A Day in the Life of a Robin

We have a jasmine bush climbing up the trellis next to our kitchen window. It is home to two robins’ nests. One of them has been there for about five years. The other is new this season. For the past few weeks I’d been watching the parents flit in an out, most recently with beaks full of food for the two chicks I knew were in the nest. 

Yesterday morning, the chicks fledged. I wasn’t watching for the event. Our two dogs, Metta and Mollie, were in the back yard. Suddenly there came a raucous twittering. Through the dining-room window I saw the parent birds swooping at the dogs, which were paying no attention to the warning attacks. 

Robin and I (now I should mention, for those readers who don’t know, my wife’s name is Robin—no kidding), Robin and I hustled the dogs in and I investigated the jasmine. One of the chicks was perched on a branch inside the bush. The other was nestled in the wood chips and rotting leaves near the deck. We kept the dogs out of the backyard for the rest of the day.

Later in the afternoon I saw one of the chicks running along the back fence. Every once in a while, one of the parents would drop down with food. I saw no sign of the second chick and can only guess about why. In the evening, the one chick was still running around, not yet able to fly. I wondered how it could survive the night if it couldn’t yet fly. Robin captured it and put in back in the nest, thinking it would be safer there during the night. It didn’t stay long, though.

This morning I was surprised to see it still running along the fence. It did survive the night despite the thunder storm and brief downpour. A bit later I went outside to look for it. The dogs were with me. Suddenly, once again, there came the squawking from the parents, which were swooping at Mollie, who just five feet from me had plucked the fledgling from among the ferns.

I shouted at her, and she dropped it. I got both dogs into the house then inspected the chick. It was hunkered down and breathing heavily, feathers ruffled. It spent next several hours like that, moving only a few feet. I felt terrible about what happened, taking it personally. 

Forty years ago, a cat I had got hold of bird. I found it dragging its bloody self around in the yard. I filled a bucket with water and drowned it, thinking it was the right thing to do.  Today, no, it would not be the right thing to do.

Instead, I left it there, thinking it was just in shock (certainly) and would recover (doubtful). Then I went into the kitchen and cracked open a couple of eggs for lunch. The irony was heavy as much as enlightening.

Lives we care about are important and need to be nurtured and protected. Sometimes, lives we don’t care about—even when they are fundamentally the same as those we do care about—are irrelevant and meaningless. And we can conjure all kinds of reasons to justify our disregard. 

I checked in on the fledgling a little while ago, perhaps four hours after the attack, giving it a little prod. It gave a weak but encouraging flapping of wings and went after my finger with it’s beak. Then it scampered a couple of feet. I left it alone, and moments later one of the parents swoop down with some food. 

That was an hour ago or more. Since then, I haven’t seen the parents. Since then, I’m sure the bird will not survive the night.

Thoughts on the Relationship between Discomfort and Fear

To sit in meditation means to sit still and be with what arises—both physically and mentally. The idea, or one of them, is to resist the urge to move the body when discomfort arises. We’re always moving away from what is unpleasant toward what is pleasant. It’s an unconscious response that occurs all day, and all night, long. Shifting, fidgeting, scratching. Meditation is a time to resist the natural instincts to move away from the unpleasant and notice instead how and when it arises and our reactions to it. These are the moments when insights arise.

When I sit long enough, I’m sometimes able to notice a threshold where discomfort gives rise to pain. I noticed it the other day with the pain in my right hip. When I had stuck with it long enough I had two simultaneous responses to the increasing pain. My responses were subtle but vivid. They were panic and fear. Panic said I had get out of this situation fast. Fear said this pain will last forever. Both were untrue, of course. This was my mind talking. I know how my mind can talk a good story. I also know how some of those stories are not at all rooted in fact. They are unreal and groundless.

Often, when I experience a moment of insight, it feels so profound and big. Yet moments later I can’t remember what it was. Not so with the insight that came to me after noting this panic and fear. It occurred to me, as I sat there examining the mounting pain and the sensations that surrounded it, that behind all discomfort there is a wisp of fear.

What are your thoughts on the origins of fear?

Why We Would Have Been Better off with President McCain

Sarah Palin and John McCain in Albuquerque
John McCain and Sarah Palin, Albuquerque, NM, Sept. 6, 2008. Photo by Matthew Reichbach, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

As much as I appreciate Barack Obama for what he’s done and tried to do, I’m beginning to think we’d all have been better off had John McCain won the last election. 

Yes, it would be nice that gasoline would now be around $2 a gallon and my home double its 2007 value and not nearly half.

But I am certain about two things that would not be. 

First, there would be no Tea Party, which was an immediate reflex to Obama’s election, and the government would be humming along—and no doubt growing—nicely.

