“I was scared of death!” How Najah Salaam Helps Those Nearing End of Life, Ep. 15

Najah Salaam at one time feared death. Today, she helps those nearing the end of life. Learn how she overcame her fear and why helping others is so important to her.

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Note: A Life and Death Conversation is produced for the ear. The optimal experience will come from listening to it. We provide the transcript as a way to easily navigate to a particular section and for those who would like to follow along using the text.  We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio which allows you to hear the full emotional impact of the show. A combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers generates transcripts which may contain errors. The corresponding audio should be checked before quoting in print.

Transcript

Dr. Bob: Welcome to another episode of A Life and Death Conversation. I’m Dr. Bob Uslander. Today, we’re here with a special guest of … a woman who I’ve come to consider a dear friend, who’s been part of the journey since we began Integrated MD Care. I’m going to introduce you and allow you to hear some of the insights and some of the beautiful, passionate words from Najah Salaam, who is the owner of Multi-Dimensional Healing. Najah’s an acupuncturist, massage therapist, and truly a beautiful human being who brings light and healing to many of the patients in our practice. Najah, thanks for agreeing to talk with me today.

Najah Salaam: Thank you, Dr. Bob, for a really sweet introduction.

Dr. Bob: Well, I could go on … I could actually use almost the full half hour or so that we’re going to be talking just to tell people how wonderful you are and how much I’ve appreciated having you in my life, and being able to have you collaborating with us and caring for our patients.

Najah Salaam: Oh, yeah. It’s my pleasure. I love the work that we do. I mean, I could go on for half an hour about you, too.

Dr. Bob: Well, we’re going to shorten our little love fest, and we’re going to actually get into a discussion. If you would, I have the honor of knowing more about you and your background, and what you do and how you do it, but would you be willing to share a little bit about … kind of where you’re from, and how you came to be doing the work that you’re doing?

Najah Salaam: Yeah, sure. I actually moved to San Diego in around like 2009 from the East Coast. I’m originally from New Jersey. At the time when I … right before I moved here, I was working for a large marketing … I’m sorry, an outdoor advertising company in New York City where I was the marketing coordinator. I was kind of at a turning point where I was feeling like this big push for me to make some changes in my life. I wasn’t really happy with the work that I was doing there, so I wound up finding San Diego through a friend of mine who just insisted that I come and visit. It just grew on me more and more. I started coming out here. I think I was out here like four or five times, and then like the fifth time, that was it. I was like, “I can’t go back on this plane anymore.” That was it. I had to move.

So with that move, I decided to make some major changes, and get out of the field that I was currently working in altogether, and to embark on something totally different. I had an experience with acupuncture back in like 2001 when I lived in New York City that was so profound that it just imprinted on me at that time, but I was so young. It was before I even finished my undergrad. I knew once … like if I decided to go down the path of an acupuncturist at that age, that that was … like there’s no turning back.

I felt as though I still had some unresolved things to do like finishing my undergrad, which I really needed to do for myself, so I decided to put acupuncture on the back burner in 2001. Then I finished my undergrad, and I worked in the city in New York City, and then it came full-circle. Then it became like, “Okay, now what am I doing because this is not fulfilling. This is not nourishing my soul.” So that’s when I decided to make the move across the country. Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, the school that I had originally had that impactful acupuncture treatment in New York, the school actually started in San Diego. So when I moved here and I was looking up acupuncture schools, it was a no-brainer for me to just go to Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, because that was the school that had resonated with me so strongly those years ago.

That’s what began my journey. I was at a better place in my life. I felt like I was more mature. I was ready for this next chapter, where if I would’ve started it back when I was about 20, I wasn’t quite there yet. So I needed that time. I needed that time to really discover myself and to find the things that really resonated with me on a really deep level, and that, of course, was helping and healing people and just sharing my knowledge and studying and making sure that I had a lot to offer to all people. So that kind of began my journey here as an acupuncturist onto the four-and-a-half-year journey into studying Chinese medicine and all of its modalities and acupuncture and herbs. I graduated in 2013. So I’ve been licensed since 2014, and I’ve been practicing ever since happily.

