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A Secret to Happiness

Beach day at St. Maarten

If I were to tell you about a new medication that relieves pain, reduces stress & anxiety, lessens your risk for type 2 diabetes, helps improve memory, increases longevity, and enhances overall life satisfaction, would you drop your to-do list and rush to phone your doctor’s office for a prescription?  According to an article on Medical News Today, social interactions can result in all those benefits and more.

Exploring the Victorian Charm of Cape May, New Jersey

According to Dean Ornish, MD, whose Program for Reversing Heart Disease has been covered by Medicare since 2011, no other lifestyle factor has a greater impact on our quality of life, incidence of illness and premature death from all causes than loneliness and isolation. The real epidemic in our culture is not only physical heart disease, but also what I call emotional and spiritual heart disease, Dr. Ornish explains.  

Enjoying the adobe architecture in Taos Plaza, New Mexico

A write-up from Harvard Health informs us that scientists are finding social connections not only give us pleasure, they also influence our long-term health in ways every bit as powerful as adequate sleep, a good diet, and not smoking.  The article goes on to say that caring involvement with others may be one of the easiest health strategies to access. It’s inexpensive, it requires no special equipment or regimen, and we can engage in it in many ways.

A Psychology Today article says that engaging socially not only lessens feelings of depression, but also helps you fight off colds, the flu, and even some types of cancer.  I’d say that’s some pretty strong medicine!

Independence Day Parade, Flagstaff, Arizona

Dan Buettner, in writing The Blue Zones of Happiness, reviewed various polls and surveys from countries around the world to discover the factors that contribute to making the happiest populations.  Costa Rica, he found, is one of the countries whose citizens reported being the most content. He attributes this to their focus on spending a great deal of time with others.  Costa Ricans are socially interacting five to six hours a day, face to face, he writes, including barbecues with friends, church services, family meals, and soccer games. The U.S., with its rigorous work philosophy, did not make the top 12 in Buettner’s tally.  

Recent concert at the original Woodstock venue, upstate New York

Being outside is the easiest way for me to feel part of a physical community.  I find open-air concerts absolutely exhilarating. And time outdoors with friends, food, and drink is one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon.  But even strangers who are hiking, biking, fishing, or sitting in a park are often cheerfully willing to engage in conversation. According to an Evidence Note from Forest Research in the UK, green infrastructure can help bring people together, . . . increasing social activity, improving community cohesion, & developing local attachment. These benefits, the research says, reduce domestic violence and overall crime rates.  It’s no surprise that spending time in the embrace of our Primal Mother brings us together in a way that makes us more tolerant, loving, and supportive.

Strolling around a German village

Social interactions can contribute immeasurably to our lives, helping us feel better about ourselves, enhancing immune function, and prolonging our lives.  Focusing less on life’s never-ending to-do list and more on sharing time with others is a sure way to increase happiness.  How often are you willing to become happier?

The need for connection and community is primal, as fundamental as the need for air, water, and food. ~Dean Ornish, MD

Blessings for Community,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Working Toward Oneness: 6 Favorite Asanas

According to a write-up on India’s Ministry of External Affairs website, the term yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, meaning to control, yoke, or unite.  The philosophy was developed thousands of years ago as a way of bringing together individual consciousness with that of the Universal consciousness, indicating a perfect harmony between the mind and body, Man and Nature, the article explains.  Although the physical branch of yoga that many of us practice does not encapsulate the whole of the original discipline, it does offer a wide array of benefits which can contribute to our sense of oneness and a happier, healthier life. 

Arizona

You may have read my article on how yoga can contribute optimal function of the entire body, reason enough to do some sort of regular practice. One of the best physical benefits, in my opinion, is keeping our fascia stretched and pliable.  The many ways we don’t move our bodies daily can lead to the fascia becoming tight, restricting flexibility, which compounds as we age and can lead to limited movement.  Differing poses offer particular benefits, as well.  I want to share with you the 6 types of asanas, or poses, that I practice daily, along with the specific reasons.

  1. Forward FoldsI think my love for forward folds started because as a young adult, I developed tight hamstrings, and I wanted to be able to touch my toes.  In an article describing the benefits of forward folds, American-Australian Yoga Teacher Jacqueline Buchanan says that, in addition to opening the backside of the body from the heels to the head, these postures also increase circulation and soothe the nervous system.
  2. Backbends – As a youngster, I couldn’t get enough of gymnastics on the mat and on the grass.  Dropping into a backbend from an upright position was a regular part of that.  I don’t do those anymore 😊, but decades of yoga have taught me that bending the front of the spine is just as important as bending the back of the spine.  These days, I find bridge pose, cobra, and pigeon pose get the job done.  In a Yoga Basics article, backbends are said to enhance posture, boost mood, and improve breathing.
  3. Side Bends – Yup, more spine bending!  This time, from side to side, because how often do we do those types of movements each day?  According to Roger Jahnke, author of The Healer Within: Using Traditional Chinese Techniques to Release Your Body’s Own Medicine, regularly stretching the spine in all directions can help us avoid lung problems.  So simple, huh?

  1. Twists – According to an article on Total Yoga, twisting poses stimulate the liver and lymph system, release tension, and can even help with back pain.  From years of learning from yoga teachers, I’ve also gleaned that twists are good for digestion.  I enjoy seated twists and twisted lunges, which also challenge my balance.
  2. Balancing Poses – Speaking of balance, I shared in a post several months ago about how I committed to doing half moon pose every day for a couple years to improve my once horrendous sense of balance.  It worked, and to this day, I still do it along with other balancing poses such as tree pose, side plank, and extended hand to toe pose regularly to keep my abs taut and my balance in check.  As we age, we tend to lose the skill of balance unless efforts are made to maintain it.
  3. Inversions – A few years ago, I attended a weekly arm balancing yoga class, and it was the most fun I’ve ever had with a group of yogis.  Handstands, shoulder stands, crow poses, and their many variations were always part of the merrymaking. Unfortunately, the teacher moved to another state, but even today inversions are an enjoyable part of my routine.  They boost blood flow to the brain and improve immune function, according to Yogapedia.com.  If you have only a few minutes a day for legs up the wall, it can be beneficial.
Colorado

Even on days that I don’t do a full yoga practice, I incorporate at least one of each of the above into stretching prior to and after other exercises. Every little thing we do, or don’t do, works together either for our benefit or to our detriment, and committing to small healthy acts is an easy way to stay on the positive side of that equation. (I’m a big-picture person, you may have noticed!)

Oregon Coast, shrouded in fog

Although the yoga that we know doesn’t involve the original philosophy in its entirety, we are fortunate that its physical practice has been brought to us through the ages. As you can see, the advantages of yoga are practical, and regular practice builds a strong foundation for uniting mind, body, and spirit, getting us a little closer to a sense of oneness.

Yogi Blessings,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Does the Earth Love You?

If you’ve been around Micro of the Macro for a while, no doubt you’ve read a lot about the benefits of spending time with Nature. For example, being at the beach can reduce stress & cancer risk.  Interacting with animals can result in improved heart & immune function. Visiting a waterfall can reduce chronic pain.  I have written about how working with plants can reduce depression, trauma, and anxiety, and how wildflowers support all living systems. Nature, in Her infinite wisdom, contributes unceasingly to life, including ours.  But let’s drill down further: does the Earth, our Primal Mother, love us?

Butterfly Garden, Tucson, AZ

In last week’s post, I mentioned briefly the book I am currently reading, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer, member of the Potawatomi Nation and Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology at The State University of New York. Early in the book, she writes of the differences in two foundations which have strongly influenced the ways we think of Nature: the Creation Story and the language we use.  

Aspens, ferns and wildflowers near Arizona’s Snowbowl Ski Resort

In Kimmerer’s Native American culture, and many others, the Creation Story does not involve Adam & Eve’s unhappy expulsion from a perfect garden due to a deceitful serpent.  Instead, it is a story of Skywoman, who falls from the Skyworld, grasping for the Tree of Life on her way down, bringing with her seeds, flowers, and branches, and leaving an opening for the sun to shine through.  During and after her landing, animals lovingly assist her. We are inevitably shaped by (Creation stories) no matter how distant they may be from our consciousness, the author writes.  One (of the stories mentioned) leads to the generous embrace of the living world, the other to banishment.  One woman is our ancestral gardener, a cocreator of the good green world . . . The other, an exile, just passing through an alien world on a rough road to her real home in heaven.  A huge difference between perspectives for the followers of each tradition, wouldn’t you agree?

Rushing waters in Montana

Kimmerer’s native language, alive with the energies of the natural world, is almost completely gone.  (Due in large part to forced government board schooling of Native American children centuries ago, where speaking their native tongue was forbidden.)  The language of her ancestors addressed the Spirit in Nature; it was a mirror for seeing the animacy of the world, the life that pulses through all things, through pines and nuthatches and mushrooms, she writes.  The language reminds us, in every sentence, of our kinship with all of the animate world.  A far cry from English, which categorizes the living world as either people or things.  And how easy is it to neglect or abuse when we objectify?  (Think of the unfortunate slaves of ages past who were considered property.) How could we possibly come to believe that things love us?

Cactus blooms in the Sonoran Desert

The author, a scientist and teacher, is a mother of two, as well.  She writes with the greatest affection of her daughters, and says she taught them to garden so they would always have a mother to love them, even after she’s gone.  She composed a list of loving behaviors shared with her girls.  Included in the list are: nurturing health and well-being, protection from harm, encouraging growth, interdependence, and creation of beauty.  When we observe these behaviors between people, she says, we know they must love each other.  We even make the statement, “She loves her garden” when the same behaviors are demonstrated by someone carefully tending a plot of land.  Why then, the author asks, would you not make the leap to say that the garden loves her back?  The thriving of one is in the best interest of the other.  This, to me, sounds a bit like love, the author concludes. I couldn’t agree more.

A desert dove

Braiding Sweetgrass is packed with practical teachings of the old ways, offering a clear way forward out of the environmental disaster we are living presently.  But there is so much more to this book.  The beauty of Kimmerer’s prose could make a willing student out of anyone.  I find myself rereading some of her lines 3 or 4 times to relish gentle teachings that feed my soul.  Her descriptive, love-infused narrative brings the science of botany to life, revealing the exquisite luminosity of Mother Earth.

Jemez Springs, near Santa Fe, New Mexico

An endless supply of loving support is made available to us by Nature, being the good Mother that She is. In addition to making things beautiful, She also provides us with ways to help us feel better and improve our lives overall. Like Robin Wall Kimmerer, I strongly believe that the Earth cares for us beyond measure, and spending time in Nature is the easiest way to feel the embrace of that unconditional love.

Mazatzal Mountains, Arizona, strewn with Saguaro Cactus

Blessings for Motherly Love,

Lisa

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The Dazzling Blogger Award

The Dazzling Blogger Award, designed by Helen at Crispy Confessions, recognizes bloggers who excel in at least one major area of blogging: writing skills, engagement, social media marketing, or content. A big thank you to my friend Suzanne at Happily Decluttered, who has honored me with a nomination.

Suzanne is super-organized and shares tips to help the rest of us reach that pinnacle. In addition to loads of practical ideas, her writing is brimming with love for her family and Nature. She does a monthly Happiness Highlights post that demonstrates what a rich life she is creating. I urge you to visit her site, and let her know I sent you!

Dazzling view of Big Sur

The Official Rules of The Dazzling Blogger Award

  1. Thank the person who nominated you for the award & link back to their site.
  2. Provide a link back to Helen, the award’s designer.
  3. Answer the seven questions asked.
  4. Compose seven questions of your own.
  5. Nominate & notify seven more people.

Suzanne’s Questions

  1. What is your favorite hobby and how did you get started?

Creating new dishes in the kitchen.  I seldom prepare the same meals, and I’m always on the lookout for new ideas.  I think this originated during the many months I worked in the kitchens of Esalen, Omega, and Ratna Ling, all holistic retreat centers.

Black beans, rice, & roasted plantains with fresh onion, cilantro, & tomatoyum!
  1. What is your favorite meal to cook?

Veggie burgers.  We have burger night twice a month, and I have found so many great ways to make them.  The leftovers get broken up over beds of romaine with red onions, brown rice, and avocado – my favorite salad!

  1. Do you live by any piece of advice or motto?

I am blessed and I am grateful.

  1. What was the highlight of your week?

Getting together with a friend I hadn’t seen in months for hours of talking and laughing and sharing plans for travel.

  1. What is your favorite board game?

Scrabble

  1. Have you read any good books lately that you would recommend?

I’m about 100 pages into Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer, Distinguished Teaching Professor & Director, Center for Native Peoples and the Environment at SUNY College of Environmental and Science Forestry. I’m enjoying it so much that I’m already considering how I might share its ideas.  The author’s message is erudite with paradigm-changing potential, but her stories of the “old ways” are sweet, gentle, and communicate directly to the heart.  I feel everyone should read it, and its precepts should be taught to young children.

  1. If you could pick one chore that you could snap your fingers and it would magically be done, which chore would you pick?

The “big clean” of our house, which involves a deeper-than-daily cleaning that is done once a week.

Favorite outdoor space of a beloved aunt and uncle in Cocoa, Florida

My Questions

  1. During the pandemic, have you learned of any new places you want to visit?
  2. In what way would you say the pandemic has changed your life the most?
  3. What is your favorite season of the year, and why?
  4. What wild animal do you admire the most?
  5. Do you grow/care for a garden, flowers, or trees?
  6. What is your favorite outdoor space?
  7. Do you have a mindfulness practice?
Dazzling reflection in Yosemite’s High Country

As for nominations, in a world of fantastic bloggers, I hereby nominate the first 7 who tell me in a comment below they’d like to participate. Or, if you’d like to answer one or more of my questions without fully participating, that’s ok too.

Thanks again, Suzanne, for the nomination!  

Dazzling Blessings,

Lisa

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Notes on My Beloved AZ

A tree bloom on Sedona’s West Fork hiking trail

During my first extended visit to Northern Arizona, it stole my heart. It was early springtime, and the trees were budding and blooming and releasing sublime fragrances. The hiking trails were numerous, and lined with boulders, multi-colored sandstone, red cliffs, huge ponderosa pine trees, alligator junipers, small cactus shrubs, and aspen groves. Some trails featured Native American cliff dwellings, mud-walled structures, and petroglyphs. Other trails crossed creeks or lead to lakes, big and small. The most interesting trail I hiked, Cathedral Wash (a workout for both body and mind due to the trail dropping between 5 and 30 feet in areas, leaving you to figure out how to descend) ends at the Colorado River, just outside the Grand Canyon.

Cathedral Wash Trail. Look closely and you will see me (dwarfed, but waving!)

I find that a great number of people are unaware of Arizona’s elevation changes, the presence of trees, and the dramatic climate differences in the state. If you think of a featureless, sandy, flat state with no water, trees, flowers, or beauty when you hear someone speak of Arizona, this post is for you.

“Whales” in Sedona’s Oak Creek

You may have heard of the lovely red rocks of Sedona. Before beginning my 3-year road-trip adventure years ago, friends suggested I visit Sedona due to its incredible beauty and reputation as a spiritual hub. I took that advice, and they were right: its splendor is unforgettable, and with a guide, I was able to access a remote area that felt very sacred. But, did you know that Sedona sits at 4000 feet above sea level? And that it has a big, beautiful creek running through it, much of it recreation-accessible? (See this post for more on that.) During the late fall and early winter, trees along the creek turn spectacular shades of red, orange, and yellow. When snow falls on the red rocks, the sight is nothing short of glorious.

Hiking trail among Sedona’s red rocks

Speaking of snow, the highest point in the state, Humphreys Peak, topping out at 12,633 feet in elevation, sits among The San Francisco Peaks to the north of the small town of Flagstaff. At about 7000 feet above sea level, Flagstaff is one of the snowiest areas in the country, getting an average of 100 inches annually. Each of the seasons could not be more beautiful in Flag, as the locals call it. After winter covers Humphreys Peak with a bright white blanket, a lovely springtime arrives, bringing with it happy meadowlarks, woodpeckers, blue jays, hummingbirds, wrens, robins, warblers, finches, sparrows, and juncos. When summer takes over, there are a couple weeks of 90+ degree temps, but most days are cooler. It is possible during the summer to need a jacket at night, as high desert summer temps can drop into the 40s. Beginning around the first week in July, the area gets super-saturated with rain as a result of monsoon season, which lasts through September. The heavy precipitation encourages a myriad of wildflowers to pop up in meadows & canyons, alongside roads, and on hiking trails, once again transforming the beauty of the little mountain town. And then, fall arrives, causing local leaves to sing with vibrant colors.

Spring tree blooms in Flagstaff
The San Francisco Peaks overlooking a field of wildflowers in Flagstaff. Humphreys Peak is on the far left.

The drive north from Flagstaff reveals an other-worldly topography. Most of the land in the northeast corner of the state belongs to Navajo Nation and is largely undeveloped. About 90 minutes north of Flagstaff, you will see the turn-off to the Grand Canyon, which is a must-see. Carved by the Colorado River over millions of years, the Canyon is immense, sporting an elevation change of 8000 feet between its highest point and the mighty Colorado.

View of the Grand Canyon

About an hour farther north, you will discover Horseshoe Bend, Lake Powell, and Antelope Canyon. A boat tour on Lake Powell (located in both Arizona and Utah) offers spectacular views of the red, orange and white sandstone cliffs surrounding the water. With a Navajo guide, a walk through the narrow, beautifully formed Antelope Canyon will astonish you. The slot canyons are the happy result of flash floods having eroded the soft sandstone.

Horseshoe Bend, part of the Colorado River that runs through the Grand Canyon
Antelope Canyon’s unique beauty

As for points farther south, you will find them uniquely interesting as well. A drive south on I-17 just north of Phoenix yields a plethora of saguaro cactus plants at a certain point, and although I’ve yet to witness it, I’m told their beauty is astounding when they’re all in bloom. Tombstone, made famous by outlaws like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, is a cool little town where gunfight reenactments are performed in the unpaved streets. It has been designated one of the best-preserved rugged frontier towns of the late 1800s. And Tucson offers an extensive Botanical Gardens network, Saguaro National Park, and Mt. Lemmon, a jewel that rises over 9000 feet out of the Sonoran Desert.

Part of the set from the gunslinger performance

If you have always pictured the state of Arizona as hot, sandy, and drab, I hope this post has forever changed that image. The state’s diverse and distinctive terrain is an eye-popping Mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. Experience its unique history and allure, and you may find yourself writing love notes, as well.

Blessings for Arizona Beauty,

Lisa

Note: My beloved state is currently aflame. At the time of this post, there are more than 130 fires burning around the state; the largest 7 encompass over 400,000 acres, and many of the fires continue to grow. If you plan to visit Arizona this year, I strongly advise that you wait until the fires have subsided and air quality has improved.

