Rob Brown, MD

A Physician's Unique Perspective on Wellness

Category: Life Lessons

Are you a Tortoise or a Hare?

It Might be Something Worth Thinking About

Sometimes a series of events in space and time are so beyond coincidence they speak from a greater mind… a true gift of manifestation. Today, I experienced this wonder.

Like many of you, I work from my home. My office was designed with floor to ceiling windows affording a serene view. Occasional glances at the grassy slope, stream and pond allow me to regain peace and calm during stressful moments. Ducks, turkey, geese, hawks, and occasionally, even a blue heron can be spotted at the pond. 10 years ago, my neighbor told me he saw a very large turtle down there. He described it at the time as being “as big as a dinner plate!” 

I watched and waited for my opportunity to see the turtle. I mowed the lawn, walked the property and looked out the window, but never saw the turtle. I began to think my neighbor had pranked me and that it didn’t really exist. That is… until today.

While working this morning, I heard Bernie, our over-sized Alaskan Malamute, barking in the backyard. He isn’t particularly vocal and so when I heard his low growl and sporadic barks, I stopped my work to look outside. I spotted him on the outside perimeter of his, now fragmented, dog fence lunging back and forth while focusing on a spot in the grass. I put my bathrobe on and walked outside. As I approached the scene, I saw a large brown disc up on-end and then disappear. 

Bernie

“Bernie, what do you have there? Is that a snake?” I said quietly. 

As I got closer, I saw the shell of a large turtle. The head, feet, and tail were pulled in. The shell alone was at least 15 inches in length! 

“Bernie! Come here!”, I scolded. 

The dog reluctantly ran away from the turtle, pranced in a circle, avoiding my gaze. It wasn’t long though before he gave up and slowly walked back to me, tongue lolling. I held his collar as we walked back to the house. Once inside, I sat down at my desk bewildered. I had finally seen the legendary turtle! Concerned that Bernie had injured the reptile, I made a mental note to check out the yard after my shift was over.

Bernie fell asleep on the floor. Not more than 10 minutes later, I looked outside and saw this brown baseball sized turtle head looking at me! The turtle stood in the grass 6 feet from my office window with its head and neck fully extended, resembling ET. I stood up and walked to the window to get a closer look. This creature had walked at least 200 feet to get to the house. But why? It stared at me for at least 5 minutes before turning around. It then slowly lumbered down the hill and was gone. 

It was a spiritual encounter during which the turtle acknowledged me. I reflected on this unique experience and it’s underlying meaning. The turtle is an auspicious symbol, representing prosperity, strength, and good health. The rest of my morning was magical.

It wasn’t until later, though, that I realized the complexity and deeper message behind the turtle’s appearance. 

While getting into the shower, my mind cleared and I muttered “The Tortoise and the Hare”. 

I wasn’t quite sure why I had said it. But then, realized it was, indeed, an allusion. It suddenly dawned on me that it was only one day earlier that I had seen a rabbit in the backyard. Bernie had been active that day too. He had grabbed a rabbit from the yard and brought it to the same plot of grass that the turtle sat in today. I witnessed the rabbit’s decapitation and dismemberment. The dog ate the whole thing without leaving a trace.

I viewed both of these vignettes while sitting in the same chair, while looking through the same window pane, at the same piece of grass on one day and then the next. The sequence of events was not only an extraordinary coincidence, but also conveyed and important message.

So what does it mean? 

Have you read Aesop’s fable The Tortoise and the Hare? It is a story of an overly confident hare who, while in a race with a tortoise, proceeds to take a nap before crossing the finish line. Upon awakening, the hare learns he has lost the event to the persistent, slow moving, and careful tortoise. 

In this tale, going to sleep can represent a metaphor for becoming unconscious of one’s actions. When focus is lost, a planned destiny will not manifest. In my yard, not only did the hare lose the race, it lost its life to a predator. 

After much thought, I’ve concluded that this was a message to remain vigilant and careful. I am tempted to go out to restaurants, vacation at the beach, and visit with friends, but this was an important reminder of the need to remain cautious and protected. I, like all of you, want to finish this race unscathed.

Yes. Perhaps this is a lesson for all of us. Slow and steady wins the race!

Telepathy – Spiritual Communication among the Living

Many people believe that spirits of those who have passed can communicate with the living and influence their lives by protection and guidance. But, do we receive spiritual communication from those that are living too?

We have all seemingly random thoughts pop into our head. People’s faces we haven’t thought about in awhile come to mind. Emotions surface, including anxiety, that have no rational explanation. We reach for the phone to call someone when the phone rings and it’s that same person on the phone calling you. I have come to understand that this may at least sometimes be a result of spiritual communication among the living.

Mind reading

Tina and I met at school. It wasn’t an academic center, but rather a less formal, group that held retreats centered on stretching the power of the mind. At one event, we were taught a technique to read each other’s mind, more commonly known as mental telepathy.  My partner, Tina, and I, practiced the discipline face to face and had some success, but not more than a skeptic would have considered random. And, I, ashamedly, was a skeptic.

Yet, I was intrigued with the possibility that this skill could be learned. After the retreat ended, Tina and I decided to continue practicing this discipline weekly. She lived in Oregon and I lived in Pittsburgh. At first, we chose categories to narrow down the possibilities of information being sent, and improve our chances of success. Each week, we recorded hits, near misses and total misses. Over the course of a few months, our accuracy increased.  Yet, I remained doubtful that we were experiencing anything more than getting to know one another’s personality and tendencies.

Then, one week, I was confronted with the extraordinary.

One Sunday, after going through our results from the previous week, Tina stated she would send me two animals and I decided I would send her two playing cards. Jokers were fair game. We hung up the phone agreeing to transmit the information at some unspecified time over the week. We would speak again the following weekend.