Dr. Bob: Well, it’s a wonderful gift that you’ve found that. I totally understand needing to mature and needing to … Timing is pretty critical. You found it a little bit sooner in your life than I did. I had my direction. I found medical school. I went into emergency medicine. I certainly was able to serve and support people, but it really took a lot longer to truly find that deep calling and listen to it and move in that direction. I’m glad that you found that pretty relatively early in life. You’ve got a lot of years left to be providing your unique blend of healing.

When I was looking for an acupuncturist, I reached out to a couple of people who I trusted and had been in the acupuncture realm for many, many years at the university. I took them out for breakfast, and I said, “Hey, this is what I’m looking for to add, a phenomenal, heart-driven acupuncturist who wants to be part of this really cool collaborative team. Do you know anybody who might … who you think might work?” The group that I was with, it was unanimous, “Call Najah,” because they had worked with you. They had been part of your training. They had been how you interact with people.

I think it was especially important that they saw you working with cancer patients and elderly people. When people think of acupuncture, I think in general, they’re thinking of people who are younger and getting through sports injuries or just trying to … part of a wellness type program. It may not be thought of quite as routinely in caring for people who are extremely ill or approaching end of life. Can you share a little bit about how you kind of moved into, I guess, becoming comfortable and passionate about working with some of the patients that we’re caring for?

Najah Salaam: It was quite a journey because I think when I first moved to San Diego, I was really scared of death. I had a really weird relationship with death, and with the elderly. I didn’t have much experience with working with the elderly in that way when I first moved here. Then through my studying at school and learning about the spirit and learning about the energy, and how the energy that is in us, it just continues to move and go even if … once the body is no longer there. It’s like a never-ending life force that we all have, and really learning that.

I became so comfortable with the idea of death and dying as it just being like another part of life. With that, it gave me enough … I felt like strong enough and confident enough to go and work with a delicate population. So like when we had like the last year of our school, we have like your internships where you were actually going out into the field, and we have externships rather. So the externships, you get to pick where you’d like to go. So there are all different ones. There’s like you can work with children. You can work with the homeless. You can work with HIV and AIDS patient. There are all sorts of internships or externships that you can do.

The only ones … I thought about it long and hard, on the groups of people that I felt as though I could feel the most … like I can help the most, and I can really like give it my all and be really comfortable. I just kept on coming back to the senior center and then the cancer center. It was just something about being at that tail end of life that I found comfort in with just helping soothe and care for people that are maybe uncomfortable at that stage. It just felt like a natural calling to me.

Once I’ve figured it out, once I figured out where I fit, I just kind of immediately went to the senior center and did two semesters at the senior center, and then I did three semesters at the cancer center, and then actually volunteered after I graduated there for another semester. Just, because it was a hard place for me to leave. I didn’t want to leave there.

Dr. Bob: I understand that. You said you developed a greater degree of comfort with the whole concept of death and dying. Do you feel like that happened as a result of these relationships and the encounters you had with these folks, or do you think that had happened before, and that’s partly why you felt so comfortable? How did that come about?Najah Salaam: It’s like a mixed bag, honestly, because like when I was young, I was thinking about this before, like my first encounters with death, and when was my first experience. I was like, “I don’t know if I’ve had anyone.” And I’m like, “Oh my gosh, yeah.” From the time I was about 13, there were people around me that were dying, and not even dying because of old age, or they were sick, dying from just tragedy from a young age.

So I was seeing … death was around me. I was seeing people literally just being plucked away. So they were here one minute and then they were gone. That was kind of my first exposure to death, was when I was about 13. The whole time, up until I was about 27, it just became like this thing where it was like this big unknown.

Then along the way, I started reading some books. Like my parents, thankfully, they’re like very spiritual people. So they always had really great books at the house. They had one book, Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch. I started reading the first book. It was just like, all of the questions that I was having in my mind were being answered like little by little with each chapter that I read, and then reading future books. He wrote so many books, but reading later books as well, all of that started to really explain to me like more about this whole process.

