Chronic fatigue

 

It seems that different cultures and time periods have their own fashionable and mysterious illnesses.

One of ours is chronic fatigue. Is it new or just a new name on an old ailment? Is it due to a virus? Is it a culturally acceptable way for the body-mind system to handle stress?

In my case, it came a few weeks after a viral infection (mononucleosis) and after a longish period of stress. For many years, it was quite manageable, and then it flared up during another period of stress.

It seems that quite different things work for different people. For some, it passes on its own. Others may benefit from yoga or the lightning process.

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Quick boost in well-being from outdoors activities

 

Just five minutes of exercise in a “green space” such as a park can boost mental health, researchers claim.

There is growing evidence that combining activities such as walking or cycling with nature boosts well-being.

In the latest analysis, UK researchers looked at evidence from 1,250 people in 10 studies and found fast improvements in mood and self-esteem.

– from the BBC article Green exercise quickly boosts mental health

We all (or most of us!) know this from our own experience. And yet, it is good to have it conformed by research, and also explore it in more detail. For instance, through these studies they found the most benefit from the first few minutes of outdoor activities, an additional boost if there is water nearby, and the largest effect for young people and those with mental health problems (they have more room for improvement as well).

Another article is available from Environmental News.

Article: The Great Prostate Mistake

 

EACH year some 30 million American men undergo testing for prostate-specific antigen, an enzyme made by the prostate. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1994, the P.S.A. test is the most commonly used tool for detecting prostate cancer……

Prostate cancer may get a lot of press, but consider the numbers: American men have a 16 percent lifetime chance of receiving a diagnosis of prostate cancer, but only a 3 percent chance of dying from it. That’s because the majority of prostate cancers grow slowly. In other words, men lucky enough to reach old age are much more likely to die with prostate cancer than to die of it.

Even then, the test is hardly more effective than a coin toss. As I’ve been trying to make clear for many years now, P.S.A. testing can’t detect prostate cancer and, more important, it can’t distinguish between the two types of prostate cancer — the one that will kill you and the one that won’t…..

So why is it still used? Because drug companies continue peddling the tests and advocacy groups push “prostate cancer awareness” by encouraging men to get screened….

I never dreamed that my discovery four decades ago would lead to such a profit-driven public health disaster. The medical community must confront reality and stop the inappropriate use of P.S.A. screening. Doing so would save billions of dollars and rescue millions of men from unnecessary, debilitating treatments.

Source: The Great Prostate Mistake, op-ed by Richard Ablin who discovered PSA in the ’70s

A reminder of one of the many reasons why universal health care makes sense.

In the current US system, doctors prescribe tests and treatments they – quite often – know are not needed or are likely to not work. They do it because of pressures and benefits received from interest groups, and because they expect their patients to feel better if something – preferably elaborate and expensive – is done. And how do they get away with it? The insurance companies pick up the tab.

In Europe and other places with universal health care, there is a much stronger incentive to use procedures that are appropriate to the person and situation, and known to work.

Getting our priorities straight when it comes to health

 

Some friends of mine are having a microwave discussion on facebook. Will it kill you? Is it harmless?

My approach is simple: Focus on the simple things we know have a big impact on health. It may be less exiting than conspiracy theories, but works better.

Eat your fruits and vegetables. Exercise. Nurture nurturing relationships. Enjoy life.

If I want to take the next step, it is to organize my life to reduce time spent driving, and walk, bike, or take public transportation instead. It is more enjoyable, gives me effortless exercise, and removes me from an activity that is far more risky than almost anything else we do. (I have already done this, and rarely need to use a car.)

It is easy to get distracted by minor concerns, or scares unsupported by science or common sense (microwaved food and vaccines come to mind as examples). So it is good to get our priorities straight: focus your limited energy on the simple things that we know have a big effect.

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Granny goggles

 

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They found it difficult to understand why, when soldiers were already provided with adequate protection goggles, there were still a high number of eye-related injuries. It turned out the problem was obvious: the goggles made them look – in their words – “like grannies”.  Soldiers were issued with some new, cooler goggles created by designer Wiley X. Now they wear them all the time – even when they don’t need to. As a result, there has been a tremendous drop in the numbers of soldiers blinded in battle.