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The original version of this post, entitled Arizona: A Love Letter, was published in May of 2020.

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6 Reasons I Choose Clean Eating

Ratatouille ready to simmer

Clean eating is a term that is broadly & loosely defined, I’ve learned while writing this post.  It can relate to not only food & drink, but also exercise, sleep, stress management, and spending time with loved ones, all of which are important for a happy, healthy life. But, to me, clean eating refers to only the consumption portion: choosing closer-to-the-Earth foods & drinks that are whole and organic, either unprocessed, or minimally processed with nothing artificial added. This practice provides my body with what it really needs.  As a result, I am the best possible steward of my health, which I believe to be my greatest asset.

Mango loveliness

There are many reasons I have made clean eating a lifestyle, and I want to share 6 of the biggies with you.

  • Eating whole, clean foods is the manner in which our ancestors ate, and the way Nature intended.  Only in the past 150 years has the practice of adding artificial flavors, colors, fillers, and other chemicals made in a lab become the norm. Because we evolved eating whole foods in their natural state, our bodies don’t recognize the man-made additives, and therefore don’t know how to process them.  Many times, they are tucked away in our fat stores, but sometimes, they make their way into our vascular system and organs, and have the potential to cause disease. I don’t want to take that risk.
Birthday cake made from black beans & dates, with avocado, date & cacao frostingDELISH!

  • Committing to buying organic fruits and vegetables keeps genetically-modified foods out of my body.  Due in large part to government subsidies in this country, GMO food production is on the rise. This is true even though there have been no long-term studies done on human consumption, and short-term studies have yielded frightening results.  According to the article 10 Scientific Studies Proving GMOs Can Be Harmful to Human Health, consuming GMO food & drink may contribute to various cancers, gluten sensitivity, autism, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s.  
Mineralizing water with cucs, berries, and Himalayan salt
  • Nutrient-dense whole foods are high in fiber, the preferred food of my gut’s microbiome.  Keeping my gut bugs happy is a priority, since they wield such power over my cravings and, therefore, my health in general.  (Go to this article for more on that.) According to Michael Greger, MD, author of the book How Not to Die, eating the Standard American Diet, (which is high in processed foods, meats, & dairy, and low in high-fiber whole plant foods) can result in needing 4 or more days for digestion and elimination, whereas plant-based eating requires only one to two days.  The slower process is undesirable for many reasons. For example, when those 4 or more days are passing, we don’t stop eating and wait for clearance; we continue eating more of the same hard-to-assimilate foods, placing an even larger burden on all body systems.  It’s no wonder that the US spends more than any other country on healthcare (or disease management, to be precise.)

  • Eating clean allows me to avoid taking most supplements.  That saves me money. It also helps me avoid more man-made additives.  In The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-Term Health, T. Colin Campbell, PhD, Professor Emeritus at Cornell University, asserts that obtaining nourishment from a variety of whole plant foods is superior to taking supplements due to the symphony of nutrients released from plants that all work together, versus the single extracted vitamin or mineral that works on its own or with its manufactured ingredients.
Cherry tomatoes ready for a light sauté
  • Whole foods have a good amount of structured water in them, a different type of water molecule that is deeply hydrating and contributes to the optimal function of my body.  In his book Cells, Gels, and the Engines of Life, Dr. Gerald Pollack states that water is essential to each and every cellular process.  Most processed foods & drinks have little to no water content that can be used for cellular hydration.  (If you’d like to know more about the critical importance of hydration, check out this article.)

  • Clean eating contributes to a healthy pH balance in my body.  Processed foods cause the blood to become overly acidic, throwing off homeostasis.  When this occurs, the blood can leach minerals from the bones to reestablish its set point.  This can contribute to thinner bones and osteoporosis.  Additionally, blood that is constantly exposed to excess acid can become a breeding ground for cancer.
Cucumber blooms

Eating clean is a way to help meet your body’s essential needs while avoiding a tangle of harmful effects.  You were designed to eat real, whole foods.  By following Nature’s protocol, you are taking responsibility for your health, your greatest asset.

Blessings for Healthy Choices, 

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Spiralized Veggies with Thai Peanut Sauce

I first tried raw spiralized zucchini noodles at a deli in a Whole Foods Market near Austin, Texas years ago.  There was a choice of raw tomato sauce or spicy peanut dressing to top the noodles, and of course, I had to try some of each.  The peanut dressing was better, hands-down!  The bold, piquant flavors of that sauce haunted me, until finally, a few years later, I found a recipe that could be modified to taste similar.  (Regrettably, I didn’t record the name of the cookbook or author, so I cannot properly credit the person whose recipe I altered to create this fabulous sauce!)

Since that day at Whole Foods, I’ve experimented with many veggie noodle recipes.  In addition to zucchini, I’ve spiralized other vegetables, including cucumbers and sweet potatoes, and thrown in all kind of nuts, fresh herbs, cherry tomatoes, and coconut.  Sometimes I lightly sauté the noodles in olive oil with garlic, other times I leave them raw.  I’ve even cooked grain spaghetti and mixed it with raw noodles. I’ve found that the colorful, raw combination shared below is my favorite.

As for health-giving qualities, raw foods have significantly more enzymes, vitamins, minerals, alkalizing properties, and structured water than cooked foods.  From various sources, I’ve read that, owing to these beneficial factors, 50 to 70% of our regular diet should be raw.  When I first learned about raw foods from the life-changing book Conscious Eating by Gabriel Cousens, MD, the recommendation was for 100% raw – too radical for me, but I’ll admit, the people I’ve known who can manage that lifestyle are incredibly healthy.  As much as I love to cook, going completely raw would take away my favorite creative endeavor.  But I do shoot for 50% raw each day.  My morning fruit and vegetable smoothie accomplishes most of that goal.  I also eat quite a few salads and avocados, & often snack on raw veggies while I’m prepping them to cook.  During the hotter months, there’s nothing I find more refreshing than a cool slab of watermelon.  Additionally, I’ve started making various dessert balls by combining oats, nuts, dates, & other raw ingredients in the food processor.  They are so yummy, I give them as gifts!

On to the recipe.  My sincerest thanks to the cookbook developer whose name I did not record; this sauce was inspired in large part by the recipe Soba Noodles with Peanut and Ginger Sauce.

(Those of you with peanut allergies can sub almond butter & top with chopped almonds. I’ve made the sauce this way many times, even though I’m not allergic.)

Yield: 2 Large Servings 

Ingredients (use all organic/non-GMO if possible)
8-10” long zucchini, spiralized
6” long daikon radish, spiralized
Large carrot, spiralized or cut into thin strands with a veggie peeler
Large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, & sliced into thin strips
1/4 medium red onion, thinly sliced (optional)
2 tbsp tamari
2-3 tbsp maple syrup (to your preferred sweetness)
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
2 tsp freshly grated garlic
1 1/2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1/4 – 1/2 tsp cayenne (to your preferred heat level)
4 tbsp peanut butter
1/2 – 3/4 cup water (to your desired consistency)
salt to taste, if needed
chopped peanuts for the top

Directions
Mix all the vegetables in a medium bowl. Put the next 7 ingredients (tamari through peanut butter) in a small blender cup & spin until creamy and well combined. Add part of the water & spin again. Stop and check consistency. Add more water (or don’t) until you’re happy with the thickness. Taste for salt, adding a dash or 2 if needed.

Split the veggie noodles between 2 bowls and top with *sauce & chopped peanuts. Enjoy!

*You will have leftover sauce. Try its deliciousness on any green salad, or simply spiralize more veggies! Or, how ’bout using it as a dip for fresh rolls? It also works beautifully as a stir fry sauce. It might even be good on chocolate ice cream😊! It will thicken after refrigerating, so whisk in an extra tablespoon or so of water as needed the next day.

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Little-Known Weight Loss Strategies

Smoothie time!

A few months after the pandemic first started wreaking havoc, internet searches worldwide began showing a significant increase in the quest for weight loss information, according to Google Trends. It seems covid robbed us of not only our individual freedoms, but also our willpower. Many of us have put on weight as a result of gym closures, more time at home, fewer social interactions, and higher stress levels. In addition, several news stories at the inception of the virus focused on increased consumer demand for comfort foods such as hamburgers & fries, hot dogs, pizza, and ice cream. These foods, which are often filled with artificial ingredients, salt, sugar, fat, and excess calories, can offer a brief sense of stress relief as a result of their effects on the brain’s reward center, much like cocaine or heroine. But once that fades, we can be left with a sugar crash, extra calories to burn (or store as fat), an unhappy gut, guilt, and an overall sense of feeling worse than before we ate them.

So what can we do to feel better and drop the extra weight? Learn to work with, rather than neglect, the needs of our bodies. As you may have already discovered from past articles, the health information shared on Micro of the Macro is well outside the box, based on new or unpopular scientific studies. The star of this article, the gut’s microbiome, has become an area of extensive study over recent years, and the findings are changing the way we understand the concepts of health and disease.

The beauty of transformation

I’ve written before on the importance of this colony of bacteria in our guts (check out this article for my tips on immunity). What I didn’t mention in past posts is the fact that these microbes are often in charge of the foods we crave and those we choose to eat. Yes, you read that right, in charge. According to an article from the US National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health entitled Is Eating Behavior Manipulated by the Gastrointestinal Microbiota?, the gut bacteria that we “host” can manipulate not only the brain’s reward center, but also our tastebuds, cravings, and mood. Furthermore, the less diverse the bacteria colony (largely a consequence of antibiotics and nutrient-depleted foods), the more power the bacteria has to manipulate us, increasing our chances of obesity. In fact, the control our gut bacteria has over us is so exacting that the article refers to them as puppet masters! Frightening, huh?

What’s in your smoothie?

In order to regain mastery of your cravings and relationship with food, and therefore your weight, it is necessary to diversify your microbiome. Making healthy choices, such as organic fruits and vegetables, local and seasonal if possible, is a great first step. Introducing new foods to your diet results in new bacteria in your gut. Probiotic food and drinks, such as miso, sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha, and kefir result in greater numbers of diverse healthy bacteria. Fiber-rich prebiotic foods, such as onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, dandelion greens and jicama support the growth of those good bacteria. And a healthy, diversified colony of microbes can help you make healthier food choices in the days, months and years ahead.

Healthy, high-carb dinner

Fiber is extremely beneficial for gut bacteria, according to Justin & Erica Sonnenburg, PhDs, researchers at Stanford’s University of Medicine. Fiber is actually a carbohydrate (something worth considering if you’re doing keto or another low-carb diet) that is indigestible. The Sonnenburgs’ research team has done long-term studies of the gut bacteria of a hunter-gatherer tribe in Tanzania, whose members, young and old, are considered models of vitality. Their studies revealed that each member of the tribe consumes between 100 and 150 grams of dietary fiber daily. Most Americans, it pains me to say, get about 15 grams per day.

The joys of jicama!

In addition to being a favorite food of your good gut bacteria, fiber also helps your body eliminate toxic chemicals, such as artificial food additives, pesticides, and environmental pollutants. These toxins, often stored in fats, interrupt the body’s normal functionings of blood sugar and cholesterol, which can lead to diabetes and obesity. (For more on this, check out Environmental Pollution and Diabetes: a Neglected Association.)

Proper hydration makes your microbiome happy, as well. (For additional info, see my article Hydration – No, Really). Healthy fats like seeds, nuts, and avocados are deeply hydrating and should be a part of your daily intake. Drinking plenty of mineralized water (made with fresh lemon juice and/or Himalayan salt) & eating lots of melons, cucumbers, celery, grapes, peaches, berries, & other water-rich fruits keeps your cells & fascia hydrated. When your body is not properly hydrated, you become unable to regularly eliminate food and toxins. You have less energy. You can feel dull and heavy. Your blood thickens, making your heart and kidneys work harder. (For more on that idea, check out New York Times best-selling author Anthony William’s book Liver Rescue.) A poorly-hydrated body cannot function optimally, and may very well thwart your weight loss efforts.

A yummy high fiber lunch

Eating fewer flesh foods, dairy, and eggs may also help. Not to say that you need to become vegan, but I’d like to share my experience with you. I adopted a whole foods plant based vegan diet in stages. I became vegetarian first, and lost so much weight, so fast, that it scared me. In fact, I started binging on granola to stop the weight loss! Years later, after learning about the evils of animal protein, I gave up cheese and eggs, which made me totally vegan. Again, I lost a lot of weight in a very short period. A testament, I believe, to the power of good plant food bacteria crowding out animal food bacteria in my gut.

The folks that live in Blue Zones, the places that have the healthiest, longest-lived populations in the world, typically eat whole food plant based diets. Usually, if they do eat meat or dairy, it’s only a few times a month, and in very small portions. In these areas, it is common for people to age without the chronic diseases that plague the majority of Americans, and to have leaner builds.

Weight loss is something many of us struggle with, especially when we turn to food as a source of comfort. Choosing to supply your gut’s microbiome with what it needs goes a long way in helping you accomplish your weight loss goals and feel better in general. And, not just for now, but for a lifetime.

Time to get ready for the beach!

Blessings for a Healthy Microbiome,

Lisa

Note: The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. I am not a medical professional.  Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed here have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

And Another Note: The original version of this post was shared in July, 2020.

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Green Exercise? Yes, Please!

View from O’Leary Peak trail, Northern Arizona

According to an article from Woodland Trust, the largest woodland conservation charity in the UK,  Exercise . . . releases endorphins, improves both physical and mental health and helps you sleep better. . . But did you know that where you exercise can make a real difference?  Exercising outdoors in a green space, studies show, results not only in profound benefits for physical health, but can also boost mental health in as little as 5 minutes.  Five minutes!

The term green exercise was coined in a paper from 2003 by researchers at University of Essex.  Their writings include an idea set forth by the American Biologist E. O. Wilson, called the Darwin of the 21st century, that humans have an innate connection with Nature, and therefore, time outdoors increases well-being in general and can even be transformative.  Coupling that with the merits of exercise, this paper was the first to address body movement in the great outdoors, declaring it doubly beneficial.

Peeking through a rock at the water’s edge, Southern California

I prefer exercising outside whenever possible, probably because I so enjoy being near plants, natural waters, wildlife, and looking at the sky.  Hiking and trail riding are activities that we enjoy on a regular basis.  If I must exercise inside, I make sure there’s a view and fresh air if possible.  When I belonged to a regular gym, I would focus on the trees outside the window while lifting or on the treadmill.  At my climbing gym, all the doors are propped open to allow the wind to blow through.  In our home workout room, I like to open the window and watch the birds while I’m on the boxing bag or glider.  Yoga is best practiced, in my opinion, with an outside view.  In fact, many classes are now offered in park settings.  I used to attend classes at a studio with windows revealing a direct view of the San Francisco Peaks, Arizona’s tallest mountains.  On snow days, it was particularly lovely and inspiring. 

Beautifully flowered rock found on a high desert hike

An article entitled The Great Outdoors: How a Green Exercise Environment Can Benefit All from the National Institute of Health states we may be still genetically designed to be hunter-gatherers in the great outdoors, (but) we are not being stimulated physically or mentally in the same way and this may be detrimental to health . . . maybe green exercise should be used to facilitate physical activity to improve health.  Going to the farmer’s market just doesn’t do it!  The article goes on to say that, owing to various factors, outdoor exercise can be perceived as less demanding.  (Maybe that’s another reason I prefer it?!)

Hiking Trail near Flagstaff, Arizona

Although there aren’t a great number of studies on green exercise, the research that has been done shows it yields many benefits physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  Alive, a leader in natural health publishing for almost 50 years, shared a write-up encouraging outdoor exercise due to its ability to reduce stress and confusion; improve self-esteem, mood, and focus; and offer better recovery from training.  It can also reduce behavioral problems, especially in children. Plus, limited sun exposure enhances vitamin D levels, which can help us avoid cancers and heart disease.  And, bonus, due to outside sights and sounds being more interesting, green exercise increases the chances that we will stick to our exercise routine.  When you find you’re short on motivation, this might be the perfect fix.

A walk along the dog beach in South Florida

I’ve shared in past posts some of the many benefits we derive from simply being among trees, wildflowers, near waterfalls, and at the beach.  (Check out my Categories link for more.) Incorporate those benefits with the value of physical activity and you have a combination that’s hard to beat.  Not to mention, being outside makes exercise so much more fun!

A stroll near Moab, Utah

The many advantages of green exercise, even if limited to only 5 minutes at a time, shows a great deal of promise for improving our lives.  You are intimately connected to Nature; being active in this nurturing environment is a practice from the distant past that can easily transform your future.

Green Space Blessings,

Lisa

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Let’s Get Lost in a Forest!

Autumn at Wheeler Peak in Carson National Forest, NM

If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything. ~Alan Watts

The above quote describes the experience I had as I began hiking in the forests of the Western US.  What a difference it’s made in my worldview!  The hundreds of miles I’ve trekked among trees, boulders, rushing waters, shrubs, and wildlife have felt healing from the start, as if the forests have wrapped me in a maternal embrace.

Chama River in Carson National Forest, NM

The first forest to ever steal my heart was Carson National Forest surrounding Taos, New Mexico.  I’ve spent a good bit of time in the area, taking in much of its untamed beauty.  I’ll never forget a late fall hike at Wheeler Peak, New Mexico’s highest mountain, looking at acres of Evergreens and Aspens in the distance with their streaks of dark green and vibrant yellow. I also have fond memories of picking piñon nuts and learning to prepare them inside their shells. The area’s forest includes Aspens, various Pines, Firs, Spruce, fragrant Sage, Rabbitbrush, and sometimes a gazillion wildflowers.  Part of the Chama River runs through the forest, occasionally flanked on one side by mountains.  I was, and still am, head over heels with the Carson NF area. In fact, after years of talking about my love for northern NM, friends and family were puzzled that I chose to move to Arizona instead.

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness. ~John Muir

Hiking Trail inside Coconino NF, Arizona

The Coconino National Forest played a key role in my selection of northern Arizona.  Humphrey’s Peak, which tops out at 12,633 feet and is sometimes snow-capped for long periods, can be seen throughout much of the forest, and became iconic in my mind.  Between the time I first felt at home here & the year I was able to become a resident, I missed Mt. Humphrey’s like a far-away loved one.  The forest has plentiful hiking trails and encompasses the country’s largest stand of Ponderosa Pine Trees.  With a climate similar to that of northern New Mexico, Aspens, Spruce, Firs, and Junipers can be found here, as well as a few ancient Bristlecone Pines and Cypress trees. Due to a great number of blooming trees and bushes, Springtime delivers an intoxicating fragrance to the air.  As a bonus, the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness is part of the forest, running parallel with Oak Creek between Flagstaff and Sedona.  This part of Red Rock Country is not as touristy as Sedona proper, yet its beauty could be superior.