While driving home from work later that Thursday, I realized that I hadn’t done the exercise yet. I began to think about what card I would choose to send mentally to Tina. The first card that popped into my mind was the A spades. I chuckled to myself, thinking that this wasn’t the nicest card in the deck to send.

So, when I got home, I took out the deck of cards and went through them quickly, deciding on the 2 hearts and the 10 diamonds. After writing them down in my journal, I studied the cards carefully and went through the ritual I had learned to send the information to Tina.

Then, I cleared my mind, brought up her image and waited for animals to come into my mind.

The first image that came was faint. But, I recognized it was an animal with a long neck. Ahh.. a giraffe, I thought. I cleared my mind again and waited for the next image to appear. The second animal I saw was in a tree. A koala bear? I entered my observations into the journal and promptly forgot the session.

That weekend, I was scheduled to fly to Las Vegas for a conference. Sunday morning, I went down to the casino lobby and waited in line to eat at the coffee shop. At 11:00 am, it was time to call Tina to discuss our results.

Results

After exchanging some pleasantries, we got down to business. “I’ll go first.” She said.

“What did you get from me?” I asked.

“Well, I brought up your face while I was doing a meditative walk and a card popped up into my mind. It was the A spades.”

I was surprised. “You get credit for that!”, I said. “I had thought about sending you the A spades but I changed my mind.”

After she berated me for changing my mind, I asked her if she got another card from me.

“Well yeah. I got two more cards from you. The first was the 2 Hearts and the second was the 10 diamonds.”

Upon hearing her, I think I stopped breathing. Tears welled up in my eyes. I stood there online at the coffee shop barely able to hold on to the phone. The contrast between the extraordinary realization of what we had accomplished with the noise of the casino was all the more impactful.

“Oh my god!” I said to her, “That’s exactly what I sent to you!”

“OK cool. What did you get from me?”

I have to take a pause and say that Tina was unmoved by her accuracy. She accepted this incredible phenomenon as she would if she had hit the bullseye during archery. In her world, this phenomenon was expected for we had been practicing, right? I, on the other hand, was dumbfounded.

Our conversation continued and I read what I had received from her. She said, “Yes, I sent you a giraffe. What else did you get?” I told her a Koala bear, but she had in fact, sent me something completely unrelated.

Now, I knew this was not random or about odds, but I had to figure out the chances of this anyway. Being able to accurately identify 3 playing cards alone including the jokers, would be odds equal to 1 out of 54 x 53 x 52 or 148,824:1! And that doesn’t even take into account that there were only supposed to be 2 cards! When considering that there were actually 5 bits of information going back and forth between the two of us, the fact that we hit 4 of them spot on was astronomical odds. No way this accuracy was random chance.

What happened afterwards was progressive and interesting.

Tina and I continued our exploration into this work. One week, I was assigned to send Tina two names. While giving thought about which names to send to her, I went through 5 different sets of names, finally deciding on Caesar and Cleopatra. When we spoke at the end of week, not only did Tina come up with Caesar and Cleopatra, but she also identified 2 other sets of names that I had considered.

Then, one day, Tina called me up out of the blue. “Were you looking at a red fire hydrant today? I had this image of a fire hydrant in my mind and I didn’t know where it came from.”

She didn’t know it, but I had been house hunting that day and I came across a property I really liked. I had spent time looking at the fire hydrant on the front corner of the property, trying to decide if its location bothered me or not.

So What are the Implications?

People in close relationships what the other is thinking. Many know who is calling them, even before the phone rings.

We are all connected to each other through a web of consciousness and we pick up on each other’s thoughts and emotions all the time. The real skill becomes in knowing who you are receiving the information from.

With this in mind, it makes you realize the importance of watching how you think about others. And most importantly, to live your truth, for there are no secrets in the web of thought.

Free will versus spiritual guidance: How the universe sometimes calls the shots

Have you ever been frustrated by the experience of wanting something badly, but never truly being able to have it? No matter how hard you try, it seems as if the universe will provide you glimpses of your desire, but forbids you to have ownership. This has been my experience with the plant Wysteria.

Descending down the hillside on the Isle of Capri, we headed towards the grotto. I’m sure Capri’s tourist attraction was beautiful, but to be frank, I don’t remember it. I don’t even remember if we were heading to the Blue grotto or the Green grotto! What I do recall of that day was our walk down the hill and standing beneath an arbor covered with blooming Wysteria. It was the first time I had ever seen this flower and I was awestruck by its beauty and scent. The grape-like clusters of purple flowers hung underneath a wooden lattice and surrounded me and Kristin. I remember the fragrance was intoxicating. We sat there for a while before continuing our journey down to the water. I fell in love with Wysteria on that day and vowed that I would grow those blooms in my future backyard.

So, 5 years later after purchasing my first home in Shadyside, a section of Pittsburgh, the first thing I did was to plant Wysteria. The plant grew and grew, but didn’t bloom. I read about taking care of Wysteria and learned that it could take a few years for the plant to be mature enough to flower, so I waited. But, after 3 years, no success. I read that by cutting the branches and sometimes the roots, the plant could be stimulated to blossom. So, I did just that. But, pruning didn’t work either. After 7 years, I changed jobs and planned a move to New York City.

Before the internet, securing housing in New York City was difficult. It helped to know people. Rent controlled apartments and other desirable places to live were hard to find. People used to check the obituaries to find vacancies. There weren’t many, if any “For Rent” signs on the street. Using an agent made the process less onerous, especially if one was moving to the big apple from out of town. My two closest friends, both living in the East village, a neighborhood of Manhattan, didn’t know anyone influential. My hope was to live somewhere near them. My only real “want” for housing was to have outdoor space. That way my two cats, who had been used to roaming Shadyside, could get spend some time outside. I contacted an agency and planned a trip to the city.

