Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

The Sentinel Pine’s Gift

November 24, 2017

After “the storm”, a sentinel pine stretched itself across the Tri-Town trail at Smart’s Brook. The pine died many years ago but remained standing long after its heartwood had disintegrated, opening up homes for many forest beings in the nooks and crannies of its huge interior space.

Peering inside, I was drawn to what looked like a classic shoulder muscle, the deltoid, beautifully sculpted. Branches were missing but a tennis ball sized opening adjacent to it in the trunk framed small ferns below and I was blown away by the thought that tree branches also have shoulders.

Shoulders help us to swing our arms for balance, to raise a hand in greeting, to hug loved ones,  to carry our grocery bags, push and lift snow shovels, reach down to secure shoes, boots, that keep us grounded.

I admit to not having considered that trees have similar needs for branches that help them stand upright, balancing snow, ice, wind and leaves. Branches resilient enough to accommodate squirrel, possum, bear, bobcats and the whole woodland community.

I wondered how many birds had flown in through the hole left by the branch, nested there to hatch their young, found bugs to tide them over, prelude to a successful fledge.

Lying across the trail, the tree invites exploration, a generous offering even in death, separated from its roots which lie in wait for a new seedling to support.

Tree seems to leave a message that life goes on; life is tenuous but sustainable. To be healthy, our task is to be present, enjoy all beings on the planet (plant, animal or otherwise). In this extraordinary world that seems on the brink of becoming a caring world, people the world over are called to share with others, help with survival, keep each other well and give thanks.



Holiday Feasting Needs Joyful Exercise!

December 15, 2016

Most of us dive into all the sweet treats our favorite people guarantee they will make for the holidays. Yet, our bodies only need a modest amount of sugar, found naturally in fruits and vegetables.

The problem is that the liver converts added sugar into fat and stores it all over the body as a backup fuel for future energy calls unless…. we burn up that extra energy before it has a chance to be stored where we don’t want it.

The hormone, leptin, takes our appetite away when our fat index jumps. However, leptin has no upper limit on fat intake. Actually, when we binge over the holidays, leptin will just see that we keep our fat index as high as we have binged. That index becomes the new normal for leptin and the reason why we pay dues for every binge, unless…. we get creative.

Holiday shopping is a great opportunity. Park well away from the store, theater, or mall entrance and guarantee yourself a good, brisk walk to and from the car. We make better choices when our circulation flushes our whole system and keeps our minds clear while we cash in on surplus energy.

Brisk walks, daily when possible, keep everything moving smoothly. Include a hill and enjoy the benefits of a good sweat to energize your whole system. Enjoy walks, skiing, skating, dancing, or action games while visiting. Is there a park, golf course, woods or field walk near you? Let your joints move, and you will sleep well at night.

Check out wheelchair-freed people. They are the people who use their wheelchairs to go wherever they need to go. I see them slipping in and out of their cars’ driver seats, out doing errands, or heading for work, skiing on ski-chairs or sit-skis. They have strong arms, erect spines, and sharp intellects from years of figuring out new ways to move around smoothly and energetically. In short, they are keeping everything that still moves moving! And they enjoy radiant health.

Check out folks with artificial limbs who figure out ingenious ways to get around and keep themselves maintaining eye contact, standing tall, energized, and in shape. Their persistence and stamina make them inspiring role models for us all.

Better yet, notice what types of exercise leave you feeling refreshed, and indulge yourself!

May this Holiday Season be a happy and energizing one for us all!

Hear ye! Hear ye! Kindness is Contagious!

December 19, 2015

Kurt Vonnegut, POW in Dresden before, during and after US bombs destroyed it, returned from WWII to spend the rest of his life urging us to be kind.

Arthur Clarke, inventor and author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, said on his 90th birthday, “I have great faith in optimism as a guiding principle. I hope we have learned something from the most barbaric century in existence (20th). I would like us to overcome our tribal inhibitions and begin to think and act as if we are one family.”

Our tribes, our religions, all developed rules and regulations aimed at seeing to it that people got along as the groups survived and grew in their own locales. Now, as our tribes and religious preferences intermingle in travel through sophisticated transportation systems, shared art, science, music and electronics, the reality is that our groups, tribes, religions, and countries are now One Multi-Talented Family. This extended family needs to learn how to get along together for our mutual benefit.

