Saturday, May 30, 2009

Circumambulating...and other adventures

Tomorrow my daughter and I set off on an adventure with our homeschool group. We're going camping in Mount Tamalpais State Park near San Francisco. Although it is a state park, being near the city, it has been visited and traversed by city folk. I read somewhere that Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder spilled some wine together in a little shack there (which partially inspired The Dharma Bums). After the 1967 Human Be-In in San Francisco, poets Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder got together at Mount Tam to do a sort of walkabout or walking meditation. They called it "circumambulating." Here is a poem by Snyder:

The Circumambulation of Mount Tamalpais

Walking up and around the long ridge of Tamalpais, “Bay Mountain,” circling and climbing – chanting – to show respect and to clarify the mind. Philip Whalen, Allen Ginsburg, and I learned this practice in Asia. So we opened a route around Tam. It takes a day.


Muir Woods: The bed of Redwood Creek just where the Dipsea Trail crosses it. Even in the dryest season of this year some running water. Mountains make springs.

Dhāranī for Removing Disasters
Four Vows

Splash across the creek and head up the Dipsea Trail, the steep wooded slope and into four meadows. Gold dry grass. Cows – a huge pissing, her ears out, looking around with large eyes and mottled nose. As we laugh. “-Excuse us for laughing at you.” Hazy day, butterflies tan as grass that sit on silver-weathered fence posts, a gang of crows. “I can smell fried chicken” Allen says – only the simmering California laurel leaves. The trail winds crossed and intertwining with a dirt jeep road.


A small twisted ancient interior live oak splitting a rock outcrop an hour up the trail.

Dhāranī for Removing Disasters
The Heat Mantra

A tiny chörten before this tree.

Into the woods. Maze fence gate. Young Douglas fir, redwood, a new state of being. Sun on madrone: to the bare meadow knoll. (Last Spring a bed of wild iris about here and this time too, a lazuli bunting.)


A ring of outcropped rocks. A natural little dolmen-circle right where the Dipsea crests on the ridge. Looking down a canyon to the ocean – not so far.

Dhāranī for Removing Disasters
Hari Om Namo Shiva

And on to Pan Toll, across the road, and up the Old Mine Trail. A doe and fawn, silvery gray. More crows.


Rock springs. A new trickle even now-

The Sarasvatī Mantra
Dhāranī for Removing Disasters

-in the shade of a big oak spreading out the map on a picnic table. Then up the Benstein Trail to Rifle Camp, old food-cache boxes hanging from wires. A bit north, in the oak woods and rocks,a neat little saddhu hut built of dry natural bits of wood and parts of old crates; roofed with shakes and black plastic. A book called Harmony left there. Lunch by the stream, too tiny a trickle, we drink water from our bota. The food offerings are swiss cheese sandwiches, swede bread with liverwurst, salami, jack cheese, olives, gomuku-no-moto from a can, grapes, penettone with apple-currant jelly and sweet butter, oranges, and soujouki – greek walnuts in grape-juice paste. All in the shade, at Rifle Camp.


A notable serpentine outcropping, not far after Rifle Camp.

Om Shri Maitreya
Dhāranī for Removing Disasters


Collier Spring – in a redwood grove – water trickling out a pipe.

Dhāranī of the Great Compassionate One

California nutmeg, golden chinquapin the fruit with burrs, the chaparral. Following the North Side Trail.


Inspiration Point.

Dhāranī for Removing Disasters
Mantra for Tārā

Looking down at Lagunitas. The gleam of water storage in the brushy hills. all that smog – and Mt. St. Helena faintly in the north. The houses of San Anselmo and San Rafael, once large estates…”The Peacock Gap Country Club” – Rocky brush climb up the North Ridge Trail.


Summit of Mt. Tamalpais. A ring of rock pinnacles around the lookout

Dhāranī for Removing Disasters
Dhāranī of the Great Compassionate One
Hari Krishna Mantra
Om Shri Maitreya
Hari Om Namo Shiva

All about the bay, such smog and sense of heat. May the whole planet not get like this. Start the descent down the Throckmorton Hogback Trail (Fern Canyon an alternative.)


Parking lot of Mountain Home. Cars whiz by, sun glare from the west.

Dhāranī for Removing Disasters
Gopala Mantra

Then across from the California Alpine Club, the Ocean View Trail goes down. Some yellow broom flowers still out. The long descending trail into shadowy giant redwood trees.


The bed of Redwood Creek again.

Dhāranī for Removing Disasters
Hari Om Namo Shiva
Hari Krishna Mantra
Four Vows

–standing in our little circle, blowing the conch, shaking the staff rings, right in the parking lot.

~ Gary Snyder

I go to Mount Tam, with literature in hand, with this history, this richness in mind. I'm excited about standing in this place where some of my favorite poets have stood. The region was once inhabited by Miwok Indians and is steeped in their history, as well. In fact, the mountain's name was most likely a Spanish reference to the Miwok, who they called "Tamal." The plants and wildlife there have stood witness and have their tale to tell. I look forward to our journey, to standing witness, to being there completely with my daughter and our dear friends. I hope to go with an open heart and to see through my own eyes. See you in a few days!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Kombucha Experiment #2

Last week I attempted to make kombucha tea without a starter “mushroom.” Instead, I used a jar of kombucha that I’d bought at the grocery store. Kombucha is so incredible at reproducing itself that I wanted to see if the live cultures in it would form a mushroom. Well, after twelve days, here it is.

Normally, a kombucha mushroom will take the shape of the container it’s in. You can see that this one is hardly a shape at all! But there were bubbles; it was fermenting. So, if it looks like kombucha and smells like kombucha, is it kombucha? I tentatively decided to give it a try.

