In What Soil Grows the Lotus Now

In What Soil Grows the Lotus Now

Five days ago, I physically arrived back to Portland. My mind is still on the job in Nepal. My spirit is still with the people there. Last time, it took almost eight months to feel that I had returned home (in as much as it s possible to return, when you love an entire community this strongly.)

I come down to my basement at one or two o’clock in the morning, so as not to wake my family with my jet-lagged schedule. While I’m down here, I practice clumsily writing the Devanagari script, I watch Nepali movies on Youtube and I scan my emails for high-priority stuff (like, we’ll shut off your electricity) but can’t seem to get to the rest of them. I text with my friends halfway around the world and have even taken to sending Snapchats to bring my mood up. I remember this feeling from last time. My teacher, who runs the program in Nepal, calls it “Soul Delay.” It can go on for months.

Right after I left, the people of Nepal celebrated the color festival, Holi. This festival rings in the vitality and energy of the springtime. As I see that same energy around me in Portland, I note that I always go to Nepal during the Winter. It is dry and bare while I am there, though I feel alive and creative in so many ways. It’s almost perfect that the gentle, generating aspect of the springtime receives me home to help nurture the part of me that brings my life forward.

Having just gotten back from the land where the Buddha was born, I am thinking about the meaning of all of this. I read a beautiful Nepali poem this morning: Deshko Parichaya by Mohan Koirala. This poem was published in 1951 in the journal Sharada and later translated to English by Michael Hutt (who writes all of the Nepali language guides I am using.) I found this to be a beautiful description of the spring. It also eludes to the lotus flower, which has long been a symbol of Buddhism. The flower is often the purest white possible, though it grows in some of the most disgusting filth possible. I have heard it said that the worse the filth, the more pure the flower. It was this concept, explained to King Ashoka by one of the monks in his torture chamber that ultimately converted him to Buddhism and stopped the violence he had committed himself to.

Now that I am hearing the first bell of Spring, the call to regeneration, how will I grow? I can try to plan my year, to take charge of it and to force it to be what it will. However, what is left of the ashes from last year? In what soil does my lotus grow?

This week off before I go back to work has given me time to spend with my children, especially my youngest, who will start kindergarten next year. We’ve drunk our fair share of hot cocoas and spent the morning rain-soaked and mud-covered on the Angel’s Rest trail. After the dry, dusty pollution of Kathmandu, I welcome all the moisture and even the clouded skies of the Pacific Northwest.

I’ll leave you with Mohan Koirala's poem now, as I continue to ponder it for myself, feeling a bit lost in the world I have returned to, and a bit lost in myself. I find so much of my experience represented in these words and I await the golden morning. 

This is the first bell,
and this is the first voice,
to our duties we are called
as the orchids flower on the precipice;
once the kumari has shared out the garlands,
every day will be the auspicious time:
very soon the light will come
on a golden morning.

An owl is weeping with open wings from its roost behind the cremation-ground,
another adds his song in fragments:
"in what soil grows the lotus now?
From which bough sings the nightingale?
In which forest do the peacocks dance?
what green plain will those eyes open,
which sleep now in deep emotion?”

Twisting its body, night attacks me,
black fangs glistening, it readies itself,
its arms are outstretched: I beat a drum,
to declare that the world still meditates and has yet to wake from its trance.
I picked up a firefly, held it up to the stars:
"It fears no one, it glows and dims,
it dims and glows, of its own accord,
Light  oh Light!" I cried,
and the eastern sky reddens:
very soon the light will come
On a golden morning.

The moonbird calls out to make me restless,
I stride out - the sound of voices is far away,
and the river sleeps between us;
it has rushed and roared,
washing vermillion from the Himalaya's hair.
Without the human hustle and bustle
which drags me along with this country's dreams
or knocks me up with its awakened martyrs,
my country grows cold
in a shroud of clouds. 

The sun hides under my pillow
and appears around midday,
when sunshine melts into the snow,
warming the hillsides,
re-opening every door:
very soon the light will come
on a golden morning.

The Buff Channel

The Buff Channel

We had a fried egg with channa and white bread this morning. As we sat at the table, enjoying our day off, we heard Bibek laughing out the window. We looked to see that the buffalo, nicknamed by Ritesh as "Momo," was running across the soccer field and the farmer couldn't catch him. A young girl with a sweeping brush of straw walked slowly towards him. He let her fan his nose for a moment before running off with a comical skip in his step. An older neighbor who had tried to help finally gave up and went walking home through the alley. When the buff saw this, he ran full boar towards where the man had gone, making it clear that this was a game for him. Through the laughter in the kitchen, somebody said, "It doesn't get better than the Buff Channel."

This went on for about twenty minutes before the animal was captured by his tail and ears. The four foot rope that tied him securely to the ground was wrapped around his neck again. We laughed at the playful spirit of this adolescent animal. Ritesh and Hong began talking about when he would be eaten. I thought about the simplicity of life here. I feel torn, wanting to see my children and wanting to stay here at the same time. We only have two more weeks of the clinic and I feel heavy at the thought of it. There is so much valuable work to do here. I want to keep working. I want to keep growing at the rate that I am growing here.

I went to the market today and bought a volleyball, a kick ball and some tubing to make two hula hoops. The kids gather in the field every night to play games. Anywhere between 20 and 30 kids are there and our cook and his wife play with them. I've started doing this too. Last night, Bibek took turns pushing them on the mountain bike and then we played a game of tag. They play with a little toy they make from piping or an old tire, with a wire wrapped loosely around the tube and then connected to a stick. I haven't gotten good at it, it takes quite a bit of coordination. Sometimes they have a wooden top. Every time, they are covered in dust with big bright smiles on their faces.

Part of me is wishing my children had this group to play with at night. I am wishing my children could be happily entertained with a wooden top and a filthy string to suck it back into their arms with. I am wishing that it felt safe in our US neighborhood for children as little as three to walk to the field and play with each other. This kind of wishing and comparing doesn't do anything for me or my children. It just takes me out of enjoying the present moment. In the present, I think that the Bajra children will love the hula hoops that I can make.

Some of the school children, their teachers and workers from the health post joined us yesterday afternoon to clean the temple grounds. The goddess, Bajrabarahi lives there. We spent an hour with our 60 or so helpers, picking up litter and burning it in a large pile by the river. Jessi deconstructed a huge garbage dam and the river flowed freely again. After this, our ARP team spent another hour sweeping and carrying water up from the stream to wash the floors of the small meeting houses. Some of the structures had been used to sacrifice animals, others for people partying at night and others were just filled with buffalo dung. The work was hard, but by the time we left, I was hoping that Bajrabarahi was smiling and she will continue to help us move Ignorance out of our paths.

When Andrew Schlabach first started this organization, ARP was housed in an area next to a different temple to Bajrabarahi. I don't believe that it's a coincidence that ARP was invited to this village, which not only has a temple dedicated to her, but is named after her. I don't believe it's a coincidence that that the Diamond-Sow Goddess who Vanquishes Ignorance is so intimately connected with us. We spend the days educating patients about their bodies and how to stay healthy, or at the very least, not let their diseases progress too quickly. We spend the evenings talking with each other so that we can increase our knowledge base as care providers, but also our wisdom as human beings.

I can see the gate to the temple from my bedroom window. I greet her every morning and look out at the full moon over her entrance in the evening. Rather than descending upwards, as with so many temples, her steps go down, as if deep into the Earth. At the bottom of the steps is a humble waterway, where one can listen to the days thoughts or reflect on the meaning of everything around. I look at my window, to these steps retreating into the metaphorical unconscious and I pray that she might show me a similar path that rides more deeply into a connection with myself and my own truth.

A walk down to the temple leads to a series of concrete slabs covered in chicken and buffalo blood, dried flowers and salt. The nethermost depths carry the most base aspects of our psyche. This is where, it seems, we would trade the blood of others for our own stability. If Joseph Campbell is to be believed, some time ago, this might have been pig's blood and before that, the blood of our most beautiful young person.

In this life, I've heard it said that the only constant is change. Everyday, we grow older, the Earth spins, the stars shift, our children mature, our parents die, the world becomes something we don't recognize from before. If I pray hard enough, if I am willing to spill the blood of another, if I make the most precious deal with something all-knowing, can I stop the changing nature? Can I prevent the Earth from shifting and bringing another quake? Can I stop myself from dying?

Ten days ago, I let the practitioners off work early and Ritesh and I treated a number of patients. A stroke patient came late in the afternoon. He lives in an area that would be a thirty minute walk for me to get to. Due to his hemiplegia, it takes him six hours to walk to our clinic for treatment and another six hours home. This man sat down in front of me and I immediately noted that he looked like a dusty, Nepali version of George Clooney. I told him he looked like one of our most handsome movie stars and he smiled.

