“I just did my job. I did what I was paid to do.” These words sent a wave of horror through many of us. Psychologist Martha Stout in her book, The Sociopath Next Door, best describes their impact.
Stout asks us to “Imagine – if you can- not having a conscience, none at all, no feelings of guilt or remorse no matter what you do, no limiting sense of concern for the well-being of strangers, friends, or even family members…. Now add to this strange fantasy the ability to conceal from other people that your psychological makeup is radically different from theirs.”
ABC paid close to a million dollars to Darren Wilson for his interview by George Stephanopoulos. William Boardman called the interview “forty-five minutes of fawning deceit and thruthlessness.” We learn that an unarmed black student was killed and his killer is rewarded for, “Doing what I was paid to do.”
Had a black officer pumped 16 bullets into an unarmed white student, there would have been hell to pay and no ABC interview. Protesters gave a long litany of similar senseless events: the black father who was shot dead at his front door as he attempted to bring dinner home to his family, the black 12-year-old shot dead because he was seen playing with a toy gun, and on and on.
Ferguson, MO seems far away but this kind of treatment happens closer to home. Five years ago, police arrested Harvard Professor Henry Lewis Gates because someone saw him fumbling with the front door lock to his own house in Cambridge.
This holiday season symbolizes our yearning to experience light, often described as an ability to love that overcomes all darkness. Choristers sing about how ancient “people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” We are also a people walking in darkness today. We know we have blind spots and each year at midwinter, we pledge to begin again and do better.
May consciously seeing holiday lights remind and inspire each of us to figure out how we can truly love this earth and each other, so that every person of every color has a fair chance to celebrate life. This is all about keeping each other well
I recently ran into Dr. Seuss’s Lorax, who bellowed at me, “What’s this I hear about a hydroelectric company trying to cut its way through New Hampshire’s forests?”
Without waiting for a response, he went on.
“Listen!” he hissed, “Hydro Quebec is in cahoots with another big private company to bring hydroelectric power down through NH where nobody wants it because nobody needs it! NH passed a bill in 2009 that says NO to nonrenewable energy!”
“Do your homework! The State of New Hampshire defined Renewable Energy as ‘energy that supplies present energy needs without permanently depleting resources, while considering environmental impacts, and without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own energy needs.’ (HB 61, enacted 9/11/2009) Go read it for yourself!”
Bug-eyed, I stammered, “M-many of us have been trying to stop the Northern Pass or at least b-bury the lines under existing public rights of way, but the NP people keep saying they have lots of p-power and the water is renewable!”
Exasperated, the Lorax thundered, “Water isn’t going to renew all the dead fish that needed a cool river to reproduce, not with sluggish reservoirs full of rotting debris that is off-gassing mercury! Water isn’t going to bring back the lost livelihood to the Indigenous people! And what about their homes buried in water and all the other animals they depend on? What about their tourism jobs as guides on the rivers and in the forests? Forget that! Look at what Hydro-Quebec has done to its own province! They’ve put in 571 dams and altered the flow of 74 rivers!”
The Lorax ranted on, “I thought you were interested in people’s health! How do you expect folks to keep each other well without the help of the rest of nature: animals, birds, fish, trees, shrubs, cool rivers of water? What makes you think Hydro Quebec doesn’t plan the same kind of destruction of natural resources in New Hampshire? Why do you think they’re buying up all that NH forest land? Why do you think Canada owns all the NH dams on the Connecticut River? Why do you think Hydro Quebec hasn’t said anything about the 500 MILES OF ROADS they plan to build to access their proposed forest route?”
“WAKE UP!!! Look at the countries that do care about the health of ALL of their citizens! Their energy sources are publicly owned. In Denmark, the Danes voted to have a community controlled wind power revolution! In Nigeria, 300,000 Ogoni mobilized to take back their land from Shell and won!”
“Tell your readers, it’s time for everybody to wake up and show up!”
Winter is a time when we huddle more and move less in our attempts to stay warm. Ironically, it is when we keep moving, shovel snow, ski or enjoy some snow sport that we generate the body heat that keeps us warm.