Another simple example of making it easy and attractive to do what is right, from BBCs article Dr Atul Gawande’s checklist for saving lives.

This can be applied to any area of life. How can we organize ourselves as a society and individuals in ways that makes it easy and attractive to do what supports life at all levels and over generations?

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Lessons from the Blue Zones: How to live longer and healthier lives

 

The four essentials:

1. Move Naturally – Make your home, community and workplace present you with natural ways to move. Focus on activities you love, like gardening, walking and playing with your family.

2. Right Outlook – Know and be able to articulate your sense of purpose, and ensure your day is punctuated with periods of calm.

3. Eat Wisely – Instead of groping from fad diet to fad diets, use time-honored strategies for eating 20% less at meals. Avoid meat and processed food and drink a couple of glasses of wine daily.

4. Belong to the Right Tribe – Surround yourself with the right people, make the effort to connect or reconnect with your religion and put loved ones first.

More info at Blue Zones.

Book: The How of Happiness

 

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I am reading The How of Happiness, and it seems to be an excellent book. Practical, simple, science-based and effective. I especially appreciate the emphasis on finding practices that fits ones own circumstances and interests (chapter 3), and the pointers on why the preactices work and advice on how to go about the practices (chapter 10).

The author has a column in Psychology Today, and here is a video interview with the author.

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Illness, and then shame

 

It is curious how illness – whether mental of physical – is often associated with shame in our western culture. I have experienced it myself related to chronic fatigue. There is a shame around lack of energy, not being as social or engaged as I normally would be, not being able to do as much or what I normally would do, and so on. It is as if I am not only responsible, but somehow morally at fault.

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Wired: More of us are nearsighted

 

Wired reports that nearsightedness is becoming more common in the US. They offer a few explanations, such as increased short-distance use of the eyes, and not being outside as much in good light and looking at further distances.

They say it between the lines, but not explicitly: Maybe the best explanation is that we don’t use our eyes at varying distances throughout the day, from near to far and back to near again. That is how we evolved, looking at other people and the landscape at middle distances, then at our hands, tools and food at close distances, and then at the sky, horizon and people, animals and the landscape at far distances. Our eyes evolved for being used at diverse and changing distances, and eye muscles were exercised to be stronger and more supple.

So what is the solution? It is quite simple: eye exercises that mimic how our eyes evolved to naturally function.

The best book I have found is Natural Vision Improvement by Janet Goodrich.

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Universal health care and prevention

 

A brief note on a somewhat peripheral, but important, topic….

There are many arguments for universal healthcare, and one is that the health care system tends to become more efficient and less expensive.

A less obvious reason for this is an emphasis on prevention. In a society with universal healthcare, where we all pay for our collective health care expenses, there is a much stronger incentive to work on prevention. We all benefit, we all pay, we all benefit from all of us being more healthy. And although those connections will always be there, they tend to be more obvious to us when we live in a society with universal health care.

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SF Chronicle: Health Care Lessons from Europe

 

European health care is universal, but contrary to popular perception, it is not all nationalized. Facing rapidly aging populations, many European countries have gone much further than the United States in using market forces to control costs. At the same time, regulations are stronger and often more sophisticated.

Most of Europe spends about 10 percent of its national income on health care and covers everyone. The United States will spend 18 percent this year and leave 47 million people uninsured.

Europe has more doctors, more hospital beds and more patient visits than the United States. Take Switzerland: 4.9 doctors per thousand residents compared with 2.4 in the United States. And cost? The average cost for a hospital stay is $9,398 in relatively high-cost Switzerland and $17,206 in the United States. […]

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Happiness, and lots more, is contagious

 

Obesity is contagious. So is happiness.

At least, these are the results coming in from long-term studies of social networks — the networks of friends and families, neighbors and colleagues that we all belong to. Such studies have found that one person’s change in behavior ripples through his or her friends, family and acquaintances. If one of your friends becomes happy, for example, you’re more likely to become happy too. If you’re great friends with someone who becomes obese, you’re much more likely to become obese as well.

And the effect doesn’t stop there. If your friend’s friend becomes happy, that increases the chance your friend will become happy — and that you will too. Conversely, if you become obese or depressed, you may inadvertently help your friends, and your friend’s friends, to become fat or gloomy. (Intriguingly, happiness and obesity seem to spread in different ways. Obesity spreads most easily between friends of the same sex who are emotionally close. Happiness spreads most readily between friends who live near each other: a happy friend on the same block makes more difference than a happy friend three miles away.)