He begged me to use electro-stimulation on his needles and complained that he hadn't gotten enough of this from his visits the previous week. I threaded two long needles through the belly of his brachioradialis and then two more through his extensor digitorum. I connected the tiny leads to each needle and turned the electro machine up until his hand slowly unwound from it's fist. His fingers spasmodically jumped into extension and he smiled wide.

"I will give you everything if you can fix me," came the translation from Ritesh. I jerked up with wide eyes and caught myself in my own surprise. I have heard this too many times to be surprised.

"Yes, I will give you all of my money, all of my things, everything I have," he said. In front of me sat a very strong, very determined man who was willing to give me all of his beautiful, human power. He was telling me that he was willing to accept that I, as a mere mortal in front of him, have more power to heal him than he has inside of his miraculously complex, self-healing body.

The Nepali Clooney will never be as he was before the stroke. We have impressive successes at our clinic: patients walk again, they are able to feed themselves again, they are able to participate in some of their farm chores again. What we do not have is the ability to restore someone's decade-younger, pre-stroke body to them. We do not have the ability to take anyone back in time, to stop this cycle that we are all a part of. We cannot make the change stop happening and neither can Bajrabarahi, yet somewhere in our unconscious, a belief that this is possible bubbles up in us and it makes us willing to give away everything we have.

In a couple more seasons, Momo will be walked down the temple stairs on a festival day. His happy neck will be slit open so that his blood can be spilled out to Bajrabarahi. Women will pour red and yellow tikka powder on top of the blood. Duck eggs, folded rupees, cups of river water, uncooked rice and salt will be sprinkled on top. The people will smear all of this into a red paste on their middle finger and mark the tikka on each other, offering a blessing for life as they do so. With this death and sacrifice, we wish each other happiness.

What is true Ignorance and how does it coincide with our inability to accept the world and it's changing cycles? Tonight, as the sun sets behind these beautiful hills, I say good night to the goddess at her gate. I feel bonded to her, held safely by her and so happy that many hours of my day were spent in her service. I must return to the U.S. and I hope that the spirit of this relationship I am forging with her will come with me. I pray that she fills me with the strength to know and accept what is inevitable.

Plan B

Plan B

It was an old, dirty, plastic bottle filled with water that sat on the patio table in front of me. Next to it, the stem of an umbrella rose up through a hole in the glass tabletop. I sat with three Nepalis, two of whom ate buffalo momo dumplings. I had a plate of chowmein (which here means egg noodles fried in mustard or soil oil with green onions and dried chilis.) Ritesh, our clinic manager, had this as well, though he got his with fried buffalo stomach and I taught him the English word tripe.

This was my third time at this Newari restaurant, and as such, the third plate of chowmein that I've had since coming here. This one was far saltier than the other two had been, and I was struggling to finish it. I coated it in hot achar sauce to try and take some of the salt out, but I was feeling parched. I usually have my water bottle with me, but I had been grieving about the interns and not thinking straight. I watched my companions drink repeatedly from the water bottle on the table and thought to myself, many times, not to do this. I did it anyway; two small sips were all I needed to feel a million times better.

Since this lovely dinner, I had three days worth of abdominal cramping and diarrhea. I have learned something in coming to Nepal, and it's something I like very much about myself. First, I don't throw up when I have food poisoning. On one hand, this might be problematic in that I don't get the bacteria out fast and limit the duration of my illness. However, it means that I don't have to vomit, and that's definitely worth being sick longer. I don't think anyone likes to vomit, so I think it's just super cool that I usually don't. Secondly, I don't let it get me down. I manage to stay in a relatively good mood and with lots of energy to work, regardless of the cramping and diarrhea. I decided to give this bout three days before hitting my bottle of ciproflaxin and it appears that was all I needed. Whew!

Today I spent the morning cleaning, organizing and documenting our remaining herbal dispensary. I listened and watched the practitioners with their patients and interjected when asked (and a couple times, when not asked.) One woman this morning has been especially tough for two of our practitioners. She has liver function tests that show the beginning stages of liver disease. She has non-pitting edema. Her nails are starting to come off her fingers, but they aren't spooning and they aren't technically clubbing. What could it be? We talked about this case for thirty minutes the other night at dinner and once this woman was in front of me, the symptoms were all over the place. Finally, we asked about pesticide use and sure enough, she uses these on her crops everyday.

Three of our farmers this morning are suffering from the beginning stages of liver disease with shortness of breath and a number of organ problems that seem to be traced back to pesticide use. This is a tricky area, since it's hard to prove. An article in Environmental Health Perspectives talks about an analysis on farmers in developing countries who are suffering chronic pesticide poisoning with symptoms that include headache, dizziness, depression, limb weakness, poor balance, difficulty concentrating, and vision difficulties.

We're seeing far too much of this here. They often don't wear gloves or masks, don't wash their hands and then eat food. Of the three we talked to today, two wore gloves and one wore a surgical mask while applying the chemicals. None of them seemed to understand the detrimental effects these substances are having on them. In a country as beautiful as this, I have been quite surprised to find that the vast majority of the farmers here are using pesticides in high amount.

Strewn through this mix are a number of patients suffering from post-stroke hemiplegias, auto-immune conditions affecting the nervous system, the occasional lumbar disc lesion, cervical radiculopathy and a handful of other conditions that can mimic some of these symptoms. Our practitioners have twenty minutes with each patient to gather information, do objective testing, make an assessment and then treat with acupuncture or chiropractic. We see most patients 1-3 times per week, to continue gathering information and determining a diagnosis. We work with the pharmacist who runs the Healthpost here and the doctor at the Primary Healthcare Center in Palung to get blood tests and imaging to progress our cases. It can be hard to differentiate these things in the first few visits.

With chronic pesticide poisoning, I am still trying to determine our course of action. The results on the last few patients I have seen show the liver to be distressed, the lungs are severely affected (in a country where, after infectious disease, COPD is already taking the lives of over 40% of the folks left), and kidney function has been undermined. The testing and imaging add up for these farmers, who often carry many years worth of records through our doors when they come.

The organophosphates seem to cause irreversible toxicity to the nerve cells and deficits in cognitive function. I am still researching the possibilities and trying to figure out how we can educate people, with simple language, about avoiding these chemicals.

During lunch, Dr. Jessi and I took a patient up to the Healthpost to speak with the manager there about an orthopedic referral. The patient is  an 80-year old woman who is so osteoarthritic that it looks like she completely detached the head of her humerus. The humeral head appears, from x-rays, to have split into two pieces. The shaft of the humerus rises up into the shoulder girdle as this lady moves her arm.

From the paperwork, it looks like the government hospital recommended surgery, but the patient reported that they told her she was too old. After an hour of back and forth with three Nepali interpreters, the manager, the head midwife and two other staff members, we found out that it was the patient's children who had refused. They were worried about costs (which could be as little as $1500 US with the right connections or as high as $7000 US without) and the long-term recovery time for an older, osteoarthritic patient.

In the end, the manager of the healthpost has decided to call her children to come in so that he can talk with them, as he has been to their home before and thinks he can make some headway. The patient agreed to revisit the hospital in Kathmandu with her family so that she could get more details to make an educated choice. And, Dr. Jessi and I decided to create a non-surgical, Plan B solution, in case the family still decided not to do the surgery. At the very least, Jessi can create a molded cast/sling from Plaster of Paris, fitted to this woman, so at least if she stumbles a bit, she will have a minor degree of protection.

Lunch was delicious, as always. The afternoon was so stacked with patients that I ended up treating a few in the end to get everybody home. We are still working with reception to try and even the patient load between providers, though it was highly uneven today, with one of my practitioners treating 27 people in 7 hours. It was a good day, with a lot of great work done, but I'm hoping we can streamline the process a bit more this week.

Humeral head detachment

Holy Day

Holy Day

Yesterday morning, I walked down to the Bajrabarahi temple with one of our interpreters, Gunaraj, and his fiancé. I had been sitting at the table with Dr. Lucy, having a tea before breakfast, when Gunaraj brought in some fry bread that is eaten on holy days. He said he had to go to the temple before he had food and invited me to walk with him. I jumped at the chance.

January 14th is the Hindu holy day called Makar Sankranti. (It is also Felix’s birthday, though we are one day ahead, so I will not call him until the 15th here.) This is a very important day in the Nepalese calendar. It marks the start of Spring and it ends the time of darkness/winter in which sacred rituals cannot be performed. After this day, the Nepalese are free to perform their rituals with the good favor of the gods and the sun.

To celebrate this day, the Nepalese often take a bath in one of the holy rivers. However, in Bajrabarahi, we wake up to temperatures in the high 30’s, with no heating systems. Our living quarters have bedrooms whose doors open directly to the outside and our windows are not insulated. I sleep in a 15 degree, down sleeping bag wearing wool socks, two layers of wool long johns, my hooded down jacket and a merino wool hat. The last two days, I slept with my thick scarf on. The dry grass landscape looks white at 8am, due to a heavy layer of frost. The joints in my thirty-nine year old fingers feel stiff and painful for the first few hours after I am up. It’s unlikely that anyone would go for a dip in this.