Even though I was still more scared about death when I was … right before I moved out here, it was kind of like I wanted to know. I came here with this question. Like I really wanted to know about death. I had to … because I didn’t feel comfortable with it. Then while I was in my studies at Pacific College, I had a really great teacher who’s my massage teacher, actually, Robert Leak. He talked in like energy. He was the one that started to really open up my mind to the whole concept of death and dying and the whole entire span of existence, so to speak.

I had one semester with him, and we were always talking about energy. He was always giving us really cool tips and information. I remember one time, in particular, he said, “Let’s all go outside and … share energy with the trees. I’m going to show you how to do this.” I was like, “Wait. What? What do you mean share energy with the trees?” He was trying to show us how there’s energy within everything.

So we all go outside in the backyard, like the back area of our school, and there’s a bunch of little trees there that were planted. So he shows us how to do it. There’s a certain way that you approach a tree, and you’re looking to have the tree like invite you to come and share energy with them. It was like this really, really weird kind of like experience. Because I never thought that I would ever be essentially tree hugging. I never thought that I would be doing that. But in doing that exercise and learning how to just tap into the energy within you and then learning how to share that energy with another living thing on this earth was really powerful.

So I just remember it like at that moment, I started to really think about like things in an energetic way that there is this whole chair. Then, I went to a yoga retreat down in Costa Rica. Then, I had a really profound experience there with a tree, believe it or not, this huge banyan tree. Our tour guide took us to see this tree because it was like … I mean, you could walk through this tree. It was so big.

I remember walking up to it and just being in total awe, because the tree, they grow up and then they have these like branches that come out. Then the branches grow down, and they reroot. So the tree just becomes massive. If you let it grow, these trees will just continue to grow. I just remember putting my hands on the tree, and it was like a flash hit me and I heard this voice that said to me, “What is alive in you is alive in me.” That was the moment that I understood; I understood this energy that goes through all things. I understood that it’s never-ending.

Because I realized like it was such a profound experience for me because I had already had all these things about life and death and dying. Then to have this moment with this other being telling me that this is … we share this in common, it’s the same thread that’s within you is within me, that’s never-ending. Then, it was like boom. It was like a light went off. And from that moment, I was like, I understand. That was the moment that made me really understand that dying isn’t really dying.

So in my mind, I wanted to be around people that were at that tail end of life as a way to make them comfortable with the fact of this next part that’s coming, but in my mind, in my heart. I always know … I know deeply now that it’s just a continuation. Just getting people comfortable enough with that continuation of life to me is a huge, huge gift to share. That’s pretty much how I got to be comfortable enough that I would want to be with people at that end stage.

Dr. Bob: That is so beautiful. I didn’t know that story, so thank you so much for sharing it. That’s really beautiful, powerful and it explains a lot. I mean, you have clearly an elevated consciousness, in my mind, as far as I can tell whenever I’m with you, so there’s something, I think that tree, I think that connection that you made. When you think about it, the trees have been around … they’ve been around longer than any other living organism, in terms of having been through the years, the decades, even the centuries at times, so there is wisdom there. And this energy, if you can connect with it and appreciate that, that’s a beautiful thing.

I recently was having a conversation with somebody who we’re talking about green burials. We really want to try to help provide for better, more meaningful rituals around death. That’s one of the things that we’re going to be working on with our practice, is to not just sort of end the relationship at the time when a patient dies, but help the family and find the best ways to honor people.

But in the conversation, someone told me that they had read about a gentleman who planned to be buried beneath a tree, a specific tree, because it was his desire that as his body decomposes and goes back into the earth as its elements, that it feeds the tree, and it nourishes the tree, which then will provide nourishment and connection with the world around, which I thought was a really cool idea.

Najah Salaam: Yes. Yeah, I totally agree.

Dr. Bob: There’s another interesting connection… “Conversations with God” by Neale Donald Walsch was very profound. It had a huge influence on me as well at a time when I was really searching and looking. I had lots of questions about the meaning of life, the afterlife, how are we all connected. A lot of answers came forward in that book. So I’m not surprised that you had also tapped into that as well.

Najah Salaam: Yeah. We both did. Wow.