From Social Medicine, NY Times.

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Wired: An Epidemic of Fear – How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All

 

Before smallpox was eradicated with a vaccine, it killed an estimated 500 million people. And just 60 years ago, polio paralyzed 16,000 Americans every year, while rubella caused birth defects and mental retardation in as many as 20,000 newborns. Measles infected 4 million children, killing 3,000 annually, and a bacterium called Haemophilus influenzae type b caused Hib meningitis in more than 15,000 children, leaving many with permanent brain damage. Infant mortality and abbreviated life spans — now regarded as a third world problem — were a first world reality.

Today, because the looming risk of childhood death is out of sight, it is also largely out of mind, leading a growing number of Americans to worry about what is in fact a much lesser risk: the ill effects of vaccines. If your newborn gets pertussis, for example, there is a 1 percent chance that the baby will die of pulmonary hypertension or other complications. The risk of dying from the pertussis vaccine, by contrast, is practically nonexistent — in fact, no study has linked DTaP (the three-in-one immunization that protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) to death in children. Nobody in the pro-vaccine camp asserts that vaccines are risk-free, but the risks are minute in comparison to the alternative.

A good article in Wired about the mostly irrational and overblown fear of vaccines.

It seems that with even the most rudimentary knowledge of the history of health, medicine and epidemiology, it is clear what a beneficial impact vaccines have had on human health. (The most obvious example is smallpox, with 300-500 million dead during the 1900s and zero today.) As the article mentions, there is of course a tiny risk with vaccines, but it is a very small cost to pay for the benefits we gain from it – individually and especially collectively. It seems thoroughly irresponsible to decline common vaccines, mainly for the risk we then place others and the community in.

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Simple changes, big effects

 

Bans on smoking in public places have had a bigger impact on preventing heart attacks than ever expected, data shows.

Smoking bans cut the number of heart attacks in Europe and North America by up to a third, two studies report. [….]

His team found that heart attack rates across Europe and North America started to drop immediately following implementation of anti-smoking laws, reaching 17% after one year, then continuing to decline over time, with a 36% drop three years after enacting the restrictions.

– from BBC, Smoking Bans Cuts Heart Attacks

Simple changes can have big effects….

Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better

 

The leading countries in life expectancy, Sweden and Japan, are also among the most equal of the wealthy nations. Interestingly, they have accomplished this relative equality in completely different ways: In Sweden, the tax system redistributes income; in Japan the income is given out relatively equally before any tax adjustments. Combinations of the two methods are also possible. [….]

The core message is that the countries that distribute their incomes the most equally have the longest life expectancy and the highest quality of life.

From an AlterNet article based on The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. To learn more, go to their Web site, www.equalitytrust.org.uk.

As I like to say, the proof is in the pudding.

Adaptogens

 

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Adaptogens are herbs that normalize and strengthen, such as ginseng, eleuthero, rhodiola (my favorite right now), tripala, astragulus root, arjuna and many more.

These are the major herbs in herbal medicine. They are the ones most commonly prescribed and they can, in most cases, be taken throughout life.

The minor herbs, sometimes called “poisons” (!), act in one direction and are prescribed in only certain situations and for shorter periods of time.

This is a rich analogy for spiritual teachings.

First, we can see spiritual teachings and tools as medicines. Each one is a medicine for a specific condition. They have meaning and usefulness in the presence of a specific condition. And there is no “truth” to them, no more (or less) than there is truth in a shovel or lawn mover.

Then, we can look at teachings and tools as either adaptogens or “poisons”.

Some practices are quite adaptogen-like, such as shikantaza, bringing attention to sensations, inquiry and self-inquiry, prayer and so on. And just as an herbalist will most often prescribe an adaptogen to a client, a spiritual teacher (and tradition) will most often prescribe one or more of these practices. They tend to work in a gentle way, normalize, can be used at any phase of the process, and their effects are most noticeable when used regularly over time.