The Bajra temple is across the street from the clinic. We walk through a white gate and down a spiral set of concrete steps. Small, covered porches are set along the sides near the bottom. On one of the walls, Shiva has been drawn with Nepali words underneath. I know that they say something to the effect of “Be it known to all, this is the temple of the Goddess, Bajrabaraji!” since I asked on an earlier day about this. He stares at me, with his trident held tightly in his right hand and I quietly acquiesce. Though Shiva both intrigues and frightens me, I have decided that Bajrabarahi might well be the god that has most of my attention on this trip. I am determined to let her know that I come in peace and that I only want to be here with her permission.

When we get to the bottom of the steps, Gunaraj opens the plastic sac he has brought. His fiancé pulls out a large, square metal plate. She arranges some small cedar boughs in the upper right corner as he hands her a fistful of sweet black incense sticks. They pull paper packages from the bag. One is bright red tikka powder and she carefully empties it into the left corner. The next is a yellow powder that she taps into the center. There is another pouch of rice and then some fennel seeds. These are carefully arranged as well. Lastly come two duck eggs. Gunaraj had carefully marked these as sacred with vertical yellow lines and then added small dots with the red tikka powder. These are set into the middle of the plate. She hands him a metal drinking cup and he runs down some steps to the river to fill it with the holy water.

We stand close to the altar, where many families have lined up with their own offerings. Though Gunaraj is cold and wants to light the incense sticks and get on with it, his fiancé tells him no. I can understand enough of their Nepali conversation to know that she wants to wait to light the sticks until they can have the center spot in front of the altar. I watch two young boys in cotton hoodies shivering in their flip flops as they wait for their families. To my left, a man slits the throat of a white chicken and removes it’s head. It’s neck continues to move and it’s wings continue to flap as he rips the feathers from the body and sprinkles the pieces on the various large rocks of the altar. He fills his cupped palm with blood and sprinkles it on top of the tikka powder, money and dried rice already on the altar.
Finally, it is our turn. We make our way in front of the altar and my friends begin sprinkling the items on their plate on top of the large rocks of the altar. Gunaraj sprinkles the holy water on top of everything. They leave some rupees amongst the offerings. A man rings a bell behind us to call the god and Gunaraj fills my hand with rice and tells me to sprinkle it. His fiancé dips her finger into the tikka powder of the altar, where river water, chicken blood and incense ash have been sprinkled. She asks me to bend down so that she can put a tikka between my eyes. She does the same to Gunaraj. They gently crack open the small end of the duck eggs, spilling the yolks and deciding that they do not like that. They put the eggs into a plastic bag and cinch it. I am unsure of what happened with the eggs, though I do know that they are proud they have brought duck eggs and not just chicken eggs like everyone else.

We walk towards the river to where the aged bronze bells hang. The bells are covered in red and yellow tikka powder and Gunaraj instructs me to walk around them with my right side towards the bells and ring each one to call the god. I do this, as instructed, but I am worried about whether or not I truly want to call the god. I feel unworthy of her attention. Perhaps I have not done as well as I could have. Perhaps my heart is not as pure as I would like it to be. Am I ready to meet her? I am more afraid of halting the procession behind us than I am of these things and so I decide I will take my chances and I ring the first bell, the second, the third and on, until I come to the last bell in the line of bells.

We proceed forward and stop many times to sprinkle rice and tikka powder. First we do this in the hollow of a small tree, where a prayer has been set. Then we do this on two small places at the foot of the stairs, also where prayers have been set. Halfway up the stairs, we do this again. We walk through a staircase and gateway in which prayers have been left in our path and we honor them with these powders and seeds.

As we make our way home for breakfast, I think to myself that I did not mean to see a chicken sacrificed this morning. I cannot reconcile it in my head. The colors at the temple were so vibrant, the bells so loud, the sugary incense so strong. What is it about the sacrifice that has been made? What is it about humans that we feel such a pull towards sacrifice?

I do not have a temple in my village where I go to pray in this way. The gods where I live are not so pronounced as this. I do not know a family in my home village who would sacrifice a chicken and sprinkle its blood onto an altar, though I do know of a family who kills their own chickens for food. Is there anything in my life, in my village, where we have these sensorial tributes to the spirit that we have together determined to be ruled by? Isn’t this what the god represents? A collaborative tribute to a shared spirit of protection and, in this case, the dissolution of ignorance?

Though I feel sick at the image of that bawking chicken, I also feel a grief for the communal sacrifice that I do not have and that I have never experienced. I feel a sense of loss for a shared value system that is honored in my community on specific holy days. I watch these feelings and they add to the visceral sensation that the whole temple experience has brought today.

This Morning I Put Some Footprints on the Wall

This Morning I Put Some Footprints on the Wall

It is Day 4 in Nepal.

I have written every day in my journal but have had a hard time putting together something coherent for a blog.

I feel a conflict as these two worlds mix in me…a titanic clash of mind as I’ve landed here. At first, I thought it was merely jet lag, but it feels like it’s taking longer this time. I go to bed shortly after dark and wake between 2 and 4am every day. I am up on the top floor, where there is no wireless and a beautiful rooftop to do Taichi, but if I descend, the hotel is dark and cold. The Nepali guys who work here sleep on the floor downstairs and I don’t want to bother them, though I want more than anything to have some hot water for a tea to sip while I write.

It was exhilarating when I first got here, knowing that I was about to see old friends. Mahesh Kumar Budah picked us up at the airport and lots of hugs ensued. Mahesh is a friend of Andrew Schlabach (our director) and in this capacity, helps with the Acupuncture Relief Project (ARP). He runs a trekking business here in Kathmandu and designs a huge range of trips for Westerners. On our second day here, when Jessie and I took a morning jaunt to the Monkey Temple and got lost in Thamel (the neighborhood where we are in Kathmandu), we serendipitously ran into Mahesh on his way to work. In the spirit of Nepali hospitality, he took us for a coffee and then walked us halfway back to the hotel to make sure we were okay.

My conversations with Mahesh have gone from his experiences on his treks to Buddhism to how we can be the best parents possible to our children. He has been helping me to pick up volunteers from the airport and I look forward to each excursion, knowing that it means another conversation with him. It also means that I feel very safe here (Mom, this is for you, ha!). In the haze of arrival and jet lag, I view him as an angel. I have no doubt I will see him in a relatively similar light when my head becomes clear.

The hotel is run by Asta Buddhachara who is a delight to see every day. He is full of laughter and great information about where to go for a meal or any item we might need to buy before we transport to the village. The neighborhood of Thamel is hard for me, it’s been one of the things that I have run my energy down with these last few days. I have averaged three hours of sleep each night but still find myself able to build up a barrage of negative self-talk about my ability to get around.

Prior to coming to Nepal in 2015, my range of travel included only Australia and Canada. I have never been to the developing world before and it’s hard for me to see the details necessary to find my way. Even as I type this, I can feel my eyes welling up a bit because it makes me feel inadequate already, at the beginning of this trip. It seems so easy and intuitive for all of these people who have travelled to South America, India and Asia many times before.

I feel that I cannot see what these others see and that I am so easily lost. Is this symbolic of the way I wander through life?  I walk past intersections where I should turn, I do not recognize basic things like bookstores until they are pointed out to me. Last night was the worst of it and it kept me tossing in bed for quite a while.

Ritesh Maharjan is the interpreter lead for our Bajrabarahi clinic. He calls me sister and this is true. I love him like one of my brothers and when we saw each other for the first time the other day, I hugged him and could not let him go. We had plans yesterday to meet up with the interpreters from our 2015 Camp but it was Ritesh’s birthday and we decided to try and squeeze in a trip to the botanical garden, which is one of his favorite places. This trip required a 30-minute cab ride to the bus depot and a 30-minute bus ride to the gardens, plus a 30 minute walk to get to the garden gate. In retrospect, it was a whole day trip and not something to be done for the morning.

Our group included Ritesh, our Bajra interpreter Milena, myself (three hours of sleep), Jessie (a few more hours of sleep) and Cami Hobbs, who literally arrived to the hotel at midnight from the epic trip from the US. She had gone for 30 hours without sleep. (This is a 16-hour flight to China, then a 5-hour flight to Nepal with layovers and all that other good stuff.)

The bus ride was beautiful, stuffed full of Nepalis young and old, the dashboard with a waving statue of Ganesh glued to it. The gear shift had ample layers of handkerchiefs rubber banded over it, for some reason unknown to me. A young Nepali man hung out of the side door whistling, clicking and yelling at potential passengers and collecting money. I quietly thanked our driver for each successful passing of other motorcycles and cars as we made our way up the hill and through the city.