A 96 year old woman told me that she attributes her remarkable good health and flexibility to the fact that she does 200 bicycles in bed each morning before getting up. I told this story to a friend who was having ankle surgery that would keep her off her feet for two months. She immediately latched on to the practice and attributes her smooth post surgery recovery to the fact that she did indeed keep everything moving and healing by doing bicycles each morning in bed.
Returning veterans and people who have lost limbs or become paraplegic often become role models as they build their upper body strength and use it to take themselves wherever they need to go, be it driving a car, skiing, or working in their field of interest. Those with artificial limbs enter marathons, paint, teach, farm, and more according to their interests. They know that keeping everything moveable moving generates robust health for body and mind.
A woman visiting the Flume Gorge lamented having left her cane at home and asked at the desk if there was a cane she could use, since she was recovering from knee surgery. She just wanted to be able to take the short walk up through the Flume Gorge but thought the two-mile loop was probably too much for her to walk. Someone loaned her a set of poles. When she came back, she exclaimed, “I can walk with these! I just did the whole two miles! Where can I buy some poles? I’m not going to hobble with a cane anymore!”
Hikers know the value of using poles on strenuous or long hikes. Poles enable hikers to use their arms and legs to carry them up the hills and to use shoulders and arms to relieve knee stress coming downhill. Since hands don’t pool when they are holding poles, fingers remain flexible to work with equipment because circulation continues to move through them.
An easy way to keep everything moving is to choose a pleasurable activity that becomes part of your daily routine. You may practice yoga, tai chi, walking, weight lifting, skiing, intentional house cleaning, reclining bicycles, play a musical instrument, sing, dance or whatever you dream up that keeps your circulation pumping through your whole body rhythmically.
Underlying all movement is the breath. By making our exhalations long and strong, we open up more space for fuller inhalations, which then keep our circulation moving throughout our bodies, keeping us flexible, accessing energy, and feeling fully alive!
For several years now, Denmark has been at the top of the World Happiness Index. Since US rates number 12 on the list, behind Scandinavia, Canada and Australia, I wondered how much happiness effects general health and found an interesting study by R. Veenhoven of Erasmus Univ. Rotterdam., “Healthy Happiness: effects of happiness on physical health and the consequences for preventive health care”. Veenhoven analyzed 30 follow-up studies on happiness and longevity (including several from US states).
Perhaps we can learn something from Denmark. Three rights that Danes choose to provide for all citizens are free education, childcare and healthcare. Preschool education is provided in daycare facilities. Education continues up through vocational education and college.
Higher education is seen as a basic right and funded with tax dollars. By comparison, college graduates in the US are often saddled with decades of college tuition debt and have difficulty finding employment in their field. Such milestones as marriage, home-ownership and child-rearing are compromised.
Veenhoven notes that while happiness has not been found to be a cure for illness, happiness appears to protect us against falling ill, in some way. We have a better immune response, lower blood pressure, make better choices in life, are motivated to keep fit, more inclined to watch our weight, are more perceptive of symptoms of illness, cope better with threatening information, and facilitate creation and maintenance of supportive social networks.
US Healthcare has become a political football, distorted by the for-profit health care industry. Denmark’s healthcare represents 11 percent of its GDP. US healthcare sucks up 18 percent.
Denmark’s $21 an hour minimum wage also guarantees that people can support their families. McDonald’s gets away with paying employees $7.50 an hour in the US, while paying $21 an hour in Denmark. When parents have to work 2 or 3 low paying jobs to support their families, they are hardly in a position to spend quality time as a family. Many single people struggle to survive here.
Carl Gibson, in “How Voting in Large Numbers Dramatically Improves Society”( Reader Supported News 10/21/14), noted that the last election in Denmark brought out 87 percent of the population, compared to 57 percent registered voter turnout in the US.
Happiest countries value basic rights for all citizens. Politicians bent on creating more money for affluent backers do threaten Denmark’s happiness. But, thus far, Danish citizens have gotten out to vote and maintained their rights to health.