A warm hike inside Dixie National Forest, Utah

Speaking of red rocks, southern Utah has its share inside Dixie National Forest.  From the first time I explored the area, I was struck by the gorgeous contrast between the burnt red of many of its rocks and the bold greens of surrounding trees, bushes, and grasses.  I’ve done quite a bit of hosteling, camping, hiking, and exploring of National Parks in and around the forest.  Bryce Canyon NP’s many hoodoos are unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  The simple act of driving through the beauty of Zion NP is a soothing experience, and hiking is even better.  Arches NP has some really unusual red rock formations, including, of course, arches!  Dixie National Forest’s desert-type terrain is dotted by plants, lakes and streams.

I absolutely believe in a greater spiritual power, far greater than I am, from which I have derived strength in moments of sadness or fear. That’s what I believe, and it was very, very strong in the forest. ~Jane Goodall

Bridger-Teton National Forest, Wyoming

Further north and east lies the state of Wyoming.  After my first time driving almost the entire length of the state thinking what’s all the fuss about?, I came to the Bridger-Teton National Forest.  The nagging question disappeared from my mind, replaced by Oh, my . . . wow! . . . gorgeous!  The area contains 7 of the world’s largest glaciers, hundreds of alpine lakes, and a number of sweeping valleys.  Many headwaters can be found in the forest, including Two Ocean Creek, which is split by the Continental Divide to eventually make its way to both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  The Grand Tetons are part of this stunning forest.  Considered an adolescent range due to their age of 10 million versus the Rockies’ 50-80 million years, the Tetons have experienced much less erosion, which accounts for their jagged tops.

Bridger-Teton NF, Wyoming

This post would not be complete without mention of Los Padres National Forest in California, which includes the breathtaking coast of Big Sur.  This forest includes over 200 hiking trails, 100 peaks, 150 springs, and almost 300 camping areas.  Impressive, huh?  If you ever visit the area, you will never forget its extraordinary beauty.  My first visit involved a month-long work-study program at Esalen Institute.  Each morning, I walked among the trees near the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean from the boarding house to the main property, taking photos & imprinting on my soul the aesthetics of this wondrous forest by the ocean.

Pacific Coast Hwy shrouded in fog, Los Padres NF, California

What an irony it is that these living beings in whose shade we sit, whose fruit we eat, whose limbs we climb . . . are so poorly understood. We need to come, as soon as possible, to a profound understanding and appreciation for trees and forests and the vital role they play, for they are among our best allies in the uncertain future that is unfolding. ~Jim Robbins, author of The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet

Forests have indeed changed my perception of myself and that of the world.  I have no doubt now that I belong; I am a part of Nature, as are you.  During my many hours among the trees, I have come to know a healing embrace: that of our Primal Mother.

Blessings for Forest Healing,

Lisa

Featured

The Waterfall Effect

As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can. ~John Muir

Inside Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

When I see the word waterfall, it evokes exquisite and peaceful yet powerful scenes of Nature.  When I see an actual waterfall, I often catch myself holding my breath, as if the awesome, wild beauty I’m witnessing might disappear if I breathe too loudly.  Do you have a similar response?

Through the years, I’ve visited a great many waterfalls, oftentimes reached by hiking trails.  Niagara Falls, between New York and Canada, is probably the largest I’ve seen; I seemed to capture more spray than falls in every photo I took!  Multnomah Falls in Oregon is one of the most striking, and the entire area around Portland is home to a host of waterfalls, large and small, lending itself to some amazing hikes. You may remember my photo of Hanging Lake in Colorado, a small green paradise a little over a mile up a canyon wall. Glacier National Park in Montana showcases some spectacular cascades. Yosemite National Park in California is known for its wealth of waterfall beauty.  In the Navajo Nation of northern Arizona, you will find Grand Falls, often called chocolate falls due to its muddy water from the Colorado River.  And in southern Utah, a sweet waterfall and shallow lake can be found at the end of a hiking trail in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Multnomah Falls, Oregon

In past posts, I’ve shared the idea that time near a waterfall is good for the gut’s microbiome and has a positive effect on immune function.  This post will give you more reasons to seek out waterfalls and bask in their glory.  Studies dating back to 1892 show that the natural force of water molecules crashing can cause electrical charges to separate.  As a result, some molecules gain an extra electron, and negative air ions, or NAIs, are formed, which studies show can be most valuable for health.  This process is referred to as spray electrification, or  simply, the waterfall effect

Yosemite National Park, California

According to an article published on the National Institute of Health site, the beneficial effect of NAIs include activation of natural killer cells and improved mental health, . . . which may reduce pain, including chronic pain. The article goes on to say that the changes made to the microbiome by NAIs (mentioned above) may also influence pain outcomes.  If helping with pain were the only benefit they offered, I’d say that’s reason enough to visit these spectacles of Nature.  But there’s more.

Niagara Falls, New York

A PubMed article states that studies reveal NAIs significantly reduced resting heart rate.  Further, it suggests that NAIs have a positive effect on the body’s circadian rhythms, which help regulate our sleep-wake cycle.  Could time at a waterfall resolve insomnia?

For a Healthline article entitled The Effect of Negative Ions, various research studies from the past century were examined.  Exposure to NAIs, the science shows, have resulted in reduced depression symptoms, improved cognitive performance, lessened stress, and increased fat metabolism.  The article goes on to say that it is the natural form of NAIs, not the manmade ones, that provide benefits, as there are risks associated with using electric ionizers in your home or office.

View from behind

You may have asked yourself, what about beaches and rapids and other waters that crash?  Negative air ions can be found there as well, but at lower levels.  This is due to the stronger force of gravity on waterfalls versus ocean waves or other crashing waters.  But, hey, if you’re within 10 miles of the sea and over 100 miles away from the nearest waterfall, by all means, catch some NAIs at the beach!

Grand Falls, aka Chocolate Falls, Arizona

Spending time near waterfalls not only puts us in a state of awe owing to their magnificent beauty, but also helps improve our health.  Whether you’re seeking relief from pain, sleep disturbances, or stress, or looking to boost immune function and fat metabolism, the waterfall effect may be reason enough for you and your family to plan a relaxing, healing excursion to one of these natural beauties.

Cascades of Blessings,

Lisa

Featured

Mindfulness: What’s in It for Me?

Mindfulness is a way of being present: paying attention to and accepting what is happening in our lives. It helps us to be aware of and step away from our automatic and habitual reactions to our everyday experiences. ~Elizabeth Thornton

If you’re a regular reader of Micro of the Macro, you know that I often touch on the subject of mindfulness in my posts.  Jon Kabat-Zinn, who studied under Thich Nhat Hanh and co-founded the Cambridge Zen Center, defines mindfulness as purposeful, nonjudgmental attention placed on the present moment.  A more practical explanation, in my opinion, is paying attention as opposed to allowing unconscious behaviors to run your life.  We are such creatures of habit that it’s easy to slip into mindlessness.  Have you ever driven your car home from work (or vacation!) and later realized you don’t remember the drive?  That’s an example of an unconscious habit taking over.

So what does it matter if your life is controlled unconsciously?  Well I’m glad you asked.  The big-picture answer is that by living in this manner, you are sleepwalking through your time on the planet. Each of our lives takes place within a cosmic embrace of love and blessings, if only we take the time to notice.  The sound of crickets, birdsong, ocean waves, a child’s laugh; the sight of butterflies, wildflowers, and a star-lit sky; the smell of blossoming plants; the taste of fresh foods; the gentle touch of a beloved friend: all exquisite details that can be taken for granted or completely missed when we’re in auto-pilot.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? ~Mary Oliver

But there’s more to that answer.  Living unconsciously means that you miss out on the profusion of benefits for physical, mental, and emotional health that mindfulness offers.  According to an article from the American Psychological Association, over 200 studies have shown that mindfulness is effective at boosting immune function, decreasing chronic pain, reducing stress, and helping with depression.  These benefits, the article states, could be due to changes in the brain’s regulation of emotions, resulting in decreased rumination on negative thoughts.  Whether you meditate, practice yoga, do tai chi, watch wildlife, work in a garden, or evoke presence in some other manner, you may discover that you’re doing wonders for your health and peace of mind.

UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine shares a write-up addressing mindfulness studies that have shown positive impacts on relationships between couples as well as those between parents & children.  Additionally, mindful parenting is . . . linked to more positive behavior in kids, the article says.  The reduction of stress through better emotional regulation seems to be a recurring theme.

In a study from Central Michigan University, subjects that listened to mindfulness recordings were found to have decreased age and race biases as compared with control subjects.  The practice allows us to rely less on previously established associations, the abstract indicates.  To me, this implies that these prejudices can be broken down rather quickly, an idea with great potential for our times.

A US News & World Report article on addiction recovery speaks to the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation for reducing substance abuse, including trials that are linked to reductions in impulsivity, cravings, and relapses.  A hallmark (of addicts) is that they’re very rarely in the now.  They’re either regretting the past . . . or dreading the future, according to Katie Witkiewitz, professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico.  The practice of mindfulness, therefore, could play an important roleHowever, as with most holistic modalities, more research is needed before it can be incorporated into standardized treatment.

Fortunately, research on the power of mindfulness is expanding.  A Mindful Magazine essay examines the directions of a few of the leaders in the field.  Planned studies include exploring the effects of mindfulness on childbirth, neurological development, memory preservation, cellular aging, and inflammation.  Perhaps these researchers are working from the premise that our bodies simply function better when we pay attention to our lives.  What do you think?

Learning to be present can enrich your existence and improve your health on every level.  Awareness of life’s moment to moment offerings can result in big, positive results, helping you to recognize your life’s beautiful cosmic embrace.  From reducing stress to strengthening relationships to helping with recovery from addiction, the benefits of mindfulness practices for you and those you love cannot be overestimated. 

We need to awaken ourselves. We need to practice mindfulness if we want to have a future, if we want to save ourselves and the planet. ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Blessings for Presence,

Lisa

Featured

The Generosity of Plants

This week, I’ve begun reading The Well-Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature by Sue Stuart-Smith.  The book presents various research findings on working with Nature and draws beautiful parallels between gardening and developing a healthy mindset.  Stuart-Smith is a psychiatrist and psychotherapist, and her book was chosen by The Times, Britain’s oldest national daily newspaper, as one of the best books of 2020.  I guess you can tell I’m pretty excited about it, as I’m not even halfway through, but already wanting to share!

Early on, the author asserts that our species emerged in the savannah landscapes of Africa, and over the course of evolution, our nervous and immune systems have been primed to function best in response to various aspects of the natural world.  These aspects, she says, include the microbes we eat and breathe, the amount of sunlight we are exposed to, and the natural vegetation around us.  Further, she states, When we work with nature outside us, we work with nature inside us.  

Stuart-Smith shares research done with many subjects in diverse environments.  She’s visited prisons to witness the difference that gardening programs have made for inmates, in some cases offering them opportunities to find work as gardeners post-release, which has been shown to lessen chances of recidivism.  She also writes of a garden project done for inner-city 7-year-olds with a high rate of learning disabilities, which not only resulted in a sense of pride and accomplishment for the little ones, but also transformed their sense of self-esteem and motivation.  Additionally, she addresses the use of therapeutic horticulture for those with depression, trauma, and anxiety, as studies have shown that the benefits of regular gardening are similar to those of cognitive behavioral therapy.  

I am enjoying the book immensely not only because it supports the ideas of Micro of the Macro, but also because of the memories it evokes.  As a small child, I often worked with my grandmother and uncle in our family garden.  No matter what was going on, working in the garden brought me into the present moment, with the sweet smells of tomato vines and dark soil, the intense feel of the sun on my skin, and the sight of bumblebees attracted to the yellow squash and cucumber blooms.  Years later, when I began hiking on a regular basis, I learned to treasure the smells of mountain tree blossoms and spruce needles, Ponderosa Pine bark, and an occasional deliciously earthy whiff of unknown origin.  Being present in this manner provides a calming escape from past regrets and worries of the future, wouldn’t you agree? 

Although we can derive amazing benefits from plants, their compassionate actions aren’t exclusively for humans.  In a delightfully-written article for Bay Nature, a 20-year-old publication advocating for the good of the environment, Endria Richardson brings our attention to the generosity of the California Redwoods.  Their biology, she states, does not require open-heartedness or a daily decision to be kind; it simply is, as a matter of design. This biology, or blueprint for being, can give rise to collective wellbeing: needles drop, bark is shed, a rich duff develops that protects not only one tree’s roots, but the root networks of clusters of trees.  During the time I lived among the Coastal Redwoods of Sonoma County, I was fascinated to learn about their root system; their underground support of each other allows them to grow to dizzying heights and withstand high winds.  On hiking trails, I also witnessed new trees sprouting from old, seemingly lifeless trunks.  Richardson continues her article by writing that acts of Redwood generosity help not only other trees, but also contribute to the lives of a variety of plants, animals, birds, and berries high off the forest floor. 

In an article written for the US Forest Service, we learn the extent of selflessness of the humble wildflower.  They support entire ecosystems . . . Butterflies and other insects, small birds, and animals depend on seeds, nectar, and pollen for their food supply and life support, according to the write-up.  Are you noticing a pattern?

Believe it or not, even weeds can demonstrate generosity!  A Mother Earth News article shares that some weeds can benefit surrounding plants by protecting the soil, pulling up water and nutrients from great depths, and helping with insect control.  (Check out the article to determine which weeds you should keep!)

Nature provides us with an endless array of magnanimous acts.  The plant kingdom supports not only our well being, but also the health of its various members as well as other life.  This generosity seems to be part of Nature’s design of plants. Working with vegetation gives us access to that life-enriching bounty.

Blessings for Generosity,

Lisa

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Pope Francis, I Disagree: A Tribute to Earth Day

Beauty without grace is the hook without the bait. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

The original version of this heavily-edited post was first shared last year. The sorrowful effects of the pandemic are on the rise again in many countries and the senseless destruction of our planet continues. The message here becomes more urgent each day.

Since he was first elected, Pope Francis has been my favorite pontiff. I’m not Catholic, but I admire the fact that he’s not afraid to regularly speak out against corruption, specifically the neglect and exploitation of our natural environment for profit, as is common on a grand scale. For these reasons and many others, I feel he is a world leader in the truest sense.

Recently, the Pope expressed his belief that coronavirus could be Nature’s response to climate change. He was quoted in a UK periodical saying, “There is an expression in Spanish: God always forgives, we forgive sometimes, but nature never forgives.” I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the last part of that statement.

In honor of Earth Day, I present my defense of Nature, and therefore, my disagreement with the Pope.

The widespread death and health decline brought about by Covid-19 is unlike any other health crisis we’ve seen in the past 100 years. I’m on board with the idea that much of the fallout may be attributed to the (internal and external) functionings of Nature struggling from abuse and neglect; it’s hard for me to fathom how so many of us ignore the simple needs of our bodies and our Earth. But I don’t agree with the words Nature never forgives.

In my opinion, our external natural environment must attempt an ongoing balance of sorts, similar to our internal Nature’s constant drive for homeostasis. (For example, when we get too cold or too hot, we shiver or sweat, which reestablishes our normal body temperature set point.) The global warming callously caused by our species is like a disease to our planet. As a result, the natural world sometimes unfolds in ways resulting in death and destruction. I believe this devastation is related to rebalancing on some level more so than Nature’s unwillingness to forgive. What do you think?

Hope springs eternal – a revegetated Sunset Crater Volcano, Northern Arizona

In the podcast Food Independence and Planetary Evolution, Rich Roll, author of Finding Ultra: Rejecting Middle Age, Becoming One of the World’s Fittest Men, and Discovering Myself, talks with triple-board certified Zach Bush, MD, about the wretched state of our food supply. In large part, the conversation centers around the soil-decimating and gut-destroying glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup weed killer which is used extensively in non-organic and non-regenerative commercial farming.) Dr. Bush, after speaking more than an hour on the sad and unjust consequences of using glyphosate and other current farming practices, shared the concept of biological grace, which he defines as the ability to heal faster than injured.

His first example of this idea relates to the microbiome of the gut. He talks about some of his clinic’s patients who, after a lifetime of damaging disregard for their health, can make a few simple changes and see health problems improve or reverse in a matter of weeks or months. These changes, including physician-monitored short-term fasting and (largely) ridding their lives of harmful chemicals, give a much-needed break to their biological systems, allowing Nature’s healing force to rush in and restore health, instantly forgiving the former myriad of abuses.

A table at a farmers market in Taos, New Mexico

Dr. Bush goes on to address soil health within the same paradigm. Decades of using genetically modified seeds, applying glyphosate, mono-cropping, and tilling are killing the life in our soils, resulting in, among other calamities, smaller yields with greatly reduced nutrient content. His estimates show that about 98% of the earth’s soils are now depleted in a similar manner. According to Dr. Bush, if these harmful measures are stopped, biodiversity can return to the soil within a single growing season. His team has partnered with the Soil Health Academy, and together, they have witnessed this renewal in over a million acres. In my mind, this, too, epitomizes Nature’s forgiveness.

In light of this information, I would like to say humbly, Thank you, Pope Francis, for calling the world’s attention to our ailing planet during a time of darkness like none we’ve known. But science backed by experience disproves your statement “Nature never forgives.” This clarification could critically impact our ability to overcome and move forward. Although the pandemic continues to rage, regardless of its source, I choose to work daily to achieve biological grace for the health of my body and my Planet.

Blessings for Forgiveness & Grace,

Lisa

I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us. ~Anne Lamott

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Frittata Primavera

Packed with fresh herbs, tomatoes, shallots, and green onions, and requiring just over half an hour from start to finish, this tasty stovetop frittata is a favorite Sunday morning breakfast in our house.

The first vegan egg-like dish I learned to prepare, although delicious, took way too long. First there was the chopping, next the mixing & resting of the batter, followed by the sautéing of the veggies, the frying of the batter, and finally the steaming. Ugh! By the time I sat down to eat, I was famished! You can imagine how thrilled I was to find a similar recipe that, once modified, takes a lot less time and might be even tastier!

And, you know if I’m sharing it with you, it has to be healthy! Shallots have good amounts of potassium, Vitamin C & Vitamin B6, and may help with allergies, bone health, weight, and circulation. Tomatoes are rich in Vitamin C, Vitamin K1, and lycopene, which can help reduce risks of cancer and heart disease. Fresh dill is a great source of various plant compounds that can play a role in kidney, liver, heart, and brain health. Fresh basil is packed with nutrition, including good amounts of Vitamin K, Vitamin A, manganese, copper, and iron, as well as several essential oils that are antibacterial & anti-inflammatory. And chickpea flour (in addition to a fabulous flavor) has a great deal more calcium, potassium, and fiber than wheat flour.