It didn’t taste as potent as kombucha tea normally does and wasn’t quite as carbonated. It was also much sweeter. I guess there weren’t enough cultures to consume the sugar and ferment it. It tasted kind of like sparkling cider! Not bad. I put it in the fridge and think we’ll still drink it. Since I have another bottle of kombucha from the store, I thought I’d try again. This time I halved the recipe and lowered my sugar ratio.

I’ll let you know next week how it turns out! If this doesn’t work, I’m going to find a mushroom for those of you who have never heard of or brewed kombucha. They’re pretty amazing!

Post script: No head wounds were incurred in the making of this batch! *big smile*

Monday, May 25, 2009

In Memorial

Today is Memorial Day, an American holiday to memorialize the troops who fought and died serving our country, the troops that continue to fight to keep our country free.

But it is not them of whom I think. No. My thoughts arise from a knot in my stomach and an anxious flutter in my heart. Grief for my mom’s passing burns through me like a wildfire. I think it just might consume the me that I used to be. I want to feel this sorrow, but I don’t want it to consume my family. So I’ve been keeping myself busy, perusing blogs, exercising?!, yardwork. Now that’s therapeutic.

On Saturday, I even went up to help my dad pull weeds in my mom’s secret garden.

We left the borage, fennel, mint, mugwort, and thyme, clearing just enough to plant some peppers.

My little sister and daughter lounged on the grass and consulted their pendulums as to whether they should work...

or not.

It was hard work, but the day was beautiful, and the company was good.

Anouk took this picture on our drive home….

Sunday I worked in my own yard, watering, tending and pulling weeds. Today I planted some canna lily rhizomes. In so doing, I discovered my long-neglected, living advent spiral. And woven into it, I uncovered archaeological remnants from four different fairy homes. They’d been destroyed by the elements and buried in leaves.

I believe they were the second to last of such fairy offerings. This, I believe, was the last.

It was built shortly after one beautiful autumn parkday last year, when a younger friend of my daughter’s said, “Anouk, you are a real girl.” At first my heart swelled with sweetness that her friend saw her genuineness. As her friend continued, I realized it was not a compliment. She proceeded to pronounce another friend the best fairy leprechaun girl ever.

Amazingly, there was no charge around this interchange. Anouk didn’t even seem to notice. I wanted to interject, “You don’t know her like I do!” But I didn’t. I realized that this is how it must be. It wasn’t long after that she lost her last baby tooth and started getting excited about independence. She is leaving the kingdom of childhood.

I just hope that it’s not too much of a mad rush. I hope that she finds pause to commune with the nature spirits…to daydream and breathe…to keep the vestiges of innocence kindled in her spirit.

I wish that for us all. Perhaps if we remembered our original natures, we’d forego war and have a garden party instead.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Palace of Illusions

The Palace of Illusions: A Novel The Palace of Illusions: A Novel by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is a re-envisioning of the ancient Indian epic the Mahabharata. It is an historical chronicle full of intrigue and adventure. And like many ancient stories, it is embedded with spiritual wisdom. The spiritual section of the Mahabharata is called the Bhagavad Gita. I read this about fifteen years ago looking for some insight but found myself disillusioned by a very human tale of war.

What makes Divakaruni’s retelling accessible is that it is told through the voice of one of the women in the Mahabharata. It is in keeping with the original and still very much a tale of war. What brought it to life for me, however, was Divakaruni’s characterization. She used the female voice to bring the relationships alive so that we can see the characters’ motivations, their longings, their human frailty—as our own. She masterfully drew the parallel between war among kingdoms and the internal conflicts we experience.

While I may be reading into it, I think Divakaruni used the title, as well as Krishna’s character, to allude to the idea that our human experience is a “palace of illusions”—in which we suffer, forgetting our spiritual origin. However, the allusion, if there at all, is so subtle as to be nearly non-existent. Maybe Divakaruni didn’t want to turn people off with religion? It seems like she could have used Krishna a little more—not to preach or moralize—but to convey that slippery way that we experience the tension between duty and desire and what is true to us.

Divakaruni takes you to ancient India with her rich and sensual writing. And, even though the author did not include much reference to the original spiritual content, I think she might have opened the door for me to revisit the Bhagavad Gita. I wonder if it will have such a strong pulse? Maybe I’ll have to read it and then revisit The Palace of Illusions again!

View all my reviews.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Making kombucha is dangerous!

A couple years ago a friend of mine gave me a kombucha mushroom. Technically, it’s yeast and bacteria. People just call it a mushroom, because that's what it looks like. It is easy to brew and easy to share, as it self-propagates. Kombucha alchemy! I was excited!

I sent one of my babies to a faraway friend. I had to send it in its juice to keep it alive. Then I had to seal it really well and surround it in bubble wrap and paper, disguising it to bypass postal regulations. It was a little nerve-wracking, because you could feel it sloshing and smell the slight vinegary liquid! I felt subversive but excited to be sharing something that keeps on giving. It's satisfying. If you like kombucha, I recommend brewing it. There are several places to purchase it online. I haven't bought it this way before, tho' and can't really recommend anyone.

I brewed for a long time, but when I went on vacation one year, I came home and found my mushrooms gone! That’s a story I won’t go into here. ANYWAY, I decided to try again, even though I don’t have a mushroom. I decided to try brewing with just the starter drink. We’ll see if it works. I’ll let you know when it’s done.