It’s time to listen up to what our politicians plan to do and to vote for those who value basic rights for all citizens. When we value basic rights for everyone, we all benefit. Our general health improves along with our happiness index.
During WWII, when there was a bread shortage in Europe, Willem-Karel Dicke, a Dutch physician, noticed that celiac (abdominal) disorders lessened, only to recur when Sweden dropped bread into the Netherlands from relief planes. Today, one in 133 people have celiac disease in the US.
So, what is it about wheat that louses us up? Physician William Davis, in his book, Wheat Belly, traces the development of wheat from Paleolithic times to today. It seems the original wheat had 14 chromosomes in its genetic structure. Today’s wheat, after centuries of hybridization, has 42 chromosomes, and a much higher gluten and carbohydrate content.
In early times, wheat represented a small part of the diet. Today, wheat is present at every meal, and in most snacks, and, like sugar, we’ve gone overboard devouring it. The average American eats 135 lbs. of wheat per year and most of us shudder at the thought of limiting our bread, crackers, muffins, cakes, cereals, pies, pizza, pasta, waffles, and much more.
Today, Gluten-Free seems to be the magic label that sells. That label continues to threaten our health with obesity as much as the Fat-Free label did. Without fat, to supply energy and provide essential nutrients to our bodies, and to carry the fat-soluble vitamins A,D,E, and K, we found that removing fat also removed those vitamins. People craved energy so much that they loaded up on carbohydrates to such excess that bodies automatically converted and stored the excess sugar as fat.
Just as we had ludicrous fat-free fruit and vegetables, now we have gluten-free water and gluten-free corn chips! (There is no gluten in corn.) Yet, the gluten-free label can have trace elements of gluten legally. Many products labeled gluten-free do have some gluten in them. The FDA requires the label to have less than 20 parts per million and labeling is voluntary.
People who are truly gluten-intolerant must monitor their diets carefully without relying on labels. Most of us are not in that category; we simply eat too much wheat. We may have cereal and toast for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and pasta with garlic bread for supper. For a snack, we may have a high-energy bar loaded with wheat gluten to boost the protein content.
The easiest way to avoid excess wheat consumption is to think about adding more whole foods that are sweet, satisfying, and energizing, like yams, winter squash, apples, nuts, leafy greens, carrots and avocado, beans, eggs, fish, meat and poultry. Fall is a time to add more ginger root to keep warm. We may end up concocting creative potlucks out of the tremendous variety of wholesome foods in our fall harvest that energize us with a full charge, but without unwanted fat. For most of us, wheat can then serve as an accompaniment, not the main thread.
New Hampshire’s mountains offer continual free health spas on a daily basis. Depending on the day, you may get the full physical treatment with lots of sun and sweat to lubricate all your joints and wring out your organs so every system gets a fresh start. You may get to stand under waterfalls or be pummeled in cascades and relax into a nap in the sun.
Other days provide a different sort of health spa experience. If it’s your day off, you’ve just heard the latest world news and just need to be in a spot where the inhabitants all get along for a change, even if the mountains are socked in with a firm “cloudy” forecast, grab your pack and head up.
Health spas, the paid ones, usually include massage, saunas, hot tubs, swimming, and some sort of calming practice like meditation or yoga. The main goal is to cleanse and relax the body from the inside out as well as from the outside in. That means keeping hydrated with plenty of water.
The walk itself can be a meditation, even if there’s some chatting going on. Conversation tends to be a sorting out, rethinking, brain cleanse, with the last leg of the hike to the top often being in silence to better access fresh air.
Hiking poles make the hike kinder to your knees and hips by spreading the weight-bearing load to include the shoulders and arms as well, while still allowing you to build up a good sweat. They also encourage a good upper body workout.
The Franconia Ridge Loop, most favorite hike in the White Mountains, is a mid-week wonder, even when the wind is socking in the ridge with a steady parade of clouds. Such were the conditions when I started up the Falling Waters Trail this cool, early September morning. Having rained heavily the night before, the rocks were all wet, which meant I had to pay attention, no mind wandering; just watch the rocks and forget about solving any kind of problems, world or otherwise. Then the trail upped the ante with stream crossings at every waterfall, calling for yogic balancing on rocks.