Give this recipe a try, and let me know if you find it to be a party on your palate!

Many thanks to Vegan Sandra for the original recipe.

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients
2/3 cup chickpea flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp nutritional yeast
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper
Several grinds of black pepper
3/4 cup water
1-2 shallots, minced
2-3 green onions, chopped into 1/4 inch segments
2 tbsp fresh dill, chopped into 1/4 inch fronds
2 tbsp fresh basil, cut into 1/4 inch chiffonade
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, leaves chopped, but not too fine
1/2 cup Heirloom tomato, diced
2 tbsp avocado oil (or olive oil)

Directions
Hand mix the first 7 ingredients in a medium bowl. Add the water & whisk until well combined. Add the shallots, green onions, 3 fresh herbs, and tomato, stirring thoroughly. Coat a large pan with the oil and heat for 2 – 3 minutes on medium. Add half the batter (or all of it if your pan is large enough) and cook for 5 minutes. Flip, using 2 spatulas if needed, reduce heat to the higher side of medium-low, and cook an additional 3-4 minutes, until mostly golden brown. Repeat with the rest of batter if you didn’t cook it all at once.

Serve alongside avocado, and for you big eaters, add a couple pieces of toast. Enjoy!

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5 Ways to Nudge Your Body Toward Optimal Function

The human body is a marvel.  Its ultra-intelligent design allows it to operate in ways without even requiring our attention.  The billions and billions of chemical reactions occurring each second are nothing short of symphonic.  The habits that become your lifestyle radically influence that symphony, for better or worse.  By providing your 70 trillion cells with the support they need to function at their highest levels, you make it possible to prevent or reverse disease, increase energy, and lengthen your time on the planet.  

In his book The Healer Within, Roger Jahnke, Doctor of Classical Chinese Medicine, explains, “Dozens of spontaneous self-healing mechanisms . . . are programmed to sustain or restore our health and vitality automatically.” And further, “The foundation of all self-healing, health enhancement, stress mastery, and personal empowerment is deep relaxation.” Below, you will find some of the best techniques I know to help you develop that foundational sweet spot.  (Reminder: I’m not a medical professional, and you should consult your Doc or NP prior to trying anything new.)

  1. Yoga – It took me many years to understand the statements get out of your head and drop into your body, bits of advice often dispensed by my well-meaning yoga teachers.  But finally, it hit me: by placing my attention on my breath and body alignment during poses, I put aside the process of jumping from one distracting thought to another for the duration of the class.  Dropping into my body calms my mind, and this calm stays with me for hours afterwards.  (Plus, all that stretching, twisting and bending keeps me an arm’s length away from aging!) According to an article in Psychology Today, regular yoga results in the central nervous system’s release of GABA, a chemical which works to suppress anxiety for hours after the practice ends.  Check out my friend Cindy’s blog Unique Times for some quick, heart-opening hybrid practices.  She’s a bright light and a great motivator. 
  1. Massage – According to an article from Mayo Clinic, massage is good for not only stress release, sore muscles, and circulation, but also insomnia, nerve pain, fibromyalgia and digestive disorders.  I have been a huge fan of massage as far back as I can remember, primarily because it feels so good to get my stuck energy remobilized!  In the past, I’ve gone once a month, but for the past few years, I’ve increased my time on the table to twice per month.  My neck and shoulders are much happier!  No massage therapist? No problem. Even self-massage can yield benefits.
Massage tables on the cliffs of Big Sur, CA
  1. Meditation – This practice dates back for thousands of years, and I’m guessing the reason it’s still around is because it is so advantageous.  U.C. Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine published an article stating that in addition to meditation boosting emotions, decreasing anxiety, and helping with depression, it also improves heart function, slows age-related cognitive decline, and strengthens the immune system.  What’s more, I’ve read from other sources that it increases creativity.  Years ago, when living and working at a Buddhist Retreat Center in Northern California, I had a regular meditation practice.  Presently, I am renewing that commitment.  A huge thank you to my neighbor, Jan, for introducing me to the Headspace Guide to Meditation on Netflix.  I find guided meditations easier than going it alone.
Music night at the hostel with the Tin Man and Scarecrow
  1. Music – Research shows that Celtic music, jazz, classical, and Native American music are great for reducing stress, says an article on Chopra.com.  In addition, playing an instrument or singing causes endorphins (happy chemicals) to be released in the body.  The article goes on to say this is especially beneficial for children and cancer patients.  Personally, I can’t imagine getting through a single day without listening to music, humming, singing, and a little dancing, can you?
Golden Gate Park
  1. Nature – I’ll bet you knew this was coming, didn’t you?!  As I write this post, I’m sitting outside in the warm Arizona sunshine listening to birdsong and the wind blowing through the trees.  According to the article Why Nature Sounds Help You Relax, According to Science on Health.com, sounds such as rustling leaves and a babbling brook can help reduce stressful fight or flight feelings and increase the body’s capacity for relaxation.  

As you can see, these techniques not only help you achieve the foundation of relaxation needed by your body for optimal function; they have beneficial side effects as well. Combining one or more of them with other healthy habits can be the key to unlocking your best possible life. What could be better?!

What are your favorite relaxation techniques?  If you don’t normally honor your body’s need to relax, would you do me the favor of trying one of these?  I’d love to hear your experience.

Blessings for Healthy Foundations,

Lisa

Featured

The Sweetness of Spring

Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems. ~Rainer Maria Rilke

This beauty recently came to me via text from a beloved cousin. Thanks, Deb!

For the past few days, I’ve noticed the birds are back and making their happy presence known. I took time out this morning to admire the black, white, and vibrant red of two acorn woodpeckers out a back window. In preparation for the return of the hummingbirds, I’ve planned to hang their brightly colored feeder in a couple weeks. And after two days of snow last week, we stood for a long while in the warm sunshine enjoying the sights and sounds of a large paddling of ducks in a drainage pond. In the hopeful spirit of this miraculous season, I’ve talked to neighbors about planting, given a lot of thought to getting rid of things I haven’t used in a while, and am actively changing up my diet. I cannot recall ever being this enamored with Spring.

Acorn Woodpecker

Come with me into the woods. Where spring is advancing, as it does, no matter what, not being singular or particular, but one of the forever gifts, and certainly visible. ~Mary Oliver

I remember as a small child dressing in a pastel yellow dress, lacy bonnet, white ruffled ankle socks, and black patent leather Mary Janes for church, closely followed by an egg hunt with cousins. Oh how I loved hunting for Easter eggs! It was by far my favorite part of the holiday; I enjoyed it more than the chocolate bunnies!

Elements of our Easter holiday originated in Ancient Mesopotamia’s spring equinox celebrations, as far back as 2400 BCE, according to an article on the website Learn Religions. Celebrated on the first Sunday after the first post-equinox full moon, the name Easter was probably derived from Eoster, the lunar goddess who was celebrated on the first post-equinox full moon. It was believed that on that day, the lunar goddess mated with the solar god, and their child would be born on the winter solstice of December 21st. The hare and the egg were symbolic of this celebration for their representations of fertility and new life.

The gardens at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA

There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter. ~Rachel Carson

The birthing of animals in Springtime is certainly a reason to make merry. Years ago, when I first met my life partner, he was living on a horse farm in central Florida, and I spent a lot of time with him there. I can’t tell you how many hours we spent in the different paddocks, loving up all the horses, getting the young ones to trust us, and witnessing foal watch! It’s so exciting when the broodmares are expected to give birth at anytime. And the foals’ first few days of life, as they learn to feed and walk and play: what an absolute joy to watch!

Baby is bravely curious with Mom close by

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow. ~Audrey Hepburn

Humble beginnings

The sprouting of new plant life is a process that showcases the unparalleled design of Nature. Just think of the potential and perseverance a tiny seed must contain to reach maturity and bear fruit! I have neighbors who have already purchased seeds for planting in their gardens. And in many parts of the country, flowers will soon be flourishing, sometimes taking over fields as far as the eye can see. Savoring the exquisite view of a field of wildflowers is a fine way to spend part of a warm sunny afternoon.

Near Taos, NM

A flower blossoms for its own joy. ~Oscar Wilde

It’s also spring cleaning season! I’ll admit, I’m not a huge fan of cleaning, but I feel so much better when it’s done. And donating things that I no longer use is like a healthy purge. According to an article in Psychology Today, physical clutter can easily result in psychological clutter. Too much disorganized “stuff” can cause you to feel less than comfortable at home or in the office. It can also lead to feelings of being out of control and contribute to poor eating habits. Once internalized, clutter slows neural pathways, leading to memory loss as we age. Ok, I’ve got a bit of spring cleaning to do . . .

Every moment the patches of green grew bigger and the patches of snow grew smaller. Every moment more and more of the trees shook off their robes of snow. Soon, wherever you looked, instead of white shapes you saw the dark green of firs or the black prickly branches of bare oaks and beeches and elms. ~C.S. Lewis

Another transition into the Spring season should be eating lighter foods, according to the principles of Ayurveda, one of the oldest wellness systems in recorded history. Leaving behind the cold months of Winter, we should be eating fewer heavy, oily, sweet, and salty foods, opting instead for lighter foods including salads, leafy (especially bitter) greens, other vegetables, sprouts, beans, and berries. Seasonal eating works with the biology of our bodies, and can increase fat burning and decrease seasonal allergies.

A tiny bit of loveliness

The functions of your body are vested in Nature’s rebirth. I hope you will make a point of benefitting from the sublime gifts of our new season. Take your family on an outdoor outing, try some new recipes, or get rid of some stuff you don’t need anymore. May the abundant hope and beauty of the season cause you to reflect on the miracle in which we are all immersed. Happy Easter!

Tender green leaves on Aspen trees

I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration
Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze
Of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration
. . . ~D.H. Lawrence

Springtime Blessings,

Lisa

Featured

Trails of Renewal

Trail in Grand Teton National Park

It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something . . . that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit. ~Robert Louis Stevenson

That subtle something that Stevenson references above is love, in my opinion. Hiking for miles in areas surrounded by mountains, stately trees, and wildlife I’d never seen in their natural habitat, with amazing skies overhead and occasional otherworldly deserts, all punctuated by streams, rivers, lakes, and seas: these are the gifts of Mother Nature that resolved my sense of disenchantment (see Escaping Normal for more on this), healed my thinking, and delivered me into the realization of oneness with Her. Can anything other than love mend one so thoroughly?

Over the course of 3 years, I visited many places known for their visual charm, where I hiked hundreds of miles. I encountered moose, buffalo, elk, bears, marmots, all kinds of birds & reptiles, deer, squirrels, and chipmunks. The sights, sounds, and smells of these explorations in Nature were rejuvenating. And the experiences I had will forever make me smile.

Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in books, for they speak with the voice of God. ~George Washington Carver

The Teton Trail where I encountered “Chippy”

My funniest memory of hiking was on a trail in the Teton Range of Wyoming surrounded by autumn-kissed leaves, grandfather evergreens, and plentiful ground cover. I had been on the trail for a long while without passing another hiker, so I was in a bit of a meditative state. As I rounded a cliff, a sudden, severe screech shattered the silence, scaring me to shivers. Continuing onward, I soon saw the culprit: a tiny chipmunk, the apparent sentinel of the forest, screeching more frequently as I approached him! You little *%&#!

Part of our hike in Germany

One of my most unusual hikes was in Northern Germany with a friend I was visiting. It was a long hike, through lots of hilly rural settings. We were on a trail for most of the day, but we also traipsed through a cow pasture. I voiced my concern that perhaps we were off the trail, and I was afraid we were going to be shot, but my friend assured me that her neighbors were a bit more lenient than mine in the US!

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt. ~John Muir

Cathedral Wash trail

Cathedral Wash in Northern Arizona has been my most challenging hike, both physically and mentally. The trail drops about 400 feet in elevation through layers of sandstone which become towering cliffs on both sides of the trail in places. Many of the drops of 3 to 30 feet require an assessment as to how to descend to the next part of the trail, and there is some scrambling involved. The first time I hiked it, there were no cairns (markers) indicating the best way to proceed. On my second visit, the trail had been marked, but it had recently rained, and the best way to hike the dry trail is different from the best way to hike the trail with inches-deep water in places! Cathedral Wash ends with a breathtaking view of the rushing Colorado River just outside the Grand Canyon.

Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit. ~Edward Abbey

Hanging Lake up Glenwood Canyon

The trail that resulted in the most unexpected beauty at the end was the ascent up Glenwood Canyon, Colorado to Hanging Lake. I had heard good things about it from fellow rafters the day prior, but nothing could have prepared me for its extraordinary beauty. This is also the trail on which I learned one of my most important hiking lessons: always have extra camera batteries on hand! I got a few nice shots, but not nearly as many as I would have liked.

Hiking among California Redwoods

Hiking through the California Redwoods on a trail that took me to the waters of the Pacific Ocean qualifies as one of my most inspiring hikes. Glorious Redwoods enveloped me for most of the hike, and near the end, the view opened up to deep blue sky, gently crashing waves, and the rocky coast of Northern California. What a spectacular reveal!

The scene at the end of the Redwood trail

All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
Whose body Nature is, and God the soul.
~Alexander Pope

View from a trail inside the Grand Canyon

In addition to the trails already mentioned, I’ve also trekked through a rainforest on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, made my way to the tops of waterfalls at Yosemite, and explored much of California’s Sierra Nevada. I have witnessed on foot the majesty that is Glacier National Park. I enjoyed a number of waterfalls while hiking the Columbia River Gorge and descended to the water’s edge at Crater Lake. I’ve hiked the Grand Canyon, wandered up and down the red rocks of Sedona, and traversed a great many tree roots and boulders on the way to the top of Mt. Humphrey’s, the highest peak in Arizona. Hiking the great outdoors has been good for me physically, but I feel it has served me even better psychologically and spiritually.

Sedona’s Secret Mountain Wilderness

Nature has an incredible capacity to heal and rejuvenate us. Hiking among mountains, trees, lakes, oceans, and wildlife, I know I am at one with this awesome creation; I belong. The healing love that emanates from Nature is like no other: She is, after all, our collective Mother.

Sweeping View from the top of Mt. Humphrey’s

Rocks and waters, . . . are words of God, and so are men. We all flow from one fountain Soul. All are expressions of one Love. ~John Muir

Blessings for Oneness,

Lisa

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Red Rocks on the Water

The lovely little desert town of Sedona, Arizona, has more than 400 miles of trails for hiking and biking, and is surrounded by 1.8 million acres of forest land, according to visitsedona.com. Not bad for a destination known for its spas and luxury resorts! The rich colors of Sedona’s earth and trees are a delight for the senses. And as much as I love the trails and forestland in the area, my favorite part of Sedona is where the red rocks meet the waters of Oak Creek.


My first experience of Oak Creek was many years ago with a fellow hosteler from Switzerland and a guide. We were thrilled with the areas the guide shared with us, which were not open to the general public. We visited a sacred hollowed-out rock high on a ledge surrounded by breathtaking views. We hiked for miles in areas where we saw nothing but awe-inspiring vistas of trees and shrubs dotting red and orange rock formations. Finally, we found ourselves at a creek with towering colored cliffs on one side and old growth trees on the other. I will never forget how peaceful it was. And gorgeous!


Slide Rock State Park, on Oak Creek just north of Sedona, is a popular destination in the warmer months. The park is on a 43-acre historic apple orchard, and its 80 feet of narrow waters are open for swimming, sliding, and wading. There are also a few short hiking trails for those who’d like the opportunity to warm up after spending time in the extremely cold water!

One of the most photographed images in the Southwest, according to The USDA Forest Service, is the reflection of Cathedral Rock in Oak Creek at Red Rock Crossing, which can be seen inside Crescent Moon Recreation Area. This park offers a picnic area with views unlike any other. There are hiking trails, and fishing and swimming are allowed. We soaked up the beauty while strolling along the water’s edge and soaking our feet in the creek afterwards.

Many of the hiking trails in Sedona run alongside or on occasion cross Oak Creek, but there is one trail that zigzags it: West Fork. My favorite time to hike this trail is either spring or fall: during springtime, the area is strewn with flowers and blooming trees, and in autumn, leaves are at their most brilliant reds and golds. Crossing the creek can be tricky in places when recent rain and snowfall has been plentiful. Most crossings involve navigating rocks or a fallen tree.

Even if you choose not to hire a guide or pay to enter a park, there are other ways to enjoy Sedona’s Oak Creek. Check out a trail that takes you to the water, and pack some food in a backpack for a hike & picnic. Bring the little ones in their bathing suits with small water toys. Or simply find a place near the creek where you can hear the water rushing and take some time to meditate. However you choose to enjoy it, it’s an experience you won’t soon forget.

Many folks visit Sedona for luxurious accommodations offered among the extraordinary beauty of the red rocks, but the area offers so much more. Whether you are looking to hike, wade, swim, fish, photograph, or simply soak up some natural beauty, Oak Creek takes the beauty of Sedona to the next level.

Blessings for Beauty,

Lisa

Featured

For the Love of Skyscapes

Contemplate the entire Universe
As a magic show
On the grandest scale imaginable.
Fabulous art, an immense painting in motion.
God is a magician whirling galaxies of fire,
Juggling atoms, planets, and us.
Everything, everything is fleeting.
~Lorin Roche, PhD, The Radiance Sutras

Years ago, when I first began my travels West, I discovered the astounding beauty of skies. I was immediately captivated by the idea that beauty is love made visible, a statement I came across in a book I was reading at the time. I’m sure you’ve heard of the vastness of Western skies. Being able to see for what seems like forever is amazing. But the colors and cloud formations are unlike anything I had witnessed. I could remember so few sky images from the past. Was I too preoccupied in my former life to notice? Or was there too much light pollution in the East to appreciate the ethers? I can’t say for sure, but now I find that I photograph skyscapes as often as anything else.


It was in the tiny village of Arroyo Seco, New Mexico that I first saw a double rainbow. What a heart-opening experience! According to reference.com, a double rainbow is actually an optical illusion caused by sunlight entering a drop of rain, creating two internal reflections. It is also considered a symbol of transformation and good fortune. It certainly made me feel fortunate!