Other teachings and practices are more “poison” like in their effects and work in only one direction. And just as an herbalist will prescribe these herbs in only very specific situations and for shorter periods of time, a good spiritual teacher will use these teachings and tools only sparingly. Some examples here may be teachings aimed at “shocking” or shaking students out of complacency. It may be very helpful and just the right medicine in some situations, but works best if used judiciously.

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Being completely normal

 

We must be completely normal people, who have our feet firmly planted on the ground, but ever aware that while we live in this world, we are not of it.
– from an introduction to an interview with Zlatko Sudac

This is another pointer that can be very helpful.

How sane, mature, wise and kind am I in a conventional sense? How do I appear to others? If they see something in me that is not sane, mature, wise or kind, what is the truth in it? Can I find it for myself?

Is there any reason to not appear sane, mature, wise and kind in this situation?

If something looks weird, what is going on? Am I acting on a belief there? Am I acting on a fixed viewpoint, identified with a role or identity?

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Clarity of knowing I am doing it for myself, and all is OK

 

In both giving and receiving any form of help, I notice how much difference it makes to be clear about two simple things.

First, that I am already doing it for myself. And then, that all is OK as is.

And these two can easily co-exist with the everyday appearance of helping someone, and also inviting in certain shifts to help alleviate suffering and finding joy.

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Kidney stone Entertaiment

 

Who would have thought that kidney stones could be so entertaining? It is quite an adventure to have one, as I have discovered. And the history of kidney stones is surprisingly interesting as well. It illustrates that you can take any subject, even the most mundane one, and discover how it branches out into some very interesting areas….

The medical history is fascinating. The psychology around pain is rich and meaty. Kidney stones have been a topic in the entertainment industry, as above. And kidney stones have changed the course of history on more than one occasion.

For instance, at the Wikipedia’s Kidney Stone Formers page, we learn that Napoleon III may have lost the Franco-Prussian war due to a kidney stone, and that a vanishing kidney stone is one of the miracles used to promote sainthood for Mother Theresa.

Morphine and finding right here

 

I received a couple of doses of morphine that interesting night at the ER, and I was curious about its effects. Mainly, it took the edge off the pain in a very effective way. And there was also a physical sense of warm and fuzzy wholeness.

The experience reminded me of the experience of body-mind wholeness (centaur) in general, and also of the shifts that happens when I do bodywork and work with projections. 

In all of those cases, there is a sense of wholeness, nurturing fullness, being home. 

There may be a shift from a sense of lack, neediness and being a victim, and into that sense of nurturing wholeness and fullness. (0ver time, the baseline tends to move so that shift may be more subtle.) 

When I explore it through the three centers, I find…

In view, there is a recognition right here of what I see out there – in the wider world, the past or the future. I see and feel it right there, in this human self. 

There is a more open heart, which in itself is nurturing and quietly joyful and satisfying. 

At the belly, there is a felt-sense of a nurturing fullness, nurturing all of me – body and mind – as a human self. 

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Gratitude

 

I spent an interesting night at the ER with kidney stones on the move. (Not out yet.)

And what comes up the most is gratitude… for modern medicine, hospitals, friendly and skilled staff, and being able to get there in just a few minutes from where I live. Very appropriate, since yesterday was Thanksgiving and I had explored what I have to be thankful for. 

I also noticed, and find an easy gratitude for, the pressure valves of pain… When it gets too intensive, the experience of it shifts. It becomes something else. And there are also the temporary and very welcome distractions through movement and sounds. 

And then finding myself with one foot in the world of what I am, and one foot in who I am. It all happened within clarity and a quiet joy. A clarity inherent in what is, independent of its content. A quiet joy inherent in any experience, independent of its content. And then the human self doing its thing, in excellent fashion, including twisting, grunting and moaning in pain. (And discovering that the child’s pose helps alleviate the pain, as does a hot water bottle on the painful area.)

I also got to notice what thought does with this. Coming home, I looked up kidney stones online (Wikipedia, Mayo Clinic, etc.) and realized that I do not fit the profile at all for having kidney stones. I drink lots of water daily. I use my body. There is no history of it in my near family. I have a low protein diet. I do not drink coke or other soft drinks. I am younger than what is typical. 

Up until reading this, I was fine with having kidney stones. It was just another adventure. But after reading it, the thought came up that I shouldn’t have them! Why me? I am doing everything “right” so why did I still get them? 