Kombucha Tea
adapted from experience, the internet and...
Kombucha Miracle Fungus: The Essential Handbook by Harald Tietze

Boil enough water for a teapot. Add 4 bags of organic black tea. At this time you can add fresh herbs (equal parts of yarrow, dandelion, stinging nettle, elder, and raspberry leaves). I haven't braved it yet, because the book I mentioned above indicated that this might create a medium for undesirable mold.

And ¾ - 3 C (1/4-1 C per quart) white, granulated sugar to tea. Through fermentation white sugar gets transformed into lactic acid and alcohol.

Stir until dissolved.

Let steep for 10 minutes. Then remove teabags. Let sit until room temperature.

Pour into a sterilized, widemouth glass container.

Add 1 C kombucha tea (or 2 tablespoons of cider or white wine vinegar).

Add the remainder of filtered water to bring the total amount to 10 cups. Fill to within 1 ½ inches from the top of the container.

Place the fungus in the liquid smooth side up. Cover the container with muslin and anchor with elastic. Stand container in a dark, warm place (70-84 degrees) or use a heated brewing mat. Since it's so warm here already, I didn't use a heating pad. And I just use this craft corner in my bedroom, because it's clean, dark and undisturbed.

Check after 4 or 5 days. Your kombucha tea will be ready in 5-10 days (depending on the temperature). With clean hands, remove fungus onto a plate. Strain ferment into bottles, leaving air space at the top. Keep in refrigerator. Separate the offspring (produced by binary fission) and reuse. Each fungus can be reused 4-5 times. Or place in an airtight container, cover with some brew, leaving room at the top, and store for 3-6 months.

Post script: I knelt on the floor in my bedroom to take the last picture for you all. When I went to get up, my toe caught in my pant leg...and I...went...flying! Because I had my camera in hand, I couldn't break my fall and crashed into my closet door. My glasses smashed into my face and were covered in paint and scratches. And I got a gnarly bump on my forehead. I've had a killer headache since then. Hopefully it's just coffee withdrawals. Making kombucha is dangerous!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Desert Island Reading

What author do you own the most books by?
Far and away, Rudolf Steiner. He was an amazing man, the father of: biodynamic gardening, Waldorf Education, anthroposophic medicine…. Would I have so many of his books had I not gone to school for Waldorf Education? I don’t know. There’s just so much in them that I haven’t experienced myself. His books give me indigestion. But I love them.

What book do you own the most copies of?
I don’t own multiple copies of any book. Why would I? There are so many calling to me. However, my friend Georgia buys multiple copies of books she loves so that she can give them as gifts. Isn’t that a great idea?!

Did it bother you that those questions ended with prepositions?
Psh, no. It bothers me to write something that way, but if I write it proper, it sounds archaic. So I usually switch back to the improper and conversational. Ah, the (d)evolution of language. Sigh….

Which fictional character are you secretly in love with?
I can honestly say that I’ve never fallen in love with a fictional character. It’s the real people that I get crushes on, people who are articulate, authentic, and passionate—no matter what their appearance, gender, or age. Alexandra David-Neel, Dennis Klocek, Thich Nhat Hanh, Isaan Dorsey, Michael Pollan, Anais Nin.

Which books have you read the most times in your life?
I read the The Lord of the Rings in its entirety seven times. I love rich epics.

What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?
Ten? Why ten?! The boys realized that I was a girl and…eventually I realized that they were boys. Was there anything else? Oh, yeah. I think Mtv came out that year.

What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?
Hmmm…I’m usually pretty lucky with books. I held my distance from The Shack. But when my mom died, it was given to us as a gift. I almost put it down a few times, but I read it. Yep.

What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?
Probably The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Did I mention I like epics? Well, epics re-written from the female point of view are even better. Lavinia by Ursula K. LeGuin and The Red Tent by Anita Diamant are also excellent. I liked The Clan of the Cave Bear series, as well.

What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
I can’t even answer this one! Most books are so much richer than their movies. There is only one book that I can actually say was better on film—Big Fish.

Which book would you least like to see made into a movie?

What is the most low-brow book you’ve read as an adult?
I like low-brow. It is generally pretty raw and unedited—think Bukowski. How about rephrasing the question: What is the most trashy book you’ve read as an adult? Probably Outlander by Diana Galbaldon. Well-done romance trash.

What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?
The one I’m reading right now--Saharasia. It is an exhaustive thesis on the correlation between violence and climate change. It’s very academic. And it’s just hard to read account after account of violent practices toward women and children. I don’t know if I’ll ever finish it. I’ve been reading it for a year, now!

Ulysses was hard to get into but worth the perserverence.

What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you’ve seen?
What about that visually stunning movie version of Hamlet?

Do you prefer the French or the Russians?
Crime and Punishment trumps Remembrance of Things Past, but I like Rimbaud and Baudelaire very much.

Shakespeare, Milton or Chaucer?

What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
Shrug. I read more biographies than fiction and more children’s fiction than adult.

What is your favorite novel?
That’s a hard question. Even picking my desert island top ten would be next to impossible. I wanna cheat and blurt-write a whole bunch real quick. Pick one? That’s like picking a favorite child! I’ll just say novelist Tom Robbins.

Theodore Roethke.

Work of non-fiction?
Old Path White Clouds, Street Zen, and Spell of the Sensuous.

What is the most influential novel you've read?
Another impossible question. The Little Prince, Siddhartha, Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

Who is the most overrated writer alive today?
It’s too easy to be a critic. I will only say that J.K. Rowling’s writing style does not appeal to me.

Which less widely read novel would you recommend?
Foucalt’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco.

What are you reading right now?
Check out Goodreads in my sidebar to see what I’m reading right now.

So many books, so little time…. I would love to get paid to read. But, for now, I have my desert island fantasy.