Dr. Bob: Yeah. Now you’re working in a few different capacities. You’re working with massage. You’re doing acupuncture. You’ve had the gift of working intimately with a number of the patients in our practice as they’ve been gifted by having you as part of their journey. Can you share a little bit about what it’s like to be working with some of these people who are really, as you know, that they’re, in some cases, in their last days or weeks of life? What’s it like to be in that space with them?

Najah Salaam: Before I go to see someone, I’m like debriefed on their case, so you know a little bit about them. So you can’t help but kind of paint a picture in your mind a little bit before you go. But then when you get there, every single time, every time that I’ve gone to a patient’s house, no matter how sick they are, I’m always blown away by how much life they have in their eyes and in their spirit. Like, their spirit is really bright even if their body is really not cooperating and it’s like pretty much failing them, they still have so much brightness around them.

Time and time again, I’m pleasantly surprised, because everyone has that. Even when their body … there’s different signs of the body that clearly are showing me … like the one patient that we had, John, and he had like lots of … He had like edema down on the legs. So there are clear signs that his body’s failing him, but his eyes were so bright. His spirit was, to me … he was still joking and laughing … He had just had so much life in him. It’s been an honor to be around patients when they’re at that delicate stage, and they’re also vulnerable at that moment too. They’re letting you in, which is a very … I mean, that’s something that every single time when I leave the patients, I am thanking the universe, I’m thanking God for giving me this opportunity to allow this person to let me into their most vulnerable moments.

So, yeah, … I look forward to every patient. Every time I go to see a patient, it is literally the highlight of my day that I’m invited in to care for someone at this late stage in their physical life. I’m always honored. I’m always honored. It gives my life more meaning and more purpose. It’s, yeah, it just for me, all around, it’s just a beautiful thing to be a part of.

Dr. Bob: I love that. That’s so clear in the way that you interact with these folks. That’s part of what makes it so special and meaningful all the way around, is you’re not just going in there kind of as the expert who’s going to treat them and fix the issues. You’re going in there as a person who truly appreciates and is so committed to making a connection and understanding what they need at that moment, and then feeling this sense of gratitude and appreciation for having been able to make that connection and receive as much as you give.

Najah Salaam: Yeah.

Dr. Bob: Which is such a huge … I mean, I think it’s missing. I think we don’t have nearly enough of that in people who are providing care in our healthcare system. So finding someone like you is such a rare gift. I have seen the way that people speak after they’ve been treated by you. It goes so far beyond what might happen physically, the relief that you are able to provide through your massage or through your acupuncture. It’s just been truly wonderful, beyond description, to have you as a member of the team caring for some of these patients.

When you speak about their spirit that is intact and alive and that you’re able to tap into, regardless of what their physical condition is, what’s happening with their bodies, that’s such a huge thing to be keeping a perspective on and aware of. That’s really one of the main tenants and philosophies of our practice, as you know, which is why you’re a part of it, is because no matter what’s happening with the physical body, that spirit, that essence is still there and we can still help bring more peace and joy to that person’s spirit.

Najah Salaam: Yeah, absolutely.

Dr. Bob: I go in and initially meet with people who it’s really hard to find the … It’s really hard to tap into the joy in that spirit because a lot of people are just feeling depressed and dejected and uncared for and frustrated. It’s understandable because their bodies are failing, and they’re not being given the attention and understanding that they’re looking for. People were trying to fix it, and when it doesn’t look like we can fix it, then they’re kind of giving up on them and putting them into the other mode, which is comfort only mode and essentially waiting for them to die.

So recognizing that there is this space between where we can still allow them to feel cared for, to feel loved, to feel hopeful about making a connection with other loving, passionate human beings, that’s where the magic happens.

Najah Salaam: I totally agree. Yeah. So well said.

Dr. Bob: We’re teammates, right?

Najah Salaam: Yeah.

Dr. Bob: We get to go in and meet somebody. They may never have had acupuncture. They may never have had the kind of massage or skincare or attention that we’re talking about, but once they come to trust that we are … we truly are looking out for their best interest, and we’re not making promises, we’re not going to use acupuncture to fix … to cure your stage IV cancer, but we are just here to make your journey a little bit easier, a little bit more joyful. Then, there’s a real opportunity to make an impact. I love having you be part of that. Yay.