Vendors on the pathway to the garden sold peanuts and MSG-coated fruits: the sour Chinese plum (called Lihimui in Hawaii, though I do not know it’s name here), small gummy squares coated in black Himalayan salt, dried pineapple and lemon rind and silver bowls with mounds of gooey fruit floating in gelatinous sugar.

We walked to the monastery and watched as people gathered inside the gate. The door to the temple was not open and we took pictures of the beautiful buildings. The monks sat quietly on the side lines of the cameras and children with balloons and I wondered at their experience, their perspective on this, which is something I will never know. I halted my mind from the judgements it wanted to make and shifted back to a curiosity.

Ritesh walked us to a building where water spouted from five or six lions head into a large pool with discarded one-use shampoo packets. Jess asked him if people bathed there. “Of course!” he answered. “This is a large bathtub for many.”

We went into the small building to see a shimmering square of water, filled with fish. Metal bars kept us from going nearby and a cleft in the rock at the corner was covered in the pink powder of Shiva, whose image sat nearby. More children with balloons made their way around the temple while tourists rang the bell next to the God and applied the pink tikka powder to their foreheads.

We found a rooftop where we could get noodles and momos and shared a tea. Satyamohan, one of the interpreters before my time who is now attending the acupuncture school in Kathmandu, walked by and our friends waved him up. We said hi, hugged and he departed as we made our way to the gardens. Ritesh tried to buy our tickets for the Nepali price, but the ticket handler saw us entering and made us come back to pay the extra $570 rupees for admission. Loud Hindi music wafted through the air from picnics in the background but it was not allowed in the garden itself.

The buildings were old colonial style greenhouses and it felt like stepping back an entire century. Unlike the rest of Kathmandu, the garbage had been picked up in the gardens. Though we went during the Winter, it was still quite beautiful. We visited the cactus and succulent nursery where a spidery web of cactus fur draped down from a metal pole in the ceiling. Unusual looking crepe paper ferns caught my attention in the next house. We eventually settled near a large greenhouse, closed to the public. Though a missing window at the uppermost section, I could see the rusted ceiling beams, cutting triangles through the greenery. We stretched and talked for a bit and I did a headstand in the grass which two curious children had to come see.

Time was short, our friends were calling us, but I could tell that I was already fading from a lack of sleep and so much travel. The other Westerners in our group, who were back at the hotel, were going to make their way to the large Bouda Stupa to meet our previous interpreters for a meal. I knew that the idea of this was more than I could handle and I asked Jessie and Cami who said they wanted to see Bouda and thought they would be ok. By the time we took the bus back and squeezed ourselves into the tiniest cab, the traffic to Bouda was unbearable. A Nepali song played on the radio over and over, “Sani-bar, Sani-bar, Saniiiiii-bar!” it exclaimed: Saturday, Saturday, Saturday. It went on and on for the forty minutes we spent in the cab. Jessie gasped at a pothole that she didn’t think our overloaded cab would make it through and I crossed my fingers and held more tightly to the young Melina, who was sitting on my lap. Cami’s eyes grew redder from the dust and she took turns leaning forward into numb feet and then back into the seatbelt that gouged her lower back so that her circulation could return.

We finally made it to the stupa, but I no longer had the blood sugar to hug and celebrate my old friends the way I wanted to. They rearranged the table for us and I ordered a dal bhat. When it came, I poured the dal over the rice, mixed everything together and didn’t come up for air until there was barely any left. By the time we got in the cab, I felt very sleepy, a little grumpy and mad at myself for doing more than I knew that I could do.

Cabs in Nepal are always precarious, but the cab that the three of us rode in seemed exceptionally so. Our driver continually passed the other cabs by making risky moves into the right lane and was clearly not afraid to hit pedestrians, one of whom only made it by jumping out of his way. I saw the Garden of Dreams to my right and then the cab stopped. The driver turned the engine off and leaned out his door. I was confused, I had no idea where I was…I knew that we could walk to the Garden of Dreams from our hotel, but I hadn’t done it and didn’t know how to get home.

I tried asking him what he was doing but he spoke no English. I didn’t think we were in Thamel, though it was merely due to my delirium with 12 hours of sleep over four days. He pointed to the cab behind us, I walked back and asked about Thamel and finally, the other Westerners in our group saw us and led us home. I felt like I had lost my mind and I was even more upset about not knowing my way around the city better. What would I have done if they hadn’t been there? I carry a compass and a map in my bag and I would have used them, but why is it that nobody else needs to use these things?

I took some herbs and other things before bed and was able to sleep for six hours last night. I woke up and did my Taichi, headstands and stretching for an hour. And then, at 5am, I decided to have a dance party with myself, hoping that I could stop being so mad at me for not knowing where everything in this city is. That felt better. I have spent all of 8 days of my life here and perhaps I don’t need to be so mean to myself about it. I can also work a little harder at it. I know myself and I know that I can. When I signed up for a physics degree, I did so because I was not good at it and I was determined to be. It took me four times longer to finish my Classical Mechanics homework than most of my classmates, but I always got a good grade. Determination and persistence is what works for me, not a magical intuition that will guide me into feeling my way around Kathmandu.

The other morning at breakfast, Mahesh told me about the time that he visited the cave of the Rinpoche. He said that on the left and right sides of the cave you could see the footprints of the Enlightened One, where he had gone mad fighting against his own demons. This morning, in an attempt at more self-love and acceptance, I put some metaphorical footprints on the walls of my room.

Today is a day that I have two airport pickups and not much else. In between these things, I will be studying a map and walking around the city, not for any other reason than to find my way out and back in, and hopefully in the process I will find a little bit more of myself.

Heal Everything Soup

Heal Everything Soup

My family uses this as our "heal everything" soup. It's packed with immune-boosting mushrooms, especially if you choose from the great Pacific Northwest varieties.

  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, julienned into 1-2-in pieces (I use a mandolin)
  • 4 stalks celery, sliced thin
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 to 3-in piece of ginger, chopped
  • 1.5 ounces dried mushrooms (I use a blend of NW mushrooms)
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, sliced into large sections
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves (optional)
  • 2 dried Thai chilies (optional, can do more)
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • Juice from 6-8 large limes (3/4 to 1 cup)
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 8 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cans (or 4 cups) coconut milk.

In a large soup pot, heat the coconut oil. Add the onion and fry for a few minutes until onions start to become translucent. Add carrot and ginger and stir fry for another minute or two. Add vegetable stock, water, celery, ginger, lemongrass, lime leaf, Thai chilies and dried mushrooms and bring to a boil. Allow to simmer for 20 minutes, covered.

Add coconut milk and lime juice and bring to a boil and then immediately turn off heat. Add cilantro and cover for 5 minutes before serving.

This Amazing Life Did Not Go Unnoticed

This Amazing Life Did Not Go Unnoticed

I woke up yesterday with the worst cold I've had in a while. I felt the dry, hot fire in the back of my nostrils and rolled over in bed with a moan. I heard the kids stirring.  My husband was grinding coffee in the kitchen while he fried eggs taken fresh from our India gray Brahma hens. I took a hot shower. I kissed my son, playing with a train under the sparkling holiday tree. I fed my gorgeous dog and petted a cat who looked out the window at my other son, hitting icy things with a small hammer in the back yard. 

I felt physically awful, with sinus congestion, muscle aches and a sore throat. My brain was mush. I gave myself a silent lecture about working too much and not exercising enough and then made myself a cup of chai. As I sat at the table, I thought:

Oh, Today. Thank you for every beautiful thing I woke up to. This amazing life did not go unnoticed.

I liked that thought so much, I posted it as my Facebook status and then put my phone away. I hoped that it would continue to put some good juju into the world for me and keep me away from all the yucky news that projects a horrible 2017.

I spent the day working on research for my classes in Nepal, taking a very long nap, watching the new Pete's Dragon with my kid and having a short dance party with my dog, who is getting very good at his spins. My husband made the best Thai Mushroom and Coconut soup ever (or so the youngest proclaimed) and it has already helped with my cold. 

I am enjoying this cold very much. It waited, like they always do, to pop up when I had a couple of days off work. It's giving me a reason to sit in front of a fire, enjoy my family and just take a little foggy-headed break. I am drinking quarts of water and soup and napping and I'm pretty sure that nothing could be better this weekend.

Part of why I feel so blessed about this time is that there is a small anxiety growing in me. It's about leaving my kids and going halfway across the world. It's not a short trip. It's not a mundane trip. It's a lot of traveling through a country that has been wrecked by earthquakes and being in a clinic with a high potential for disease exposure. There are other anxieties dancing around in there, all the normal things about not-being-good-enough or what-if-I-let-somebody-down. Those things will come up and I will deal with them.

Yet, about my children, I wonder if they deserve a better mother. Then I tell myself that I am doing a good job. I am setting a good example. I don't know that I believe it though. I wonder if they are afraid for me and I ask my older son, who says he is, "just a little, because of the earthquakes," and we talk about it. We talk about courage and the importance of finding it in ourselves. Was that good? Will that help him? Have I done the right thing?