When I return to the East Coast and share the myriad of pictures taken on my journeys, I’m often asked, is the sky really that blue out there? And my answer is yes, when it’s not pink, orange, silver, black, or yellow! We do have the boldest blue sky I’ve ever seen (not just in the Southwest but in California & the Northwest, as well.) I’ve read opposing viewpoints on why the sky is so blue. Initially, I understood that dust was responsible for making it seem so vivid, and you know the desert has a lot of dust. But recently, I’ve seen that very clean air is required to get the boldest blue. Regardless of the reason, I’m grateful to be able to witness it (almost) every day.


As for the other colors often present in Western skies, a Science Daily article indicates they are due to the scattering of various molecules, light wavelengths, and our ability to perceive. Apparently, our eyes are more sensitive to some colors, and we are able to detect only a limited number of the hues present. But, what an amazing palette we have the opportunity to see! Sunrises of baby blues and bold pinks, monsoon and snowstorm sunsets with an extraordinary range of colors, and pastel pink snow skies heralding more of the gorgeous white stuff is on the way.


When it’s cold and raining,
You are more beautiful.
And the snow brings me
Even closer to your lips.
The inner secret, that which was never born,
You are that freshness, and I am with you now.
I can’t explain the goings, or the comings.
You enter suddenly, and I am nowhere again. Inside the majesty.
~Rumi

Night skies are fascinating in their own right. There are so many stars! And, the moon is sometimes so brilliant that I’m compelled to get up at night and look out the window. Its shine can be like a partially-dimmed sun.


Beauty must be love made visible. Looking upon the many spectacular skies with which we are gifted, my heart overflows and I am enveloped by a sense of wonder. I am grateful for my travels and my new home in the American West, where beauty emanates from every direction.


Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, ‘You owe me.’ Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky. ~Hafez

Blessings for Beautiful Skyscapes,

Lisa

Featured

Nature Interrupted

Love the world as your own self; then you can truly care for all things. ~Lao Tzu

If you are a regular Micro of the Macro reader, you have seen my posts on how the design of Nature is being interrupted on an ongoing basis. Harmful chemicals are used on crops, in cleaning products, and in personal products. Plastics are used indiscriminately. Landfills are expanding. Oceans are affected by industrial run-off and carbon dioxide emissions. Trees continue to be wiped out to make room for commercial livestock. The water we drink now is largely devoid of minerals. These many macro-level tragedies combine to create a frightening reality for all of us sharing the planet. Drilling down to the micro level, I would like to share how the interruption of Nature’s design can affect us on a more personal level.

In a recent study from Lancaster University, extreme rainfall and flooding caused by climate change was shown to cause lower birth weights in newborns. Starting life in this manner can have life-long consequences for health and development, the study reports, including lower educational attainment, poorer health, reduced income in adulthood, and mortality risks. And of course, these undesirable consequences affect future generations.

Speaking of the little ones, an article in Psychology Today says that when children forgo playtime outdoors, choosing instead to play on devices, their tendencies toward mood disturbances increase significantly. Studies show that screen time can result in sleep disturbances, depression, stress, aggressive behaviors, poor focus, and lack of motivation. The article goes on to say, Many children are “hooked” on electronics, and in fact gaming releases so much dopamine—the “feel-good” chemical—that on a brain scan it looks the same as cocaine use. This habituated response desensitizes the brain’s reward pathways, resulting in the need for ever-heightened stimulation. What’s more, increased screen time contributes to obesity and diabetes.

Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair. ~Khalil Gibran

The chronic disruption of circadian rhythms, which regulate much of our biological functioning, has been shown to be instrumental in tumor growth, according to a study published in the journal PLOS Biology. Circadian rhythm alteration resulting from jet travel, shift work, or sleep disturbances, is a known risk factor for several types of cancer, the study shows. (On a side note, I have read from other sources that 5G technology has potential to substantially interfere with our circadian rhythms, as well as those of other animals.)

And finally, I want to address stress. Through decades of studying human health, I have come to believe that stress is a common denominator among those things that have harmful effects on us. Poor eating habits, sleep deprivation, lack of exercise, climate change, working too many hours, worrying about money, commuting in traffic, too little time in Nature, physical and mental illness, relationship issues, working at a job (or for a boss) you don’t like, and the list goes on: all very common situations in our lives that result in stress. We didn’t evolve as a species to spend so much time feeling stress, which often activates our body’s fight or flight survival response. According to an article from Harvard Health, Research suggests that chronic stress contributes to high blood pressure, promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits, and causes brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction. These unfortunate effects can result in even more stress. It’s a vicious cycle.

Nature is loved by what is best in us. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

When Nature’s design is interrupted, we all suffer in a number of ways. Each one of us is a microcosm of the macrocosm of Nature, after all. We owe it to ourselves, our families, and our communities to be proactive in making changes, big and small, to combat these calamities that rob us of beauty, peace of mind, health, and longevity. By working toward preserving and restoring Nature’s design on all levels, we could find ourselves thriving in an optimal, life-enhancing world.

I believe in God, only I spell it Nature. ~Frank Lloyd Wright

Blessings for Nature’s Design,

Lisa

Featured

Super-Simple Bok Choy Soup

This was the first recipe I shared on Micro of the Macro. It’s quick, easy, healthy, and delicious; what could be better?

According to the Universal Guideline for Human and Planetary Health, (WFPB.ORG), Human and environmental health are dependent on one another. What we consume greatly influences our personal health, the economic health of our countries, and the health of the planet we all share.

In the age of Coronavirus, this idea is more urgent than ever. Boosting immune function by eating more whole plant foods (for example, eating a sweet potato rather than sweet potato chips) and by consistently hydrating, which I believe is just as important as washing your hands, makes you proactive. And being proactive is a much better approach than stressing about when you might get the vaccine. Would you agree?

One cup of bok choy has about 75% of the US RDA of Vitamin C, which has been shown to help people who have contracted the virus. And vegetable soups, with a high water & mineral content, are very hydrating, which can mean the difference between falling ill or staying healthy.

Bok Choy Soup is one of my easiest go-to recipes. It doesn’t require much time in the kitchen, and it’s amazingly delicious. I have shared it with friends, some of whom weren’t previously familiar with the vegetable, and they, too, love it. With the addition of a few chopped Yukon gold or baby red potatoes, it can be made heartier for chilly nights.

A big thanks to www.Vegannie.com for the inspiration.

Let me know what you think if you give it a try!

Yield: 5-6 servings

Ingredients

1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 bunch celery, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
Himalayan salt to taste
15 oz cannellini beans, drained
*3 bouillon cubes
*6 cups water
1 large bunch of bok choy, chopped into 1” pieces (or 4-6 baby bok choys)

(*or sub 6 cups of your favorite broth)

Directions

Sauté the onions and celery in the olive oil over medium-low heat for 8-10 minutes, until the onions are becoming translucent. Add the garlic and sauté, stirring, for another minute. Add crushed red pepper and sprinkle with salt. Add beans and stir for another minute or two. Break up the bouillon cubes over the beans and add the water. Increase the heat to high. Once it is almost boiling, stir until the bouillon cubes dissolve completely. Add the bok choy and reduce to a simmer for 8-10 minutes, or longer if you prefer the greens softer. Add salt to taste. Enjoy with a chunk of nice crusty bread.

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For the Love of Trees

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

This post was first shared close to a year ago. Although it’s a personal favorite, it didn’t get a whole lot of love because, at that time, few folks knew this blog existed. I am reposting it for all my current readers, in an effort to instill the vital importance of trees for each of us.

I grew up on a small farm in the Deep South, surrounded by trees and animals. My family had a couple cows, a few pigs, and lots of chickens. My grandmother, or Mawmaw, as we called her, maintained a huge vegetable garden on one side of her house, and a slightly smaller flower garden on the other side. Her property had several pecan trees, a walnut tree, a fig tree, and apple trees. Each time a grandchild was born into the family, she planted a new tree in her front yard. My birth tree was a magnolia, and even now, the scent of a magnolia blossom makes me swoon.

In those early years, I spent a lot of time climbing trees. It was great fun and I loved the views from above. Recently, I’ve learned to appreciate trees for other reasons. When I checked out of real life and took up traveling for a few years, (see Escaping Normal for more on that!) I discovered that trees were healing. Hiking in a forest or canyon or up a mountain surrounded by redwoods, ponderosa pines, aspens, or birch trees made me feel nurtured. And that’s as true now as before.

Petrified wood in southern Utah

Trees have not been the subject of a great number of scientific studies, although the studies that have been done reveal that their functions are vital for life on the planet. Most of us know that trees produce oxygen, take in harmful carbon dioxide, and provide shelter and food for animals. But after reading Jim Robbins’ The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet, I’ve learned that trees are more important than I ever imagined. The author, who has written on environmental issues for The New York Times for more than 35 years, asserts that planting trees could in fact be our most important ecotechnology for saving this troubled planet.

According to Robbins, trees absorb not only carbon dioxide, but also various other pollutants that might otherwise end up in our lungs. Their root system can render toxic waste harmless. They can control the distribution of flooding rain and filter searing heat. They generate over 100 chemicals, many in aerosol form, that benefit not only their own species, but sometimes other plants, as well as some animals, including humans.

During my travels, I have witnessed some really unique trees with interesting stories. From the Joshua Tree in the Mojave Desert, to the Great Basin’s ancient Bristlecone Pines, to the Giant Sequoias in California’s Sierra Nevada, the encounters were fascinating and unforgettable.

Joshua Trees inside California’s Joshua Tree National Park

The Joshua Tree is said to have been named by Mormons in the mid-19th century who were trekking through the Mojave Desert in search of a place to settle. The shaggy bark and open branches of the trees seemed to point them toward Utah, reminding them of Joshua from the Bible, who, with outstretched hands, guided the Israelites to Canaan. I couldn’t help but laugh when I first saw these unusual trees; they look like Dr. Seuss creations!

Bristlecone Pine inside Great Basin National Park

In Nevada’s Great Basin National Park, I came upon Bristlecone Pines, which are between 3000 – 5000 years old, making them some of the oldest living trees in the world. Their ability to withstand extremely inhospitable conditions accounts for their longevity. These ancient sentinels produce healthy pine needle clusters within a form that is partially dead. Instead of rotting, their decay-resistant trunks are polished by wind and rain. Even after dying completely, the Bristlecone Pine can remain standing for thousands of years.

Giant Sequoia dwarfing its neighbors inside Sequoia National Park

Giant Sequoias, according to Treehugger.com, can live up to 3000 years, and have branches that are bigger around than the height of 2 humans. Vertically, they can grow up to 300 feet, as high as a 26-30 story building. They can weigh over 2.5 million pounds, and may have a ground circumference of 100 feet. If you have never witnessed these gentle giants first-hand, I strongly encourage it. You’ll gain a new respect for biology! Sequoia National Park in California has some of the largest ones on record.

I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority. ~E. B. White

Trees work quietly for the betterment of life. Unfortunately, they are disappearing at an alarming rate. In his book, Robbins estimates that 80% of the world’s old-growth forests have been destroyed, and the destruction process continues. Trees and forests, he writes, “are ecosystem engineers that create the conditions for other forms of life to exist on every level.” Their disappearance, often the result of “progress,” may be facilitating the extinction of the human race.

You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. . . . People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. ~Greta Thunberg

Demonstrating love for trees is a great place to start in resolving our ever-worsening environmental problems. If you have kids, talk to them about the importance of trees. Ask them to help you plant and care for some fruit trees or an oak or maple. (BTW, trees increase property value.) Teach your kids to climb trees, or climb with them. Take them to the forest to hike or bike. Visit an apple orchard. Check out state and national parks renowned for their grand species of trees. If you must have a live Christmas tree each year, decorate one in your yard instead of cutting one down. Showing love and respect for trees helps all life forms, and might just prolong our existence on this planet.

In the time when the world is sick and dying, a tribe of people will come together of many races. They will be a people who put their faith in deeds, not words, and the world shall become green again. ~Cree Prophecy

Blessings for the Love of Trees,

Lisa

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Outstanding Blogger Award

I was recently nominated by Angela from SUITCASE Travel Blog for the Outstanding Blogger Award.  Heartfelt thanks, Angela!  Like me, Angela is passionate about travel, exploration, meeting new people & learning new customs.  I do hope you’ll show her some love by visiting her beautiful site!

Rules

  1. Provide a link to the original creator’s award post, as well as one to the blogger who nominated you.
  2. Answer the questions provided.
  3. Compose 7 questions of your own.
  4. Nominate & notify up to 10 bloggers.
  5. Continue your awesome support of our blogging community!

Angela’s Questions

1. How did you choose the name for your blog? What’s the story behind it?  The name of my blog comes from a precept of Ayurveda, an ancient healing system based on balancing all aspects of self (the micro) and environment (the macro) to create optimal health and well-being.

2. How do you motivate yourself to keep blogging?  I am motivated by learning new information that helps me be the best version of myself, as well as the desire to share it in hopes of inspiring others.

3. If you would create another blog what would it be?  My current blog is broad enough to cover all the topics I want to write about, from health to vegan recipes to travel, so I wouldn’t consider a second blog.

4. What hobby do you have beside the blogging?  I enjoy cooking, reading, travel & the planning that goes with it, spending time in Nature, photography, and learning.

5. What are your essential travel apps or gadgets?  I am pretty old-school when it comes to travel.  I will research my destination online, and sometimes use a navigational device if I’m driving, but nothing fancy.  I still enjoy travel guide books. And one of my most exciting recent purchases was a road atlas!

6. Once you can plan your next vacation, where will you go?  I have begun planning a camping trip for early summer.  We will sleep in a tent, hike, and photograph the 3 parks in California’s Sierra Nevada.  I can hardly wait!

7. What superpower would you like to have?  I would like to be able to reverse the environmental damage done to our beautiful planet.  For example, when (even more) forest land is burned or clear-cut for the purpose of raising cattle for commercial consumption, I’d like to have an immediate awareness of it, appear on the scene, and cause all of the trees, shrubs, and wildlife to be instantly restored.

My little sister

My Questions

  1. When did you last spend time in Nature?
  2. Why did you become a blogger?
  3. Do you have a pet?  If so, what was the last funny thing he/she did?
  4. What music are you listening to right now?
  5. What book(s) are you currently reading?
  6. What was the last meal you prepared at home?
  7. What travel destination does the pandemic have you longing for?

My Nominees

The folks I have nominated are talented writers, storytellers, poets, and photographers, and their hearts always shine through their posts. They are also kind and encouraging to other bloggers. If you don’t know them already, you should; they are outstanding bloggers in every sense.

  1. Cindy at Unique Times 
  2. Janet at This, That, & the Other Thing
  3. Joanna at Naturetails 
  4. Ashley at A Different View
  5. Henrietta at Hensblooms 
  6. Kate at Aroused
  7. Philo at Philosophy Through Photography
  8. Frank at Beach Walk Reflections
  9. Dwight at Roth Poetry
  10. Donald at Donald Reese Photography

Thanks again, Angela; I am honored by your nomination!

Community Blessings,

Lisa

Featured

7 Lifestyle Touchstones from the Healthiest Person I Know

Over the years, I have learned that regularly investing in the health of my mind, body, and spirit is vital.  I don’t want to live forever, but I do want to feel good, enjoy life, and thrive as long as I’m on the planet.  When I go to my annual doctor’s visit for a check-up and blood draw, I remind her with a smile that I am the healthiest person I know!  I am blessed and grateful to be illness-free & require no meds; I’m strong and flexible & feel good the majority of the time; and my lab results are always stellar.  There are certain lifestyle elements that are essential to maintaining optimal health, and below, I share the ones that work for me.  (These tips have been garnered through the years from my degree work, independent research, and experimentation.)

  • Hydration is one of the most vital processes in my body, and I have control over it.  When I haven’t adequately hydrated, I become forgetful, I have no energy, I get headaches, and my body temperature goes unregulated.  (I can suddenly get way too hot or cold, and stay that way despite my efforts.)  After having worked in a lab, I’ve seen first-hand the way blood cells clump together when they aren’t dispersed with enough water.  Anthony William, author of Liver Rescue, among many other books, says that this thickening of the blood caused by dehydration results in the heart and liver being forced to work harder.  I believe it must force all our organs to struggle.  The human body simply cannot function properly without good hydration. (For more on the importance of hydration, check out my article Hydration – No, Really.)
Inner Basin view of the San Francisco Peaks
  • Spending time outside is one of the most important things I can do for my mental well-being.  When I’ve been inside for too long, I can get lethargic and grumpy.  Studies show that being outside has loads of beneficial effects.  For me, going outside can be like flipping a switch: I instantly feel happier, more grateful, and energetic.

  • Working with the microbiome in my gut is one of the best ways to ensure my continued good health.  According to Dr. Zach Bush, a triple board certified physician, each of our bodies is an ecosystem through and through colonized by bacteria.  The majority of that bacteria resides in our guts, and we have a symbiotic relationship with it.  By eating fibrous, non-GMO whole plant foods, avoiding antibiotics whenever possible, consuming fermented food and drinks, and breathing in diverse ecosystems like lakes, waterfalls, mountains, oceans, & deserts, I keep my microbiome healthy and happy, which in turn keeps me healthy & happy.
Eat this, not that processed stuff!
  • Regular exercise, including stretching, strengthening, and cardio, is essential not only for my physical health but also for feeling good about myself.  If I go 2 days in a row without it, I feel like a worthless lump!  Climbing, hiking, biking and yoga classes are my favorite forms of exercise, but we have a workout room at home for the days we can’t do our preferred activities.  Dr. David Perlmutter, author of Brain Maker, asserts that exercise can be just as effective as anti-depressants.  I can attest to that!  (Of course, you shouldn’t go off anti-depressants without working with your doc.)
Hiking in the snow again!
  • Focusing on the positives in my life helps me stay positive.  When less-than-pleasant ideas start to dominate my mindset (like when I get bad news), I step back, refocus, and recall my blessings & belief that everything happens for a reason.  According to Dr. Joe Dispenza, New York Times best-selling author, the term emotion can be thought of as energy in motion, and it goes wherever you place your attention.  Rather than worrying and dwelling on negatives, I find I am much more productive and cheerful when I am in a state of gratitude, expressing love for my life and the beautiful world around me.
  • Being generous opens my heart unlike anything else.  This doesn’t mean I go around handing out cash; my generosity involves expressing compliments, sending a card to a far-away friend, sharing home-cooked food, focusing my full attention on one with whom I’m speaking, and giving small gifts.  Research shared by UC Berkley’s Greater Good Magazine shows that giving releases feel-good endorphins, activates a part of the brain associated with pleasure, results in a helper’s high, and provides a myriad of long-term health benefits.  
  • Continuing to travel and learn about health, spirituality, cuisine, the planet, and other animals feeds my soul.  It also keeps my brain functioning optimally by forming new synapses.  You know the old saying use it or lose it?  That applies here.
Lake Powell, Arizona

An important caveat: as soon as I realize I’m feeling off, I assess.  What have I eaten?  Have I taken in ample water & electrolytes?  When did I last exercise?  Where have my thoughts been focused?  I want to feel good in mind, body, and spirit all of the time.  Figuring out the reason I’m not up to par is critical to getting back on track as soon as possible.