Thank you Mon, for getting this meme going.

Sunday, May 17, 2009



2 pounds apples 1/2 cup (or more) beet 1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lime (or lemon) juice and
2 tablespoons ginger, unpeeled


Chop and juice ingredients. There was something different about my beets. I think they turned out to be unidentified turnips from my CSA box. Oops! But the taste was similar... Chill and enjoy. From Raw by Juliano.

Sunday Morning Happiness

I have been tagged by Mel to share six things that make me happy. There are so many things, things for which I am grateful, moments that bring me peace. But this is what lives in me this morning.

Happiness is…
  1. the written word. I feel it in my mouth and fingertips and finally in my head and heart. I could eat words and be satisfied.

  2. nothing between me and the earth. No gloves, no shoes. Planting, tending, the smell of wet earth, being part of, not separate.

  3. my daughter’s affection and touch.

  4. listening to my husband play piano. He has an awesome band in which he sings and plays guitar and some piano. But to hear him in the middle of the night, composing, makes me melt.

  5. crisp, cold, dry, breathable Montana big skies. I now live in California, in a beautiful junction—between two rivers, between the mountains and ocean, and between country and city. I’m cradled in a plentiful breadbasket. But it doesn’t invigorate me like my birthplace.

  6. blood. Not my own lifeblood, though, of course it makes happiness possible. Not my moontime, though I’m happy to be a woman. But a wonderful juice. It’s not the fountain of youth or vital mountain springwater, but it makes me feel alive.

No Impact Man had an interesting blog about happiness this week. Wanna play tag? What's your bliss?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Three Step Cheesecake

1. Dunk strawberry in sour cream.

2. Roll in brown sugar.

3. Enjoy! It is surprisingly delicious.

This simple (and unlikely) recipe came from one of my husband's coworkers.
We had it as part of our Mother's Day breakfast last week. Mmmm....

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Scared, Too

This music video is for Sarah at knitting the wind.
Christa Couture is a friend of mine's daughter.
For more on her amazing music and life, check out her website.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The devil made me do it! Cleaning and other hazards.

I have some friends who are neatniks. They clean up the dishes while they’re cooking and after every meal. Their counters and sink are clear. Everything has its place—there are no unsightly piles to be found, not even in the garage. Their toilets sparkle. There is no dust or cobwebs gracing the nooks and crannies. And, like this guy at Burning Man, their floors are spotless.

I am in awe and a little bit suspicious. How do they do it? I certainly have never been accused of being a neatnik! But I do enjoy periodic cleaning. I like to imagine that I’m releasing elemental spirits trapped in the dust and grime.

“If one has thoughts that relate to the world of elemental beings in a valid way, then they receive something…. They receive nourishment from the centre of their evolutionary situation. It is nourishment for them when human beings think of them and relate to them lovingly. Elemental beings are like children who dance and are happy if their mothers stroke their hair.”
Manfred Schmidt-Brabant, The Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker

There is a freshness, a lightness of being, that arises from this kind of care. It doesn’t even require antibacterial soap, bleach or harsh chemicals. In fact, the scent of those makes me feel like I shouldn’t even be breathing in! Michael Pollan, in his latest book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, advises not to eat anything containing more than 5 ingredients. Could we apply this wisdom to the other products we buy? Do we really know what’s in our household and personal cleaning products? In How to Know Higher Worlds: A Modern Path of Initiation, Rudolf Steiner describes various meditations for self-discipline and achieving freedom in thinking. One of them is called the Pin Exercise. He suggests imagining a straight pin in your mind’s eye. Think on its form and function. Then, working backwards, visualize in detail how it came into your hands: retail store, distributor, factory, and the process of gathering various raw materials. A straight pin probably is comprised of less than 5 raw materials, but I wouldn’t even know where to start. Who would in this day and age? And to think of the multitude of ingredients in our dish and hand soaps, hair and beauty products, and floor cleaners. I can’t even pronounce most of them!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a company that explains where the raw materials come from, how they are extracted and processed to become the product for sale? They could provide research on the negative effects on people and the environment. And they could rate companies for best practices. But knowing, we probably wouldn’t buy anything. Would we?

But if the devil makes you do it, clean! David Suzuki has some recipes for making your own 5 ingredient or less supplies.

Scouring Powder

Laundry Soap


Hair Mask

Check out Suzuki's website for recipe cards for just about any household cleaning product you might want, as well as a wide variety of cosmetics. Clean safe and have fun!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Health Binder

I started homeschooling my daughter in third grade. One of the appealing aspects of this lifestyle change was the time and intimacy it afforded. I looked forward to finding what health meant to me and my family. I would have more energy to create a nourishing rhythm. We would learn how to cook together and make things like yogurt and vinegar and kombucha—self-sufficient science! And I especially looked forward to having the time to daydream and explore what we love: nature, gardening, reading, animals, art.

But I have to admit—I’m not very disciplined and am sporadically organized. Even though I was no longer working 9-5, I found myself short on time! Those things that appealed to me got lost under piles of to-do lists, dirty dishes, laundry, and school books.

When my mom first told me she had breast cancer, everything else seemed trivial. I found myself wanting to be actively involved in her treatment—however she envisioned it—but she didn’t want anyone’s help. I felt crushed and helpless. I realized that what my mom would accept was my love and presence. This was a positive shift, but I still felt out of control. I decided to turn this energy towards my own health.

In order to organize and make it a priority, I created a health binder. In the past I would read health books passively. I’d tune out the irrelevant stuff and get excited about certain things that related to me. But that’d be it. The book would go back on the shelf, and it would be just me and my to-do lists again.

