Archive for January, 2010

The Mind-Body Connection

I suppose, once a nurse, always a nurse. Even though I have not practiced nursing in over twenty-five years, I have an innate interest in health issues try to keep up with all the recent advances. In recent years and many illnesses later, I have become more and more interested in the mind-body connection.

This past weekend I attended a lecture given by Dr. Hans Gruenn who runs the Longevity Center in Los Angeles. Now, isn’t this a perfect lecture for a baby boomer wanting to remain forever young?  Dr. Gruenn, originally from Germany, spoke on “Advances in Integrative Medicine,” and gave a powerful and poignant two-hour talk.

Integrative medicine is a type of medical practice that incorporates physical western medicine in addition to  alternative therapies while taking into consideration psychological, environmental, historical and genetic factors. It relies upon a partnership between the patient and the physician and is considered a way to treat the body, mind and spirit all at once.

The major question Dr. Gruenn posed for us, is to ask ourselves, not why we  get sick, but why don’t we heal? He believes that the patient must do their part in maintaining their health. He quoted Voltaire – “The doctor is to entertain the patient while he heals.” He admitted that some people have a tendency to see an array of doctors looking for solutions to their health problems, but that there is a real danger in seeing too many doctors and having too many tests. He agrees that we must pick and choose. He spoke about the difference between medical practice in the United States and in Europe and how the basis of good health gets down to good nutrition and eating fresh organic foods, instead of processed foods. He said that due to poor diets, the life expectancy for our children will be shorter than ours.

In general, he said, “Medicine keeps you honest. It makes you think why you  are stuck, whether it is for emotional, physical or genetic reasons.” He believes that the practice of medicine is a searching process and that if a patient comes into his office for a medical problem, he will typically treat that problem, however, if they do not heal by traditional methods, he will examine other reasons which might prevent their healing, including medical history, ancestors’ history and their general state of health.

His recommendation for good health is to examine the following:

1)   What is your weak spot? How can you address it?

2)   What is your diet? Do you have a metabolic problem? Genetic issue?

3)   Do you have food sensitivities or allergies?

4)   How acidic are you? (your pH should be over

He suggested the following basic supplements for health (which I was already happily take!)

1)   Omega 3’s (anti-inflammatory)

2)   Minerals

3)   Digestive enzymes

4)   Vitamin D

5)   Probiotics

If your blood test show deficiencies, you might be instructed to take additional supplements. In the 1970s when I studied nursing, Integrative Medicine was not even in my curriculum. Practitioners in this field were regarded as being on the fringe or practicing quackery. Even acupuncture and chiropractic treatments which are more readily accepted today, were considered questionable treatments.

Today is different, many nursing and medical schools are teaching their students to think in an integrative way with the understanding that the  body, mind and spirit all interact and are never independent of one another. Nutrition is part of the curriculum, whereas typically in those days, it was not.

There’s no doubt that some non-traditional treatments might not work or may not have been adequately tested, but with good research and referrals, it is certainly worth a try. Personally, I believe in the mind-body-spirit connection. As  someone who  meditates and writes in a journal daily, I can honestly say that it makes a huge difference in managing my own stress levels!

Writers and Their Notebooks

I am happy to announce the release of my latest book, Writers and Their Notebooks (The University of South Carolina Press) where I have solicited essays of well-published writers on the role of journaling in their lives. I am honored to have had Phillip Lopate write the book’s foreword. The collection includes essays from: James Brown, Wendy Hall, John Dufresne, Reginald Gibbons, Sue Grafton, Dorianne Laux, Rebecca McClanahan,  Kyoko Mori, Peter Selgin, Kim Stafford, Maureen Stanton, Ilan Stavans, Michael Steinberg, Tony Trigilio Lori VanPelt, to name a few.

The actual publication date is January 31st, but as my eager readers, you can already place your pre-order on Amazon,  Barnes and  Noble and  Powell’s Books. If you want a signed book plate, please email me your address and I’d  be happy to send it to you.

Here’s an excerpt from my introduction:

“A journal is the music and voice of our true emotions. It makes no judgments, is free of editors, critics and teachers. By its nature, the journal captures sentiments, observations, ideas, ruminations and reflections. Whether the writer is expressing the depths of their true feelings, snippets of overheard dialogue, observations, ideas for future projects or listing books to be read, the journal is an important accessory in the writer’s tool kit.