And then seeing the silliness of it, and a release. Kidney stones are guests, as anything else. Temporary. Inviting me to just experience, and also notice what is happening. 

Finally, the slight hesitation or apprehension coming up. The stone or stones are not out yet, so it is quite possible that I will experience that pain again as they move through or want to move through. And then appreciation for that too, because it is just the human self taking care of itself. It experienced something unpleasant, it may return, so it naturally is apprehensive. And that has a function. In this case, it helps me take the pain medication even if I currently don’t experience much pain.

Oat breakfast

 

Going into the summer, I find that I eat more fresh and raw food, so this is a good time to write down a recipe I have enjoyed this winter and spring – as a reminder for myself for next year.

  • Steel cut oats, soaked overnight. This starts a slight fermentation process and eases digestion.
  • Add coconut flakes, raisins, sliced apple, banana, sunflower seeds, etc. I usually use only coconut flakes and apple.
  • Cook w. green temple chai, or another spice tea, instead of some or all of the water. This adds to the flavor and gives a nice warming effect in the body.
  • Slow cook on low heat while stirring the bottom occasionally.
  • Serve w. gomasio (roasted and salted sesame seeds), honey, etc.

Sauerkraut!

 

I have fermented foods off and on for a while, but for some reason haven’t gotten around to making sauerkraut yet. (Could have something to do with irrational prejudices left over from childhood!)

I now have a nice batch of dill-sauerkraut fermenting in the kitchen, and it should be done sometime next week.

Above is a nice little video on how to do it, with more information at the Kitchen Gardeners International website.

Fermented food tastes great, is richly nutritious, and is easily digested and made use of by the body. When I ferment it myself, I find that it creates a deeper sense of connection with my food, body and life in general, and is fun and easy to do as well.

Flow & Capacity

 

“The single thing that comes close to a magic bullet, in terms of its strong and universal benefits, is exercise.”

“The data show that regular moderate exercise increases your ability to battle the effects of disease,” Dr. Moffat said in an interview. “It has a positive effect on both physical and mental well-being. The goal is to do as much physical activity as your body lets you do, and rest when you need to rest.”

The New York Times has a great little article on the universal benefits of exercise: You Name It, and Exercise Helps It.

When I look at the effects of exercise, I see that the benefits seem to come through flow and capacity. Exercise get things moving and builds capacity.

And that is true for exercise at any level.

At the thought/mental field level, inquiry into beliefs gets things unstuck. It also builds capacity for inquiry, and for seeing a story as only a story.

At the emotional level, being with and allowing experience allows the content of experience to flow and move on. And it builds capacity for being with and allowing experience.

At the energetic level, exercise – such as different forms of yoga – again invites flow and capacity. The energies get moving, and it builds capacity for working with and holding energies.

At the body level, aerobic and non-aerobic exercise obviously gets things moving and unstuck, at all levels, and also builds capacity.

And the same is also true for relationships. Working consciously with relationships invites them to flow and unstick, and it builds capacity for working with relationships and allowing them to flow.

Nutritional supplements may not always be that good for us

 

New research suggests that nutritional supplements may, in some cases, lead to increased mortality rates.

I am sure that these supplements are very helpful in some situations, but it also is a reminder that there is no substitute for eating healthy, and that eating healthy in most cases is sufficient.

After all, we evolved for billions of years – counting our pre-human ancestors – eating whole organisms, and we have only had nutritional supplements for a few decades. Food contains nutrients in a form and combination that our bodies have evolved to make use of.  So when it is available to us, it makes more sense to rely on varied, fresh, mostly whole, and less processed foods.

And if it is local (family farms, CSAs), and grown in healthy soil (organic, biodynamic), it has additional benefits. It tastes great, supports the local economy and ecosystems, and supports a healthy form of food production. And if we need an extra boost, teas and infusions are a good first choice before supplements.

Research has suggested certain vitamin supplements do not extend life and could even lead to a premature death. A review of 67 studies found “no convincing evidence” that antioxidant supplements cut the risk of dying.

Scientists at Copenhagen University said vitamins A and E could interfere with the body’s natural defences.

“Even more, beta-carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E seem to increase mortality,” according to the review by the respected Cochrane Collaboration.

Source: BBC News.