I journaled and began taking notes when I got excited about something I’d read. Then I’d set goals for myself and work toward them. I filled out a personal health assessment that I got from Staying Healthy with the Seasons. I photocopied anatomy pictures, health remedies and meditation exercises. I laminated a chore chart for my daughter and I. There’s also a monthly calendar in there for lesson planning and life. I made up a weekly shopping list and meal planner. I also had a list of things I wanted to do. It was such a positive feeling to be taking responsibility for myself. Because I was nourished, I felt I could better nourish my family, my mom.

Then life swept me away from my health binder again as I finished my practicum and graduated from college. And this last year…. It’s very raw for me. I didn’t work on my health binder. I couldn’t. I did try the FlyLady, but quickly became a dropout. I read Confessions of an Organized Homemaker. It was good, but not me. I’ve got to find my own way—a system that breathes.

So, I’m back to my health binder. Each time I come back to it, I refine it to work for me better. And each time I come back to it, I feel a little closer to me, to my wholeness.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Service and Servility

I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but…I’m not a big fan of holidays. They can seem like such a capitalistic contrivance. I don’t need flowers or cards or jewelry on a certain day. I guess I don’t need them at all. Tho' gifts are sweet sometimes. They remind you that someone was thinking of you. And it’s not that I don’t like to revere or celebrate—I do! I just hope I breathe this spirit into each day.

For some, religion and holidays provide a framework for ritual. They are a time of worship or service. While my family and I enjoy learning about other religions, we do not adhere to one. However, yesterday I woke up thinking about service. As parents, we want to nurture our children and give them the cream of the crop. But if you serve your children all their lives, how do you prevent them from becoming spoiled tyrants? How do you instill a reciprocity in your children (especially only children)? How do you give them opportunities to serve? And how do you do this without being authoritarian and expecting servility?

These are not rhetorical questions.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Being a Woman

As a young adult, my (boy)friends used to call me a feminazi. There are probably definitions on the internet, but what it meant in my circle was a rigid (if not aggressive) feminist. I was on a quest—no, a mission—to have equal rights and experiences as men. Equality means the same, right? Woman=Man? I wanted to be taken seriously but felt like all guys could see was my anatomy. So, I downplayed my feminine characteristics (note the large plaid flannel). In fact, I went so far as wanting to be treated as one of the boys. I wanted to hang out with them in the kitchen or around the truck—those exclusive meeting places of the fraternity of boys. What did they do there? They rolled their own cigarettes and drank. They talked shit and challenged each other. Equal? Heck, I can drink this whole bottle of tequila! They spit and worked things out by wrestling or with their fists. Hey, I could do that, too. Walk alone at night? Sure. Adventure! It wasn’t until I decided to have a baby that I realized something: I’m a girl. Boys and girls are not the same, but that doesn’t mean girls are the weaker sex. We can still work together for equal rights. For this, I am grateful to the feminist movement. Because I’m a woman, I will always advocate for women—just not to the detriment of men.

In The Spirit of Intimacy, Sobonfu Some says, “Being a woman does not mean you have nothing to do with masculine energy. Similarly, being a man does not mean you have nothing to do with the feminine. Vaginas and penises are not the only things that define our sexual nature. Our lives are influenced by the presence within us of both feminine and masculine energies. It is important that these energies maintain harmony within us.” She goes on to describe annual rituals in which the women go off together to dance their projective manliness and the men go off to dance their feminine receptiveness. Sobonfu says, “You will notice in many villages in Africa, during the days women are all together, men are all together also. This is not a sexist practice. It’s just that for some reason there’s a feeling that a clear sense of otherness is essential to a harmonious coming together with your mate.”

I am a woman. It’s taking me awhile to figure out what this means to me. To value and refine my intuition. To learn to be assertive without being (or feeling like) a bitch. To love my womanly body. To recognize the importance of being the matron, the priestess of the home. To envision the healthy heritage I want to pass on to my family and my extended family. To find support and camaraderie in my girlfriends.

So sisters, what does being a woman mean to you?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Is health care a right?

In the 21st century, Charles Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory is king.

“[Darwin] concluded 150 years ago that living organisms are perpetually embroiled in a “struggle for existence.” For Darwin, struggle and violence are not only a part of animal (human) nature, but the principal “forces” behind evolutionary advancement. In the final chapter of The Origin of Species: By Means of Natural Selection, Or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, Darwin wrote of an inevitable “struggle for life” and that evolution was driven by “the war of nature, from famine and death.” Couple that with Darwin’s notion that evolution is random and you have a world, as poetically described by Tennyson that can be characterized as “red in tooth and claw,” a series of meaningless, bloody battles for survival.” Bruce Lipton, The Biology of Belief

Darwin characterizes survival as a struggle, a competition. What if Darwin’s theory was wrong (or incomplete)? The first time I encountered this point of view was when I first discovered Waldorf education. I had been so indoctrinated in Darwin’s theory that I literally felt struck that Waldorf does not teach it in the elementary grades. It almost seemed heretical! But as I learned more about it, I found that Waldorf had a completely different approach to science—a phenomenological approach. The child becomes the scientist and observes phenomena with his or her own senses. Waldorf education opened the door to how I think about things and made me realize how I accept things that I have not truly thought about.

In the past few years, I’ve also encountered a few great scientists who point out how species work in cooperation—one scratching the back of the other, so to speak. It began with Darwin’s predecessor, Jean-Babtiste Lamarck. He developed the first cohesive theory of evolution in 1800. Unlike Darwin, Lamarck’s theory included the idea that organisms survive through cooperation with their environment and other organisms therein.