Second, we would not have Sarah Palin wandering as a free agent, continuing to pretend to know what she’s talking about. If she had been elected vice-president she would have been efficiently muzzled and hobbled to make sure she could not embarrass McCain with her disconnected blathering. Of course a Vice-president Palin would not be out there railing against Obama, who still would be a Senator from Illinois (would Rod Blagojevich still be governor?). No, her political career would have come to an effective end (if she hadn’t resigned first) at the hands of her own handlers. None of us would still be suffering the insufferable Sarah Palin.

But because she wasn’t elected vice-president, she’s still out there, within the safe confines of Fox News, where she’s encouraged to entertain and rouse Party loyalists.

I don’t see relief any time soon.

Does Massage Release Toxins that Must Be Flushed out with Lots of Water?

Water glasses

Massage therapy works in many ways to relieve stress, alleviate muscle pain, and otherwise promote good health and well-being. 

However, massage is not something you have to believe in for it to work any more than you have to believe in a root canal for it to relieve pain from an abscess. It’s not a placebo, although the placebo effect sometimes may be at work.

A recent study, reported in the New York Times in February 2012, revealed new information about why massage after a vigorous workout helps relieve muscle soreness and inflammation. The culprit is not lactic acid (as was once thought), but cytokines, which are part of the inflammatory response that occurs when muscle tissue is damaged during a workout. The experiment involved several muscle biopsies taken from different volunteers rather than anecdotal evidence. 

“This is important research, because it is the first to show that massage can reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines which may be involved in pain,” said Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Medical School. She was not involved in the study. “We have known from many studies that pain can be reduced by massage based on self-report, but this is the first demonstration that the pain-related pro-inflammatory cytokines can be reduced.” she said.

The abstract of the research article is here. It’s called “Massage Therapy Attenuates Inflammatory Signaling After Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage,” in case you ever want to refer to it.

I was glad to read of this research, because it’s conclusion is evidence based. It’s something massage therapists can use when they talk about how and why massage works, instead of making vague references to things like “releasing toxins.” 

When I was in massage school, more than a dozen years ago now, I learned that after receiving a massage it’s very important to drink lots of water to “flush out the toxins” released by the massage. No one ever told me what those toxins were, where they were hiding, and how massage released them. Rather, it seemed a matter of faith. Many massage therapists still claim this as a benefit of massage. For example: 1, 2, 3. 

Massage therapists do make a legitimate reference to the lymphatic system, which massage does have an effect on. Lymph is the fluid that is within the lymphatic ducts and glands. Lymph is essentially the same thing as blood plasma (the liquid component of blood) and interstitial fluid (the liquid substance filling the empty spaces around cells in various tissues).

The lymphatic system does not have a pump behind it to move lymph through its intricate network of ducts and glands, like the heart moves blood through arteries. It relies on the movement of the body to exert gentle pressure on the ducts to keep lymph flowing toward the base of the neck, where it drains into the subclavian veins on either side and is thus returned to the blood stream. Lymph becomes plasma, which is filtered through the kidneys.

Meanwhile, blood pressure pushes some of the plasma out of the blood capillaries into the surrounding tissues, where it then becomes interstitial fluid. The same gentle pressure that moves lymph through the ductwork, also pushes interstitial fluid back into the lymphatic ducts. The fluid goes round and round and round.

Movement of the body—through contractions of muscles—moves lymph through the system. Massage does the same thing, only it’s someone else’s muscles doing much of the work.

The lymphatic system is part of our immune system. An immune response is how the body responds to and fights infection. White blood cells, many of which are stationed at lymph nodes, attack and destroy all sorts or invaders. The byproducts of battle are eventually excreted in a well-functioning system.

So what are toxins? A toxin is a poison of plant or animal origin that induces an immune response. If the body cannot fight the infection on its own, or without serious intervention otherwise, death is the result. 

Something else you learn in massage school is that massage is contraindicated for someone with a systemic infection. Massage is not an appropriate intervention for acute infectious diseases caused by toxins. 

But what about drinking all that water? Well, you don’t need sophisticated studies to know that without enough water, eventually you’ll die of dehydration. But after a massage, do you need to (as I once overheard one LMT tell her client) “drink lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of water”?

No, you don’t. You may develop a thirst after a massage, in which case you should drink some water—just as you would any other time you are thirsty. After all, you do need to replenish your fluid supply to keep from dehydrating. And the brain is good at telling you when you need more water. But when your massage therapist routinely hands you a bottle of water after a massage and reminds you to drink it all to “flush out the toxins,” you are getting a placebo.

Here is more information about what drinking lots of water can and won’t do for you:

Five myths about drinking water
The water myth
Eight glasses
Recommended water intake a myth