

What is truly incredible is that these medicines are still being marketed as anti anything.  If our antidepressants and antipsychotics lived up to their lofty promise, most psychiatrists would be out of work and the “treatment resistant” patients clogging our inpatient and tertiary care units would be promptly discharged.  This, of course, is not the case.  

Unfortunately, the public continues to drink from the punch bowl still being served by mainstream psychiatry.  How many times have you heard a friend recounting a visit to the doctor?

“The doctor says I have a brain disease called Major Depressive Disorder.  There is not enough serotonin in my brain, apparently.  He started me on Cipralex.”

Two months later you ask how she’s doing.

“Oh that medication didn’t work very well, I’m still off work.  My doctor added a second medication, Wellbutrin to ‘boost’ the first one, plus I’m on something to help me sleep…insomnia is a side effect of Wellbutrin.”

Two months later your friend stops by for a visit.

“My doctor thinks the reason my medications aren’t working is that I might have Bipolar Disorder.  He says there’s a ‘soft’ type that’s increasingly diagnosed these days.  He added a mood stabilizer.  I’m on four meds now and still off work.  I’m starting to lose hope.”

The above is played out countless times, day in and day out.  As a boomer psychiatrist, trained in the era of “biological psychiatry,” I soon realized that we were not healing patients in any substantive way with our medications.  We are creating life-long mental health care consumers.

We prescribe mediocre treatments for phantom conditions.  We cling desperately to the cloak of expertise and knowingness.  We have become less interested in the complex personal stories that might explain a patient’s suffering and inform non-pharmaceutical approaches.  We are quick to identify “disorder”, when the patient’s challenge might be a natural and logical downstream manifestation of upstream and primary causes.  This, to be fair, is a criticism that applies to other areas of medicine.

The conventional medical paradigm is rooted in the principle of specificity—a specific treatment for each discrete disease.  In common parlance, a pill for every ill. We are in an era of increasingly specialized medicine, where the physician puts his or her organ of choice on a pedestal, often treating the downstream symptoms as the primary condition.  When this fails—as it commonly does—psychiatrists often resort to desperate and toxic poly-pharmacy. 

Such prescribing is often the result of therapeutic despair on the part of the treating physician.  When a patient does not respond to treatment—and with physician’s ego on the chopping block—the doctor is desperate to do something, anything.  It seems that uninformed action is deemed somehow better than inaction. 

This demonstrates an all too familiar behavioural pattern and one not unique to the trades: when the only tool one has is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  The hammer in this case is the prescription pad.  After many failed medication trials, the treating psychiatrist concludes that the problem lies with the patient, who is deemed treatment resistant.  The blame for treatment failure is projected onto the patient—they are treatment resistant. 

What of the possibility that we are simply using the wrong treatments?  Am we missing something?  Rarely are these questions at the table.  Curiosity and humility are simply thrown under the bus.  Above all, do no harm?  Also under the bus.  Despite all the claims for evidence-based and patient-centred care, the unavoidable and tragic conclusion is that the status quo works very well for the industry of care.  For the patients?  Not so much.

Much of what we do in clinical practice is simply “chasing smoke.”  We view the downstream symptoms as the primary condition.  Any first year medical student understands that fever is not a disease or disorder, it is a sign that there is something else amiss, something quite remote from the fever itself.  In medicine—and particularly in psychiatry—we often chase smoke. 

The majority of those labeled as depressed, are in fact distressed by the events in their lives and the stories they tell themselves about who they are.  Predictably, they fail to respond to our pharmacopeia.  Lost in the rush to increasingly specialized medicine, is the appreciation for the human organism as a whole.   We are the sum of our complex and interfacing systems, where symptoms in any one area might be secondary to remote upstream mediators.   The overarching clinical question then becomes, “Is this symptom the chicken or the egg?”

In our search for a better paradigm we might look to the wisdom of our ancient ancestors, from the Greeks, traditional Chinese, and yogi masters from thousands of years ago in India.  These teachings share the view that there is far more to us than meets the eye.  Am I my thoughts?  Is it as simple as, “I think, therefore I am?”  Who am I, really?  This question reflects our timeless quest for connection, identity, meaning and purpose. 

Connection with ourselves and with the world around us forms the bedrock of spritual health.  This new spirituality transcends specific religious affiliation and has spawned the phrase “spiritual but not religious.”  A holistic paradigm recognizes the importance of connectedness and is central to the Constitution of the WHO, wherein: “Health is a state of complete, physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”  Social well-being flows from a sense that we are connected with ourselves and with the world around us. 