The weekend I visited, the agency had nothing to show me. So my friend, David, and I criss crossed our way through lower Manhattan, starting at 22rd street. We walked across town from 1st Avenue to 9th avenue. Then, walked one block South to 21st street, and walked back down to 1st avenue. We made our way down through the East Village, Greenwich Village, the West Village, and Gramercy. During one of the two days, while walking down West 13th street, I admired a Wysteria vine growing up the facade of a brownstone. It was June and I knew that Wysteria back home had already leafed out. This plant though was oddly in full bloom. I walked up the stairs to the front door of the stone home where I was able to reach and smell the sweet aroma of the flowers. “Wow.”, I said, “This is amazing!” We continued our journey all the way down to Houston street, where the numbered streets began. In all, we must have walked well over 100 city blocks and passed thousands of apartment buildings, brownstones and businesses.

No place to live and a bit disappointed, I got back home to Pittsburgh when the rental agent called. There were now 3 units available with outdoor space. I made a few calls and arranged for the agent to take David to see the units. I couldn’t fly back to New York and I trusted his judgement. He knew my taste.

When he called me later the next day, I asked, “So how were they?”

He said, “Well, you know one place already.”

“I do?” I asked, a bit confused.

“Yes. It’s the place with the Wysteria. You’re gonna love that apartment. It’s a split level on both the first and second floors. And, it includes an outdoor patio.”

I was amazed. Out of over a thousand buildings I saw that weekend…

I took the unit “sight unseen” and chuckled as I mailed the first rent check to my new landlord who lived at 69 Fifth Avenue.

When I moved to West 13th street a month later, the first thing I noticed driving up to the Brownstone was that the Wysteria had been removed!

Since then, I have encountered Wysteria in bloom only a few times, each time during a crossroad in my life. I’ve also re-tried to grow the plant. This most recent time, I purchased two mature Wysteria plants, both of which were in full bloom in the greenhouse when I purchased them. But, once they were transplanted into the yard, the blooms quickly dropped off and neither plant ever bloomed again.

Now, 8 years later, I’ve come to accept that Wysteria is more than a plant for me. It is a spiritual beacon. A guide that I cannot have on my own terms. I must simply experience the beauty of the flower when it mysteriously manifests in my life, and take confidence in knowing that its presence is directing me to a new destiny.

The Art of Manifesting… Art!

The law of attraction, vision boards, and focussed meditation are all techniques credited for bringing about manifestation. Sometimes creation can happen in a moment. At other times, it can seemingly take years.

A skeptic may define this phenomenon as random, ‘luck of the draw.’ Sometimes though, coincidences leading up to a manifestation are so uncanny, it is hard not to question whether or not there are other forces at work, including divine intervention. At one time, I only attributed my synchronistic events with spiritual guidance and the number 69. But, over time, life experiences helped to broaden my understanding of manifestation, and I evolved.

A Manifestation of …Art?

“You’re not an art collector.” my uncle once blurted out during a phone call. He used his demeaning tone. It was true. At the time, I didn’t have any art that one would have considered collectible. I explained to him that it was how I found my first piece, or rather, how it came to find me, that inspired me to take the plunge and make the purchase.

It happened one weekend during my residency training when The Rolling Stones came to town. The Saturday night concert was phenomenal. On the following day, I unwound while strolling through the Andy Warhol museum in downtown Pittsburgh.

On one of the middle floors of the 7 story building, there was a room hosting a collection of oversized, floating silver clouds. The effect was awesome. But, what really struck me in that room was on the wall, behind the pillows.  There, hung in succession, was a series of Mick Jagger serigraphs. I stared at the collection, absorbed by the combined talent of the singer/songwriter’s expressiveness and style created by the master graphic artist. One piece was better than the next. “Aren’t these amazing?” I said to my friend, Ann.

“Wouldn’t it be amazing to own one of these?”

I muttered, mostly to myself, but Anne heard me and replied, “I could see you owning one of these, Rob!”

We both smiled and continued our journey through the museum.

The next morning, I arrived at the 7 am conference, and I sat in my chair exhausted from the long weekend of partying. One of the other residents, Barb, struck up a conversation with me.

“Rob, you’re never going to guess what my husband saw in a pawn shop in Missoula, Montana this past weekend!”

“What?” I asked, half interested and half asleep.

“An Andy Warhol painting!”

“Really?” I said, confused and not quite sure I heard her correctly.

Why would she think I would be interested to hear about an Andy Warhol painting? Then, I remembered that she was a collector.

“Yes. He was walking through this pawn shop in Missoula and came across an original Andy Warhol serigraph. It’s of Mick Jagger!”

My mouth must have dropped open.

After a brief pause, I think I blurted out “It’s mine!” But, I tried to tether myself from the elation, because I realized that maybe the next thing she would tell me was that her husband bought it for their house.

She continued, “Yes, it’s apparently in perfect condition! I’d love to have it, but we just purchased an Andy Warhol truck, so I told my husband,  No way!”

Feeling intense joy, I beamed and exclaimed more assertively, “It’s mine!”

I told her of the amazing coincidence. What are the odds of something like that happening, I thought?? Then I wondered if it was a gift from spirit? At the time, I didn’t know about manifestation.

Something new

A few years later, having always loved the Beatles, and John Lennon’s music, in particular, I thought I wanted to buy a John Lennon’s doodle. I had seen Lennon’s artwork displayed in many galleries, but nothing ever seemed to grab me and hold my interest.