The art of journal writing dates back to when men wrote on cave walls. The first published journals were those of Samuel Pepys in the 17th century. Between 1660 and 1669 he wrote an 11-volume diary that was published after his death in 1825. Next, there were the journals of The Lewis and Clark expedition in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Then, along came James Swan, a native American wrote extensively in the mid-1800s about whaling practices.

Walt Whitman wrote in his journal in the mid-1860s, and then Ralph Waldon Emerson wrote about friends and activities of special interest to him. As a matter of fact he wrote about Henry David Thoreau. In 1885, Susy Clemens (the daughter of Mark Twain) was 13-years-old when she began to write a memoir of her celebrated father.

Virginia Woolf, one of the 20th century’s most influential writers said that she wrote in her diary to bring order into the chaos in her life.

In the mid-twentieth century, Anne Frank, for her 13th birthday, received a diary from her parents. Twenty-five days later, to avoid imprisonment, her family went into hiding in the upper floor of her father’s office building. Her book, The Diary of A Young Girl, published years later, was written about her hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam.

The intrigue and curiosity of what is written on journal pages is innate to human character, which might be why the Diary of A Young Girl has been such a classic, as have been other published journals.

The essays in this collection are a celebration of writers who use journaling in their personal and creative lives. The types of writers are diverse—they are poets, novelists, short story writers, essayists and memoirists, They are male, female, young, old, and live from coast to coast. They have all been widely published and many are professors in major college and universities.

The confessional nature of these essays makes each one compelling to read. Many of the authors write so automatically in their journal that they were honestly stumped when I asked them to write an essay describing their journaling practice. After minimal contemplation, they agreed and after completing the essay they felt an enormous sense of satisfaction. In fact, many thanked me for the exercise and the opportunity to contribute to this collection.  During the writing process these writers not only learned about their journaling practices, but they also learned about themselves.

Most people who have made journaling a vibrant part of their lives will agree on its benefits, particularly in how it is the best way to record memories and as a way to ground them in their lives. The journal has also helped writers work issues out.

My inspiration for writing this book is grounded in my own journaling practices that began at the age of ten. It was a maroon hardcover volume without lines. On top of each page were the wise sayings of the prophet Kahil Gibran.  My grandmother and caretaker had committed suicide in my childhood home and to help me cope with this great loss, my mother bought me a journal. Into that journal I poured my pain and sentiments. As an only child, that journal became my best friend and confidant. Initially, my musings were a form of catharsis in an effort to ease the pain of losing my beloved grandmother, but eventually some thoughts lead to school essays and eventually formed the foundation for my life as a writer.

During graduate school I became further inspired to journal while reading writer Anaïs Nin’s four volumes of her journals. She began her first journal as a letter to her deranged father, which she never sent. I was very drawn to her writing style and sensibilities and her volumes are still perched in my writing studio.”

I really enjoyed gathering this collection of stellar writers all who have been a pleasure to work with. I was so honored that world-renowned essayist, Phillip Lopate offered to write the foreword and here is an excerpt:

“I salute the editor of this valuable collection, Diana Raab who ahs done such a sensitive job of gathering these diverse, eloquent, and experiences voices and encouraging their thoughtful, heartbreaking, rambunctious, free flights of testimony and speculation into  being. Freedom is a frequent theme in these pages. The freedom to try out things, to write clumsy sentences when no one is looking, to be unfair, immature, event to be stupid. No one can expect to write well who would not first take the risk of writing badly. The writer’s notebook is a safe place for such experiments to be undertaken.”

Boomers Become Elders

This past week my dearest uncle Lou [cousin Jed’s father], suddenly passed away. Lou was a dynamic, vibrant, enthusiastic, loving 91-year old whose presence brought a smile on the face of whoever’s path he crossed. He had this indescribable lightness of being and he was a gentleman in every sense of the word. He was a man who right until the end, continued to give back to his community by helping to care for the less fortunate. Lou was from my father’s generation of men and women who I greatly admire. This was the generation I called upon for doses of wisdom and a sense of perspective when life had a tendency to go astray or when there were no answers to unexplainable problems or concerns.

As I sat on the airplane on the way home from his funeral in Florida, my eyes stretched out towards the heavens trying to grasp onto his spirit and keep it close to my heart. I hoped that wherever he might be, he was peaceful and would continue to watch over us.