The truth is, we were never evolved to live as we are.  We evolved to live in clans, with myriad connections to others, with each member having a purpose that supported the whole.  The price we’ve paid for the modern lifestyle, with all its conveniences and trappings of success, is profound disconnection.  There is a pandemic of distress and existential despair.  The boomers have chased happiness for decades.  Yet here we are.  Bigger cars, monster homes, extravagant vacations, on line shopping, cosmetic surgery… something, anything to make us happy. 

When our happiness remains elusive, we go to our doctor.  We are then given a simple checklist that confirms we are depressed.  Never mind that we really have no idea what depression is and its interface with normalcy.  Recognizing this dilemma, the ancient Greeks created a boundary between angst and melancholia.  Angst was a response to some life challenge and was inherent to normal human experience.  Melancholia was a distinct, profound and continuous depressive state that seemed independent of life circumstance. 

Until the 1980’s, a patient’s depressive complaints were classified as being either reactive or endogenous.  This parallels the ancient boundary between angst and melancholia.  Reactive depressive symptoms were much less likely to respond to medication and were referred for psychotherapy.  This important distinction was dropped from DSM 3 (1980).  We are entering the fifth decade of an ever-expanded and over-inclusive concept of mental disorders.  That this coincides with the introduction and aggressive marketing of novel “anti” depressants, is no coincidence.  We are in an era of medicalising distress, where most patients prescribed medications will fail to benefit (BMJ, 2013).  They will instead, exhaust themselves going down rabbit holes that are proven and guaranteed to fail.

Elements of a holistic model

We tend to see only what we are trained to see or are comfortable managing.  The decade of the brain has got us no closer to curing mental illness.  Over the past decade there has been a dramatic decrease in the release of new psychotropic medications.  It seems that even the pharmaceutical industry is throwing in the towel.  Tweaking brain receptors, split off from the organism as a whole, is simply barking up the wrong tree.  There is a better way. 

The body:

The benefit of movement and exercise for our mental and physical well-being is widely recognized.  We’re all familiar with the saying, “healthy body—healthy mind.”  A truly healthy body goes beyond the facade of one’s appearance or BMI.  Vital health is from the inside out. Central to this, is the mind-gut connection.  While the serotonin produced in the gut does not cross the blood-brain barrier, inflammatory cytokines certainly do, where they severely compromise serotonin turnover.  What triggers this inflammatory process?  We need look no further than the modern first-World lifestyle.  The standard American diet (SAD diet) is inflammatory.  The stress response is inflammatory. 

Food as medicine is not a new concept.  Hippocrates, considered by many to be the father of modern medicine, implored his patients: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food.”  Beyond passing familiarity with our national food guides, which are obsolete even as revised versions are published, today’s doctors get little or no training in nutritional health.

How many psychiatrists do a food diary with their patients?  How many are aware that inflammation might be a significant perpetuating factor for a patient’s depressive symptoms, much less test for it?   How many are able to prescribe a specific nutrition plan that would support recovery and vital health?  Beyond being passive recipients of care, how many psychiatrists call on their patients to be active partners in their holistic recovery plan? My patients are consistently amazed that a psychiatrist is asking them what they eat and at being sent on their way with a lab requisition and a nutrition remediation plan.

The mind

If our brains can be compromised by processes external to the blood-brain barrier, is the reverse also true?  How do our thoughts and emotions impact our bodies?  Living in the first world, we are often in a state of heightened sympathetic tone—a state of fight, flight, or freeze.  This adaptation is deeply wired into our brains and served us well for most of our evolutionary history, where imminent threats to life or limb were not uncommon.  The threat would present itself, but once the threat was over—and if we survived—our nervous system would return to the restful state required for the body to heal and repair.

Fast forward to present day.  The threat is no longer the discrete and tangible tiger or rival tribesman.  Today’s threat comes from having the luxury to sit and think, or more accurately ruminate, about all the potential calamities that might come our way.  There is no such thing as stress, there is only the stress response to an external challenge.  Life is challenging, it does not have to be stressful—stress is a possibility

Stress is a reflexive protective response at the level of our limbic brain—more specifically, the amygdala.  In the absence of an objective threat to life or limb, the stress response is commonly triggered by the stories we tell ourselves—the so-called amygdala hijack (Goleman,1996).  While we might not completely eliminate the amygdala hijack, we can certainly influence what happens next.  Rather than simply being along for the ride, we can learn to pause, witness and reflect:  Am I using my brain, or is my brain using me (Tanzi & Chopra)?   We can redirect from thoughts that are not serving us, recognizing that there is no such thing as stress in the external world, there is only the stress we create in response to life’s daily challenges.

The stress response depletes the body in so many ways.  As is the case with the SAD diet, stress is inflammatory.  Chronic inflammation is an essential component of chronic diseases (Liu et al, 2017).   Beyond its potential negative impact on mood, high levels of inflammation are commonly seen with PTSD, along with a host of medical conditions including coronary heart disease, diabetes, cancer and dementia.  Stress compromises our immune response and in combination with our nutrient poor SAD diets, heightens our susceptibility to disease.   Even when not afflicted by a diagnosable illness, we feel depleted, lacking vital health. 

