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We now know, for example, that the concept of impure blood is a sound one: Research has proven that fully one-third of the molecules in our bloodstream comprise the breakdown products of our own gut microflora. When we suffer from dysbiosis, we literally become full of garbage: Endotoxins (natural by-products secreted by specific types of bacteria) from our digestive system leak into our bloodstream, where they can trigger a systemic inflammatory response. And the results can be devastating: autoimmune disease, neurological conditions, diabetes and other metabolic disorders, heart disease, and even some cancers. In fact, recent research published in ASN Neuro (the American Society for Neurochemistry's journal) links the development of multiple sclerosis to poor dietary habits that increase inflammation. Consuming too many calories, sugar-sweetened drinks, fried foods, and not enough fiber--as well as not getting enough exercise--can exert negative effects on the microbiome. No one can tell you if the images you see are real. As an alchemist you determine the value as well as the validity of your subtle body's experience. This experience can be uncomfortable living as we do in a culture that insists on external benchmarks as affirmation for what is valid. Michaela's and my recognition of her coyote companions shifted her life in a profoundly meaningful way. Likewise, your emotional, psychological, and spiritual responses are your guide. Pay attention to your inner vitality, your self-understanding, your growth, and the changes in your outer relationships. This is the work. This is the laboratory. Often when I teach about the subtle body, people ask if it is the same as the soul. The subtle body is the finely textured cloth we weave with our awareness, caring, craft, intention, and perhaps, most importantly, our imagination to give the soul a skin that can be seen and touched. The solid foundation of her family begins to crumble when her tragedy unearths a hidden cycle of lies and pain. What she didn't know was that both her grandmother and mother had abortions in the past; Her grandmother her she must have the child and her mother told her she must abort. All the while Dynah cries out to God and fights feelings like why did God let this happen to her? Wasn't she good enough for God to take care of her?

Where was God when she needed him most? While I have never endured a traumatic violation like Dynah, I immediately connected with the soul crushing abandonment and heartache she endured. Laying on my second-hand couch reading the story, I found tears streaming down my cheeks and hiccupping sobs erupting from my chest. I, too, had asked God versions of these same questions. Wasn't I good enough for you that you could have prevented this temptation and heartache? Whether you call this time meditation, prayer, contemplation, or just relaxation, it is essential for your well-being. Surprisingly, even five to ten minutes a day can make a huge difference in the quality of your life. Listen to quiet instrumental music, journal, take a walk alone, or sit in nature with no agenda except to listen to what is going on inside of you. At first, you may feel fidgety or have trouble getting your mind off the many things you have on your to-do list. Take a deep breath, relax your shoulders, and give yourself permission to take a few minutes for yourself. Tell your mind that you're willing to listen to whatever it has to tell you at this moment. Then just notice what passes through your attention. Write down your thoughts and feelings if you would like. Do this for a week, noticing what patterns of worries, judgments, or thoughts keep surfacing. These few minutes focused on yourself can be the most valuable time of your day. I'd learned, was It would take You don't have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you're holding. You are a mortal being like every human and june bug, like every black bear and salmon.

We're all going to die, but only some of us are going to die tomorrow or next year or in the next half-century. And, by and large, we don't know which of us it will be when and of what. That mystery is not the curse of our existence; It's what people are talking about when they talk about the circle of life that we're all part of whether we sign up to be or not--the living, the dead, those being born right at this moment, and the others who are fading out. Attempting to position yourself outside the circle isn't going to save you from anything. Do people respect you because of the title you hold or for who you are regardless of title? Imposed influence is having to follow someone simply because of the title that follows that person's name. You might not respect the person, but you have to take orders from him or her because that person is your boss. Respected influence is having people follow you who generally respect you. They feel as if they don't want to let you down. They respect you for who you are and the title you hold. Better results are more likely to happen in a situation where a team follows a leader out of mutual respect. Respected influence fosters team cohesiveness, allowing the team to grow, share ideas, and achieve success--and titles remain secondary. The Importance of a Name Everyone's name is important. As a result, we're tied down by obligations that make us miserable. It's the opposite of freedom. The reason we're unfree is because freedom is the most difficult thing in life one can achieve. That automatically makes it the noblest thing one can achieve. To say things like, Being free is easier said than done is to state the obvious.

I can't relate to people who say that. What did you expect? That it was easy? Give me a break. Life is hard for every single person. Having the energy of real love moving through us results in a good feeling, a loving feeling, and when we are in love we are almost euphoric from just how good we feel. But sadly, for most of us, it doesn't seem to last. It seems to have a kind of on-again off-again pattern in which we feel in love much of the time, as if nothing can go wrong and life is beautiful and blissful, and then without warning we feel unsure, and almost dark, as if everything could go wrong. I would argue that we unconsciously flip-flop from love to fear and back again over and over for the bulk of our lives. And I would further argue that all of it begins in us--not in the other person and not in the world at large. We don't get our loving feeling from another person; But love has layers and heights that go above and beyond any earthly description, or even any attempt at description. Love is cosmic and divine, something bigger than we are or than we can completely comprehend. I believe love is the most powerful force on earth and the answer to any and all of our questions. And that when we are in love, whether because of a person or a beautiful vista or a sense of well-being, then everything is beautiful and we begin at those moments to get it in the big sense of the word it. The good news is that you can prevent dysbiosis with commonsense, easy-to-follow strategies that I will outline later in this article. In doing so, you can greatly ameliorate the symptoms of MS, and--as I will illustrate through my own personal experience--even potentially alter its progression. But first, let's explore some of the mysteries of the gut. What does a healthy gut look like? How does a healthy gut function?

And what causes a healthy gut to deteriorate into dysbiosis and disease? In its optimal functioning state, the human digestive tract is a remarkable machine--one that absorbs food, water, and other substances, and metabolizes them into nutrients that fuel a variety of physiological processes. These same nutrients also feed the gut microbiota that produce serotonin, acetylcholine, and other metabolites that are so important to our health. A healthy gut is also critical to a healthy immune system: By destroying pathogens, and excreting them as waste, the microbiota prevent them from escaping into the bloodstream where they can do damage. The gut also educates the immune system by training T cells to destroy harmful microorganisms, and to tolerate the beneficial ones that make up the microbiome. Developing our skill as a weaver and the special kind of sight we need to see the threads is the work of alchemy. The many alchemical maps and technologies that have evolved through time create a wardrobe; In earlier times, shamans, alchemists, and the indigenous people of all cultures lived in close relationship with this elusive, immaterial other. They tended to the web of connection on a daily basis through song, story, ritual, and prayer. So once again, I turn back to ancient times, to the indigenous roots of our language as well as the ancient symbols, stories, and myths to find more clues about the subtle body and the soul. The English word soul comes from the early Celts who were fisherfolk and farmers. Soul is related to their word sele, which means sea. For these people, who woke in the dim glow of first morning to row their boats into the mist in search of salmon, mackerel, smelt, and eels, the soul is a shadow that rises up from the deep waters. It gives life but also takes life away. Drowning in sele's unfathomable depths was an ever-present fear for the Celts but equally present was the possibility of pulling up treasures--shimmering pearls, spiraling nautilus shells, golden coins--amidst the wriggling silver chaos of fish pulled from their nets. Did you ever love me? Where are you, God? But God didn't leave me there soaked in my sorrowful tears. He helped me continue reading. I stayed up till nearly dawn finishing the story because I had to know what happened to Dynah.