Winter solstice gives us the opportunity to reset our sites and begin to think and act as the Family of Humans on Earth. How do we need to behave with each other to thrive and grow as a family? Our health depends on our ability to be kind.

Here’s what researchers are saying about the benefits of random acts of kindness: such acts make us feel good, reduce stress, make us live longer, and tame the “selfing” regions of the brain lost in thoughts of past and future instead of staying in the Now. Being kind gives us healthier hearts by releasing oxytocin which releases nitric oxide to dilate our blood vessels, makes for better relationships by releasing endorphins, the spirit boosters, and serotonins that give us the feeling of satisfaction and well-being. And, best of all: kindness is contagious.

Dacher Keltner, Dir., Social Interaction Lab at UCBerkeley, has a book out: Born To Be Good: The science of a meaningful life. Keltner says that our species has remarkable tendencies toward kindness, play, generosity, reverence and self sacrifice- all vital to the task of evolution – survival, gene replication, and smooth functioning groups. He notes that Charles Darwin also studied compassion and found that the most compassionate human societies fared better.

So, here’s to the coming light! May we use it to remind ourselves to be kind and spread the condition everywhere!

Laughter is the Best Medicine

December 16, 2015

This week, many people focused on the art of being happy and its effect on our health. At church, the whole service was on the importance of laughter, whatever the internal or external circumstances. Hymns continued the theme. We sang all four verses of, “If you’re happy and you know it,” and, “We Gather Together.” Thanksgiving is another important ingredient.

We had a “Laughing Meditation,” and the sermon drew on Norman Cousins’ 1974 recovery from a normally incurable illness by watching hilarious movies and literally laughing himself well. He spent the rest of his life writing books, including, Anatomy of an Illness, and lecturing at Medical Schools on the benefits of laughter to healing.

When the pianist played as a postlude, Mozart’s “Alleluia,” her fingers danced over the keys in a bright staccato variation that I am sure Mozart himself would have cheered and laughed right along with all of us.

Later in the day, PBS interviewed our Surgeon General, Vivek H. Murthy and asked him what advice he would give us to be healthy. His spontaneous reply was, “Be happy, Eat plenty of fruits and veggies, and Exercise” – in that order!

In Yoga, one of the breathing practices is the Laughing Breath. It is probably one of the most robust of practices and has the effect of relaxing the whole body so that we can move into more demanding postures. In yoga, we emphasize lengthening exhalations. The laughing breath is one people usually can extend for a long time. By emptying the lungs fully, we make room for a big inhalation of oxygenated air that fully charges and relaxes our body.

I scanned through the research literature on the effects of laughter on health. It does matter whether we do it solo or with other people. Even laughing with one other person promotes relationship well being, a sense of belonging that promotes longer, healthier lives. Studies have been done that show group laughter triggers the release of endorphins (pain killers), improves sleep, enhances memory and creativity, improves cardiac health, lowers blood pressure, improves digestion, and more….

Caution: avoid unhealthy laughter that enhances self or group at the expense of others. Despite the tenuous world situation in this century of escalating greed and refusal to address climate change, perhaps the best thing we can do is continue to look for the bright angle of each moment, alert to ferret out the humor and joy that helps us to bond with and encourage each other. What innovative solutions might we then enact that enable people of the world and all life forms to share the joy of living?

Health Effects of Giving Thanks

November 25, 2015

On the heels of a generous fall of light and color, when bright pumpkins and squash signaled the coming Thanksgiving Feast, the plight of Parisians, of Syrians fleeing their country and our complicity in the chain of world events jolts us. We are no longer simply New Englanders; we are all world citizens who need to figure out how we can share this bountiful, beautiful Earth.

How can the spirit of Thanksgiving help us? Fortunately, several academic studies of the health effects of grateful people are freely available by googling ‘gratitude researchers’.