Allowing content

 

If we are used to take ourselves as content of experience, and this content does not show up as we are used to, what then?

I don’t do recreational drugs, or even much alcohol, so I don’t know how it is when content gets weird in that way.

But I do get sick occasionally, as right now, and fewer can easily make the content of experience different from what I am used to, especially during the night when the anchors of the routines of daily life, and ordinary sense experiences, are not there in the same way.

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Working with body symptoms

 

I have caught one of the popular germs going around these days, so have had an opportunity to explore how to work with the symptoms. (In this case of bronchitis.)

My main exploration has been in finding the strongest symptoms (headache, chest pain, fuzzy/muddled mind, fatigue, persistent cough), explore it in the sensation field, and notice what it is made of. Is it solid? Awareness itself? Nothing taking the form of something?

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Inquiry: Life shouldn’t prevent me from doing what I want

 

Life shouldn’t prevent me from doing what I want. (I have been sick for about a week now, and missed most of a sesshin I had been looking forward to, may miss a great Jungian workshop this weekend, and possibly – although unlikely – a Breema retreat the next, not to speak of the things I had hoped to do during the week.)

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Hara hachi bu

 

An interesting story from BBC on three locations where people live unusually long and healthy lives.

The Okinawan’s most significant cultural tradition is known as hara hachi bu, which translated means eat until you’re only 80% full.

In a typical day they only consume around 1,200 calories, about 20% less than most people in the UK. Culturally it is a million miles from attitudes in a lot of Western societies, where all-you-can-eat meal deals are offered in restaurants on most high streets.

Hara hachi bu is not specific to Okinawa, so there are other factors at play. And whether it has an impact on longevity or not, it certainly has an impact on immediate well being, as I notice very clearly for myself.

If I eat until I am full, I feel heavy, sluggish, dull and constipated, with all of me. But if I eat until it is just enough, hara hachi bu, I feel alert, nourished, ready to go on with my day.

So whatever long term benefits it may or may not have, it certainly have immediate benefits that makes it well worth it.

It feels better all around, and when I notice that, it becomes easy to eat just enough. Eating more is not pleasant anymore.

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Food pragmatics

 

A post on food dogmatism by c4 reminds me that being pragmatic about food is more peaceful, and also, in the long run, probably more effective.

There are many good reasons for eating vegetarian, including ecology (less land used, less antibiotics used), health (helps many aspects of our health), and concerns for our fellow creatures. (Would I want other creatures to suffer for a short lived enjoyment for myself? No.)

And there are also many good reasons for being flexible about our food habits, such as our relationships and, sometimes, our health.

Which is why I often say I eat 95% vegetarian when someone asks me. I eat mostly vegetarian when I cook my own food (rare occasions with smaller amounts of meat), and I’ll eat whatever is put in front of me when I am with others. (I also try to eat organic, local and free range as much as possible, and when I eat with others, I go for mostly the non-meat parts of the meal if I serve myself.)

There are many reasons why it makes sense to not be too dogmatic about food. Relationships is the obvious one. Do I see food choices as more important than my relationships? No. Can I find ways to balance out the two if I am pragmatic about it? Yes.

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Layers of release and harvesting of nutrients

 

In working on knots, I notice two layers.

First, it is the release from being blindly caught up in it. It is a release from beliefs, identifications, shoulds, and the war created by these. I find more peace with whatever is going on, I befriend it. I shift into that part of my that naturally allows it, which is myself as awareness.

Then it is the layer of accepting the gifts and harvesting the nutrients inside of it. I do this through The Work, in exploring the truths in the turnarounds of the initial belief, and then bringing these turnarounds into my daily life. I do it through voice dialog and the Big Mind process, when I investigate what the disowned voice has to offer to this human self, and how I can find a more nourishing relationship with it. I do it through Process Work, when I become the Other and that which holds both what I previously identified with and the Other. And there are innumerable other ways of finding the gifts and harvesting the nutrients inside of the knot and the (previous) disturbance.

The release is a transcending of blindly identifying with it, and the harvesting of nutrients is an active embrace of its content.

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Sleep

 

I have read some of the reports in mainstream media on the recent sleep studies, finding a connection between lack of sleep and a wide range of medical problems and even mortality.

It is important research, especially since lack of sleep is chronic for many today.

