Bio-Rhythm

I love this word. It encompasses the idea that something in the ecosystem, or something in the body, something in the being knows the right order of things. It gives the idea that there is wisdom inside the living-system.

When we detect the bio-rhythm in a living system and work with it we are enhancing life. When we ignore it and work against it we encourage destruction. A reward for respecting it, and a consequence for going against it.

On one hand it is important and amazing to consider how we humans continue to test and expand what appear to be our limits- especially in sports, science and adventure. By experimenting, pushing and probing we’ve discovered so much. We see people and society accomplishing amazing feats that would be inconceivable 100 years ago.

But history also presents a strong case against trying to trick nature and create shortcuts to excellence. One thing that comes to mind for me is how I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s right as American culture was beginning to realize how the post-world war scientific revolution (think DDT pesticides, nuclear bombs, Poptarts, electro-shock therapy, etc) was producing as many consequences as alleged benefits.

When we try to cheat the natural system to squeeze out something more, something faster, something bigger, something with more perfection than nature produces on its own someone, somewhere, someday pays a price for it. To improve upon nature is perhaps possible, but the assumption that we can and should is destructive arrogance.

In general, I am suspicious of attempts to improve upon nature, though we may point to a few positive examples. One does not come readily to mind that I can’t come up with an argument against.

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I could come up with dozens but let me give just one practical example of ignoring a bio-rhythm of from my own life…

Using Caffeine To Help Me Wake Up And Stay Awake

I’ve wrote before that Pain Is A Messenger. All the signals of the body are messengers. Being tired and sleepy is one of them.

There are different kinds of ‘tired’ too. We can put them into categories like physical, mental, emotional, spiritual tiredness. There are those deep forms of tired which seem to be a mixture of several.

Like pain, being tired is not an annoyance that must be dismissed or ignored. It’s a message that needs to be read and addressed responsibly.

How we regard the signal of ‘tired’ is based on our assumption of the body. Is my body eager, intelligent, and ambitious and knows what it needs in order to perform at peak levels? Or is it stupid and stubborn and needs to be driven like a ‘lazy’ beast-of-burden? Do I believe my body wants to be active at its best, or find the path of least resistance and productivity?

One way I answer this question for myself is to investigate my own life and which activities and environments give me energy and which deplete it. I know my body loves to be active, to be creative, and to gain new understanding and new skills. I get energy from this. Being lazy drains me. I love hard work, when it is related to what gives me energy. Some tasks I am obligated to do can drain me, but these compel me to find ways to do them that tap into energy-giving methods. (For instance, parenting!) It’s a win-win (for me and my children) when I do.

So when I am tired, what is it telling me?

The sensation of tired may mean I’ve just completed a hard, satisfying task well done. It could also mean I’ve been laboring in the wrong direction, or in the wrong way, or outside an approprioate pace.

When I am tired, consistently, chronically, when I don’t feel a full recharge of my batteries anymore- what is this telling me?

Something is wrong. I am not working well with my bio-rhtythm.

Is this a wake-up call for anyone? (I just noticed the unintentional pun 🙂

Recognizing that I am tired is the start. Then I need to figure out how I am going to respond to it.

Like so many, I began my college years buzzed on the excitement of the social life and the intellectual stimulation. There were not enough hours in the day for it all. So I took up the popular tradition of drinking coffee (and not just any coffee- I happened to grow up in the part of the US that put the two words Gourmet and Coffee together. Now there is a Starbucks in just about every major city of the world.) I took up drinking a variety of nicely flavored coffees (Kona blend with a hint of Irish Creme flavoring being one of my early favorites).

The coffee affair lingered into working life- of course, I needed help getting up and getting the mind going in the morning. Don’t you?

But I will jump to the point: I was covering up the problem of being tired instead of addressing it. I accepted this as a normal part of life. My culture taught it and reinforced it.

What I realize now is that when we use chemicals, even natural ones, to cover up a message in the body, we are ignoring the bio-rhythm. The price to be paid for this is coverup is being masked or deferred- but until when? What will be the cost? And who will pay it?

It was so much more convenient to pay a few dollars each day for a comforting cup of coffee to override the messenger than to address my lifestyle and culture that didn’t allow me to get the rest I needed each night.

I miss the taste, but fortunately, I dropped the coffee habit years ago. And from this I have a very low tolerance for caffeine. It makes me feel anxious and artificially wired- I am wide awake by not able to calm down my brain when I need to.

However, now I live in the land of tea- strong, bitter black tea with lots of sugar cubes.

I have a serious social dilemma in my host culture. Tea is presented to me several times a day- most days I avoid drinking a cup beyond breakfast, some days I don’t. Fortunately, most of my closer friends have registered that I have some sort of ‘allergy’ to tea and so remember to not push it on me nor be offended when I don’t drink. I do give in when I sense the social need is greater than my personal need, but I take note of what my mental and sleep consequences might be. Assuredly, I will feel them.

This has made me consider the flips-side: if this ‘natural’ chemical we know as caffeine does all these wacky things to my body and mind that I can only recognize when I have cleaned my system of it, what was it doing to my system when I was desensitized and pumped full of it?

I am not trying to pick on caffeine here, though it is unavoidable since I’ve used it as an example- the point is, when I used coffee to wake me up and keep me awake I was over-riding my bio-rhythm. I was using a chemical to cover up the messages that something was wrong. I was gagging the messenger. The system was suffering and I refused to do anything about it. Talk about dictatorship!

Recently, from all my travel and the tasks and big ideas I am managing in my mind, I’ve started to have some sleep struggles again. (Uncoincidentally, my sleep struggles began in college under all that stimulation). I’ve lost touch with my bio-rhythm a few times recently to the extent that I’ve occasionally resorted to a half-dose of allergy medication and melatonin to induce sleep, and a couple cups of strong tea to wake me up. I am conscious that I am artificially regulating my system- taking it out of auto-pilot and into my manual control.