“But today’s understanding of cooperation in nature goes much deeper than the easily observable ones. “Biologists are becoming increasingly aware that animals have coevolved, and continue to coexist, with diverse assemblages of microorganisms that are required for normal health and development,” according to a recent article in Science called “We Get By With A Little Help From Our (Little) Friends.” [Ruby, et al, 2004] The study of these relationships is now a rapidly growing field called “Systems Biology.”” Bruce Lipton, The Biology of Belief

“These brief descriptions can lead us from a traditional notion of separate biological organisms to the conception of an ecological organism, of which the biological organisms are a part. Each species -- bloodroot, giraffe or bison -- appears as a unique member of a habitat or landscape, like tissues or organs within an organism. In turn, we can study habitats and landscapes as dynamic members of larger ecosystems and bioregions. Finally, we are led to the concept of the whole earth as an organism.” Craig Holdrege, Where do organisms end?

This may seem like a tangent, but bear with my wild mind.

A couple months ago, my sister and I got into a heated debate about whether or not universal health care is a good idea. My sister thinks it is wrong that some people cannot afford health insurance and may even die for lack of care. I, true to my nature, was being provocative and playing the devil’s advocate. Wu-ah-ah-ah-aah!!! It helps me think through both sides of an issue. Considering my new relationship with theories (as such), you might think it funny that I started thinking about Darwin’s survival of the fittest again. It got all entwined with destiny and whether or not we are all meant to live. It was all tangled and messy and came out sounding callous.

Industrialized nations oppose the survival of the fittest theory with health care systems that take care of the masses, not just the strongest. We take the doctors’ prescriptions while continuing with our unhealthy behaviors. People have to want to live and heal and be healthy. It’s not something a doctor can prescribe. So, the masses survive, but not necessarily well. Does entitlement to health care breed apathy? Do we abnegate responsibility, giving it away to “the specialists”? Should we be working towards universal health care? Does this form of health care truly help people to survive—and well?

The words "health care" started tap dancing in my head. Health. Care. Indigenous people had a medicine man or woman who cared for and tended their people, because it was best for the survival of the species. When we are born, life is our birthright. Everything wants to live and be well, and we need the loving care of our families and medicine men and women to do that. We work in cooperation. As we grow, however, the fruit of our birthright is responsibility. Each person must refine their intuition, listen to their body and connect with their vitality. By all means, go to the health specialist when necessary. Learn to communicate with your doctor. Know your rights. Take the steps to prevent illness. But, most importantly find out what it means to you to live well. Become a specialist of you.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What is health?

Even though science has not yet given us definitive proof on whether or not viruses are the cause or by-product of disease, I think we can all agree that disease exists. But if we want to know what health is, we need to know what disease is. If disease is the toxic terrain off of which microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, and parasites) feed, then health would be the detoxification of the terrain and support of beneficial organisms. However, if microorganisms are the cause of disease, health would seem to be the absence of those microorganisms.

We have the Romans to thank for improving sanitation practices and making our cities more habitable. We have toilets, toilet paper and running water. And, as Grandma Barbara says, “If you can’t be good, at least be sanitary.” We’re clean. So why are we still getting sick?

Incidences of allergies and autoimmune disorders are on the rise. Ironically, by declaring a war on germs, we may just be declaring a war on ourselves. When we go so far as to use antibacterial soap, immunizations and antibiotics, we are killing communities of beneficial microbes, as well as unwanted germs. In 1989 David P. Strachan published an article in the British Medical Journal entitled “Hay fever, hygiene and household size.” In the long-term study, Strachan studied nearly 20,000 children. He observed them from birth until they were 23 and found a striking correlation between larger families and the absence of allergic hypersensitivity (atopic disease).

“Over the past century declining family size, improvements in household amenities, and higher standards of personal cleanliness have reduced the opportunities for cross infection in young families. This may have resulted in more widespread clinical expression of atopic disease, emerging earlier in wealthier people, as seems to have occurred in hay fever.” Strachan D P (1989) Hay fever, hygiene and household size. BMJ 299: 1259-1260 [PubMed]

Strachan’s research has been widely studied and has become known as the hygiene hypothesis. Studies have been done in Europe on the absence of allergies in rural farming communities. Like Bechamp’s cellular theory, the hygiene hypothesis also looks to the physiological terrain. When our body ecology has not been exposed to various microorganisms in the environment, it isn’t being exposed to the world. It isn’t being educated about what works with it and what works against it. When the boundary between self and environment is lacking, allergic hypersensitivity or autoimmune diseases occur. The body senses that it is under attack. Conversely, when the body has been discriminately exposed to microorganisms in its natural environment, it knows better how to deal with them.

While we should not abandon basic hygiene practices and awareness of illness around us, perhaps it is not the absence of microorganisms that constitutes health. Perhaps health is a strong and educated terrain in which microorganisms and our organism are in balance. We only become aware of our bodily processes when something is out of balance, uneasy, or dis-eased. But our body primarily acquires this education without our awareness. This requires a degree of trust—trust in our vitality and our interconnectedness with the world. It also requires that we listen to our bodies so that we are aware when we are becoming imbalanced and can take action.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Eye of the Needle Art

Have you ever heard of sculptor Willard Wigan? His medium: sand and dust. You've got to check out this YouTube video. Poor Alice!

Willard also has an interesting biography. Check out his website, for more information.

What's your favorite piece? Mine's the owl.

For some reason, the comments are not being displayed below. But if you click on the title, Eye of the Needle Art, it'll take you to this post. You can comment there. I'd love to hear what you think....