After many disappointments, I lost the interest and gave up the search. It was about that time when Yoko Ono brought a collection of John Lennon’s artwork on a national tour. The Pittsburgh show began on a Friday evening. I felt the need to be there as close to the opening as possible, for I suspected there might be a piece there that I would feel passionate about. My sister, Jackie, and I drove to the exhibition after work  and upon entering the showcase room, were surrounded by walls filled with artwork and hundreds of people. Beatles songs played in the background, helping to create n awesome atmosphere! I quickly moved around the room scanning all of the doodles until I came to one that stopped me in my tracks.  It was the exhibit’s signature piece, a simple unique line drawing called “John and Yoko.”

“Oh my god”, I said, “This is the one!”

I found the curator for the show and as we started talking about the piece, the song “Doctor Robert” came on over the speakers. I chuckled. “Why do you laugh?” He asked.

I explained to him that my name was Robert and that when I was a kid, I wanted to be a doctor. So, I always considered this to be my song.

We talked a bit more, but I swiftly decided to buy the piece. The curator had requested that I leave the artwork at the show and return late Sunday afternoon to pick it up.

That Sunday, Jackie and I went back to the gallery. As we walked into the exhibit, a song ended and the song “Doctor Robert” came on the overhead speakers. “That’s odd”, I thought to myself.

We received the wrapped up picture and carefully placed it in the car trunk. Afterwards, while drinking sangria at a nearby Spanish restaurant, we reminisced with tears streaming down our faces. Neither of us could believe that something John Lennon actually drew was sitting in the trunk of the car.

We said our goodnight early for the next morning I had to work. The clock radio sounded off at 6:00 am. I heard a click and then John Lennon singing the words

“From me to you. To you. Na na naaa na na naa naa naaah”

I sat up in bed feeling intense love and joy. What an incredible coincidence! Or, was it?

I’m still not sure whether these two pieces of art came into my home by way of my manifestation or if they represented spiritual gifts. But, one thing that I am certain of, is that these were not random events. Does it matter? I think so. Yes.

Numeric Symbols as Spiritual Guidance

For years, friends commented that I was blessed to live under a lucky star. Things often worked out according to plan, but I didn’t subscribe to the religious belief that someone could be blessed or in the childhood fantasy of lucky stars. I rode the streak of good fortune for many years until my luck faded and I became submerged in misfortune. As crazy as it may sound, doing so was a conscious choice.

This sequence of events began after returning home from my semester abroad in Rome. My life became filled with extraordinary coincidences. With frequent moments of serendipity and good fortune, I began to notice the number 69. It was on license plates driving by, price tags, addresses, jerseys, everywhere! At the time I thought it was a funny coincidence.

After graduation though, I moved to Miami, Florida and the phenomenon seemed to follow me. I got used to seeing the number 69 and even began to look for it as a symbol to let me know that I was in the right place at the right time. Sometimes, I would see the number 96 with frequency, as if to tell me that I was “ass backwards!” Over time, I began to notice the number 73, too. The two numbers 69 and 73 seemed to be related to each other as I would often encounter them together.

On one such occasion, my housemate, Paul, and I had gone exploring South Beach to look for a place to rent the following year. Most of the small homes we saw were run down as it was 1988, just before gentrification took place. While meandering the streets, we came across the 100 building, a high rise on Lincoln Road. Neither of us had considered living in an apartment building, but as we drove up to the entrance, a car pulled out of a parking place right in front. Perfect timing. I noticed that the car to the left of the empty space had a license plate with the number “6969” on it. The license plate on the car to the right had the number 73 on it. I thought to myself, “This is meant to be!” My buddy and I walked into the lobby and asked for the rental agent. We were quite sure that rates in this building were way out of our price range, but we had time explore. The agent was out on break. So, we casually asked the doorman if there were any units available.

“I think there’s one in the penthouse,” he said.

Stepping away from the desk, I looked at Paul and said, “I’ve never seen a penthouse, have you?”

He smiled and with that, we walked quickly across the marble flooring to the elevators. We pressed PH for the first time. When the doors opened, we stepped out into a long hallway. I’m not quite sure what we thought we would find up there, maybe an open door? Then, we heard a creek at the end of the hall. A big man, wearing a bathrobe and large gold medallions around his neck stepped into the hallway and faced us. Paul and I, looking suspicious, turned around quickly and headed back towards the elevator.

“Hey, what are you boys doing up here?” He barked.

We turned around nervously and told him that we were looking for an apartment to rent.

“There’s one available across the hallway here. Do you want to see it?”

I grinned from ear to ear as the man pulled out a huge ring of keys and opened up the door. We walked into the living room of a huge 3 bedroom apartment with balconies, roof access and spectacular views of Miami beach and the ocean. He stood in the doorway as we checked out the apartment.

“This is my room!” I called out excitedly.

My future bedroom for the next 3 years had 3 walk in closets, a balcony and its own bathroom!

Initially, the cost of the rent was more than twice what we were able to afford. But, the manager, apparently wanting to attract younger people to Miami beach, lowered the rent until we could make it work. My rent, $490 a month! What at an amazing experience! The sequence of events that lead to us to finding and securing the apartment was unbelievable.

During a conversation with my father afterwards, I mentioned to him about my fascination with the magical numbers 69 and 73. His response shook me.

“That’s interesting. My father died when he was 69 and my mother died when she was 73.”

Upon hearing this, the hairs on the back of my neck stiffened.

My grandfather had died early during my childhood and I didn’t know him well. But, I knew I loved both Nanna and Grandpa. He had been a controlling person, making his fortune in an international art supply business.

It was strange, but somehow, attaching these two numeric symbols to my grandparent’s spirits made sense. I was grateful. But then, the feeling of gratitude dissipated and I felt I had been manipulated. Having this extraordinary gift left me feeling privileged, but also isolated from my friends and family who didn’t seem to be living under the same guidance. It may sound silly, but I wanted to have the same struggles as everyone else. I wanted my success to be from my inspiration and my failure to be from my own lack of performance. I wanted to control my own destiny.