Lisa Aspinwall (University of Utah), and Robert Emmons (UC Davis) both study the health effects of giving thanks. In separate studies they found that grateful people have higher levels of alertness, determinism, optimism, and energy; they take better care of themselves, have less stress, exercise more, are happier, have stronger immune systems, and hold a brighter view of the future. Their academic studies and more are on the internet (google ‘gratitude researchers’). The health effects Aspinwall and Emmons found are attributes we need if we are to bring a healthful spirit of cooperation to the world and end our relentless competitive streak.

So, what do people do to build the habit of giving thanks? Options are wide open! Everything, every person, and every interaction is fair game.

One option is to keep a daily list of whatever makes us feel grateful. We begin to notice and observe more. At the end of the first day, we may jot down a special tree or path, a kind person, bubbly children, and a sunset. Day 2 might include the veto of the Tar Sands Project, a family gathering, a mentor, a bird that seemed to connect with us, lunch full of laughter with friends, a good day’s work. Day 3 might include a good night’s sleep, a warm jacket, a gentle snow, a call from a friend, fresh eggs, a raise in pay, snow tires, a great mechanic, and an awesome concert. My experience with this list keeping is that the list keeps getting longer each day as I ‘see’ more.

This habit gradually shapes us to be on the lookout in all our ordinary experiences, lets us see how much we do have to be thankful for and to acknowledge! Our expressions of thanks relax us and give us the energy to come up with positive possibilities for life here on Earth.

May we use our energies to figure out ways to share the earth’s bountiful resources so that we and the rest of the world can join in the spirit of Thanksgiving.

“Each Other” Includes All Colors

December 12, 2014

“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

Thanksgiving Dedication

November 27, 2013

This month, Lincoln’s words ring for us as we honor the 150th year since his Gettysburg Address. They ring for us anew as we begin to wake up and recognize that all people on this earth are created equal regardless of color, gender, age, intellectual, spiritual, or economic status.

In our slumber, we have allowed corporations and private fetishes to defile the earth and its people.  Too many have died, been persecuted, and demeaned.  Too much land and too many species have been ruthlessly destroyed.

Let us give thanks that we still have an opportunity to dedicate ourselves to the unfinished work of instituting a government of the people, by the people, and for the people that reverberates here in New Hampshire, the United States and the World.

Will we allow little children to lead us?

December 18, 2012

 This week we learned how important is the life and potential of every child and how dedicated teachers intuitively sacrifice their own lives in attempts to protect their students and ensure that their students will grow and flower in safety.

 Hopefully, we will also recognize that no one has the right to kill children and innocent civilians anywhere. This includes children and civilians in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world.

 While theatres temporarily cancel violent films, we need to look at the result of the model put out continually through such films, and the media footage of hardships created by our involvement in the Middle East where incidents like Newtown are met on a daily basis. Hopefully, the Newtown tragedy will never just be chalked up to one young man’s mental illness.

 Ideas come from what we experience daily. If we have a steady stream of media coverage showing innocent killings abroad, it sends a message that killing is the way to deal with differences of opinion or general feelings.

 The grief of Newtown families seems more significant because it is close to home; we realize it could happen anywhere in the US. Yet, in this tragedy we have a microcosm of the pain and anguish being continually experienced by people in the Middle East and other countries.

 Does the Newtown tragedy compel us to reconsider endless wars in which our service people are directed to kill, and the killings are reported visually on Television, where the model is set for the glory of mass murder elsewhere?

 Ironically, while we continue to mourn the loss of children, in the US, we also continue to underfund their education, leaving many strapped with loans beyond their earning capacity as they become adults. And we scrimp on funding the Veterans Administration for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) therapy, so that many of our service people are waitlisted for treatment when they return home. Many veterans have been ordered to do the opposite of what their religion and family instilled in them. They need tremendous support to learn how to deal with their memories.

 As we approach this new year, we have a tremendous opportunity to reset our human values. How open are we to the mission these little children have given us? It’s not just about gun laws. It’s about respect for all children and all people everywhere. It’s about learning how to get along with and stay in tune with people everywhere.

Hopefully, the children of the world have not died in vain. Hopefully, we will get the message that killing does not bring peace and health. What a pivotal year this could be!