A common presenting complaint is the patient claiming to have anxiety, or beyond that, an anxiety disorder.  Generalized Anxiety Disorder is the diagnosis commonly applied.  Rather than invoking yet another disorder, we might explore whether the anxiety response is a natural and logical consequence of dwelling on contexts beyond our immediate control.  We don’t classify tennis elbow as a disease.  Tennis elbow is an overuse injury.  Anxiety could be reframed as an overuse injury—overuse of the mind.

If I have my hand on a hot element, I can take Tylenol for the pain, or I can take my hand off the element.  If I have anxiety, I can take Lorazepam, or I can learn Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.  I can learn to meditate.  I can evolve, giving up patterns that no longer serve me.  I can take my power back, redirecting from worrying about outcomes I cannot directly control.  I can learn to quiet the mind, to think only when it serves me.  I can experience the healing that comes from alert thoughtlessness (Eckhart Tolle). 

The spirit:

Spirit—herein defined as connection—is identifying with something beyond the material world, the world of form of form (Deepak Chopra).  This connection has two poles—connection within (the intrapersonal) and without (the interpersonal).  We tend to be distracted by the noise around us, the external relationships.  We feel hurt or rebuffed when we perceive some narcissistic injury.  Brooding about about how others treat us, we fail to recognize that we are our own harshest critics.  We’ve incorporated so many messages, subtle and explicit.  We can’t even remember where the story came from, yet we keep telling it:

“I am not enough.”

“I am a failure.”

“If others really knew me, they wouldn’t like me.”

“I feel so guilty for my mistakes.”

“I hate myself.”

How is healing possible in such a toxic intrapersonal space?  It is not.  Without self-compassion, nothing else can take hold and flourish.  Not CBT, not the next antidepressant trial, not even the whole foods organic diet.  After almost three decades of psychiatric practice, I continue to be amazed by the prevalence of self-loathing.  In clinical practice, this is often the elephant in the room, akin to “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”  The patient is certainly not going to volunteer, “By the way doctor, I think you ought to know that I really hate myself.”  Conversely, the psychiatrist is unlikely to ask, “How do you feel about yourself.”  Lacking their own self-awareness, the psychiatrist would be very uncomfortable knowing how to respond in any helpful way to a patient’s intrapersonal despair.  

Fundamentally, most of us have no idea who we are.  How can we have compassion for something we don’t know?  Self-awareness is the foundation for self-compassion.  Our sense of self is highly conditioned.  We identify with our roles, relationships, successes and failures.  “I am a psychiatrist.”  No, I am not that.  Psychiatrist is a temporary role I play in the movie of My Life.  Who am I when I am not in that role?  Whatever handle we identify with, does it capture the essence of who we are, or is it something that can change?  If “I am a success,” then who am I when I fail? 

We have become so identified with the doing, that we’ve lost awareness of the being that is at our essence.  On the day of our birth we cannot avoid awareness of being.  There is no inner dialogue or story telling us who we are, or where we might me going.   Undistracted by the thought stream, we are immersed in the silent witnessing that is our essential nature.  This silent witnessing is central to the practice of meditation.  From the stillness of no mind, we are content and whole. We are freed from the insatiable quest for something to make us happy. 

Putting it all together

Radical change requires radical action.  Radical action is far-reaching and thorough—no stone is left unturned.  Our treatments fail not because our patients are treatment resistant.  Our treatments fail because they are not sufficiently radical.  We are a complex interface of biological, psychological, social, and spiritual components.  A radical intervention dictates treating all the components of health assertively and simultaneously.  In this context, a model reliant on simple symptom checklists as evidence for any primary disorder, is doomed to fail.  How could it be otherwise?

Dr. Crosbie Watler completed his MA at Lakehead University and worked in Atikokan and the Challenge Club in Kenora before going to Medical School at McMaster in 1988. He then proceeded to do his residency in psychiatry at Dalhousie University. Upon completion he then returned to Kenora from 1995 – 2001 and worked at Lake of the Woods District Hospital as Chief of Psychiatry. In 2001 Dr. Walter relocated to Duncan BC with his wife and their three children where he acted as the Medical Director for Island’s Health MHSU and the Dept. Head for Psychiatry. His medical practice required clinical expertise in multiple settings including, tertiary, inpatient, outpatient and ACT. Dr. Watler’s current interests focuses on incorporating the best of modern medicine with holistic/integrative health. Dr. Watler is an executive member of the Roots Program, forging new pathways to alleviate suffering related to mental distress.