To me, feeling good on every level means thriving in a world teeming with love & beauty as opposed to enduring a joyless existence.  Staying conscious of the touchstones that support my health are of utmost importance.  My hope is that you may benefit from my experience. Regardless of your age, investing in your health and well-being is always one of your very best endeavors.

Blessings for Health,

Lisa

Featured

Winter in the High Desert


The first time I witnessed a big snowfall, it was in Northern Arizona. I was walking back to my hostel from a yoga class when the flakes first started. After having lived full-time in the Southern US, where snow seldom makes an appearance, I was super-excited to see it. Two days later, there was an accumulation of three feet, and I was over the moon. My car was buried, and I was lacking a proper coat and snow boots. But what a delight!


Later, after spending time in the Northeastern US, I learned that the snow in the Southwest was different; in addition to making everything beautiful, it was light, easy to shovel, and didn’t stick around for long. After a bit more exploration, I knew that I wanted to spend many more winters in that high desert environment.


The topography of the state of Arizona is an anomaly, and the weather reflects that. Cities sit at elevations separated by thousands of feet, mountains rise up sharply from arid desert floors, and forest covers about 25% of the state. Much of the state’s deserts are hot and dry. But on average, Flagstaff, in northern AZ, receives about 100 inches of snow each winter, making it one of the snowiest places in the country.

One of my favorite snow scenes is what I call a “spray-painted tree.” It is one with many small branches and without leaves on which the snow has fallen gently for hours, causing each of the little branches to be thoroughly coated. I also love the way the snow appears on the boulders, large and small, near the San Francisco Peaks, which are the majestic result of volcanic activity eons ago. And, of course, snow on the red rocks of Sedona is unforgettable.

From the inside looking out at the San Francisco Peaks

The reason the snow doesn’t usually linger here is due to the frequency and strength of the sun. Northern Arizona gets upwards of 300 days of sunshine annually, and the elevation increases its strength. For example, Sedona, sitting at about 4000 feet in elevation, is just under a mile higher than areas at sea level. Flagstaff, perched at 7000 feet, is closer to a mile and a half above sea level! You can imagine how the sun might feel stronger and melt snow quickly in these areas. (Of course, this doesn’t apply to the highest elevations where temps stay lower – like the ski area!) Owing to our strong sun, many cold days, even with temps in the 20’s, can be tolerable for hiking and other outdoor activities.

Layer up for a hike?

But there is more to the area’s extraordinary winter than snow. Some evergreens here exude an intoxicating fragrance in the colder months. Sometimes you have to cozy up to the trees to smell them, but other times you walk by and they just seem to be broadcasting their lovely scent. You know when you’re walking down the street and you smell some really good food and turn to see where it might be coming from? Same idea!

And the skies, oh the skies! To look up in the frigid night and see a gazillion stars in the big Western sky is absolutely glorious! In the early morning, the sun creeps over the horizon, heralded by tender shades of pink and baby blue. In the evening, when a snowstorm is blowing in or out, sunset skies can display brilliant hues of yellow, orange, red, pink, silver, black, gray, and violet. Photographs don’t do it justice, you really must see it first-hand.


In some years, the cold weather is prolonged here (we can get snow in June!), and we just need a break. When that happens, we hop in the car and within 2 – 3 hours, we find ourselves in a lower elevation with a higher temperature. Phoenix, for example, typically has winter temperatures between 20 and 30 degrees warmer than points north. A fabulous respite!

I do hope you are enjoying the season as much as I am! The snow, sun, skies, elevation, and evergreens make the high desert a true paradise in winter months. Especially now that I have a winter coat and boots!

For more photos and info on Arizona, check out my article Arizona: A Love Letter.

Winter Blessings,

Lisa

Featured

Asian Veggie Noodle Soup

As funny as it may sound, this recipe will forever take me back to memories of Northern New Mexico. It was in a small hostel there that I first had a soup similar to this prepared by another hostel guest, a young Japanese girl who was selling it for $2 a bowl. It was so fresh and delicious that, once I returned home, I immediately searched for a similar recipe on the internet. The closest one I could find was a Soba Noodle Soup by Rachael Ray, which I modified for the recipe below.

Not only is this soup crunchy with raw, colorful veggies & peanuts, but it’s also earthy from the reconstituted mushrooms, filling from the tofu and noodles, and have I mentioned incredibly delicious? It is versatile as well. If you don’t like one or more of the veggies in it, replace them with something you do like. If you’d rather not eat it with noodles, toss in some cooked brown rice. If you enjoy a “brothier” soup, use fewer veggies, noodles & tofu cubes.


Is this versatile, delicious soup good for you? Indeed it is. Gabriel Cousens, MD, author of Conscious Eating, says that raw vegetables have more enzymes, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, structured water, and other merits as compared with cooked veggies. Shiitakes have properties that enhance immune function and reduce inflammation, thereby helping prevent cancer, according to The World’s Healthiest Foods. And the American Heart Association urges us to replace some of the animal foods we eat with soy foods to cut our risk of cardiac disease.

I hope you’ll enjoy this healthy soup as much as I do! Please let me know in the comments below if you give it a go! And if you like this recipe, please check out my other recipes under the Categories link of this site.


Yield: 6 servings
Ingredients (use all organic and/or non-GMO ingredients if possible)
1 oz. dried shiitake mushrooms
1 cup of boiling water (for reconstituting mushrooms)
*5 cups water
*2 low-salt bouillon cubes
1 inch ginger, minced
2 tbsp tamari
1/2 lb extra-firm tofu, drained & cubed
8 oz buckwheat soba or rice noodles
1/3 lb sugar snap peas or snow peas, cut into thirds
1 cup julienned carrots
1/2 cup thinly sliced red cabbage
1/2 cup thinly sliced green cabbage
1/2 – 1 bunch scallions, sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Roasted, unsalted peanuts

Directions
Reconstitute shiitakes by placing them into boiling water removed from heat. Cover and let sit for 12 minutes. Remove the mushrooms (saving the water), rinse & dice. Pour the shiitake water through a strainer lined with cheese cloth into a soup pot. Add the shiitakes, 5 cups of water, broken bouillon cubes, ginger, tamari, and tofu. Bring to a boil & reduce to simmer for 5 minutes. Add the soba or rice noodles & continue to simmer long enough for them to soften, between 5 and 12 minutes. (Soba takes about 1/2 the time of rice noodles; be careful not to overcook it!) Taste for tamari, adding more to taste.

Place raw peas, carrots, cabbages, & scallions in a bowl. Ladle noodle, tofu, mushroom, and broth mixture onto the veggies. Top with cilantro and peanuts. Enjoy!

Store all the raw veggies in one bowl (except cilantro, which can go solo in a smaller bowl) and the broth mixture in another. Will keep a few days in the fridge.

*You may sub 5 cups of broth for the 5 cups of water & 2 bouillon cubes.

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Travel Challenge – Day 10

A big thank you to my friend Jyothi at Travel Explore Enjoy for nominating me for the 10 Day Travel Challenge!

The rules of the challenge are very simple. Post a favorite photo from your travels without explanation for each of 10 days, and nominate & notify 10 other bloggers to participate.  Be sure to link back to the person who nominated you!

Today, I nominate Andy at Andy’s World Journeys.

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Travel Challenge – Day 9

A big thank you to my friend Jyothi at Travel Explore Enjoy for nominating me for the 10 Day Travel Challenge!

The rules of the challenge are very simple. Post a favorite photo from your travels without explanation for each of 10 days, and nominate & notify 10 other bloggers to participate.  Be sure to link back to the person who nominated you!

Today, I nominate Alison at Travels with Ali.

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Travel Challenge – Day 8

A big thank you to my friend Jyothi at Travel Explore Enjoy for nominating me for the 10 Day Travel Challenge!

The rules of the challenge are very simple. Post a favorite photo from your travels without explanation for each of 10 days, and nominate & notify 10 other bloggers to participate.  Be sure to link back to the person who nominated you!

Today, I nominate Ingrid at Live, Laugh, RV.

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Travel Challenge – Day 7

A big thank you to my friend Jyothi at Travel Explore Enjoy for nominating me for the 10 Day Travel Challenge!

The rules of the challenge are very simple. Post a favorite photo from your travels without explanation for each of 10 days, and nominate & notify 10 other bloggers to participate.  Be sure to link back to the person who nominated you!

Today, I nominate Eeva at Wanders the World.

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Travel Challenge – Day 6

A big thank you to my friend Jyothi at Travel Explore Enjoy for nominating me for the 10 Day Travel Challenge!

The rules of the challenge are very simple. Post a favorite photo from your travels without explanation for each of 10 days, and nominate & notify 10 other bloggers to participate.  Be sure to link back to the person who nominated you!

Today, I nominate Dan at Danventure Travels.

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Travel Challenge – Day 5

A big thank you to my friend Jyothi at Travel Explore Enjoy for nominating me for the 10 Day Travel Challenge!

The rules of the challenge are very simple. Post a favorite photo from your travels without explanation for each of 10 days, and nominate & notify 10 other bloggers to participate.  Be sure to link back to the person who nominated you!

Today, I nominate Jane at Jane Lurie Photography.

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Travel Challenge – Day 4

A big thank you to my friend Jyothi at Travel Explore Enjoy for nominating me for the 10 Day Travel Challenge!

The rules of the challenge are very simple. Post a favorite photo from your travels without explanation for each of 10 days, and nominate & notify 10 other bloggers to participate.  Be sure to link back to the person who nominated you!

Today, I nominate Tina at Travels and Trifles.

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Travel Challenge – Day 3

A big thank you to my friend Jyothi at Travel Explore Enjoy for nominating me for the 10 Day Travel Challenge!

The rules of the challenge are very simple. Post a favorite photo from your travels without explanation for each of 10 days, and nominate & notify 10 other bloggers to participate.  Be sure to link back to the person who nominated you!

Today, I nominate Pam at I Choose This.

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Travel Challenge – Day 2

A big thank you to my friend Jyothi at Travel Explore Enjoy for nominating me for the 10 Day Travel Challenge!

The rules of the challenge are very simple. Post a favorite photo from your travels without explanation for each of 10 days, and nominate & notify 10 other bloggers to participate.  Be sure to link back to the person who nominated you!

Today, I nominate D.S. Chauhan at Travel and Share.

Featured

Travel Challenge – Day 1

A big thank you to my friend Jyothi at Travel Explore Enjoy for nominating me for the 10 Day Travel Challenge!

The rules of the challenge are very simple. Post a favorite photo from your travels without explanation for each of 10 days, and nominate & notify 10 other bloggers to participate.  Be sure to link back to the person who nominated you!

Today, I nominate Kelly at Compass and Camera.

Featured

Does “In All Things Give Thanks” Apply to These Times?

Trail following the Snake River, Wyoming

This was my fifth ever blog post, written in April of this year. For Christmas, I have dusted it off and polished it up for reposting. Have a wonderful holiday.

It’s amazing how drastically things can change in a short period of time. When this year began, we lived a “normal” existence, but, as you know, since the inception of covid, life has been anything but normal. With the many reports we hear of death, disease, job loss, and an expectation of this trajectory to continue, the idea of gratitude might not be hitting a lot of folks’ radar. In the frighteningly grim existence that we now find ourselves, should we be giving thanks, as the Bible verse suggests?

Before the world changed, I went for a hike on a beautiful trail in northern Arizona. The sun was warm, the trees majestic, and the giant boulders seemed contemplative. The longer I hiked, the more profound my thoughts became, until finally, I arrived at a deep sense of gratitude. I found myself expressing love and appreciation for every tree and boulder I touched. This went on for a while until my heart seemed to overflow, and an intense feeling of tenderness engulfed me. Have you ever been overwhelmed with joy by a simple experience?

“. . . One who forgets the language of gratitude can never be on speaking terms with happiness.” ~John Robbins

According to a very long list of studies done on gratitude compiled by UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine, the expression of gratitude has many benefits. These studies show that an individual expressing gratitude can benefit from lower blood pressure, better cholesterol levels, feeling more socially connected, experiencing less anger & anxiety, and better sleep. Bonus: some studies show that more gratitude also results in less materialism. Have you experienced benefits from expressing gratitude?

Hiking high in the mountains of northern Arizona

In the documentary What the Bleep Do We Know?, you may recall the water experiments done by Dr. Emoto and his team. Water from a single source was encapsulated in different vessels & “given” messages. The water that received messages of hate & other negativity resulted in crystals that were ugly, but those exposed to messages of love and gratitude were absolutely beautiful. That result causes me to consider how water in our cells must respond to expressions of appreciation from both ourselves and others.

Hike around Park Lake near Helena, Montana

Everything in life is vibration.” ~Albert Einstein

You may have heard the idea that whatever you focus on increases. According to cell biologist Bruce Lipton, PhD, author of Biology of Belief, “Quantum physics acknowledges that the observer is a participant in the creation of (her/his) world.” Worrying or focusing on negativity reduces our personal vibration, which then infuses our creations with low vibes, resulting in unhappiness and unhealthy experiences. Researchers at the HeartMath Institute have proven that the regular practice of expressing sincere gratitude raises our personal vibration. Which then is followed by the desired outcome of higher vibrational creations and experiences.

Northern Colorado trail

Although it can be tough to switch into gratitude mode right now, maybe the verse “In all things give thanks” was given not as a religious edict, but as a practical way to bring light and hope into dark and difficult times. Express gratitude for the personal benefits. For your family. For your community. For the good vibes you can bring into our suffering reality. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

One of many “Urban Trails” in Flagstaff, Arizona

Blessings for Gratitude,

Lisa

Featured

Gifts of Nature

Seaside Christmas decorations

Happy holidays!  I hope the season is one in which you find great delight, even with our current covid limitations.  It can be an exhilarating time of year, with colorful decorations, extra-special meals and treats, and fun gatherings with loved ones.  And gifts, of course!  

Gift-giving has been a popular custom for hundreds of years.  Initially, small gifts to help the poor were given at this time of year across many religious traditions.  Unfortunately, this compassionate practice that epitomized holiday spirit has been all but lost; somehow, receiving gifts has become more important than giving.  It is my prayer that this perception is changing as a result of the plight of those who have lost their jobs or homes due to covid.  (Approximately 4 million Americans have been out of work for at least 6 months.)  The winter holidays are a perfect opportunity to share the love in our hearts with everyone we know.  By tapping into Nature’s abundance, we can give extraordinary, heartfelt gifts to those in need as well as friends and family without breaking the bank.

Scenic drive near San Diego

Experiences, in my opinion, are so much better than things in most cases.  Give the gift of fun!  Take a long, scenic drive together, an epic hike, a trip to the local arboretum or state park, take a picnic lunch and go fishing at a nearby lake, visit a butterfly garden, or create an itinerary for a post-covid trip!  Camera and binoculars in hand, this might just be the holiday gift that never stops giving.

Let’s fish here!

Home-cooked meals and baked goods make lovely gifts.  Although I was expecting the opposite due to the pandemic, fewer and fewer folks seem to be preparing their own meals.  Home-cooked dishes are superior in quality and taste to frozen, pre-made, and oftentimes, restaurant food.  One of the delights of the holiday season (in normal times) is going home for a meal made by Mom or Grandma, right?  I’ll bet you know someone who seldom – or never – eats a home-cooked meal.  What could be a better gift for them than a prepared-from-scratch soup with some freshly baked bread?  

Bok Choy soup

Another beautiful food gift is a home-assembled fruit basket.  Dress up a reusable basket with ribbon, glitter, paint, or whatever you have, and fill with your choice of oranges, pears, apples, wine or mineral water, small bags of nuts, cookies, or good-quality chocolate.  Wrap it all up in cellophane (or don’t!) and remember to include a card!

Nature photo gifts are a winner, as well.  Create a calendar, make some greeting cards, or put together a small photo album or scrapbook of a natural area your loved one wants to visit.  Collect actual photos and cut-outs from online sources and magazines, including the articles, and add quotes and colored stencils to jazz it up!  A great way of communicating heart-to-heart without speaking a word.

Finally, the best-smelling gift: a chai simmer pot kit!  Gather the aromatic ingredients for chai, add a beautiful, fat orange and some fresh cranberries for color, print out the recipe (or write on a small card), and tie it all up in a clear bag with a festive bow.  The tea tastes marvelous, and the kitchen will smell like the holidays after it brews!

Homemade gifts are often appreciated beyond measure.  Pouring your love into something for the benefit of another is what giving is all about.  This holiday season, show your heart to your neighbors in need, friends, and family with simple gifts of Nature that communicate the true reason for the season.

Hiking in Sedona

Holiday Blessings,

Lisa

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Let’s Go to the Beach!

Oh how we’re missing our annual winter trip to the beach.  Cool, early morning walks in the surf.  Breakfast and lunch on the balcony surrounded by palm trees and overlooking green water.  The moon and clouds playing hide-and-seek late at night, a brilliant shine reflecting intermittently on the sea.  We always look forward to the trip, as it’s a balmy, breezy respite from our regularly scheduled winter.  It also helps clear our heads, recharge our biological batteries, and reset our perspectives on life.

Ft. Lauderdale

This year, thanks to covid, we are visiting the beach via our imagination, and we’re happy to have you join us. Studies show that actions we imagine can seem real to our minds, “tricking” the brain into providing us benefits as if we were performing those actions.  Many athletes utilize this technique, called visualization, to attain their specific goals.

San Diego

Ok, ready?  Got your beach bag?  We close our eyes, breathe slowly & deeply, and . . . smell the salty sea . . . picture clumps of seaweed in the gently lapping surf . . . notice the wet sand between our toes . . . feel the sun and wind on our skin . . . hear the forlorn cries of seabirds . . . and taste the salt on our lips.  Be sure to wear your lip balm!

Seaweed art on the sand

Let’s take a walk along the water’s edge and soak up the recurrent, grounding sound of the waves.  According to an article from the University of New Hampshire, Is Being at the Beach Good for Your Health?, the beach can relieve stress fast.  The heat of the sun, the sound of the waves, and your feet in the sand, the article says, are the reasons for this happy result.

Coronado, with a storm approaching

While we’re absorbing the sun’s heat, (making sure we don’t overdo it) we are improving our health: increasing Vitamin D levels, helping prevent autoimmune disorders, and reducing our risk of certain cancers, according to Environmental Health Perspectives’ article Benefits of Sunlight: A Bright Spot for Human Health.  Maybe we were designed to enjoy the feel of the sun on our skin for these reasons.