It's 28 days until I leave. My awesome family will take me to the airport, where we will have breakfast at Petite Provence with Dr. Jessie Brown. And then Jessie and I will get on a plane heading to Seattle and then another to Dubai. We will spend the night there before heading on to Kathmandu. What happens after that is planned on a calendar in a way that I expect will move like the body of a very slippery fish. And in that creature will be a super amazing thing: A Phone! I will have an inexpensive way to call home and talk to my kids multiple times per week. Knowing this brings the anxiety down just a bit. 

Here's to all of you out there, with your awesome families and your colds and your gratitude and your anxiety and everything else that goes into the mix of this amazing life. I know that you're not letting yours go unnoticed either and that alone tells me that 2017 is going to be a stellar year. We're going to make it into one. 

A Strong Sun Body: Preventing Sunburn

A Strong Sun Body: Preventing Sunburn

It was 100 degrees in Portland last weekend. I can't remember ever feeling this kind of heat so early in the Northwest. Our weekend plans included a park wedding and a grandma that had a hotel with an outdoor pool. Needless to say, we got an incredible amount of sun exposure on skin that had been off for the winter. We all came home with mild sunburns.

There are some tips for treating sunburns in our June newsletter, but I also wanted to include some ideas for preventing sunburn on the blog. A mild sunburn is a common thing, but you want to make sure that you’re preventing any more than that. In the worst cases, a sunburn can blister and this is when there can be a genuine cause for concern. While a mild sunburn isn’t much more than annoying, It is a blistering sunburn that can increase your chance of developing melanoma later in life. 

It’s worth noting that while melanoma rates are increasing, appropriate amounts of sun exposure are vital to preventing skin cancer and increasing one’s overall health. Indoor workers actually have increased rates of melanoma. The use of chemical sunscreens, which are full of endocrine disruptors, is not a great solution so it’s important to find ways to balance one’s sun exposure and achieve a healthy amount.

Gradual Exposure

When the spring gently changes to summer, this gives our skin a chance to get limited exposure and warm up to what is coming. However, with climate change, we are experiencing drastic highs and lows that make this process harder for our bodies. Living in the Northwest, where we have very limited sun during half the year, exacerbates this stress on our skin. 

Try and remember that we are only just beginning the summer. We have many months of sun to come. On the hottest days, try and get sun exposure on your legs, arms and back, but limit it to no more than a few hours until your skin has a chance to adjust. The river and pool are amazing and fun, but if you take care of your skin now, you'll be safer to spend more time swimming as we get deeper into the season.

Moisturized Skin

It's important to keep the skin hydrated and fed. When the skin has good circulation, it can maintain it's integrity. There are a lot of moisturizing products on the market but I find that the best way to do this is with an organic oil (like apricot) or simple salve (I like the locally made Bee Yourself Balm.) An oil or salve does not contain water in itself, so it won't do anything unless you hydrate the skin first. Soaking in the bath for 15-20 minutes is enough to let your thirsty skin drink up enough fluid. Right after blotting with a towel, apply a generous amount of oil or salve to lock the moisture in.

You can also use a lotion, which is a mixture of oil and water. This preparation isn't quite as moisturizing as the above process, but it's quick and easy. Be careful with modern lotions, though. Many modern products contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals or worse.  Alaffia is a trustworthy brand that's easy to find almost anywhere in Portland and it's made in Olympia, WA, just a few hours away. Check the Skin Deep Database for other lotion brands that are safe for you and your family members.

Cucumbers, melon, avocado and honey are a few of the amazing foods that can be used directly on the skin to increase hydration and health. 

Physical Barriers

Protect your face and eyes by getting a hat and sunglasses that you love. If you've had some good exposure for the day but want to keep swimming or playing, add some lightweight layers to protect your body and seek shade. Try to stay out of the sun during the hottest times of the day. 

Diet

There are many ways that you can use your diet to help increase the resiliency of your skin and lessen your chances of sunburn. 

  • Tomato Paste & Olive Oil: The lycopene in tomato paste can help a bit to prevent sunburn when eaten every day for many weeks (at least 7 weeks) and is best when combined with oil. This dietary addition can act to increase the protective abilities of the skin by about 2-3 SPF. You need about 2 tbsp of paste per day to get the effects. 
  • Essential Fatty Acids: Supplementation with EFAs has been shown to lower the risk of sunburn. Look for foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids, including fresh pressed and refrigerated flax oil, walnut oil, chia seed, seaweeds, fish, seafood and pasture-raised eggs. 
  • Minerals: Mineral deficiencies can contribute to sun damage. Mineral oxides absorb and filter UVA and UVB, reducing the amount of radiation that penetrates the skin. Minerals may also boost the antioxidant defense mechanisms in your skin. Eating a high quality salt, rich in trace minerals is one way to get your minerals on a daily basis. Epsom salt baths are another good way. We know that zinc and selenium are two very important minerals for skin health. Foods rich in selenium include brazil nuts, oysters, whole wheat, seeds, mushrooms and most meats. Get more zinc by eating beans, chocolate, spinach and nuts. 
  • Astaxanthin: This anti-oxidant is produced by a sea algae and then eaten by salmon, shellfish and krill. As well as many other health benefits, it is a potent UVB absorber and prevents damage to DNA. Adding shrimp and salmon to the diet is a good way to get this in your diet naturally. I like Davinci Labs Astaxanthin with D3 when a supplement is necessary. 

Sunscreen

There are two types of sunscreens on the market today: mineral and chemical. The most common that you'll find contain chemical filters that include oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. These chemicals can cause allergic reactions in the skin and they act as a hormonal disruptors. (Remember that balanced hormones are necessary for many things, including normal puberty/maturation, our fertility, mood, growth, metabolism, immune system and behavior.) 

Mineral sunscreens use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Be cautious of sunscreens that combine zinc with chemical filters. These types of sunscreens do better in terms of avoiding allergic reaction and hormonal disruption. However, manufacturers need to use forms of these minerals that are coated with inert chemicals to reduce their photoactivity. If they don't use these forms, slathering a mineral sunblock on can cause skin damage too. The Environmental Working Group is asking the FDA to set guidelines on these mineral sunblocks so that consumers do not have to worry about the potential for skin problems.

Overall, the best way to prevent sunburn is not to use sunblock, but rather, to use the other methods listed here: gradual exposure, keeping the skin moist and healthy, using physical barriers to the sun and eating a healthy diet with plenty of EFAs, vitamins and minerals. If you're going to use a sunscreen, check the EWG's Guide to Sunscreen to find the safest one for you and your family. 

 

Endive Tacos with Lentil and Sweet Potato Hummus

Endive Tacos with Lentil and Sweet Potato Hummus

  • 1.5 cups green lentils, rinsed and drained
  • 1 medium yellow onion, julienned
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into cubes
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 3 and 1/4 cups water
  • Juice from 3-4 large lemons
  • 1/4 cup sesame oil
  • Celtic salt to taste (1-2 tsp)
  • 2 heads of endive
  • Ripe avocado
  • Paprika

Heat sesame oil in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add the onion and stir, cooking for a few minutes until it becomes translucent. Add garlic, sweet potato, cumin, turmeric and coriander and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Add water and lentils and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cover until lentils are soft but still firm (around 15 minutes.) 

Pour everything into a strainer/colander and let drain and cool for at least 30 minutes. You can put this in the refrigerator if you want. When you're ready to finish the hummus, put the lentil and sweet potato mixture into a food processor. Add the lemon juice and sesame oil. Add 1/4-1/2 cup filtered water as necessary to get a good consistency. Slowly add salt while pureeing and taste every so often to make sure that it's seasoned well. It will not taste great if you don't season it enough! Feel free to add white pepper to taste as well. 

To put together the tacos, cut the end of each head of endive. Lay out the leaves on a plate. Scoop two tablespoons (or more!) of the hummus into each leaf. Dice an avocado into a bowl and add a bit of sea salt and a little lime if desired. Spoon the avocado on top of each taco and sprinkle with paprika. Viola!

10 Ways to Get the Most from Your Acupuncture Treatment

10 Ways to Get the Most from Your Acupuncture Treatment

Use It Wisely

Acupuncture and CM work best as a preventative measure. Make regular acupuncture appointments, meaning once a season if you lead a relatively low-stress life and once a month if you’re living a busy life in the city with lots of responsibilities. 

If you have a problem-area, look for early warning signs that it’s acting up and book an appointment as soon as possible. Don’t wait until you’re in a full-blown episode of whatever it is. For example, if you know that your neck gets really tight before it finally “goes out,” get an appointment at the first sign of tension, rather than waiting for emergency pain to book. The acupuncture will work far more quickly (requiring less money and time) if you get in early! If you keep up with regular appointments, it’s less likely that you’ll ever get to an emergency point. 