But the studies, at least as reported, also leave out some even more interesting questions.

For instance, is the lack of sleep perceived as voluntary or not and what happens in either case? I can imagine that if it is perceived as involuntary, it can easily have detrimental effects in many areas. But if it is perceived as voluntary – as it was for me two days ago when I stayed up the whole night working on something I had a real interest in – it may be quite different. Maybe the lack of sleep itself is less important than how we perceive it. The stress we sometimes put on top of it may be as important as anything else.

There are also individual differences in our need for sleep. One study found that less than seven hours of sleep, on average, is associated with a range of health problems, but the individual differences were left out from the news reports. For some, five hours may be plenty. For others, nine hours may be necessary. And this changes over time too, with age and life circumstances.

And then the question of correlation and causality, which some news reports actually did include. There may be a correlation between too little/much sleep and health problems, but the causality within that correlation is maybe not so clear yet. Most likely, it varies a great deal from situation to situation.

There may be something going on which leads to lack of sleep in the short term and other health problems later on, such as overwork and stress. We may chose to get less sleep just to get more out of our days, and the lack of sleep alone can lead to health problems. There could be a hidden health problem which first gives insomnia and then manifests in other ways. There is probably a great variety of different connections, each showing up in different situations.

Another aspect which would be interesting to look at is how we process our dream world in daily life. For those of us who don’t process our dream world much in daily life, for whatever reason, a good night’s sleep with plenty of night dreaming may be more necessary. But if it is processed more actively in daily life – through art, music, dream work, a meditation practice, active imagination, process work, shamanic journeying or even daydreaming – we may get by with significantly less sleep and night dreaming.

And then other questions, such as taking a nap. For me, taking a nap during the day has a very noticeable benefit all around, and it is probably not so different for others. It helps reduce stress and catch up on our sleep, which should have noticeable effects on our body-mind health and well-being.

Poison, medicine and dosage

 

Last night, I was reminded of the old advice of the medicine (or poison) being in the dosage, and also that any guideline is only a guideline. Life is always more and more fluid than any guideline.

Over the last few days, I have been getting progressively more tired and exhausted, in spite of a good diet and a regular amount of sleep. I have also had a strong dairy craving which I successfully (and it turned out, stupidly) resisted. Then last night, I bought some feta cheese for a salad, and had a good chunk of it (with a couple of tomatoes) for myself, which almost immediately – and miraculously – restored my energy. I had a great nights sleep, and woke up completely rested.

So the dairy craving was a craving coming from the physical body, needing something in dairy. And, as I well know from before, even if dairy is poison for my body in regular and large amounts (bringing a great deal of sluggishness), it is essential medicine in irregular and smaller amounts.

Supplements vs. real food

 

A recent meta-study (a study of a number of existing studies) finds that certain vitamin supplements appear to shorten the lifespan of those taking them (specifically beta-carotene and vitamins E and A.)

Assuming the findings are accurate, and assuming that we are in a fortunate enough situation to have access to sufficient food (which large portions of us are not), then this is another reminder eat a balanced and varied diet of fresh food rather than relying on supplements.

It is usually not a good idea to provide the body with substances it did not evolve to handle, and dietary supplements mostly fall into this category. A balanced diet does provide whatever nutrients the body needs, and a modern balanced diet is nutritionally far beyond what our ancestors – in most cases, had access to, and their bodies still did quite well – as we are living evidence for.

As with health related issues in general, the basic answers are often quite simple – and found when we look at the lives of our ancestors. They ate a varied (omnivorous) diet when possible, ate in moderate amounts… often by necessity, the food was organic and local, and they engaged in a variety of physical activities throughout the day. The closer we are to this, the more physically healthy we are likely to be.

It is very simple. Yet, if there is something about it we don’t like we look for shortcuts, such as dietary supplements, which may not work or have unforeseen effects.

More about the study on BBC: Vitamins ‘could shorten lifespan’

Buddha and the Ecological Footprint

 

Here is another topic from Erik Pema Kunsang’s blog:

How do you take small or large steps in your life to avoid unnecessarily leaving casualties in your wake?

For me, it means to look at the inner (attitude, heart) and the outer, the local and global, and then find and use approaches that appear good at all levels. The inner is my attitude and heart. The outer is my life, those close to me, my local community and ecosystem, the global social and ecological systems, and (not the least) future generations of any species. The local is the immediate results, and the global are the far reaching and long term results.