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Biology of Belief

The Biology Of Belief: Unleashing The Power Of Consciousness, Matter And Miracles The Biology Of Belief: Unleashing The Power Of Consciousness, Matter And Miracles by Bruce H. Lipton

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
Some teachers can just kill your interest in science. They can make it so impossibly abstract that you can’t find any relation to it. Perhaps that is what put me off as I began to read Bruce Lipton’s The Biology of Belief—not that he wasn’t giving a context and showing a relationship to science—quite the opposite. He reminded me of someone receiving an award for the first time and thanking everyone! He was unbridled, unguarded—unintelligent? No! That I was offput by his enthusiasm, is really a reflection on me, not him. We are subtly taught to look cool, to appear unaffected, because if we are moved by something, we might be moved into the unknown. This illusion of control seems solid, but it is death for an organism. It is static, whereas life is responsive, adaptive—dynamic. And so is Bruce Lipton. I appreciate that he loves science and is so enthusiastic about it, while acknowledging that science is the continuing exploration of theories. He adheres to objectivity, one of the main tenets of scientific research, but you can definitely see the twinkle in the eye behind the lens!

After Lipton has given us a picture of his academic journey and his unfolding interests, questions and discoveries, he gives a very thorough explanation of the workings of the cell. His writing is well thought-out and organized. He provides extensive end notes as well as referencing other chapters in the book. He really ties everything together and gives great metaphorical examples for laypeople like me so that we can begin to understand the complex machinations, not only of the cell, but of how it is related to quantum physics and what he calls Systems Biology. Lipton believes that the Neo-Darwinian adherence to the theory of survival of the fittest characterizes life in competition, whereas at the cellular level, there is complex communication and collaboration—strength in numbers. The world is not our enemy; it is our belief that it is that causes disease. Beliefs are our subconscious programming. Conversely, if we believe in our vitality, it will flourish.

While we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction in our planet’s history, our fate is not sealed. While the segue was a little abrupt, I believe that the implication is that our consciousness can change the future and that we must start with ourselves and our children. I thought, “This is great! I can’t wait to hear his ideas on how to do this!” Lipton explains how we have two minds: the subconscious mind for processing vast amounts of information in the present moment (including habits and beliefs) and the conscious mind that has the ability to learn from the past and plan the future. He states how difficult it is to change subconsciously acquired habits and beliefs. Don’t we all know that! So, how do we do it? How do we change our subconscious programming? Unfortunately, Bruce Lipton is not a psychologist. It is not in the last chapter or the Epilogue—but after that—in the Addendum, that the reader is merely referred to someone who is a psychologist and practices something called PSYCH-K. The “K” stands for kinesiology, the science of human movement. The website referred to was not very revealing, and the one book on it was not well-reviewed, saying it had little substance and appeared to be a promotional ploy to get people to go to the author’s expensive workshops. Though The Biology of Belief was a very good book (so deliciously over my head that it deserves a second read) and so well-referenced throughout—it leaves me shocked that it led to this singular reference on the application of his ideas. But I sense that Bruce Lipton is a seeker, and perhaps his continuing research and collaboration will prove ever more fruitful. He does have an audio cd coming out in October 2008 entitled, Spontaneous Evolution. I’ll have to check that out.

View all my reviews.

Friday, May 1, 2009

What is disease?

So far we know that viruses are bundles of genome encased in a protein sheath. Although they do not appear to be alive or self-directed, scientists don’t have a conclusive answer. However, almost any scientist or doctor you talk with will tell you that they’re not alive. They will also tell you that they are infectious agents that attack living organisms. This is the pathogenic model for medicine that has gone largely unquestioned since its inception in the late 1800s.

Like many endeavors, from discoveries to inventions to works of art, much depends on what came before. The idea of microorganisms dates as far back as written history goes, but it was all wrapped up in God’s will, evil spirits, and curses. After the Middle Ages, humankind started focusing on intellectual pursuits.

"When Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) revolutionized physics with his studies of optics and gravity, he perceived the universe as an immense mechanical construct, a giant clockwork that scientists could probe by analyzing various parts. He inaugurated a new scientific methodology, known as reductionism. According to the assumptions underlying this approach, insights gained by studying bits and pieces of nature could be fitted together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to eventually explain the workings of the cosmos." David Suzuki, Tree: A Life Story

As scientific methods and instruments became more and more precise, scientists were able to isolate smaller and smaller particles in controlled environments.

In 1898 the first virus was discovered by Martinus Beijerinck. While Beijerinck studied botanical microbiology in the Netherlands, two scientists in France were studying microbiology in relation to animals. They were Louis Pasteur and Antoine Bechamp. They were working to discover the cause of disease occurring in silkworms in France. And, although they were contemporaries, the fire of belief and the politics of discovery between these two was palpable. The way in which they experimented, interpreted, and assembled their data was vastly different.

Through Antoine Bechamp’s silkworm experiments, he found that animals carry microorganisms in them all the time, microorganisms that symbiotically assist in the metabolism of their host. He noticed that in systems that changed from healthy to diseased, those microorganisms become pleomorphic, or mutate. He called his theory the cellular disease theory, or pleomorphism. Bechamp ascertained that, only when a biological system becomes imbalanced does disease occur. Viruses, which work to catabolically break down or scavenge toxic waste, have a medium in which to do their work. They de-toxify the dead cellular matter. It is only when disease is widespread that viruses become widespread. Thus, he contended, disease comes first.