 

Nourish Yourself

Make sure that you eat a healthy meal and leave 1-2 hours after that meal before coming in for your acupuncture treatment. If you don’t have enough nutrients in your system at the time of your acupuncture treatment, you can become light-headed, clammy or otherwise, not reap the full benefits of the treatment.

Avoid eating a heavy meal right before you walk in the door. If all of your blood is being utilized by your stomach and liver for the digestive process, we won’t have much to work with in other areas of your body. 

 

Avoid Alcohol, Caffeine, Sugar and Processed Foods

These substances take a great toll on your body and particularly, on your liver and emotional state. This can make your response to acupuncture less than optimal. 

In addition, alcohol and caffeine disrupt your pulse and this can make it difficult for your acupuncturist to get the best diagnosis for you. Your treatment can only be as accurate as the information that your practitioner is able to gather. You give yourself the best chance for an excellent treatment when you come in without these substances in your system. 

 

Come Early

Come 5-10 minutes early for your appointment and grab a cup of tea, disconnect from your screen and relax in our waiting area. Settling yourself and starting to turn inward before you come into the treatment room helps prepare your mind for acupuncture. Your acupuncturist will come and get you from the treatment room at the start time for your appointment. 

Starting this way lets us make the most of your treatment time, because you are clear and collected and ready to start treatment as soon as you get into the room. 

 

Business First

Take care of payment, scheduling questions and any insurance information at the beginning of your appointment. It can be awkward to end a beautiful and relaxing acupuncture treatment with five minutes of check writing and calendar navigation. Get the most out of your treatment by taking care of the logistics with your provider at the beginning of the session so that you can hold on to your acu-bliss for as long as possible. 

 

Bring A Clear Intention

Spend some time before your treatment to get focused on the specific thing you want to work on. If you’ve got a long list, prioritize your top two complaints. If you can get really clear and simplify what your treatment goals are, this will help your acupuncturist to make sure that the whole treatment time is spent moving towards these goals. 

If you're coming for a general wellness treatment or "tune-up," having an intention for the hour can be just as important!

 

Bring Your Cycle Clues

If you’re a woman, your menstrual cycle is one of the most important vital signs we have for ascertaining your health. You also have different amounts of energy in different places in your body during the various stages of your cycle. Your acupuncturist can use this information to make sure that you get the most effective treatment possible. This is also important information to track so that we know how the treatment is affecting your body over time. 

The first day of bleeding is Day 1 of your cycle. Your acupuncturist will want to know which day of your cycle you are on as well as the length of bleeding during your last menses, the quality of the blood and whether you had any PMS symptoms. It’s also important that we know how long your cycles last (from Day 1 to the next Day 1). A lot of women find that it’s incredibly easy to track all of these things by using a phone app. We have had great results with the period tracker called Clue

 

Ask Why

A big part of your acupuncturists job is to educate you about what we’re doing. However, we’ve been doing this for so long we can sometimes assume that everybody knows what we’re talking about. Make sure to ask if we say or do something and you’re not sure why. Challenge our Chinese medicine jargon. If you are confused about “Qi,” or “Spleen yang,” or any of the myriad of terms we might use in the office, ask us to clarify what we mean.

 

Be Gentle With Yourself

After your treatment, take it easy. It’s best to avoid the substances listed above (alcohol, caffeine, etc,) heavy exercise, stressful intellectual work and sex for the rest of the day after you’ve had acupuncture. Acupuncture gives your body an informational stimulus that starts you towards the work of rebalancing something in your system. This takes a lot of your energy, blood and other resources. If you decide to send the majority of those resources to your liver (by drinking), to your muscles (with heavy exercise,) to your brain (with stressful intellectual work) or to your reproductive organs (with sex), your body will not have as much power to put towards that rebalancing. 

If you’re working on a musculoskeletal problem, poking or testing the injury right after acupuncture may make it feel worse than it did beforehand. This is temporary and will subside after a day or so. Treat yourself extra gently around the area you’re trying to rebalance. When we’ve worked hard to reduce the inflammation in an area, the best thing is to let it rest while your body uses the increased circulation in the area to heal itself. 

 

Give It Time

It’s true that sometimes acupuncture results in a ‘miracle’ after one treatment, but that doesn’t happen in most cases. When it does, it usually happens with problems that are fairly recent. The longer you’ve been dealing with a health imbalance, the more likely it is to take multiple treatments to reach your goals. If you’re seeking treatment for a situation for the first time, it’s not uncommon to need 5 to 12 treatments for significant results. Staying focused on the reason for your visits and working with your practitioner to change the lifestyle and dietary habits that might be contributing to them is going to give you your best results.

You're All The Rage To Me Today

You're All The Rage To Me Today

In my early 20s, I moved to San Francisco for about a year and a half.  I had a short opportunity to work as a cook on the line at Mc2 Restaurant with the chef, Yoshi Kojima. On my first day, I was charged with filling a pan of ginger brunoise. The ginger had to be peeled and cut so that each particle (as they'd become at that point!) was a perfect 1/8th-inch cube. I worked for thirty frantic minutes on this project before the chef came over, grabbed a small handful of my work and slid it across his fingertips. He shook his head at me and threw the whole container away. "Some of that wasn't totally square," he reported. "Do it again."

I grumbled and started again, but I felt somebody watching me. Great, I thought, as if it wasn't bad enough already. I looked up into the separate part of the kitchen where the pastries were made. The assistant pastry chef, a young woman of about my age, stood there smiling in her white jacket. I remember her standing next to a large amount of fig ice cream, though it could have been any version of the spectacular flavors that she used to put together. 

Her smile was a softening force to the minor insult I'd just taken. Gianina Serrano invited me up into the cocoa dusted pastry kitchen and introduced herself. After I told her my name and we chatted for a minute, she told me something else. "Whenever I walk into a room, it's my goal to make sure that everybody there feels popular. Everyone should feel that way. It's one of the most important things."

I instantly decided that I loved this person. I returned to the line to finish the brunoise and get on with the rest of my laboriously perfectionist food prep (which, granted, Yoshi turned into small miracles on his plates.)

In the sixteen years since I met Gianina (who now owns the Sixth Course where she delves into small-batch confectionery that will make you drool on your keyboard), I have remembered her words thousands of times. She is one of the bright stars along my path in this world that have helped to teach me what true healing really is. Of course it's what we eat and how we exercise and all of that. But more so, we need to want to eat well and exercise because we believe that we are truly worth it, that we are valued by our community and that we are absolutely loved. It really is one of the most important things that we touch each other with our words, that we reach out with love and that we hear that same love when it's given back to us. Our hearts blossom with this and the rest of us follows. 

May you truly feel popular (beloved, notable, well-liked, in demand, praised, preferred, all the rage, accepted, embraced) today and may you pass that same feeling along to a few others as you make your way through the week. 

 

Time Is a Force That Carries Puppets

Time Is a Force That Carries Puppets

Two nights ago, I woke up from a dream with a sort of mantra in my head.

Time is a force, not a dimension.
Remember this.
Remember this.

In my dream, I was divine. So were you. So was everyone; Everything. And tendrils of the light that we were snuck up into the fingers of a big glove of humanity. I came into a body like a digit comes into a finger puppet. I saw myself and you there. We waved at each other with our eyes, knowing the whole time that we were connected, completely, underneath it all. We acted out a play within a stage of atoms and molecules, a wave of light, a vacuum of space, a force of time moving us. We were in these bodies and all bodies at once. We were the whole Earth as equally as we were our self. We were the blade of grass, the sand, the ice and everything else that we found beneath our feet. We were experiencing all of the world with the innocence of children. 

At first, I thought there were many dimensions, more than I saw in my un-dreaming life. I asked about time. Time is a force, not a dimension. Don't get confused girl!

Curiouser and curiouser

Forces act on us. Dimensions are used to pinpoint our location. We certainly use time as a dimension to find our location. It would only be a force if it could help us get somewhere. In my whacky dream, it did. We rode on time. It was a carriage that took us into an experience that we wanted to have. It was a reminder to me of how unique this life is, how grateful I am to be here and how very weird and fun it all is. 

I love spending a night in Wonderland with all of you. Here's to more of that in this Year of the Monkey.

A Reminder Note To Myself On a Winter's Day

A Reminder Note To Myself On a Winter's Day

I don't have time to meditate. So I'm meditating.

I don't have time to write. So I'm writing.

I don't have time to cook or play with my children. And, there is no time to garden or knit. So I do all of these things. I do them right now. I do them today, because they must be done every day.

The work of the soul bubbles up through the spaces in my very important to-do list. It's not as loud as what's recorded on this bulleted line up. It's not as driven. It's not as "successful" and it doesn't make me money. Right away.

I've learned that the voice of the soul gets louder when I listen. It disappears when I don't. It lives in the heart and dictates the cadence of it's beat. It underlines the rhythm within which I march through life. It helps me progress forward in light and love, with connection to the divine self and in communion with other human beings. 