If you want to hike in a truly relaxed state, breathing 2:1 is the way to go. Just make your exhalations twice as long as your inhalations. The easiest way to practice this breath is to count your paces. You may start out breathing 6:3, then shift gears to 4:2 and 2:1 as you gain elevation. If you cannot exhale for 2 paces to every 1 inhalation pace, it’s time to stop and rest. This practice develops the habit of deeper breathing regularly.
The morning was cool, and while I paused to inhale the essence of Stairs, Swiftwater, and Cloudland Falls, my body was in the ‘keep moving’ mode to maintain body heat. I noticed the great diversity of trees; all seemed to be comfortable with each other, made space as needed. Lush stands of young spruce and fir presented themselves. Occasional mountain ash appeared with their berries beginning to turn.
As the trail continued, smaller rocks graduated to rock slabs and much reaching and stretching to get up and over them. Arms and legs got a full workout. Suddenly, I was out of the trees and into the west wind blowing over the ridge. I headed over to the east side of Haystack Mt. for a mid-morning sustenance break. The sun seemed to be trying to break through the clouds without success. I was glad I’d packed a hat and wind/rain shell.
Just as suddenly, out of the ether appeared a young man running the ridge. He’d started at Mt. Liberty and was “only running over to Mt. Lafayette.” All workout routines welcome up here.
I continued hiking over the ridge, which is an alpine garden walk with huge spreads of Diapensia that lays a white carpet in June along the ridge. Rhodora’s buds were all set for spring and sprigs of Mountain Sandwort were still blooming. I also saw bright red Bunchberries and tiny Alpine Goldenrod in brilliant bloom enhanced by the fog. A steady carpet of alpine garden beds greeted me all the way over Lincoln to Lafayette with a big dose of Vitamin W (for wildflowers).
At one point on the ridge, I followed the trail over a boulder and found that it continued down a steep section covered with wet lichen, like greased lightening, definitely something to avoid if possible. I squatted down, planning my route when I heard, “Hey there! Need a hand?”
A trail angel! Another young man was out hiking the ridge on his day off. He went around the boulder, reached up and gave me a hand down! Why do serendipitous events like that happen on a cold day when the mountain is socked in? Are we more connected than we realize? Is part of a full health spa treatment recognizing how interdependent we are?
Two more sustenance stops, one on Mt. Lafayette in the shelter of the old hostel foundation, and another at the hut before the final trek down the Bridle Path. Included were several encounters with hikers heading up and over the ridge as we compared tales, and encouraged each other.
Depending on the day, you may need an extra layer of fleece as you hike out, then go home and take a salt bath or hot shower to complete your free spa treatment.
PS: I also carry at least 2 liters of water, a wind/rain shell, light fleece, hat, first aid sack, high protein sandwich, nuts, and an orange to assure the full treatment!
In our quest to keep each other well, who is included in ‘each other’? Is it our family, our friends, people in our state or country, or people anywhere in the world?
Stunned by the display of US Apartheid this week and US support of previously labeled thugs intent on continuing the Palestinian holocaust and destruction elsewhere, every act of mine made me question. How many ‘other’ people in the world can turn on a spigot and wash up or take a shower every morning, how many have safe water to drink, how many have a safe home to sleep in, how many have enough nourishing food to eat, how many have a beautifully cared for land to live in?
I needed a day in the mountains to hopefully figure out whatever my responsibility is to this quest to keep each other well.
I drove up through Franconia Notch through mountains waking up, then continued on to Crawford Notch for a day’s loop hike up Frankenstein Cliffs and around to Arethusa Falls. The cliffs were named for Godfrey Frankenstein, a pre-Civil War artist whose paintings inspired so many people to visit the White Mountains. My destination was Arethusa Falls, the 200’ waterfall, highest in NH. My hike was over beautifully groomed trails, alongside, up and over the cliffs to the falls, thanks to our State Park System Trail Crews, and freely accessible to all ‘others’.