Northern California

Enjoying the ocean air?  Breathing the air at the beach can enhance overall health by diversifying the microbes in our guts, says Dr. Zach Bush, one of the few triple-board certified physicians in the US.  The microbiome of most Americans, due to the standard American diet & overconsumption of antibiotics, includes a very small percentage of the 20,000 – 40,000 species of bacteria that constitute a heathy gut.  Breathing in diverse environments can help in a big way.

Dogs love the beach, too!

Has your heart rate increased?  We’re burning extra calories!  Walking in the sand requires more energy than walking on, say, a sidewalk.  If you’ve walked or jogged in the sand before, you know it’s a great workout.  And if we’re going to indulge in those yummy vacation sweet treats and cocktails later, burning extra calories is a must! 

Seaside, Oregon

Are you beginning to feel more of a connection with Nature?  Wallace J. Nichols, marine biologist and author of Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do, says, While in the restful, contemplative state associated with observing or interacting with water, it’s also common to experience feelings of awe.  Awe, he continues, increases our sense of connection with all that is.  

Northern California

Have you worked up an appetite?  Ok, ok, we’ll go for lunch!  I’m famished too!  There’s a great little open-air Mediterranean cafe within walking distance . . .

St. Maarten

Some day soon, we’ll resume our physical visits to the beach.  But for now, our imaginations take charge, engaging our senses and prompting an array of health benefits.  Thanks for joining us! We hope you had fun & feel rejuvenated!

Beach Blessings,

Lisa

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Six Small Actions That Will Change You

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. ~Annie Dillard

And . . . we’re in December.  Wow.  This year will soon be a memory, to the relief of many.  The pandemic, now in its second wave in some countries, has presented a great number of us with unprecedented challenges.  We have been forced to change our habits, and for most, the majority of those changes have not been positive, affecting our perception of ourselves and the world in general.  It is said that about half our actions are not conscious, but a result of our habits.  I would like to share a few small actions that, when practiced consistently and made into new habits, can change you for the better.  What’s more, they will change the way you feel about yourself.

  1. Read something inspirational each day, even if it’s a simple quote.  After reading, close your eyes and savor it, focusing on how it lifts your spirit, opens your heart, or motivates you.  This savoring acts on the brain in a similar manner as the concept of muscle memory in strength training or stretching.  The more you do it, the easier you’ll find it is to access those good feelings throughout the day.

Change your thoughts and you change your world. ~Norman Vincent Peale

  1. Speak of your blessings and express gratitude daily.  Even if nobody is around to hear you.  I am so blessed to have food on my table.  I am super grateful that my family has been safe from coronavirus.  I am so fortunate that I am able to work from my home.  Gregg Braden, five-time New York Times best-selling author, scientist, and international educator, says, Just the way sound creates visible waves as it travels through a droplet of water, our “belief waves” ripple through the quantum fabric of the universe to become . . . the healing, abundance, and peace – or disease, lack, and suffering – that we experience in life. And just the way we can tune a sound . . . , we can tune our beliefs to preserve or destroy all that we cherish, including life itself.  By reinforcing beliefs that we’re blessed and grateful, we tune ourselves into more goodness.

Put your heart, mind, and soul into even your smallest acts. This is the secret of success. ~Swami Sivananda

  1. Practice little acts of kindness daily.  Let a car merge in front of you; send a text or card to an out-of-touch loved one; give a small hand-made item to a neighbor.  Do these things without expectation of reciprocation or even expressions of gratitude.  Most folks will respond favorably, but not always.  The first couple times my acts of kindness were not acknowledged, I was hurt.  But then I realized that the recipients could be so busy with the sometimes overwhelming nature of life that they simply forgot.  Giving is the part that will make you feel good.  Hold on to that.

  1. Leave all your devices inside and get outside for (at least) a few minutes a day.  While outside, allow your attention to be captivated by wildlife, trees, flowers, and the sky.  Why did that tree grow in such an odd manner?  That cloud looks like Snoopy!  I wonder what kind of bird that is.  Look at that incredible moon!  These wildflowers are gorgeous!  Placing your full focus on Nature has numerous health benefits and helps you remember somewhere deep inside that you are a part of it.

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. ~Albert Einstein

  1. Spend a couple minutes each day working on some small action that you find difficult.  I have done yoga for decades, and until just recently, I was always embarrassed in class during balancing poses.  I was never able to hold the poses as long as most others without falling out and resetting.  Because I’ve learned the hard way that unaddressed issues have a tendency to get worse over time, I decided to do something about it.  So, a couple years ago, I started practicing half-moon pose (Ardha Chandrasana) every day.  As a result, my balance has improved tremendously, and my embarrassing falls are in the past.  I also have a sense of pride for conquering a limitation!
Moonlight over Lauderdale Beach in December of 2019

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant. ~Robert Louis Stevenson

Our morning smoothie contents
  1. Get more fresh organic or non-GMO fruits and veggies into your diet to upgrade your microbiome, lose weight, and improve overall health.  (You might also find, like I did, that this helps increase athletic performance.)  If your doc gives a thumbs up, replace one meal a day with a smoothie made from 1 part fruit, 3 parts veggies, and coconut water to your preferred consistency.  (For example, 1 pear, 3 stalks of celery, a beet, and a couple handfuls of spinach.  Or 2 fruits and 6 servings of veggies, if you need more to fill you up.  In addition to the coconut water, I like to add cinnamon and cacao powder, and top the smoothie with goji berries and unsweetened flaked coconut.)  I also suggest learning to prepare a few quick and easy meals.  Brown rice with green lentils topped with chopped red onions, cherry tomatoes, and cilantro is possibly the easiest meal I prepare, and it’s delicious.  A simple stir-fry with rice is always a good choice.  Also, check out my Bok Choy Soup recipe.  You can easily substitute another leafy green or a different bean in the soup while keeping the other ingredients and utilizing the same instructions.

In these strange times that have forced change upon us, it’s more important than ever for each of us to bring beauty and positivity to our days.  Our daily experiences, after all, compose our lives.  The small actions above can go a long way in changing a negative mindset, and, once habituated, changing your life.

Blessings for Happy Changes,

Lisa

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Put the Talk on Pause and Heal with Wildlife

I first posted this essay with the title Put the Talk on Pause: A Photo Essay back in mid-April, when the pandemic was relatively new to the US and Micro of the Macro had very few readers. Since the message is still applicable and the photos are some of my favorites, I have done a bit of editing and I am reposting for my newer readers. For those of you who have already seen the post, please enjoy the trip down memory lane!

Mom & baby near a hiking trail in California

I don’t know about you, but I’m in a definite time warp. I can’t keep up with the date or the day of the week. On the one hand, this year is flying, much like last year. On the other hand, the stifling control of pandemic and its unyielding, pervasive gloom talk seem to have been with us for ages. There’s nothing I would love more than to wave a magic wand, making the next several months a part of our collective past.

A new friend on the coast of northern California.

But until I come across that magic wand, I’ll make do with smaller mundane acts that get me from one day to the next while help keeping me sane. One of those acts is turning off the tv. Listening to incessant politics and bad news from reporters, government officials, and even commercials, causes feelings of impatience and anger to surface on my normally peaceful mindset. So it’s high time, as my grandmother used to say, to put the talk on pause.

One of the friendliest strangers I ever met!

In that pause, what can I count on to transform my troubled thoughts and feelings? Today, I’ll utilize the healing balm of animals. According to 69 scientific studies on human-animal interaction reviewed by The National Center for Biotechnology Information, interacting with animals can be quite therapeutic. Some of the benefits shown in these studies include improved mood & behavior; reduced stress, fear & anxiety; improved heart health & immune function; and reduced aggression. Doesn’t your pet make you feel better, especially now in the time of covid?

These funny traffic enforcers made an appearance in northern New Mexico.

Even though we cannot interact with animals in pictures, it is my belief that simply viewing them must have positive effects as well. According to Statista, viewing wildlife while hiking, mountain biking, diving, etc. is extremely popular in this country, with about 20 million folks participating annually.

This big Wyoming dude forgot to finish shaving before his morning stroll.

The wildlife pics included in this post are a few personal favorites, taken during my travels around the American West. It is my hope that you’ll find yourself smiling as you look at them while taking a well-deserved pause from all the talk.

I think bears may enjoy swimming as much as humans!

Blessings for Animal Healing,

Lisa

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For the Love of Mountains: A Photo Odyssey

Yosemite National Park, California

We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us. Our flesh-and-bone tabernacle seems transparent as glass to the beauty about us, as if truly an inseparable part of it, thrilling with the air and trees, streams and rocks, in the waves of the sun,—a part of all nature, neither old nor young, sick nor well, but immortal.  ~John Muir

Yosemite’s High Country

I’ve been thinking a lot about mountains.  It’s been too long since I last visited some of the ranges I’m especially fond of.  With their lovely snow caps, exquisite waterfalls, clear-running streams, crystal alpine lakes, rugged terrain, variety of trees & wildlife, and incredible vistas, what’s not to miss?  John Muir, the Scottish-American who dedicated the latter part of his life to exploring and preserving the mountains of the Western US, was also enamored by them.  It is said that Muir exemplified our oneness with the earth, and biographer Donald Worster wrote that (Muir) believed his mission was saving the American soul from total surrender to materialism.”  When I read Muir’s quote above, I can feel my heart open to profound spiritual truth.

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

You must ascend a mountain to learn your relation to matter, and so to your own body, for it is at home there . . .  ~Henry David Thoreau

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

I suppose my love of mountains was forged at an early age. As a young child, I lived in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, and my family would sometimes drive north to see the more majestic areas of the range.  You might imagine how, years later, my infatuation grew as I began exploring ranges with higher and higher elevations.

Rocky Mountains

Every inch of the mountains is scarred by unimaginable convulsions, yet the new day is purple with the bloom of youth and love.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sequoia National Park, California

I have visited a lot of little mountain towns in this country.  Oftentimes, I hear that the indigenous people of the area consider their mountains sacred and go to great measures to protect them.  That’s not hard for me to understand, as mountains evoke a sense of reverent connection within me.  I believe that’s what Muir must have experienced, as well.  He wrote letters, articles, & books, and shared conversations with scientists, artists, celebrities, and statesmen in his preservation efforts.  Perhaps the pinnacle of his life’s work was co-founding the Sierra Club, thereby helping establish a number of National Parks in this country, which serve to protect his beloved mountains.

King’s Canyon National Park, California

The mountains are calling and I must go.  ~John Muir

King’s Canyon

Do you live in the mountains?  Does your family vacation in the mountains?  Do you spend time hiking or biking them, given the opportunity?  What is your favorite memory of mountains?  Which is your favorite range?

Grand Tetons, Wyoming

Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God. ~John Muir

Grand Teton National Park

If you enjoyed this essay, check out Micro of the Macro’s new Categories link for more on Environment, including posts & photos of wildflowers, animals, trees, and natural water features.

Blessings for Mountain Love,

Lisa

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Chai My Way

It’s chai season here. Although it’s my favorite hot tea and I drink it throughout the year, the chillier months seem to claim it as their own, and who am I to argue?


I first tried chai while living in community and working in the kitchen at Omega Institute in Upstate New York. One of my supervisors was Kim from Michigan. She brewed up new (to me) and wonderful concoctions almost every day. Once I smelled and sampled her simmering chai, I knew that it would become a part of my life, til death do us part. Before the end of the season, she was kind enough to include its ingredients in a personal letter that I keep in a recipe book to this day. The recipe below is a combination of her ingredients and the measurements of each that I’ve found works best over years of making it.

Omega Institute, Rhinebeck, NY Campus

In the past, I never really thought of the nutritional benefits of spices in the same way as regular foods, but I’ve learned they are surprisingly healthy. Each of the ingredients in this recipe contributes to health & well-being in a number of ways. In addition to its sublime smell and taste, chai is a nutritional powerhouse among teas.

According to Healthline.com, fresh ginger not only helps with nausea, which is the one benefit most of us are familiar with, but can also help lower cholesterol, improve brain function, and reduce A1c levels. Cloves may benefit bone health, liver function, and reduce stomach ulcers. Cinnamon has the potential to reduce chronic inflammation, protect from free radical damage, and lower the risk for heart disease. Black pepper may help with gut health, pain relief, and appetite reduction. Cardamom is shown to fight cavities, improve digestion, and lessen anxiety. The few studies that have been done on bay leaves show that they may help prevent seizures, kidney stones, and kill cancer cells. Pure Chinese star anise has been used for thousands of years to fight viral, bacterial, and fungal infections. And black tea may help lower blood pressure, reduce stroke risk, and improve focus. Impressive for an humble tea, huh?


Chai recipes abound on the internet, all with varied flavor profiles. But this one, made super-spicy, is my favorite. You’ll find the taste out of this world, and the aroma just perfect for the holidays.

(And if this recipe sounds good to you, please check out my other healthy, delicious recipes in Micro of the Macro’s new Categories link!)

Makes 1/2 gallon

Ingredients
8 cups water
2-3 inches of thinly sliced ginger (choose your spice level)
2 cinnamon sticks
12 whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
8 green cardamom pods
8-12 whole cloves (choose your spice level)
3 whole star anise
6 black or Earl Grey tea bags
Sweetener of choice (optional)
Milk of choice (optional – for lattes)

Directions
Place first 8 ingredients (through star anise) in a large covered pot & bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer for one hour. Remove from heat and add tea bags to steep for 20 minutes. Squeeze out tea bags, strain & enjoy with or without sweetener of your choice. Or add sweetener & milk of your choice for a delicious chai latte. Store extra (without milk) in the fridge in a covered glass container for 3-4 days.

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Interdependent by Design

The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.  ~Thomas Merton

Merriam-Webster.com defines the term interdependence as the state of being dependent upon one another.  Examples are given for interdependent economies as well as little universes we call ecosystems.  On a macro level, coronavirus has shown us just how interdependent we all are.  On a micro level, the workings of this concept are not always so evident.

For example, we humans host an ecosystem in our guts called the microbiome.  That community consists of up to 40,000 species of bacteria that help digest food, extract nutrients, build or diminish the immune system, and release waste products which inform the brain on mood and metabolism.  The microbiome is interdependent with every other system in the body, a fact which should be considered when any kind of health issue or disease presents itself.  (Learn how the microbiome can help with weight loss here.)

Similar to our hosting of this internal ecosystem, Nature hosts humans within an external ecosystem.  We depend on soil, plants, the ocean, and animals for our basic needs.  Soil, like our microbiome, is an ecosystem unto itself.  The life in our soils determine the health of our plants.  (Read more on our struggling but resilient soils here.)  Plants release oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide and have the ability to clean our toxic wastes.  (Check out this article for more on that.)  Our oceans’ seaweed is responsible for producing even more oxygen than land plants.  (Both rainforests and oceans have been referred to as the lungs of the planet.)  Animals play an important role in the population control of other animals as well as inhibiting plant overgrowth. And domesticated animals, as you know, can provide us with companionship and unconditional love.  By caring for our environment, we are interdependently supporting the soil, plants, ocean, and animals that sustain us.

In her book Symbiosis in Cell Evolution: Microbial Communities in the Archean and Proterozoic Eons, microbiologist Lynn Margulis writes about the process undertaken by ancient bacteria which resulted in their becoming interdependent.  About 2 billion years ago, she explains, bacteria covered our planet.  To complete their life processes of respiration, photosynthesis, and fermentation, they “fought” with other bacteria for natural resources.  When the number of bacteria increased, forcing resources to go further, the bacteria found themselves in crisis, and began exploiting each other.  Many died as a result.  Because it became evident that none of them would survive if this competitive, abusive way of living continued, they realized the need for interdependence.  Due to making a shift which was better for all, their kind is still around today, living in a cooperative known as the nucleated cell.  Doesn’t that account, paused at the crisis, remind you of the human story?  

According to creationwiki.org, The interdependence of biological systems offers strong evidence for intelligent design . . . They function synergistically in such a way that the sum of their actions is greater than the addition of the separate, individual actions.  It’s pretty clear that we were intelligently created to coexist with soil, plants, other animals, the ocean, and all of humankind.  Maybe this would be a good time to embrace our interdependence with the micro and the macro so that our kind might still be around for the next billion or so years.

Blessings for Embracing Interdependence,

Lisa

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Empathy and Compassion Have My Vote

In the time when the world is sick and dying, a tribe of people will come together of many races. They will be a people who put their faith in deeds, not words, and the world shall become green again.  ~Cree Prophecy

Our world is broken.  The political situation in the US and elsewhere since the onset of the pandemic has reinforced that idea to a terrifying extent.  It feels like we’re on a runaway train, with powerful, egocentric politicians and wealthy elitists handling the locomotives in hasty pursuit of even more power and wealth.  By repeatedly denying climate change from their lofty platforms, it is possible to convince folks like us that their unrelenting acts of negligence and devastation of our environment are having little if any impact on our lives.  All too often, as Americans are witnessing now maybe more than ever, the ones in charge with tremendous power and wealth do not model desired qualities such as empathy and compassion.   

NY Times Best Selling Author Glennon Doyle addresses the manner in which our deplorable status quo is maintained in her excellent book Untamed.  Qualities like tenderness, vulnerability, mercy, and empathy are labeled as feminine and therefore discounted, she says; as a result they can be viewed as shameful qualities for men to possess. Due to this centuries-long manipulated belief system, Doyle writes, there is no more messy, world-changing tenderness to deal with. . .  Mercy and empathy are great threats to an unjust society.

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.  ~Dalai Lama

According to an article in Psychology Today, empathy is the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another . . .  It is important, the article states, for healthy relationships and compassionate actions, enabling altruistic helping behaviors.  

Dacher Keltner, PhD, Professor of Psychology at UC Berkeley, writes about how the empathic behavior of sharing can benefit the giver as much as the receiver, just as the act of forgiveness benefits the one forgiving.  (Check out this article for more on that.) Furthermore, Keltner asserts, when people feel compassion, they start to feel deeply connected to very different groups. In particular, they feel like they are similar to and share a common humanity with people who are really in need, who are really vulnerable.  Owing to the virus and those capitalizing on it since inception, our Earth and the great majority of Her inhabitants are suffering more than ever; what could be more important than empathy and compassion now?

Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. ~Galatians 6:2

In The Greater Good Magazine, also from UC Berkeley, empathy is referred to as a building block of morality.  Studies show that it reduces bullying, prejudice, racism, and inequality.  Other research shows that it deepens intimacy, promotes health, and can help police officers use less physical force, and feel less distant from the people they’re dealing with.  That could go a long way in easing systemic race issues, don’t you think?

The earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it.  ~Chief Joseph

Do other animals show empathy?  According to OneKindPlanet.org, separate studies done on elephants, rats, and chimpanzees prove they do.  Grooming, comforting, and protecting seem to be common altruistic behaviors in the animal kingdom.  And, not just for those of their own species.  Animals can be sensitive to the feelings of humans.  (This article shares more on that idea.)  Also, I’ve seen countless photos and video clips on social media of dogs caring for kittens, cats adopting birds, etc.

What about plants?  Empathic-type behaviors are regularly displayed by plants, according to Daniel Chamovitz, director of the Manna Center for Plant Biosciences at Tel Aviv University.  When attacked by bugs, trees release pheromones that cause neighboring plant life to produce chemicals that help them fight the attack.  In addition, roots can communicate to warn of drought so others in their community can prepare.  (For more on how plants benefit other botanicals as well as humans, see this article.)

Christopher Bergland, world-class endurance athlete, coach, author, and political activist, writes that, even for those completely lacking, empathy can in fact be learned.  In this article, he shares a quick loving-kindness meditation to help rewire your brain for empathy and compassion.  In short, each day, take a few minutes to sit quietly and send compassionate thoughts to loved ones, a current adversary, those suffering around the world, and yourself.  Bergland says, by doing this daily, you can sense your brain shift and open up to empathy . . .

On the threshold of a national decision that has potential to further increase the velocity of our collective runaway train, empathy and compassion are pivotal.  My prayer is that these ideas become a driving force with politicians, the wealthy elite, and all the rest of us.  With consistent practice, we can heal the Earth and change the course of humanity, thereby mending our broken world.

When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war . . . So I say to you . . . brothers and sisters, let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.  ~US Representative John Lewis (recently deceased)

Blessings for Empathy & Compassion,

Lisa

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Spirit Traditions

Looking back, this year feels like it’s lasted for eons.  But from a different perspective, it also seems to have flown by.  Do you know what I mean?  Does it seem possible that the little ones, at least in some areas, will be trick-or-treating next weekend?  I find it hard to believe.

There have been times that I haven’t celebrated the autumn and winter holidays.  For years, I was hung up on the over-commercialization and materialism of it all, and therefore, I had no desire to take part.  But one of the things covid has taught me is that time with friends and family should not be taken for granted.  Traditions should be celebrated and relationships should be cherished.  

According to Frank Sonnenberg, an award-winning author who was recently named one of America’s Top 100 Thought Leaders, Traditions represent a critical piece of our culture. They help form the structure and foundation of our families and our society. They remind us that we are part of a history that defines our past, shapes who we are today and who we are likely to become.  He goes on to say that traditions reinforce values such as selflessness and responsibility, provide a sense of belonging, and give us an opportunity for reflection while making memories with loved ones.

The American Halloween tradition originated with our Celtic ancestors about 2000 years ago.  Their new year began on November 1, and they believed the ghosts of the dead returned to earth the night before.  To commemorate, the Celts built sacred bonfires, wore costumes, and engaged in fortune-telling.  Over the centuries, the Roman Empire and the Catholic Church both played roles in changing some of the meaning and customs of the celebration.  In the US, due in part to religious beliefs, Halloween did not become popular nationally until late in the 19th century, when millions of Irish migrated to this country to flee the potato famine.

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is an annual holiday celebrated on November 1 & 2 by those of Mexican heritage.  (It is, however, gaining popularity in this country, as I’ve taken part in its celebration in 3 states over the years.)  I’ve read there is no crossover between Dia de los Muertos and Halloween, but there are many similarities.  In the Mexican holiday, it is believed that spirits of the dead are allowed to return to their homes for 24 hours, and it is celebrated with parades, special foods, costumes, and lovingly designed altars filled with skulls, flowers, and pictures of the deceased.  According to the National Hispanic Cultural Center, Dia de los Muertos is a day set aside for families and communities to honor ancestors and loved ones, while celebrating the cycle of life.  

Ah, yes, the cycle of life.  Like every living thing on Earth, we have a life cycle.  Each stage in the human life cycle presents specific challenges for experiencing, learning, and loving, in preparation for the next stage.  This ties in with Sonnenberg’s statement, (Traditions) remind us that we are part of a history that defines our past, shapes who we are today and who we are likely to become.  Traditions are an important part of our life cycles.

Don’t let covid take away your traditions.  Make modifications as necessary for safety, ignore the commercialization as best you can, and make happy memories with family and friends.  The visiting spirits of your deceased loved ones will appreciate it.

Blessings for Halloween & Dia de los Muertos,

Lisa

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Southwestern Stuffed Peppers with Avocado-Cilantro Sauce

If you’ve tried stuffing bell peppers and found the process tedious, or the peppers get too soft or not soft enough, this recipe is for you. Until I ran across the precursor for the recipe below, I had stopped making them. Too much effort yielding a so-so result is not a good formula for me. I want (relatively) easy and super yummy!

My stuffed peppers are of course made without meat or cheese, and to be honest, I can’t remember how the meat- & cheese-filled peppers taste. I am willing to bet that you will absolutely love this recipe, though, if you are a fan of Southwestern cuisine.

Are they healthy? You bet. The bells are loaded with antioxidants and Vitamin C, with good amounts of Vitamin A, B6, folate, fiber, and potassium. According to The World’s Healthiest Foods website, the nutrients in bell peppers are shown to reduce oxidative stress, and can thereby reduce your risk for heart disease and blood sugar issues.

As for quinoa, according to Dr. Josh Axe, a functional medicine practitioner & clinical nutritionist, it is considered one of the healthiest foods on the planet. It also has a mother load of nutrients, including protein, fiber, essential fatty acids, tons of minerals, and antioxidants. It has been shown to support bone health, staving off osteoporosis, which is so common among older adults (especially women.)

What’s more, both bell peppers and quinoa support weight loss. So what are you waiting for? Let’s get to cooking!

The inspiration for this dish came from a recipe by Jordan Cord at thefitchen.com. Thanks, Jordan!


Yield: 5-6 servings

Ingredients (Use all organic and/or non-GMO if possible)
2 cups water
1 cup uncooked red or tri-colored quinoa, rinsed well
1 medium onion, diced
1 can diced tomatoes
2 green chilis, seeds removed & diced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp chipotle powder
1 cup frozen corn, defrosted by running under cold water a bit, drained
1 cup small-diced zucchini
5-6 bell peppers, various colors, tops removed & reserved; seeds &
ribs removed & discarded
A little avocado oil for the baking pan (or line with aluminum foil)
1/2 avocado
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves & stems
1 small garlic clove, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1/8 tsp salt, or to taste
3 tbsp water, or as needed for sauce consistency

Directions

Place the first 8 ingredients into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce to a simmer for about 12 minutes. Stir in corn & zucchini. Replace lid & cook another 8 – 10 minutes, or until all the water has been absorbed. (If after 25 minutes the water is not fully absorbed, you can drain it.) Remove from heat and set aside.

Heat the oven to 415 F. After removing the stems, small-dice the bell pepper tops reserved earlier. Stir into the quinoa mixture. Stuff each pepper with the mixture and place upright on a lightly-oiled baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes.

In a small blender or food processor, add the final 7 ingredients. Whirl into a smooth sauce, adding more water and salt to desired consistency & taste.

After removing the baked peppers from the oven, top with the sauce, squeezed through the snipped corner of a plastic food storage bag to make it really pretty!

I like to serve these with thickly-sliced cremini mushrooms that have been sautéed for a few short minutes in olive oil & fresh garlic, with a sprinkling of chili powder, salt, & crushed red pepper. Enjoy!

Featured

Forgive? Why Should I?

It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself . . . Forgive everybody. ~Maya Angelou

Valerie Kauer is a civil rights lawyer, author of SEE NO STRANGER: A Memoir & Manifesto of Revolutionary Love, and an award-winning filmmaker.   In a very popular TED Talk, Valerie tells a heart-wrenching story about the first post-September 11 hate crime, the murder of a Sikh family friend whom she called Uncle, by a man who called himself Patriot.  Years after the crime, Valerie accompanied the brother of the deceased to the prison where Patriot was detained.  They spoke with the murderer, who expressed sorrow, saying when he gets to Heaven to be judged by God, he will ask to see the man he killed, hug him, and ask his forgiveness.  To this, the brother responds, “We’ve already forgiven you.”  Hearing those words melts me.  I don’t believe there could be a more loving, generous, empathic statement he could make to the murderer of his brother.  Valerie concludes the story with the idea, “Forgiveness is not forgetting.  Forgiveness is freedom from hate.”  And, freedom from hate, she continues, grants us the ability to see those that harm us not as monsters, but as wounded, threatened, and insecure, with their own sad stories. 

Forgiveness is a practice that doesn’t come easy.  It can take incredible effort to let go of hard feelings toward someone who has wronged us, especially if they have taken someone or something away from us.  I was intrigued when I first learned that the process of forgiveness benefits me (the forgiver) more than the person that I need to forgive.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.  ~Francis of Assisi

The Aramaic meaning of the term forgiveness is to let go, to cut loose (as in a tied animal), to release, to leave physically & psychologically.  So you see, going through this challenging practice allows you to let go of – to cut loose – the hardness of heart, resentment, and darkness you’ve been harboring, sometimes for years.

Forgiveness results in many benefits that affect us (the forgivers) mentally, physically, & spiritually, within families, communities, and nations, according to The New Science of Forgiveness, from UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine.  In addition to diminishing negative emotions in general, the act of forgiving has been found to reduce stress, blood pressure & heart rate, improve immune function, and lessen or eliminate feelings of being out of control.  In middle-agers, it has also been reported to reduce feelings of nervousness and restlessness.  

An article from Mayo Clinic, Forgiveness: Letting Go of Grudges and Bitterness clearly states, “. . . If you don’t practice forgiveness, you might be the one who pays . . . By embracing forgiveness, you can also embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy.  Forgiveness can even lead to feelings of understanding, empathy and compassion for the one who hurt you.”  The article goes on to say that the act of forgiving is not the equivalent of excusing or forgetting, nor does it mean reconciliation is required.

Reconciliation does not even need to be considered.  In a PDF entitled Forgiveness Counseling Guide, created by Dallas Baptist University’s Counseling Center, it is suggested, “If the person who has hurt you is unsafe (such as an individual who is emotionally, verbally, or physically abusive) or contributes to unhealthy thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in your life then reconciliation may not be wise . . .”  As a matter of fact, the other person doesn’t need to know you’ve forgiven him/her, and frankly might not care.  Again, the process is one to benefit you.

Forgiveness is (practiced) for yourself because it frees you. It lets you out of that prison you put yourself in.  ~Louise L. Hay

Long ago, I read a quote that went something like this: Not forgiving is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.  Recently, when I went online to find the source, I found many variations on the statement from writers, celebrities, activists, and others.  After searching a little longer, I found information that the idea may have originated with the great Religious Science leader and writer Emmet Fox during the early part of the last century.  This idea resonates strongly with me.  I’ve realized in retrospect that some of the hardest times I’ve gone through with an individual were made more difficult for me by feelings of resentment toward that person that I had been holding on to, sometimes for decades.  By forgiving and releasing those hurts, they become a part of my past, and therefore don’t find their way into new situations.

I want to gift you with a simple tool that I shared with my workshop participants years ago.  We’ve all heard that journaling is a great tool for personal release and mental health in general.  That also applies to the process of writing a letter (that you’ll never send) to someone who wounded you.  Here’s the format:

  1. In the first paragraph, BLAST THEM!  Curse them, let them know how deeply they hurt you, how angry you are, etc.  Don’t hold back!  This first paragraph can be as long as you need it to be – even pages.  
  2. After that big purge, close your eyes, breathe deeply for a couple minutes, and imagine exhaling all the residual sludge from the experience.
  3. In the next paragraph, write about the lessons you have learned as a result of your suffering, as well as your desire to let go and forgive.  (This part can be directed to yourself if necessary, remembering that the practice is for your benefit.)
  4. When the letter is complete, read it from beginning to end.  Take some time to appreciate the progress you have made/are making in such a difficult situation.
  5. Lastly, when you’re ready, either rip the letter into tiny pieces or burn it (carefully!) as you repeat to yourself, I am letting this go: it will no longer have a hold on me.  I am grateful.

Before closing, I’d like to mention the idea of forgiving yourself.  Personally, I’ve found that forgiving myself along with those that hurt me is often a necessary component for truly letting go.  (We often play some part in our trials with others, right?  Of course, this doesn’t always apply: abused children and elders, for example, may be helpless and blameless.)  If you go through the letter process above and don’t feel any relief, consider forgiving yourself, which may in fact be the most difficult part of the process.  (I forgive myself for my role in this situation, and I let go of all hard feelings.  Repeat, dozens of times if necessary, until you feel a shift.)

The practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of the world.  ~Marianne Williamson

In a world divided by race, class, religion, and other walls, forgiveness and its resulting empathy can be very useful tonics.  Applying the practice to our own lives can result in increased love & understanding, better physical & mental health, and improved interactions within families & communities.  Applying our forgiveness practice out in the world can serve us all in ways yet unimagined.

Blessings for Forgiveness,

Lisa

Featured

10 Little-Known Coping Strategies for Depression

You are a marvel.  You are unique.  In all the world there is no (one) exactly like you.  In the millions of years that have passed, there has never been a (person) like you . . . You have the capacity for anything.  ~Pablo Casals

Every time I see the above quote I first read in a book by the inspiring Pam Grout, I can’t move on without reading the quote a second, and sometimes a third time.  It speaks a truth so often forgotten: each of us is one-of-a-kind with tremendous potential.  Nobody else will ever be able to share your specific gifts the way you can.  And the world needs your special gifts, now more than ever.  Rather than celebrating the benefits of individuality, however, media and society downplay its merits and mandate that we act and think like everyone else.  What a pity our self perception has become so twisted.  Reading the Casals quote opens my heart and lifts my spirits.  Every cell in my body seems to shout in unison, ding, ding, ding, that describes us perfectly!  Let’s read it again and bathe in this delicious Truth a little longer!  

The words of that quote are a go-to for me when I’m feeling down.  Since the start of the covid outbreak, I’ve found it necessary to keep my thoughts on the present moment and focus on my blessings more than usual.  (Hopefully, these are habits I’ll maintain after our covid reality disappears!)  From the many articles and social media posts I’ve read related to depression, anxiety, and suicide, I believe a lot of us are struggling daily.  Although I’ve never been clinically depressed, I socially isolated and subsisted for the better part of a year on red wine and Haagen Dazs while witnessing the end of the world I had known.  (Read my story here.)  I have great empathy for those who struggle with feelings of darkness, and I’d like to offer a few coping tips, from both my personal experience as well as scientific findings on Nature.  If you are working with a doctor and taking meds, please don’t stop.  Just give some of these ideas a whirl in addition.  (Oh, and a tip: I find that when starting something new or doing something tough, scheduling it on my daily planner helps me remember and be more consistent.)

  1. Savor the feeling of each compliment you receive and the pleasure associated with admiring beauty for at least 20 seconds.  According to Marci Shimoff, NYT bestselling author of Happy for No Reason,  this creates new neural pathways, making it a little easier to access and experience those feelings regularly.
  1. Do a news fast.  If you’re like me, you react to the news of our horrific state of affairs with a furrowed brow & an overwhelming sense of fear, and that heaviness follows you around all day, affecting your thinking and conversations.  Go for a few days or weeks without exposing your heart and mind to news reporting.  You will be amazed at how much lighter you’ll feel!
  1. Listen to music that you enjoyed at a time when you felt really good about yourself and thought you had the world by the tail!  Music has the ability to take us back to a totally different mindset.  For me, that music includes Stevie B, TKA, Lisa Lisa, Prince, Janet Jackson, Boston, The Scorpions, Toto, and REO Speedwagon.  What is some of your world-by-the-tail music?
  1. Seek out a reason to laugh every day – watch a funny movie, relish in playtime with your pet, listen to a stand-up comic, play a socially-distanced game with friends.  Christiane Northrup, MD, author of The Power of Joy – How the Deliberate Pursuit of Pleasure Can Heal Your Life, says that our very design predisposes us to seek pleasure, and the experience of joy makes us healthier, smarter, and even younger.  

  1. Spend some time outdoors.  Many of us are now spending more time inside our homes than ever before.  The human body has evolved in an environment nothing like our homes, offices, or cars over the past 5 million years.  According to the author of Brain Food, Lisa Mosconi, who has PhDs in both neuroscience and nuclear medicine, 99% of the time humans have spent on earth have been as hunter-gatherers, therefore, outside, active, and in relation to others.  (By the way, take a guess where I was when I had an epiphany that would end my wine and ice cream habit & totally change my life?  I was outside.)
  1. Get some exercise.  In the article Exercise and Mental Health: Many Reasons to Move, from the journal Neuropsychobiology, it is suggested that overwhelmingly, scientific findings are linking successful brain function with regular exercise.  And successful brain function can mean less lethargy, fewer dark thoughts, and decreased anxiety.
  1. Eat more colorful, non-GMO fruits & vegetables.  According to Dr. Zach Bush, an internationally-recognized physician specializing in internal medicine, endocrinology and hospice care, genetically-modified gluten (found in grains like wheat, rye, & barley) opens the tight junctions in our guts, resulting in tiny particles of food escaping.  These escaped particles can cross the blood-brain barrier, causing inflammation, which leads to depression, dementia, and other brain issues.  On another note, eating more real food and less processed food upgrades the microbiome, which can manipulate the brain’s reward center and our mood.  For more on the critical importance of the microbiome, check out this article.

  1. Check in with yourself constantly regarding your hydration needs.  According to Gina Bria, coauthor of Quench: Beat Fatigue, Drop Weight, and Heal Your Body Through the New Science of Optimum Hydration even a 1.4% rate of dehydration results in brain shrinkage, which leads to memory loss and other cognitive issues.  Shrunken brain, it turns out, is a common condition in Alzheimer’s patients.  (For more on hydration, go here.)
  1. Read something that you find inspirational, even if it’s one page a day.  Filling your thoughts with good stuff is super important!  Want suggestions?  How about poetry by Rumi, a Chicken Soup for the Soul book, a Gregg Braden book, or the writing of the author who first introduced me to the quote at the start of this article, Pam Grout?
  1. Learn something new.  It will give you a sense of pride, as well as something new to think and talk about! 

It’s easy to get carried away by the dark, gloomy current of this covid reality, especially if your mood and mindset were challenged by depression before the virus appeared.  Finding little ways to better cope can make a huge difference.  I do hope you’ll give some of these suggestions a go.  And of course, I’d love to hear in the comments if you do!

Blessings for Love & Light,

Lisa

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