My brain, my intellect, is at it's best self when it's doing work for my Heart. I know when this happens because my mind is calm. My mind is a braided intersection of intellect, intuition and imagination, all governed by the desires of my deep, connected Soul.

Today, I do my work in love and with the intention of being completely united throughout my being. 

Today, I am grateful for all of my teachers, my children included. The sincere passing on of knowledge helps me tread here, sometimes it has even helped me swim long distances. It's allowed me to experience life from blindingly beautiful perspectives and it's opened my ability to better listen.

Flowing

Flowing

We habitually erect a barrier called blame that keeps us from communicating genuinely with others, and we fortify it with our concepts of who's right and who's wrong. We do that with the people who are closest to us and we do it with political systems, with all kinds of things that we don't like about our associates or our society.

It is a very common, ancient, well-perfected device for trying to feel better. Blame others....Blaming is a way to protect your heart, trying to protect what is soft and open and tender in yourself. Rather than own that pain, we scramble to find some comfortable ground.

-Pema Chodron

My family of four humans (plus friends) lives in a 750-ish square foot home in Northeast Portland. We're not super keen on the two busy streets we live by, nor the gas station or fast food restaurants. We do love our neighborhood and our neighbors, the closeness of school and work and the businesses that are nearby. We've been in this particular home for about seven years, but we've slowly outgrown the space. We're all kind of living on top of one another, without much ability to get alone time or privacy. A few years ago, we began to search for a solution: Should we try to remodel? Should we try to sell and move?

My partner and I have navigated this negotiation, some times more aptly than others. Regardless of the possibilities, we continue to come up against a Portland neighborhood that we did not know before moving into our current home: homes  are now two-hundred to three-hundred times more expensive than they once were with jobs that still pay the same. Our street has limited parking due to new, high-density structures that were not required to offset the increase in cars by providing vehicle solutions. Long lines and high wait times at businesses have created stress on the service workers that wasn't there before. I could go on and on with a list that culminates in something my husband and I say often: Wow, Portland has CHANGED. In the two decades that we've lived in Northeast Portland, it's not the same place.

In my meditation practice, I focus on observing: simply being present with myself and observing my thoughts, my feelings, the sounds around me, etc. I practice not judging these things. I make a safe and sacred space to practice this. Yet, in the "real world," I often find it hard to suspend judgement or pull back from my thoughts. And on this Portland note, it becomes so hard because something in me perceives these new changes negatively. I don't much like crowds, or long lines or too-expensive housing. The last one is the thing that starts to feel a little frustrating for me. It pulls me out of my trust-the-Universe mode and into a I-need-to-solve-this-shit-right-now mode. It brings up one of my biggest and greatest core desires.

I. Need. Space.

Wow. I really, really, really need space. As an introvert, it's how I recharge. As a mother, it's how I recharge. As a healer, it's how I recharge. I love to give to other people and I have to make sure that I've got a lot to give. Space for me is about my ability to use and connect with my compassion and generosity and bring this, blossoming and large, into the world.

I want to meet this need for myself (and for my family!) I honor it and I know that I'm worth having it. I spent the last couple of months trying to meet this need through doing. Because, well, doing is what I do best. I scheduled meetings with realtors and contractors and walked them around my home and looked at listings they sent and I did this and did this to super high quotes and unreasonable (for my family) estimates until I broke last night. I broke and then, interestingly enough, I blamed.

The blame happened and I wasn't sure why. It's always interesting to me to watch it come up like a wave. Of course, I blamed my husband for a variety of factors. When that wasn't enough, I blamed groups of people, generally, for making the world inhospitable for me: for preventing me from meeting a very important need for myself.

Pema Chodron says that this blame thing is a barrier, a defense mechanism to keep us from being (from feeling?) vulnerable. I'd have to say that I agree, it's a way of raising myself into a superior position, where it's not my fault, for my own situation.

I am a "good" person. I am a "good" person. I am a "good" person.

What does being able to pay an exorbitantly high rent in the city have to do with being a good person? Am I unsuccessful? Have I not worked hard enough to make money? There it is....these same old stories that I thought I'd worked out so long ago. 

Here it is, what kept me up a little late last night with mental chatter and a little observation happening in the background. And may I continue to keep that little observation going, through a few minutes of meditation every day. I know that it's "normal" and fine. I don't need to change a single thing about it. I simply need to be aware of the programs that often begin running when the little protective tiger in me tries to kick in.

I got a little lost again, in the process, thinking that there was (or is) some goal to be had here: I will find a solution and get the space I need.

In reality, the thing I'm trying to solve is not important. The process I'm going through as I navigate this thing is what is. The observations I find, as I pull myself back from the intellect and watch it do it's thing, tell me about my character, about how we work as human beings and about some even bigger needs than space. This week, whether I write on it or not, is going to focus more on being so that I can move into a place of acceptance and re-find, as always, the faith I brought back with me from Nepal: The trust in a pathway that I am on, will always be on, and cannot be thrown from. No matter what happens, here it is beneath me, through me and within me; my very own life's path.

Ruminate a Bit Every Day

Ruminate a Bit Every Day

When I start stressing myself out about all the things I need to do (before the world totally collapses, since I'm holding it all on my shoulders, ha!) I really activate my sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The spinal nerves that correlate with the SNS run from the area where the neck meets the back all the way down into the lumbar spine in the area of the hips. These nerves run from the spine into the chest and abdomen where they communicate with almost every organ of your entire being.

The activation of the SNS is often called the "fight or flight response," and we've all felt it when we've gotten an adrenaline rush. The overall effect of the SNS communication is that the blood flow is shunted away from 'unnecessary processes' and into the processes that can help us survive an immediate danger. The digestive organs, excretory organs (kidneys, large intestine), reproductive organs and some of the immune function is halted because those organs are no longer getting as much blood from the body.

Meanwhile, the heart, brain, lungs and muscle start getting a ton of energy so that they can go to work. The heart rate goes up and the conscious thought processes are increased. The pupils dilate, the bronchioles in the lungs dilate (more oxygen!) and sweat production is increased. We now have the power to run or fight to save ourselves.

What am I trying to save myself from? An overly long to-do? A self-induced overwhelm? Can I really run from the fact that I've spread myself too thin?

The problem here is that the tiger who is chasing me on a daily basis is an imaginary tiger that I created. (Though, on top of this, it could be a horrendous boss in a job I can't leave, or the stress of being a single parent, or any other forms of stuckness that occur as we are trying to survive and make enough money to pay the bills.)

At this point, when the SNS has been activated, I've got to do something for my body: I have to identify what the imaginary tiger is and deal with it before my "non-necessary" organs starve. In the case of a real tiger, it's worth a small stint in which I don't digest my food, give oxygen to my uterus or have a fully-functioning immune system because hey, I might die. Like. Right. Now. In this case of an imaginary tiger, this problem could go on for days, weeks, months or even years. And guess what happens when you starve your intestines, your ovaries and your lovely lymphatics of oxygen for that long....

When I think about the opposite of that fight or flight mechanism, I typically visualize an antelope. What are those beauties doing when they're not running from a tiger? They are ruminants and in good form, they are ruminating. They are getting messages through from the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). This is the other side of the coin from the SNS and is often referred to as the "feed and breed" response.

The nerve fibers that correlate to the PNS extend into the body from the vertebra in the neck and from the triangular sacrum that sits at the end of the spine. The PNS stimulates digestion and excretory functions (urination, defecation) as well as increased production of saliva and tears and sexual arousal. It communicates to your body that your digestive, excretory and reproductive organs as well as your immune function so that they get the blood flow (and oxygen!) they need.

When a being is in a more PNS state, it looks and feels a little bit more like rumination. There is a deeper, more subconscious gesture to the thought process that is more meditative (as opposed to a state of cunning intellect.) The energy of the body is going to the excellent digestion of the food and digestive symptoms like gas, bloating and constipation are not huge problems. The libido is at a healthy level and the organs responsible for hormonal regulation of reproductive function, including the regularity of the menstrual cycle, have what they need to maintain homeostasis (a regular and healthy functioning of the body.)

We need both the SNS and PNS to live. These two sides of the autonomic nervous system are, in essence, the yin and yang of our internal communications network. One does not work without the other. However, it's important that we make sure we are spending an equal amount activating these systems so that we're not starving the precious parts of ourselves!

Creativity Thrives In Restriction

Creativity Thrives In Restriction

An intelligent artist friend of mine once told me how, in art school, her creativity was enriched through restriction. Her teachers would create a number of restrictions on what could be produced: Only flamenco dancers and only on 8-inch canvases with pastels. 

This same idea is honored in the Chinese Medical paradigm when we say that the intention turns inward for the Winter. Darkness and cold take over and there just aren't as many things to do. When we aren't going from activity to activity in the external world, our inner world becomes our playspace and our creativity thrives. 