Questions continued. How many people can enjoy sitting next to a little waterfall to have lunch, much less such a magnificent one? ‘Others’ were there at Arethusa Falls from NY, GB, China, Poland, as well as NH. We were bound by our exhilaration as the hike pumped us up to share with each other the wonder of this place.
Clearly, our health and happiness depend on knowing that others are also happy and healthy. When we hear of a friend’s illness, we immediately try to think of ways we can help them to be better or to ease discomfort, and as they become well or more comfortable, we feel better and more comfortable. It is not surprising that the unrest many of us experience right now is a direct response to the plight of others.
Kurt Vonnegut, beloved American who survived the bombing of Dresden as a POW there, spent the rest of his life restating the message he thought most important to us: “You’ve Got To Be Kind!” There are no ‘others’. We are all ‘each other’.
Here’s GOOD NEWS of simple practices that remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere while benefitting the earth’s web of life. In his book, Grass, Soil, Hope, Courtney White takes us on a trip around the world with courageous people who have figured out ingenious ways to sequester carbon in the soil.
He cited research which found that “globally, soils contain 3x the amount of carbon that is stored in vegetation, and 2x the amount stored in the atmosphere. Since two-thirds of the earth’s land mass is grassland, better management practices, even on a small scale, could have a huge impact.”
Because 2 billion of the earth’s people depend on livestock, New Mexico was a great place to see where better soil management would take us. Actually, we all live in Carbon Country. There’s something here that can benefit all of us as we think about cover crops like white clover and winter rye and other nitrogen fixers, and upgrade our gardening skills.
Native Americans long practiced no till farming, where roots are disturbed as little as possible to allow for new plant growth while keeping the nematodes (soil microbes) happy, and atmospheric CO2 stored in the soil. Today, the no-till method is helping farmers to reduce or eliminate the use of herbicides and chemical fertilizers.
He cites ranchers who divided their property up into paddocks based on grass quality and soil type. By rotating their herds through the paddocks, they prevented overgrazing and assured good pasture. Some of them grazed sheep and cattle together, and the cattle kept sheep predators at bay. Herds, by eating, walking and defecating, also stimulated native grasses to grow, proliferate, and outcompete the weeds. To top it off, the quality of grass fed meat gradually increased income and ability to increase herd size.
He also cited the work of French agricultural scientist, Christian Dupraz. Dupraz came up with the idea of an agrovoltaic system where solar panels were constructed 12 feet above ground. This enabled farm machinery to move easily beneath them. In addition, the panels were constructed to provide the right amount of shade and reduced the amount of water needed, and to protect crops from hail and rainstorms related to climate change. All the while using solar energy to make electricity!
Courtney White’s book is guaranteed to stimulate all kinds of innovation and a sense that if we tune in to alternatives, we just may resolve the carbon riddle and experience the fringe benefit of keeping each other well.
While the challenge to see that the food we eat is free of mercury, pesticides, hormones, and whatever else threatens rather than supports robust health, we sometimes need reminders to be sure that we toss our food into a clean mouth bowl after going to all that trouble to check the food out.
It may help to visualize how perfectly arranged the mouth bowl is to house a variety of bacteria, not all of them friendly. Bacteria love dark, moist places and a steady diet of sugar. Any pockets in the gums surrounding our teeth are a housing bonanza for bacteria, depending on how welcome we make them. Unchecked, bacteria create gum disease, get into the blood stream, and create plaques in our arteries that lead to heart disease.
While we deplore the amount of sugar degenerating our diet, this is not really a new phenomenon. I was raised in the penny candy days and there was a regular stash at the corner store in my neighborhood. There was a sugar bowl on every kitchen table and plenty of home baked cookies and bars. Cakes had an inch of frosting on them and fruit pies were common desserts. However, carbonated drinks were only had on special occasions. They took up a minor section of an aisle in the grocery store, not the whole aisle. Orange juice was only had by squeezing oranges so it was consumed in small glasses.