One evening, I went out on to the roof and yelled up to the sky, “Thank you for your help, but please leave me alone and let me be!“

And then, the free-fall began.

At first, I noticed a small discoloration on my earlobe, but it quickly turned into a rapidly enlarging bump, maybe a wart? Melanoma had been an unsuspected diagnosis, even by the dermatologist, and so the the initial attempt at removal was performed incorrectly. This error led to further problems in assessing the severity of the disease. After extensive surgery on my face and neck, I experienced another problem. Because of uncontrollable bleeding in the recovery room, I was rushed back to the operating room to find the “bleeder.” I think I spent over 11 hours in surgery that day.

My classmates were wonderfully supportive. The love I felt from them all made the whole situation during and afterwards manageable. Yet,  I experienced frequent mishaps and I felt vulnerable. One night while looking out over the beach, I quietly sang the lyrics to the Carole King song “Up on the Roof”. Tears welled up in my eyes, and I prayed to my grandparents for help. Afterwards, I felt better for I sensed I had not been abandoned. But, the guidance I received from that point forward was subtle. I observed the number 69 at important junctures, but much less frequently. The sporadic guidance left room for me to make mistakes. Life was less easy than it had been before, but the new paradigm allowed maturation.

The number 73 never resurfaced.

Why have I shared this incredibly personal story? Because I know that this phenomenon occurs to many if not all of us, regardless of whether or not we recognize it. I have heard similar stories from others and now accept that the frequent reoccurrence of numbers in our lives can most definitely be an indication of spiritual guidance. The number usually has a significance to the person who has passed and may indicate the prior relationship. Recently, a friend shared with me an experienced of a reoccurring 4 digit number that he realized had been the numerical birthdate of his sister who had passed on many years prior.

If you too have noticed a recurring number in your daily life, I suggest you try to figure out who you might be receiving communication or guidance from. Be grateful when you do and your life will become that much more meaningful.

I now think we are all blessed.

A Reincarnation “Bleed Through” in Rome?

At a recent panel discussion, I was asked a question to the effect of, “How is it that you, as a classically trained physician, have gotten interested in the spiritual?” This inquiry got me to revisit my long and multifaceted journey. After much contemplation, I feel compelled to publicly share some of my most memorable experiences. Until now, I’ve saved these stories for close friends and family members. But, I suspect this series of blogs may help others see patterns in their own lives and help bring to conscious awareness their own spiritual existence.

My journey into the metaphysical began 30 years ago during my junior year semester abroad at Brown University. My closest college friend, Ken, an East Asian studies major, planned to spend the year in China to further his exposure to Chinese culture and increase his fluency. As a premed student, I would receive no academic benefit towards my biology major from study abroad. Regardless, I decided to go to Rome, Italy, for no other reason than because I had always loved Italian food.

In preparation, the program, sponsored by Temple University, mailed me a packet which included an introduction to Rome, a basic vocabulary list, and instructions on how to get to the pensione, our lodging for the upcoming semester. As the time to leave approached, I became increasingly excited for the opportunity to see famous collections of art, and the colosseum.

Upon arrival into the pensione, my two roommates and I unpacked our luggage in the tiny room. We walked to the school and around the neighborhood to become familiar with the surrounding streets. Later that day, our group met at a nearby restaurant for dinner. The 14 of us sat at a long banquet table. After handing out menus, the waiter unexpectedly addressed me, in Italian, for the entire table’s order. This would become commonplace at almost every restaurant we dined in. I tried to explain to the waiter, in English, that I didn’t speak Italian. He didn’t seem to understand me, or maybe he just didn’t care. I placed the order with finger pointing and hand gestures.  All seemed successful until my plate arrived hosting a few slices of tomato and a few slices of cheese. I realized that I had better learn Italian quickly! After the meal, the waiter handed me il conto, the bill. Why to me? I had no idea.

The next few days were spent in class and eating in local bars and restaurants. We were living in an area of Rome that was anything but touristy. At what quickly became our neighborhood bar, the bartender served me a cappuccino and said “You are Roman!” I laughed and said, “No.’ I’m Jewish.” He insisted, “Ah… No, You are Roman.” I smiled awkwardly, not sure what to say next. He followed up with, “You look like Chessaray!” I enjoyed his friendliness and my new nickname. It wasn’t until much later that I realized Chessaray is the Italian pronunciation for Caesar.

After a few days, during our first afternoon off, we decided to venture into the old city. I remember it was a beautiful day and I was excited to see the Colosseum. We walked down the streets en masse, while one of the group held a map directing us towards the old city. Although I typically had an excellent sense of direction, I was very confused about our location and could not get oriented looking at the map. So, I left the navigation to others.

We approached a great stone wall and walked through the gate to Piazza del Popolo, Awe came over me. The piazza was beautiful with a central stone obelisk and 3 roads that splayed out in front of us, one in the middle, and the other two going off at 30 degree angles.

The group stopped in the center of the piazza so our leader, Christine, could study the map. My eyes were fixated on the buildings and grand architecture. Christine wanted to head to the Pantheon first. The map of Rome was in Italian and not a tourist map, per se. Finding the landmarks was a bit challenging, especially while on foot with cars zipping by. I became increasingly impatient. Then, as if a light had been turned on in a dark corner of my mind, my confusion cleared and I suddenly knew exactly where I was.

“Follow me! I know where it is!”, I said.  I started down the main road in front of us, which I later learned was Via del Corso. I stared ahead and walked quickly down the road in front of me. My speed picked up as my excitement built. One of my companions call out with irritation, “Where are you going?”