Old Growth Tree Power Heals

December 13, 2012

The fir tree is a symbol of light and shared life in many of our homes this season. With each fresh snowfall, we see fir trees transformed with magical beauty, something beyond our ‘real’ world. Each year, we recall memories of gathering around other trees on other years with other people. Trees figure large in the stories we recount of trees climbed in childhood and all the events, holidays, mishaps, tree houses and camping trips where the presence of trees was paramount.

  Some of our spiritual experiences involved kything (knowing) trees, an old practice of pressing our backbone/spine into a big old tree trunk to feel the warmth the tree generates from it’s sap layer during the day, or picnicking under a tree or making the tree itself a hiking destination. Trees are important as community role models. Most trees can tolerate whatever the weather, bend to accommodate neighbors, keep us warm or cool, clean pollutants from the air, take toxins out of the soil, stop the spread of disease, and much more, in addition to supplying our oxygen.

 We tend to take trees for granted, yet immediately take on tension when they are absent or have fallen in a storm. And we relax when again next to one of them, perhaps even kythe it in relief. Maybe we need to take time to recognize how important they are to our lives.

 An exciting tree adventure is well underway, thanks to  Michigan nurseryman, David Milarch. Milarch and his son were visiting the old growth forest of redwoods in California when they discovered new shoots growing out of the root system of a fallen 1000+ year old redwood, one of the giants of the forest. These shoots were actual clones of the tree, had the same DNA and potential for longevity as the fallen tree. Unlike a tree grown from the seed of that tree, which would have been pollinated by another tree that may or may not have produced a combined DNA as strong as the cloned shoot, the cloned shoot will have the strong immune system that enabled the old growth tree to survive through centuries of climate change.

 Milarch warns us that 98 percent of US old growth forests have been taken down. 76 percent of old growth forests in the world are gone. BUT, if  giant old growth trees could be propagated, they would go a long way to recycling enormous amounts of carbon dioxide to provide abundant oxygen for us. Milarch began the first leg of what has become the Champion Tree Project and includes not only redwoods, but predominant trees in old growth forests all over the world. On December 4, the first old growth redwood clones were planted in the First Champion Redwood and Giant Sequoia Forest in Port Orford, Oregon. Milarch’s account is at http://www.TEDxJackson Hole-David Milarch.

 In New Hampshire, we have 250-400 year old growth hemlock and maples. The NH Natural Heritage Bureau tracks natural communities. Time to locate those giants in New Hampshire and see that their clones get a chance to meet the needs of present and future generations. Step one is to find out where those giants are and who we can work with to make propagation happen.

 Time for some new tree stories.

Flu this holiday? It all depends….

December 7, 2012

Someone asked me if I believed the hype about the predicted flu epidemic. My response was, “It all depends….” In this season when we think of the sugar plum fairy and partake of all the family holiday recipes that we and others have collected over the years, December can be a challenge.

 I know I look forward to making Danish pastry and thinking about my grandmother who brought the recipe in her head when she emigrated here from Denmark.  Memories of the whole family gathering around the candlelit table on Christmas Eve and seeing my grandmother’s magical, diamond shaped pastries appear all glazed and topped with crushed walnuts, like pieces of Prasad that she offered us.

 I’m sure that each one of us has a heartwarming tale to tell. The problem comes when we celebrate each day of the season with too many of each other’s morsels of cheer. The thing to remember is that flu viruses love sugar. If we’re eating lots of sugar when  a flu virus gets into our system, we’ll have one long, lousy bout with the flu.

 I’d be a hypocrite if I suggested that anyone skip these “memorable” experiences, since I plan to enjoy the holidays. My only suggestion is that if you get a cold or think you may be coming down with something, avoid sweets, drinks, juices, ice cream, and fries. Just drink lots of water, hot lemonade, and homemade chicken or vegetable soup, and stay home. Don’t pass your whatever around. You’ll probably soon feel fine and ready to rejoin the holiday cheer. (P.S.  Remember to be generous with our friend, tap water, throughout the season!)

 Depending on whether you make the flu feel unwelcome from the get go, you’ll be free to enjoy all the gatherings with family and friends, all the celebrations, holiday music and singing that keeps us well and thriving. It really all just depends….