Perhaps this wouldn’t alarm me so much if, several years ago, I hadn’t had an intelligent smoker friend explain to me what was happening to his brain chemistry from his nicotine addiction. (Obviously, education is not enough to help someone kick the habit). His brain had lost the ability to regulate itself and so he had to constantly stimulate the pleasure zones in order to avoid terrible pain. This is what I think about any time I see someone smoking.

However minor the impact of caffeine is compared to nicotine, the same concept applies: ignore the bio-rhythm and you will pay the consequences somewhere in your health.

Do I need to mention the well-known phenomenon of men finally reaching retirement, with nice pensions awaiting, only to drop dead or be seriously imparied by a heart attack or stroke a few months after? I have a few examples of this in my own family.

We really need to consider the messages our body gives us. Tiredness in body, mind, emotions, and/or in spirit is a sign that we need rest and refreshment, even if the tiredness we feel is a result of a job well done. Dead people can’t do more good deeds.

If we drop the cover-up we will need to face the facts. And detecting our bio-rhythm is a skill that needs to be developed. We also have to address the attitude we have for our own body- it is a friend or an enemy? A partner or a slave?

The next step is to consider the lifestyle that is leading us to such chronic tiredness. That’s an enormous topic in itself. I trust that if you are with me in heart to this point, you can take it from here.

But I will say that if we are going to build a lifestyle that respects bio-rhtythm we’re going to have to pay a price for its rewards also.

Here are a few things I have done to improve my sleep:

  • I try to go to bed earlier.
  • I acknowledge that my body still needs 8.5 to 9 hours of sleep a night to feel rested. I try to provide that much time for the actual sleep cycles.
  • I try to drink much more water during the day- dehydration causes my body to not sleep so deeply at night.
  • I’ve treated my body for [systemic yeast infection] which was causing my joints to ache at night (when the nervous system quieted down enough for me to notice).
  • My wife and I sleep on separate mattresses because a few years ago we realized any time one rolls over the other was being awakened and not getting deep sleep.
  • I try to schedule much slower mornings so I don’t feel rushed to get out of bed (or stressed about getting to sleep because the alarm will go off too soon).
  • I try to avoid emotionally stimulating media and books in the evening before bed, so my mind and emotions will stay calm.
  • I work for myself which allows me some control over hours and taking a nap or laying down for a spell when my body says it needs it.
  • I try to drink a glass of water first thing in the morning.
  • I try to stretch, go for swim or run first thing in the day.
  • I avoid sugar in my diet to even out energy in my system.
  • I eat more natural foods to keep cleaner fuel flowing to my metabolism.

I acknowledge that this list suggests some challenging things. I used the words “try to” because I am not always consistent. There is often a conflict between my need for adequate rest and the demands of the world around me. It’s a constant tension- a battle for health even.

To heed our bio-rhythm requires courage because the modern systems of this world do not support it- they seem to be based on other priorities (like ‘making money’, or ‘pleasing the boss/husband/kids’, or ‘getting an education’). There may be groups and small communities that do allow for a more healthy lifestyle, but in general most systems we are a part of seem antagonistic toward bio-rhythms- these systems expect people to sacrifice themselves for the cause. (I remind my wife, “Hey, what good is a wiped-out Mommy? Taking care of yourself IS taking care of the family!)

Indeed, we will have to make sacrifices, to let go of some of the rewards from those antagonistic systems in order to get the benefits from respecting our own bio-rhythm. Since the systems are often at odds with each other we will have to decide which one we will be loyal to in many cases.

To live according to our bio-rhythm is a rebellious move really, but one that will only be made by those who really believe in it. There’s no faking it. It will affect our work (get a new job or perhaps make my own?) and income, our children, our community, our health, or even our culture. The modern systems will see our move as a loss or as a criticism against them (it is!), so we had better understand our move to be a gain and be ready to defend it.

You may likely have some positive and some negative examples of what I am writing about- people living according to their bio-rhythm, and some who don’t.

My contrasting examples come from my father and my maternal grandfather. Their stories, like anyone’s are far more complex, but I will extract this simplified lesson from them.

Dad was a hard worker, a civil engineer in bridge and highway construction, ambitious, dedicated to family, and generous to a fault- he worked and gave to others without regard to his health, his energy, or managing the books so well. I have many memories of his long, hard and sometime reckless work habits to lead to an injury, or some damage to equipment (or our house) from his zealous pursuit of getting the job done. He worked hard- to a fault. He died in the treatment process for lymph cancer at 54 years old. His immune system could not cope with cancer cells and then with the treatment process.

Grandpa was also a hard worker, a classic small farmer from the American heartland, though not so ambitious, but totally dedicated to family, and generous to everyone. My Grandma told me how he would stop the tractor somewhere in the field mid-day to take a short nap in its shade. He is remembered by all of us for his daily nap, his gentle pace, and how careful he was with his body, home and equipment. Somehow he always keeping things in good working order and always got the job done. He died peacefuly of congested heart failure at 94 years old.

From my Dad I learned the secret of hard work and to appreciate its eventual rewards. From my Grandpa I learned the secret of pace and of peace by tapping into the natural rhythms of the body, of the day, of the seasons. I’ve drawn youthful tenacity from my Dad and mature restraint from my Grandpa.

My essays are a small way I am trying to be as generous with my treasures as they were.

I am sorry if I’ve pricked your conscience about a coffee addiction. It really is a nice treat. It wasn’t the main point.

But I do wonder in what ways you are or are not respecting your own bio-rhythm, and what benefits or consequences you realize from it. Please share if you have the interest and time.

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