Dealing with such as complex situation, essentially embracing all of my own life and the life of the Earth as a whole, it is obviously a work in progress, subject to change with new information and new situations.

Often, it is not so hard as it may seem, and I also don’t expect anything close to perfection. Approximation is OK, along with moving in the direction of better informed and more deeply compassionate choices.

For my own inner life, I find many different ways of working with an open heart, including recognizing and integrating projections. The more I see how we are all in the same boat, the more my heart naturally opens – to myself and others. And the more I realize how profoundly interconnected all of our lives are, on many different levels, the more I am motivated to act in ways that benefit us all, including other species, ecosystems and future generations. A healthy social and ecological system, on local and global levels, is essential for my own health and well-being. My own self-interest and the interest of the larger whole are not so different.

In terms of a general guideline for choices, I have found the Ecological Footprint to be the most useful tool. What size land and sea area is needed to support my current lifestyle? The smaller my own EF, the more resources are (in theory) available for other humans, other species, and future generations. In the western industrialized world, our EF is typically four or five times larger than our fair Earth share, which is what is available to each of us if resources were divided equally among all humans, and some is left to other species.

Globally, we are currently using more resources than can be replenished by the ecosystems. In economical terms, we are living off the principal and not just the interest. This situation of overshoot seems fine for a while. After all, there are more money in the bank and we can support our lifestyle with it just fine (at least those fortunate enough to have access to the account.) But the less principal, the less interest, and the quicker the money are depleted. It is a long crash. For a while, it does not impact our life at all, or very little. But then, suddenly, it is all too obvious. And too late. As Al Gore said, we are like someone with homemade wings jumping off a cliff. For a while we are in the air and it seems that we are flying… until we hit the ground.

Back to what we can do in our own lives: there are several EF calculators out there, showing which areas of my life has the most impact on my EF. For most of us, it is air travel, and then the other usual suspects such as car use, food, and so on.

In EF terms, my guideline of finding solutions that appear good at all levels, becomes the question how can I increase my quality of life while minimizing my ecological footprint?

Some of the answers for me is to…

Try to reduce air travel as much as possible, by taking fewer trips, use train or bus whenever possible, and vacationing locally (lots of opportunities for that here in the Northwest.)

Reduce car use, by walking and biking (which gives fresh air and exercise) and use public transportation (which gives me a sense of belonging in a more real way to the community, and also an opportunity to explore projections sometimes.)

Buy used clothing (I can find high-quality and interesting clothes for far less money, the pesticides are already washed out of the fabric, and I don’t give my money to corporations that use sweatshop labor – which almost all clothing manufacturers do these days.)

Have a small house (takes up less space, less use of materials, easier to heat, less space to fill with things.) In town (so I can walk, bike, and use public transportation locally.) And share with housemates (which is often enjoyable, and also helps our personal economy.)

Eat locally produced food (supports the local economy, gives me a connection with the farmers, reduces energy needed to transport food, and provides me with me seasonal, fresh and vital food) and organic when possible (although local is more important.)

Eat mostly low on the food chain (it takes far more land and resources to produce meat than grains, fruits and vegetables.)

Try to minimize money given to large corporations, and especially those using sweatshop labor (buying used, fair trade, or make my own – such as furniture.)

All in all, these things gives me more of a real connection to my local community and ecosystems (by walking, biking, using public transportation, buying local, vacationing locally), it is good for my health (exercise, fresh seasonal food), and also gives me a sense of solidarity with people around the world, other species, and future generations. There is a sense of us all being in the same boat, on the same side – the side of supporting life.

Readings Erik’s post, I am also struck by how the guidelines for ethical living must change with changing times. In traditional Buddhist communities, their impact was only immediate and local. It made sense to focus on one’s immediate relations with humans and other species, because that is all there was (unless you cut down all the trees or did something else that would impact future generations.)

But today, our situation is very different. Our local and daily actions have a very real and significant impact around the world and for future generations. We can be nice to the local critters all we want, even buy fish and release them in the thousands, but it pales in comparison to the impact a large ecological footprint has on our global social and ecological systems.

Today, the global impact of our actions has to be taken into consideration.