Najah Salaam: Thank you. I’m so grateful that we are working together in this way. It’s the best thing ever.

Dr. Bob: Yeah. Well, I agree.

Najah Salaam: Yeah.

Dr. Bob: You’re here in San Diego. In addition to working with us, with Integrated MD Care, we know you have some other activities you’re doing. You have a practice of your own, which is Multi-Dimensional Healing.

Najah Salaam: Yes.

Dr. Bob: How would somebody find you if they’re interested in talking with you about acupuncture or massage or whatever other services that you provide? Can you share a bit?

Najah Salaam: Yeah, sure. My website is actually multi–dimensional–healing.com. From there, you can find my office location, which is right now in Mission Hills. You can also email me directly asking me any questions that you might have. On there are … It’s Multi-Dimensional Healing because I’m an acupuncturist, and, of course, I do massage as well. I’m also a yoga instructor and a Feng Shui consultant. So under there, there is information about all the things that are near and dear to me. You can just scroll there. There’s information. My yoga teaching schedule’s on there, and then all the other lovely things that I love to do, which includes doing events around town called AcuRhythms, which are acupuncture and sound healing events, which I look at as a way to provide a really deep healing using vibrational sound instruments combined with acupuncture to send the healing deep down within the body.

We do them in group settings. That’s like a passion project of mine. The schedule for those is on there as well.

Dr. Bob: I’ve been to one of those sessions, and it was beautiful. I came away from that feeling infinitely more at ease and peaceful.

Najah Salaam: Yeah.

Dr. Bob: I’d like to do some more of those.

Najah Salaam: I remember that. Yeah, totally. We’re having one coming up I think on December 10th.

Dr. Bob: Okay.

Najah Salaam: Yeah. That’s our next one. That one’s in Oceanside, actually, Yoga Oceanside.

Dr. Bob: I’m sorry. So Yoga Oceanside, and that would be on your website as well, the schedule of that?

Najah Salaam: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Bob: Would people be able to … like if I wanted to have sort of a private event and bring a group together, is that possible? Can you do that?

Najah Salaam: Yes, absolutely. Yeah. I mean we can do groups as small as one person. I mean, I do private ones all the time or as many as 12 to 15 people I could do by myself. And then my business partner, if she comes and helps me, Cheryl Davies, then we can like double that number. Yeah, all sizes of groups, we can do.

Dr. Bob: Great. Wonderful. Then, I know that there’s one other project that you’re working on. You recently got married. Congratulations on that.

Najah Salaam: Yes. Thank you.

Dr. Bob: I know that’s beautiful. You and your husband have another business that you’ve been helping out with.

Najah Salaam: Yeah, we do. Yeah. My husband has a passion for food, so we have a food truck called The Groovy Greek. We are all around San Diego. We do all sorts of events like big festivals to private caterings for birthday parties, weddings, lunches. So we’re all over the San Diego metro area serving up delicious Greek food that is really healthy, believe it or not. We focus on using locally-sourced produce and wild-caught seafood, and organic ingredients. So you should look for us around town, The Groovy Greek.

Dr. Bob: Yup. You can probably find that on Facebook, right?

Najah Salaam: Yeah, totally.

Dr. Bob: You can get on there and probably like it, and follow it and know where you’re going to be. That’s great. I’m going to get on there today because I’m getting hungry.

Najah Salaam: Yeah. You can find out where we’ll be.

Dr. Bob: All right. Well, Najah, it was such a pleasure to have this conversation with you, as always.

Najah Salaam: Yeah. Likewise. Likewise. This was very, very special.

Dr. Bob: Yeah, I love being able to introduce you to a wider audience of people who can learn a bit about how to look at life through your beautiful very, very conscious eyes. So thank you for the beautiful work that you do. Thank you for being part of my team.

Najah Salaam: Absolutely. Thank you.

Dr. Bob: All right. We’ll see you soon.

Najah Salaam: Okay. All right. Bye-bye.

Dr. Bob: Thanks for listening, everybody.

Najah Salaam: Yes.

Dr. Bob: Take care.

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