The problem with today’s soda is that it is sipped throughout the day, along with snacks providing bacteria with a steady diet of sugar and setting off just as steady a stream of bacterial plaque and tooth decay. Hygienists patiently demonstrate flossing technique and the necessity of routing out the bacteria before they form plaques and start eroding the enamel on our teeth. It is not enough to slide the floss up and down between each tooth. We need to wrap it around the base of every side of every tooth to rout out any bacteria in residence. If you then rinse your mouth with about a tablespoon of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide– brace yourself– you will immediately see the spots you missed.
Food is meant to be digested standing up. Anyone who regularly takes a nap directly after a meal is in for a foul awakening as remnants of the meal shift into reverse, travel back up the esophagus, and start over again in the mouth, definitely not as tasty the second time around.
Step one is to remain in an upright position for 3-4 hours after eating to give the meal a fair chance to enter the relay race through the digestive tract, at least to make it beyond the second gate, the pyloric valve, at the entrance to the small intestine. Water we swish and swallow between meals also keeps nutrients moving easily in the right direction.
So, on any visit to a dental hygienist for a cleaning, listen up for a longer, healthier life.
PS: The most effective toothpaste I know is a tsp. of baking soda with a squirt of lemon juice. Watch it foam and load up your brush!
Every day we hear of amazing feats that defy the notion that life, health, or events are predictable with inevitable results. Harvard social psychologist, Ellen Langer’s latest book, Counterclockwise, is just that – a mind-blowing collection of positive outcomes that trump dire predictions. She gives a steady stream of reversals of everything from stage 4 cancer, hearing, vision and memory loss, paralysis, cardiac problems and more, when we keep a mindful, positive attitude toward challenges.
Her strategy is that there is “always a step small enough from where we are to get us where we want to be. If we take that small step, there’s always another we can take, and eventually a goal thought to be too far to reach becomes achievable.” It was refreshing to read a book with positive outcomes that happened simply by reframing someone’s perspective.
Langer points out that the expression, “we won’t know unless we try” is misleading because if we try and fail, we still don’t know whether another attempt might be successful. We still do not know that it can’t be. And: there’s a lot we don’t know yet.
I continue to be concerned about the effect of overhead power lines on our children who live in close proximity to high-density lines. I realize that there have been no rigorous double blind studies done with experimental and control groups, studies that lay out results of how many died, developed birth defects, etc. in each group. I admire the countries in Europe that have decided to pass Bury the Lines Laws after simply seeing the association studies showing rates of cancer and birth defects among children living near high power lines. Those countries value the lives and health of their children so much that they are not taking any chances on even potential effects of power lines that might threaten their health.
Bill Dowey’s, Letter to the Editor (Plymouth NH Record Enterprise, 7-3-14) “25 solar arrays for 25 New Hampshire small towns to meet the 2025 Energy goals” is an example of small town ingenuity and positive attitude. Bristol, NH is now on track to meet the town library’s annual power needs through its solar array because it tried solar energy and not only succeeded, it has come up with a plan that can easily be replicated by other small towns.
ISO New England (International Organization for Standardization) has come up with a plan to smother New England with a giant cobweb of above ground lines crisscrossing the state. This archaic, outmoded plan comes at a time when more modern towns and cities are streamlining lines underground, and exploring forms of renewable energy such as solar and geothermal that protect environmental webs of life.
At the same time, the NE governors are meeting to decide whether to approve a plan that would allow one gas pipeline and one electric transmission line from Canada through New England. This, despite the fact that Hydro Quebec could not provide the power last winter when it was needed, not even for Quebec. If the governors agree, our rights to eminent domain are also at risk with this new deal – a deal put together by Northeast Utilities – like putting a fox in charge of the henhouse.
Each of us has a choice in any event. Hopefully, we will dare to put our energies into positive, healthful outcomes for the future. One small step we can each take is to call Governor Hassan (603-271-2121) and let her know how we would vote.