Louis Pasteur, on the other hand, saw microorganisms as the cause of the silkworm disease. Not only that, but he asserted that each microorganism was a specific disease, arising from the external environment. He believed that these specific diseases, like the one affecting the silkworms, as well as diseases like rabies or influenza, attack healthy cells and weaken or destroy them. Pasteur called his idea the the germ theory of disease.

Pasteur’s ideas were not all well-received, and his success was controversial. Even the famous nurse, Florence Nightingale, published a critique of the theory.

“The specific disease doctrine is the grand refuge of weak, uncultured, unstable minds, such as now rule the medical profession. There are no specific diseases; there are specific disease conditions.” Florence Nightingale, 1860 (Excerpted from The Dream and Lie of Louis Pasteur by R.B. Pearson)

There are numerous books written both in favor of and oppostition to the germ theory. Perhaps it was because his father was a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars that he found favor and support.

“In 1863, Emperor Napoleon III asked Pasteur to assist France in combating various “diseases” of wine that often caused exported French wine to go bad before it reached its destination.” (Excerpted from

Perhaps that is why, with his alliance, Pasteur’s germ theory prevailed over Bechamp’s cellular disease theory. Whatever the case may be, his theory became the basis for modern medicine, along with the advent of immunizations and hygienic practices.

The fallout from the germ and subsequent immunization theories is that modern medicine is pathological and curative-based. It looks toward disease and not toward health. You might argue that immunizations are preventative, but their efficacy is also yet to be proven. When my daughter was six, she was out of school for a good portion of the year. She had an incessant, hacking cough that made her stomach spasm and dry heave. It was loud and painful. My husband and I felt powerless to help our little girl. We decided to take her to the emergency room. The doctor diagnosed her with whooping cough. My daughter had one more series of shots left in her childhood immunizations, but my husband and I had made the choice to discontinue them. We didn’t have internet at the time (weird, huh?), and even though we have a great library system, there wasn’t much literature on immunizations. I remember reading What Every Parent Should Know About Childhood Immunization by Jamie Murphy. I told the doctor that she didn’t have the last of the series, and she said that she should be covered. However, she said that she, herself, had acquired whooping cough as an adult, even though she was fully immunized against it. She said the vaccine didn’t have a high success rate. To add insult to injury, there was nothing they could do for my daughter. I think I might have made her up an herbal preparation from the immunization book that I read.

I didn’t make a big deal about the fact that our family had chosen not to finish immunizing our daughter. But when her doctor realized she hadn’t completed her series, he wanted to schedule an appointment. He was livid at me when I told him our decision. He angrily pressed me with questions. Although I didn’t feel very self-confident, I told him that I wasn’t convinced of their effectiveness. I told him I believed I could support our immune system through diet and herbs. I told him that I didn’t like the side effects of the vaccines or the ingredients in them (such as MSG, animal material, aluminum salts, formaldehyde, and mercury). He told me that they don’t have thimerosol (a mercury-based preservative) in vaccines anymore. I later found out that this wasn’t entirely true. They phased it out in 2001. This means that the pharmaceutical industry doesn’t make most childhood vaccinations with mercury anymore. The ones that do contain it, have “acceptable” amounts. And there were still some mercury containing vaccines in doctor’s offices and warehouses across the country.

Needless to say, we don’t go to the doctor very often anymore. I came to realize what a big industry it was, embroiled in bureaucracy and dogmatism. The whole system is not bad. Sometimes surgery is necessary. And there are wonderful individual doctors, who truly believe in what they do and genuinely want to help people. Unfortunately, they are kept too inhumanely busy to do much research. Research is what’s needed. Doctors are scientists, too. And scientific theory must be continually reexamined, renewed. Life is constantly changing. Maybe there are new ways of seeing. New questions arise. Previously discredited theories or indigenous wisdom can be looked at anew. Perhaps Antoine Bechamp’s theory that cells change, that a bacteria could mutate to become a virus, as a response to a diseased, biological ecology, should be revisited. Some scientists are reexamining old paradigms.

Here is a video of an amazing microscope called the Ergonom. You can see living tissue through high resolution lenses without dye or altering the medium. You can see mutating microorganisms just as Bechamp proposed.

“…as scientists investigated the parts of living organisms, they found the parts themselves were made up of parts—molecules—which were in turn assemblages of atoms, which were ultimately made up of quarks, the (so far) irreducible structures of all matter. At the quark level, there was nothing to distinguish life from nonlife.” David Suzuki, Tree: A Life Story

“Recent advances in genome science have revealed an additional mechanism of cooperation among species. Living organisms, it turns out, actually integrate their cellular communities by sharing their genes. It had been thought that genes are passed on only to the progeny of an individual organism through reproduction. Now scientists realize that genes are shared not only among individual members of a species, but also among members of different species. The sharing of genetic information via gene transfer speeds up evolution since organisms can acquire “learned” experiences from other organisms. [Nitz, et al, 2003] Given this sharing of genes, organisms can no longer be seen as disconnected entities; there is no wall between species. Daniel Drell, manager of the Department of Energy’s microbial genome program told Science in (2001 294:1634): “…we can no longer comfortably say what is a species anymore.” [Pennisi 2001] Bruce Lipton, The Biology of Belief

Isn’t that incredible?! New models of our world are constantly being born. New inspiration is realized.

“All theory, dear friend, is gray, but the golden tree of life springs ever green.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The public is increasingly embracing naturopathic medicine. But we must be ever vigilant. We must always reexamine theories and not take them as ultimate truth. That reminds me of one of my favorite quotes.

“Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. All systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth.” Thich Nhat Hanh (excerpted from Dharma Gaia ed. Allan Hunt Badiner)

Cultivate critical thinking, but do not abandon your heart.

What does my heart say? I am alive!