I darted into an alley on the right and kept walking, taking unknown, but purposeful right and left turns down the narrow stone streets. When I finally stopped, I found myself in a square hosting an imposing ancient building. The group quickly gathered around me.

“Is this is the Pantheon?” someone questioned. “How did you know where it was?”

I became choked up, almost in tears. My head was swirling and I felt dizzy. I looked at them and cried slowly, “This is My City. This is My City.” That was all I could say.

After this experience, I wasn’t quite sure what to think. How could I have possibly known where the Pantheon was without a map? Why did I get so emotional? Nowadays in the eurozone, street signs containing symbols and English translation point out tourist attractions, but in the 1980s, this was not the case. In fact, I don’t think there was any signage that said “The Pantheon”.

Many unanswered questions

Upon returning home from my favorite city, I was left with uncertainty. How did I  know the location of the Pantheon? Why did waiters consistently address me as if I were hosting a private party at each group meal? Why did people throughout Italy assume I was Roman? And, why did the bartender insist on calling me Caesar?

After some time, I dismissed the experience as weird things that happened to me in Rome. There wasn’t much written about reincarnation at that time and the term spirituality wasn’t common. Either one subscribed to a religious doctrine or was agnostic or atheist. A clear memory of this day stuck with me though and I occasionally shared my story with others. Years later, while reading a book by Brian Weiss entitled “Many Lives, Many Masters”, I curiously came across a short blurb about an American doctor who had a reincarnation experience in Rome. It wasn’t until speaking with Dr. Weiss at a meeting that I  learned this paragraph referred to my trip. Dr. Weiss had been one of my psychiatry professors at the University of Miami a decade earlier, at which time he was writing his pivotal book.

Looking back, I do consider this to have been a reincarnation “bleed through” phenomenon. Despite proof, my mind opened to the possibility that there are forces at work in our lives that cannot be explained by the physical here and now. And, by doing so,  allowed for additional future metaphysical experiences.

Do you Consider Government Propaganda “Fake News?”

Call it misinformation, disinformation, statistical fudging, or lies. Fake news is more common than most realize. The news story dubbed “Pizza-gate” created a media blitz, yet more insidious forms of misinformation put out in news stories by credible sources goes largely unquestioned by the masses. In contrast to a bizarre, but isolated shooting, fake news produced by governmental agencies has adversely affected the health and well being of millions. Attempts to expose misinformation is often met with anger or dismissive labeling as conspiracy theory.

I recently experienced this phenomenon during a recent luncheon.

Having arrived to the restaurant late, I sat at the one empty seat. Although I didn’t know it, I was seated between two professionals would perfectly illustrate the societal effect of misinformation in real time.

I had recently viewed the documentary “Vaxxed” in which the whistle blower, Dr. William Thompson, discloses that he and his colleagues at the CDC fudged their data in their landmark research study performed to assess the link between autism spectrum disorder and the MMR vaccine. I found the video deeply disturbing and worthy of conversation.

In the film, Dr. Thompson details how the CDC manipulated their data to get an industry favorable result. I described the film’s content in detail to my brunch neighbors.

The guest on my right was a medical research who, in an extraordinary twist of fate, had worked at the CDC during the time of the Autism/MMR study. I was awestruck by the synchronicity. The scientist made a statement that sent shivers up my spine.

”Everything in that movie is true.”

I believed it was true. Actually… I knew it was true.

The person to my left, an educator, seemed to become agitated and made the quick proclamation:

“There is no link between autism and vaccines. That was proven years ago.”

I had heard this phrase many times in the past. The words didn’t strike me as powerful, but the certitude and finality with which the statement was delivered caused me to recoil. What I didn’t know at the time was that this person unfortunately had a dear relative who was suffering from a severe form of autism.

Fudged data = phony results = fake news.

This ‘definitive study’ provided our doctors with fake news, i.e. the erroneous conclusion that there is no association between autism and the MMR vaccine. We parents and health care consumers had been taught by our misinformed health care professionals that the MMR vaccine is completely safe.

As most people have no fundamental understanding of how a vaccine actually works, opinions are usually generated to be in agreement with the media and doctors. It is easier to be a member of this team of social consciousness if your children have gone through the vaccination process unscathed. Others however have based their views on horrific personal experience.

Misinformation spread by our governmental agencies is nothing new. In recent months, it was uncovered that the EPA fudged their report regarding the risk to our freshwater supplies from fracking operations. At the nth hour, the report changed from:

“EPA Study Shows Potential Vulnerabilities to Drinking Water from Hydraulic Fracturing Process” to “Assessment shows hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread systemic impacts to drinking water resources and identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources.”

Subtle difference? Not for those who have researched fracking and listened to numerous accounts of tainted ground water. The fracking industry held up this misleading, “fake” EPA conclusion to sell fracking as a safe extraction technique.

But, the EPA was caught. As a result, they reworked their assessment and yesterday came to the public announcing that hydraulic fracturing can and has contaminated drinking water.

Is this all really surprising? Our governmental agencies are filled with scientists and other professionals with ties to industry. It is truly a “revolving door”. It is not a stretch to think that researchers might manipulate study results to help further progress their eventual career in industry. As funding is often dependent on industry favored results, it is probably more common than any of us would like to believe, even if those results might be at the expense of the general population’s health.

How do you decide who and what to believe?

Fireworks on July 4th – A Symbol of Entrainment

While sitting on the boat, waiting for the fireworks display to start, my mind drifted. Why was I destined to live a life of turbulence? Deep inside, I knew I became involved with people who mirrored different aspects of my own personality. My own complexity must be the source of my relational ups and downs. Was I destined to be alone? Yes, I became too introspective on this festive holiday.