On day three of this cleanse, I am finding that the food restrictions are forcing some creativity back into our routines. Working full-time, with a partner who works full-time, has created some complacency for us around meals. It's not unusual for one of us, tired after a day at work, to say, "Korean bowls at the Laughing Planet? It's healthy."

Each day this week, my partner and I have cut root vegetables into a lasagna pan and roasted them. These go into mason jars in our fridge. We soak lentils at night and after 20 minutes of cooking, we have an easy soup. Cooked quinoa is mixed with pureed kale and sunflower seed butter dressing. Each morning, our fridge offers a few healthy options for lunch and snacks.

We are limited in the foods that we can use in our kitchen and so we try new combinations. We explore these foods in ways that we haven't done so before. It's not the cooking that's tiring, it's the decision making process: What should we have? What will the kids eat? I just can't decide. There are so many things to think about, recipes we could try, how much time will it all take?

Here we are, in the absence of choice. We can eat vegetables, quinoa and lentils. This is it. And we must make a meal of it. And taking away the thought process is so utterly freeing.

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Laying Down the Winter Beds

Laying Down the Winter Beds

Breakfast this morning was a slightly chalky roasted pumpkin shake and seven Standard Process cleanse capsules. Different.

My husband had his shake early and jetted out with my older son to school. I pulled my eyes open and got up to see my toddler on the couch. He woke at 2am this morning with an ear ache and my partner and I took turns gently massaging essential oils over his neck to drain the lymphatics, putting garlic mullein oil in his ears and giving him sips of water with internal Chinese herbs to prevent any infection: chrysanthemum, honeysuckle, white peony root, angelica, licorice and a cousin of Oregon Grape have already turned this around in just a few hours.

I feel exhausted, running on four hours of sleep. I think about some green tea, but it's not within the parameters of the cleanse. Instead, I make the shake and cleanup the bowls of oatmeal from the kids' breakfast. I start the hot water for some chicory root and reishi tea. I note to myself how blessed I am to have this yummy mushroom drink as an option.

Today is my day off and we're planting the winter garden. My guy prepared the beds yesterday and they look fantastic. They are more than ready for some baby kale starts. Our chickens cluck around, fertilizing the soil and eating any spider that's unfortunate enough to catch their eye. The air is crisp and the sun warms my bare toes in the grass.

It's lentil soup for lunch and lentil soup for dinner. I'm missing Auntie Krishna Shova, our beautiful host from Nepal. Her lentil soup was the best, poured over rice with curried cauliflower and steamed mushroom greens. Yum. And not so far off from what's okay on this cleanse. I know my kids will eat it: Score.

I'm tired, but I'm so very grateful for the soil in my yard, the bounty of vegetables in my fridge, a healthy family and the herbs that help us all to get there. I'm pretty sure there's even a chance for a nap today.

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Harvest Heart

Harvest Heart

My toddler is kicking around in the tub, squealing as he dives from the faucet into a near miss at the other side of the porcelain coated metal. Most of his dinner sits at the table, uneaten. This isn't unusual in our home, unless we're serving slices of pizza, tomato soup or lentils. They know that I take their opinions of the food personally, and my partner and older son tell me how delicious dinner was.

Everything on the table tonight was "cleanse friendly." In two days, we start the 21-Day Purification and we are gearing up. I bought two heavy bags of groceries at the Alberta Cooperative this afternoon: frozen berries, bananas, heirloom apples, purple cauliflower, yellow kiwis and red carrots. I've got bags of locally harvested, dried mushrooms and lots of jars of sunflower butter (no nuts on this cleanse.) Dark green pumpkin seeds, flax seeds and a big jar of mineral rich himalayan salt are sitting on the counter next to a bag of ground chicory that may help allay some of the coffee cravings for my man.

The beauty and color in everything I purchased today has reminded me about how radical this slice of life is. We spent the morning at a soccer game, where our goalie son repeatedly worked up the courage to kick the ball out to his team. After this, we mozied over to the Harvest Festival for his elementary school and drank some fresh pressed cider. The kids took turns hammering acorns and grinding the meat into flour. A man roasted chestnuts and handed them to families in warm cones of newspaper. Young friends ripped open boxes and slid on sleds of cardboard down a dry grass hill. I watched it all while savoring the taste of a bright green matcha latte, a last cup of vice before we get down to caffeine-free cleanse business.

Tonights dinner was a plate of roasted beets and eggplant (made two days ago), topped with warm red pepper puree. I steamed and mashed a celery root with some ghee and stir fried cabbage with fresh lemon and Hawaiian salt. Simple. Easy. Quick. My husband and I were stoked. My kids tasted it, but didn't want to eat it. Not any single part of it. Sigh. And here it is:

I am so excited to be embarking on this cleanse with my partner. I love that we've been planning food together and talking about what's going to be the hardest for us to give up: caffeine, caffeine, caffeine. I am excited to simplify all around and have a focus on more meditation, tai chi, yoga and daydreaming. Yet, my mind cannot wrap around the part of this configuration that includes two children.

As a family, we eat an 85-90% plant based diet. I know our kids eat really well and they are willing to try new things. They grab fistfuls of kale from the garden and happily shove them, uncleaned and raw, into their mouths. But it's not easy to feed children. After a decade working as a professional cook and helping to create plates for a number of picky folks, including some well-known celebrities, I can tell you this: I have never worked so hard to please another human being and felt as if I had continually let them down, over and over again. My homemade pizza, sourdough crust and herb-filled sauce, never compares to the cheap cheezy pie joint down the street.

For me, this cleanse is bringing up a lot of anxiety around how we plan meals with our children and eat together as a family with gratitude in our hearts. I know that my husband celebrates a good purple carrot, cooked to still-firm perfection. We are thankful as we sit next to each other. But how do we hold that thankfulness when we don't see it easily mirrored back in our children? This is a meal-time meditation for us, a part of what we are going to have to be present with.

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To Be In Love

To Be In Love

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. - Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi

Last week I sat in a chair, sipping a glass of cool water while a man asked me, "What is the difference in loving somebody and being in love with somebody?"

I thought about what I'm in love with and of course there is my family. But there is more, because I am in love with the stormy ocean when I have on a thick wool scarf and rainboots and a proper umbrella. I am in love with the idea of Narwhals and dark bears walking against a wall of white. I am in love with the kind of thunder that shakes the whole Earth and you don't know if you'll survive as time and space are ripped open in the sky above.

I am in love with a Nepalese woman who scales a cliff with a taut belt across her head, wrapping the huge bails of greenery to feed her goats. I am in love with her knees, that bear this burden and with her heart, that bears it just as well. I am in love with the working American mother, who wrangles a schedule of four so complex that it creates a band around her head. I am in love with her shoulders, that bear this burden and with her heart, that bears it just as well.

I am in love with random acts of kindness and with the planned acts of compassion that I see everyday. I am in love with the new clinic that the Acupuncture Relief Project just built in Nepal and everything that it means for the community there and for the health care providers that will volunteer their time. I am in love with the new clinic space that I've been blessed with here in Portland, and everything that it means for me in following the work that I love to do.

What does it mean to be in love?

To be in love is to see the divine in something: human or not human. It is to be inspired to do the work of the soul. It means that within me, the core desires that guide my work in the world are activated. It means that all the barriers against my own unfolding, my own divinity and my own vulnerability slowly move away so that the deepest self can be seen.

Today, I want to be in love with as much of the world around me as I can possibly manage. I wish the same for you.

Autumn Cleanse: How to Register

Autumn Cleanse: How to Register

You can register for the Autumn Cleanse here. And you can find more information in last month's blog post.

21 Days: October 5th, 2015 - October 26th, 2015 (Optional first meeting on Monday, September 28th)

Cost = $247 for the complete Standard Process Purification Kit. (Optional support is complimentary as well as a .pdf cookbook with a ton of recipes and information specific to the cleanse.) (A non-refundable deposit of $125 is due no later than September 14th. You can pay the additional $122 when you pick up your purification kit between September 28th and October 4th).

The kit includes:

Who: Rebecca Groebner, L.Ac, Beth Fitzgerald DPT and You!!

What: Standard Process 21-Day Purification System with a Chinese Medicine Twist and Physical Therapist's Postural Mindfulness!

Where: The Local Healer's Clinic @ 728 NE Dekum Street, PDX 97211 AND our Facebook Page Community Cleanse group.

When: Whenever you choose, we'll be meeting Mondays, starting September 28th from 7-8pm (optional for you) and will be cleansing Oct 5-26 with an additional follow-up meeting the week after this.

Why: To get more mindful about what we're putting into our bodies and minds as we embrace the Fall harvest energetics. To let-go of what's no longer serving us and move into the essence of ourselves for the Winter season!

How do I register? You can register by emailing Bex with your name, phone number and address. We need a non-refundable deposit of $125 no later than September 14th. You can pay the additional $122 when you pickup your SP Purification Package.