After twelve hours of travel, I returned home, unpacked my suitcase and sat down at the vanity in my bathroom. For some reason the gray hairs encircling my face were a little brighter and more obvious. I suddenly realized that for my children’s generation,  I am the generation they will look to for their wisdom, in the way that I looked to Lou’s generation for my solace. I stood up from my chair, pulled back my shoulders and walked to the liquor cabinet for some Armagnac [special brandy from France], something I learned from the previous generation to do at the end of the day. My father-in-law swears by its healing powers to help with everything from sore throats to depression. I also learned from my father to be kind, non-judgmental and to treat people with respect. Habits like these are ones I’ve learned after years of standing on the shoulders of giants. I now realize that every snippet of wisdom they shared is now cherished more than ever. Today, there are only a few remaining who were born in the early 20th century. For me, it’s Uncle Bob, my father’s brother who voiced his somber sentiments at Lou’s funeral by saying, “It’s so sad, it’s as if our generation is all standing in line waiting to die, and we never know who will be next.”

Uncle Bob’s words stopped me in my tracks as I tried to imagine what it must be like not having anyone to look up to, or to glance  around the room at family gatherings to see that there is no one older. Also, there was a sense of the end of the road, a sense that there is nothing to look forward to and that everything that generation has seen has been seen many times over. My response  to Uncle Bob got lodged in my throat and all I could say was, “Uncle Bob you’re fine; you look great.” I really did not know what else to say but I did start some serious thinking. I thought about how my generation needs to prepare for the role of being the seniors and bestowing wisdom onto the next generation. We are soon to be the pillars holding everything together, but the big question is are we ready? Are us baby boomers ready to walk in those shoes and share the wisdom of our predecessors?

This New Year brings so many things to think about!

Happy New Year — resolutions, yes or no?

I made no resolutions for the New Year.  The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me. — Anaïs Nin

It’s 2010 and this is the first year I toasted the New Year without any resolutions. What’s the point, we never keep them anyway! Instead of pronouncing my resolutions over a glass of champagne, I decided to write mine in my journal. First and foremost, I decided to slow down a bit this year, do more reading and less published writing. Four books in eighteen months has given me a little bit of heartburn and although I’m happy about my accomplishments, I’m somewhat tired of reviewing galleys.

During the holidays, I read two books—Mary Karr’s third memoir, Lit which was great, but just a continuation of the tragic drama in her life. It’s mind-boggling how one woman my own age could have already written three memoirs. I bow to her writing style and story. The second book I read is one which has to do with my written New Year’s Resolution and it’s called, Awakening The Buddhist Within by Lama Surya Das. The first chapter is called, ‘Contemplating Your Life,’ which for me will be the subject of 2010, the year my first child gets married. Das writes in a very compelling and easy-to-understand manner and much of what he says appears to be common sense, but it’s nice to see it on the page. He says that self-reflection helps us heal our lives and accept any problems we have and realize that something might need to be changed. He says that everything in our life depends on our relationship with the self, the world and the other. He says that when something is going on inside your head, chances are it will have something to do with at least one of these parameters.

On the path to happiness, he suggests sitting down and trying to change one of these relationships. He poses some interesting questions which can make great journaling prompts. Try these:

  • Where do you want to be in a month, a year, five years, ten years?
  • What or who might you be if you were given the choice or the chance?
  • If someone gave you a cosmic credit card what would you do with it?
  • What do you want to do with your creativity?
  • What would you do about your compassion for others? How would or could you help others?
  • Who am I and who can I be?

In summary, the tenets of Buddhism includes being mindful or pleased in the pleasures of the moment. Focus on the words, ‘just this here and now,’ while you inhale and exhale (important part) and simplify, simplify, simplify and remember what the Buddha said, “Wherever we go, wherever we remain, the results of our actions follow us.”

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL OF YOU AND THANKS FOR BEING FAITHFUL READERS!!


Quote of the Week


"A writer uses a journal to try out the new step in front of the mirror."

~Mary Gordon

About Me


I am a memoirist, essayist, poet and teacher whose passion is keeping a notebook. My notebook is my muse and my alter ego. It contains personal snippets of my life and observations from the world around me. Diarist Anaïs Nin has been a great source of inspiration for me. My hobbies include writing, writing and more writing, but when I have extra time, I enjoy reading, walking, hiking, yoga, working out, cooking and hanging out with my family and Maltese Poodle, Spunky. In order not to become ensconced by the glare of my computer screen, I also teach in the UCLA Extension Writers' Program and in various conferences and festivals around the country. My pleasure comes from sharing my joy of journaling with professional writers and anyone interested in writing.

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