The fireworks display started. Sheeewwwewww… Kaboom! One hundred tiny pink lights lit up the sky in an umbrella display. Boom! Boom! The lights were ordinary. I had seen them many times before. Yet, this year, they took on greater significance as I began to consider each light both individually and then as part of the whole. Sheewwww… boom!

I was mesmerized, looking at the lights as they fell from the sky, all turning color and then into glitter at the same time. All extinguishing at the same time. I reasoned that there must be the same amount of chemical in each particle falling from the sky, which then undergoes the same reaction at the same time. The result to the onlooker is coherence. A synchronized display. Yet, to me, it was a metaphor for entrainment, and a glimpse into the entanglement of relationships.

Entrainment is a phenomenon whereby physical objects in motion sync with each other over time. Entrainment is not chemical, physical or electrical. It’s an energetic, mysterious phenomenon that is very real. Think of a flock of birds moving synchronistically, all darting right or left at precisely the same time. Similarly, cuckoo clocks on display will all swing in perfect unison. In the garden, weeds all bloom and go to seed at the same time, regardless of how big the plant has become. Entrainment is universal.

Expressions like “Misery loves company”, “Laughter is contagious.” and “It takes one to know one” each hint to the concept of entrainment. While in the presence of someone who is heated and anxious, the companion too will become nervous. If one is in the presence of a calming energy, such as a trickling brook or a nurturing partner, the mind and body will relax. Living beings, including people, animals and even plants will entrain to the rhythms of music. Upbeat tempos will bring energy and higher metabolism, whereas slower rhythms will bring about lethargy and contemplation.

Entrainment occurs at many levels. Numerous internal processes are regulated by entrainment. For example, your heart rate entrains with your breathing rate. If your heart rate goes up, your breathing rate will increase. If you consciously slow your breath, your heart rate will drop.

Over time, we entrain with the company we keep. Women living in close proximity will cycle together. Couples who have been together for a long time will even physically resemble one another. Groups of people entrain to local politics, societal issues, even the weather. In a global sense, the human race is entrained with each other, as well as entrained with the position of the earth and its relationship with other planets, the sun and other celestial bodies. Perhaps this is where the origins of astrology lie.

As my mind drifted back to earth and to the boat, I began to cough and sputter. The smoke from the fireworks had formed a cloud on the water into which we had slowly drifted. Our captain backed up the vessel and we pulled away, leaving the toxic gas to dissipate. Approaching the shore, I came to the acknowledgment that we are all connected with each other. We have lovers, friends and adversaries. Regardless of the emotional hits we get from our relationships, we entrain with each other and our world, all of the time.

No one is alone.

The Death of Blackie or How my Appreciation and Connectedness for Food Continues to Grow

People say naming backyard chickens isn’t a great idea, because frequently, either the birds end up on the dinner table or nature takes it’s toll and predators or disease win out. Despite knowing this, we name the members of our flock. I was told quite directly by my children that they would never eat one of our chickens or ducks, so I decided we would raise them only for their eggs. My children had fun selecting names such as “chick-poof”, “The Jersey Girls”, and ADD “Arthur’s Dumb Duck”.

Although I agreed not to kill our chickens for meat, our benevolent intentions did not shelter our flock from nature. The first year, we lost nearly every chicken to aggressive hawks or night stalking raccoons. The hawks would soar high overhead and caw eerily. The raccoons were unseen. We eventually figured out that they were able to get into the coupe using their little hands in the darkness more adeptly than I could use my own.

Every loss left us with a sense of dread and failure. We continually made improvements to our enclosure. When we were left with one last chicken, we brought her into our home for a few weeks until we could figure out how to completely secure the coupe. We named her TLC for “the last chicken” and kept her safe and well fed.

The final coupe was located in our orchard, surrounded by 8 foot deer fencing. Chicken wire, held into place with nails, staples, bungee cords and bricks enclosed the coupe and attached run. We purchased a new flock of chicks, which TLC raised. The enclosure worked well and all of the chickens, except one, survived the summer. One “Jersey Giant”, named Blackie, had black feathers with a subtle iridescent green mixed in. Her name helped me distinguish her from “Red”, our other Jersey Giant who had a beet red crop. Blackie was a beautiful hen and laid an egg daily. Her eggs were a cream color. Blackie was a renegade and would wander off away from the flock and go scratching and digging in the dirt around the property by herself whenever given the chance.

During the wintertime, we brought the flock up close to the house to protect them from the elements. We felt tremendous satisfaction that we had finally gotten the predators under control. Our chickens had survived through the summer, fall and winter. We were feeling confident that we now knew how to protect them. Upon the transition from winter to spring though, we brought the flock back to the orchard.

In the morning after the move, I went down to the orchard and found a pile of black feathers surrounding our now headless chicken. Blackie was dead. I felt sick. It was my fault. I should have made sure she was secure in the coupe before going into the house the evening before. She must have been terrified. The other chickens were hiding in their coupe, obviously scared. I felt weak and guilty. In a way, I knew I was being a bit silly, yet I couldn’t shake my emotions.

Later in the day, I looked out the window into the backyard with my binoculars and saw a hawk pulling pieces of meat from Blackie’s dead body. When the hawk sensed I was focussing on it, it flew off. Blackie’s body was now part of the food chain. Her spirit must have passed on hours ago.

In addition to the emotional ups and downs of raising poultry, we have had many successes and failures with our fruit trees, our bees and our vegetable garden. In fact, last year, we lost our entire bee colony. Experiences like these help my family connect with their food. What we eat is not merely an abstraction. My children have felt the warmth of freshly laid eggs. We have seen our bees carrying orange bits of nectar into the hive and have tasted the honey made from these bees. We know that by pulling up and eating a carrot, we have ended that carrot’s life.  If we pick lettuce from the garden before dinner, we know we are eating plants that are alive.

Not everyone has the land to grow an orchard or the interest to raise chickens or other farm animals. But if you can, try to grow a garden. At the very least, try to raise a few edible plants or herbs in containers. It’s not difficult and the rewards are vast.

Whether or not you are a carnivore or vegetarian, learn to appreciate the source of your food. For too many, food is the ingestion of a lifeless thing wrapped in plastic wrap or processed material placed in a box, catalogued with stats such as calories, fat content, ingredients, etc. If you think about the source of your food and eat it with respect, the food might taste better and may provide you with a sense of greater nourishment.

How I Met My God on Mt. Kilimanjaro

It was daybreak and the sun came to view on the distant horizon. Hours earlier, we had formed a train of head lamps which snaked up the mountain, surrounded, literally, by stars. It was very cold.

Pole, pole, pole our guides chanted.

Step. Breathe. Step. Breathe.

Two steps forward, one step back. Two steps forward, one… two steps back. Breathe… breathe…

Jim knelt down and put his head between his knees gasping for breath. I felt badly for him, but I was nervous that we were taking too long. Anne sat and quietly announced she couldn’t continue. Timing was important and we had a ways to go before reaching the summit.

It was then that our head guide made an executive decision and asked the accessory guide, Ndesario, to bring me up the rest of the way while he stayed with the two others. I breathed a sigh of relief. A lot of training had gone into this trek and I wanted to reach the peak.

As we ascended, I felt weaker and sicker. At around 18,500 feet I asked myself, “Why the heck am I doing this?”

My fantasy of climbing the 7 peaks faded away as I wondered if I could even make just one. Then, the summit came into view and I relaxed.

It was a gradual walk from there to the peak. When I finally got there, I snatched a quick photo of the sign that would later be the only proof of my success. I then motioned to Ndesario that it was time to head down.

It was about two hours down the scree that I sipped my last bit of water. Exhausted, but otherwise feeling better after descending a few thousand feet, I casually asked Ndesario “How much farther till we get to the camp?”

“Half an hour” he said joyfully.
I’ll be fine”, I thought. The scree was like sand. Step, slide, Step, slide. It was challenging. My thighs burned intensely with each slide. But, I could survive anything for a half hour. The air was warm and indeed, it was a beautiful day.

That half hour came and went. There was no sign of the camp and I hadn’t seen another person since leaving the peak.

Now nervous, I muttered to myself, “Does he know where he’s going?”

While trudging on, I asked more emphatically, “Ndesario, How much further till the camp?”

“Half an hour” he said.
This time with a little less joy.

Filled with panic, I screamed, “You said that a half hour ago! Do you know where we are??? I’M OUT OF WATER!! I NEED WATER!!”

I showed him my empty water bottle and shook it with rage. I was angry with him. I knew we were lost. I blamed Jim and Anne for taking so much time on the ascent. Perhaps most of all, I was angry at myself for not bringing enough water.

Ndesario responded with a string of 3 or 4 “Half an hours.”

At this point, realizing that my guide didn’t speak English, I took off my long underwear as I was becoming dehydrated. Sweating was the last thing I wanted to do. I covered myself with my shell for protection from what was now the scorching desert sun. I threw my underclothes at my African guide, who wore a long sleeved shirt and long pants. Not a drip of sweat on him.

We continued on. As I stumbled forward, I felt my lips crack. Initially, I could taste blood as I licked them, but soon, the blood crusted over and became rough. My tongue then dried and became glued to the floor of my mouth. I looked at my guide, Ndesario, now with fear and respect. He moved steadily without any need for water. I realized then that he hadn’t carried a water bottle on this entire overnight journey.

In my delirium, I began to accept that I might die on Mt. Kilimanjaro. I had no tears. My anger and panic were gone. My mind drifted off and although I kept prodding forward, I lost all sense of time and purpose.

That’s when the extraordinary occurred. I heard a subtle noise from somewhere ahead. Then, a very dark skinned man bounced up the rocks wearing what I remember to be a Rastafarian colored hat. He was filled with life’s energy and importantly, he was carrying a flask.

“Water” I pleaded, with my dried up mouth.I’ll never forget the look he gave me. My life was in this stranger’s hands.

He handed me the flask hesitantly and delicious water flowed into my mouth. It was curiously cold considering we had been in sweltering heat for hours. My savior took his flask back and vanished over the rocks. I regained some stamina to keep going.

We walked for what seemed to be at least another 2 hours, when we finally reached the camp. There, I was quickly placed on a cot and given fluids.

As I lay there dreaming, I wondered who that guy was who mysteriously showed up at the precise moment I believed myself to be at death’s door? Was he an angel? Had my God appeared. Was he a messenger or runner that I had manifested? To this day, 21 years later, I wonder why this guy was alone, wandering over 16,000 feet. I also wonder if he knows he saved a life that day.

Miracles, that is unexplainable “coincidences” for the scientifically inclined, occur all the time, usually when least expected. It is usually only after the occurrence happens that one becomes aware of the miraculous. Whether you have a chance meeting with an old friend in some obscure place, happen to be given just enough money for an expense you couldn’t afford, or stumble upon a choice parking space on a busy street in front of the restaurant you have reservations at, these seemingly impossible events occur. I think of them as divine manifestations.

Being conscious means being aware. Accept those things seen and those unseen. Don’t write divine gifts off as mere coincidence or chance. Pay attention. Call it what you will, your intuition, your guiding spirit, your angel, your God, or something else. The more you acknowledge to these special moments, the more you will see into this nebulous realm and the more miraculous your life will become. Indeed, it may save your life one day.

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